Stand with Indigenous Peoples, Stop the Pipelines

Moccasins on the Ground workshop where participants
are trained in the skills, tactics, and techniques
of nonviolent direct action.

Will Falk, a Deep Green Resistance member in San Diego CA, highlights the front-line struggle of indigenous communities across North America against ecocide in its many forms. Despite the impression given so many of us from school and history books, genocide is not just a thing of the past; it continues every day in the present. Falk calls on all those who benefit from settler culture to step up and stand alongside indigenous people fighting for justice and for the future of all of us.

I used to imagine that I could go back in time and offer my help. I would learn how to shoot and offer my rifle to Crazy Horse or learn how to ride and ask Chief Joseph if he could use my help. As I listened to the rhythmic thump of soldiers’ boots marching on where they thought my friends’ village was, I would imagine approaching a fat officer in a powdered horse-hair whig with a smile coming from my white face. I would tell the officer I knew where the Indians were, only to lead him on a wild goose chase while he trusted me because I was white.

I have grown up now. I realize that there are wars being waged against the land and those who would protect the land. I realize that I can work to stop the black snakes that are being built to slither through this land, to choke her original people, and to wring the last few drops of oil from her.

Read the rest of Stand with Indigenous Peoples, Stop the Pipelines.

Deep Green Resistance in the UK – article in The Ecologist

“Had enough of being a ‘good environmental liberal’ – trying to do the right thing while the world gets ever worse?” This question opens a recent article by an anonymous participant in Deep Green Resistance UK, published in The Ecologist. The author outlines the failed approach of traditional environmentalism, and how the Decisive Ecological Warfare strategy offers a realistic chance of halting the abuses perpetrated by civilization. He then briefly describes a direct action:

The best UK example of what we are advocating for is the 2008 solo action against Kingsnorth coal power station in Kent. Someone climbed two three-metre (10ft) razor-wired, electrified security fences, walked into the station and crashed a giant 500MW turbine before leaving a calling card reading “no new coal”.

This person walked out the same way and hopped back over the fence. Their actions halted power for four hours and illustrate the potential which direct action has to really make people sit up and notice. This action also shows the vulnerability of industrial infrastructure and what’s possible if someone is motivated enough.

Read the rest of the article “Deep Green Resistance in the UK”

The Problem of Civilization – DGR book excerpt

Excerpted from Chapter 1 of the book Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save The Planet.

A black tern weighs barely two ounces. On energy reserves less than a small bag of M&M’s and wings that stretch to cover twelve inches, she flies thousands of miles, searching for the wetlands that will harbor her young. Every year the journey gets longer as the wetlands are desiccated for human demands. Every year the tern, desperate and hungry, loses, while civilization, endless and sanguineous, wins.

A polar bear should weigh 650 pounds. Her energy reserves are meant to see her through nine long months of dark, denned gestation, and then lactation, when she will give up her dwindling stores to the needy mouths of her species’ future. But in some areas, the female’s weight before hibernation has already dropped from 650 to 507 pounds. Meanwhile, the ice has evaporated like the wetlands. When she wakes, the waters will stretch impassably open, and there is no Abrahamic god of bears to part them for her.

Read the rest of The Problem of Civilization on the DGR website.

Statement for March Against Monsanto 2014

The annual March Against Monsanto is coming up May 24th. Kim Hill of Deep Green Resistance Australia wrote this speech for the March, supporting direct action and questioning the value of begging those in power to change.

Life itself has been stolen from us.

Genes, the very basis of life, no longer belong to the living beings who embody them, but to institutions that convert life into profit.

Our basic needs, of food and water, no longer come from the land where we live, but from distant corporations that use the exact same food and water as a dumping ground for their wastes.

Monsanto executives take up positions of power in the US Food and Drug Administration, and Environmental Protection Authority. These bodies, instead of protecting our food and water as they were intended to do, now protect the interests of those who are causing the harm.

Governments exist within the rules of Free Trade Agreements and The World Bank, institutions that exist to protect the profits of corporations. Governments have little power to create change.

So we cannot ask governments to act.

In India, 250,000 farmers have committed suicide by drinking Monsanto pesticides after their Bt cotton crops, sold to them by Monsanto, failed, and they were no longer able to provide for their families. Monsanto obstructs labelling laws, and suppresses the results of research that are not in its favour. It is not going to listen to the demands of the people. The purpose of a corporation is to make profit, regardless of the costs to other people and living beings. It is not possible for it to act in any other interest.

So we cannot ask corporations to act.

Even if Monsanto were stopped, there are plenty of other biotechnology companies ready to take their place. The entire economic system is structured to see living beings only as an opportunity for profits, or as standing in the way of profits. For life to continue, the entire system needs to be dismantled.

It is up to us to act.

As human beings, we are part of a natural community of rivers, forests, soil and myriad living beings. This community provides our food and water.

We need to act, not as consumers, not as citizens, but as humans.

We are accountable not to profits or institutions, but to the land that provides for us.

Actions that ask governments and corporations to change – rallies, petitions and letters – can never be effective on their own. Those who are profiting from the theft of life itself need to be physically stopped.

Every day, people are taking real action, by destroying GM crops, sabotaging equipment and infrastructure, and engaging in cyber-attacks against corporations. These actions are essential to stop Monsanto and all those profiting from the destruction of living communities.

On behalf of those whose lives have been stolen and manipulated for profit, those who cannot speak and cannot act, we need to give our full support to the people who are risking their own lives and freedom to defend life itself.

Recruitment: An excerpt from Deep Green Resistance

Chapter 10
by Aric McBay
When they asked for those to raise their hands who’d go down to the courthouse the next day, I raised mine. Had it high up as I could get it. I guess if I’d had any sense I’d’ve been a little scared, but what was the point of being scared? The only thing they could do to me was kill me and it seemed like they’d been trying to do that a little bit at a time ever since I could remember.
—Fannie Lou Hamer, civil rights leader

Methods of outreach and recruitment vary depending on whether a group is aboveground or underground, how it is organized, and what role is being filled. There are really two kinds of recruitment, which you might call organizational and mutual recruitment. In organizational recruitment, an existing organization finds and inducts new members. In mutual recruitment, unorganized dissidents find each other, and forge a new resistance group. When resistance is well established, organizational recruitment can flourish. When resistance is rare or surveillance extensive, dissidents mostly have to find each other.

Recall that a movement can be divided into five parts based on roles: leaders, the cadres or professional revolutionaries who form the movement’s backbone, combatants or other frontline activists, auxiliaries, and the mass base.

Leaders, if they are recruited at all, are likely to find each other early on or be recruited from within the organization (especially in the underground, for the obvious reasons that they are known, have experience, and can be trusted).

The cadres and combatants or frontline activists are recruited in person, screened, and given training. Recruiting such people may require the bulk of recruitment resources, but that commitment of resources is necessary; cadres form the backbone of the resistance as professionals who give their all to the organization, and combatants are, of course, on the front lines.

Auxiliaries may be easier to recruit because they require a lesser commitment to the group, and the screening process may be simpler because they do not need to be privy to the same information and organizational details as those inside the organization. However, there generally should be some kind of personal contact, at least to initiate the relationship.

The mass base does not require direct recruitment because they support the resistance because of their own circumstances or experience, combined with propaganda and outreach from the resistance. Outreach to the mass base can take place through inexpensive mass media like books and newspapers, so that they require minimal effort per person to “recruit,” but they also offer little or no material support to the resistance. However, they may take some action on prompting from the resistance, and participate generally in acts of omission or noncooperation with those in power.

So how does one recruit? It depends. Aboveground groups have it pretty easy in terms of recruitment, because recruitment plays to their strengths. It’s relatively easy for them to engage in outreach and to publicize their politics and actions. Of course, because of this they are more vulnerable to infiltration. Underground groups need a somewhat more involved recruitment procedure, largely for security reasons, and they have a much smaller pool of potential recruits. All of this brings us to one of the most important conundrums for modern-day militants, what you might call the paradox of militant radicalization.

Most people who want to change the world start with low-risk, accessible activities, things like signing petitions or writing letters. When those don’t work, activists may escalate to protests, disruption, and civil disobedience. Maybe they are teargassed or beaten at a protest, and they become radicalized. If they care enough about their cause, they will continue to ratchet up their action until it works. Unless their issue is popular enough to be solved with legal action, activists eventually hit a wall at which further escalation is illegal or dangerous. At this point, some people choose to act underground. And here’s the paradox: aboveground action is based on getting attention. The people who have been the most persistent and relentless and most successful at raising awareness—the very people with the dedication and drive needed to go underground—may be the people who are at the most risk in going underground.

People living in overtly oppressed groups do not have the privilege of ignorance, and are more likely to be radicalized younger and in greater numbers. But within a surveillance society that doesn’t alter our fundamental problem: the process of militant radicalization is liable to draw counterproductive attention to the radical, simply because most people don’t turn to militant action until they have personally exhausted the less drastic and lower-risk avenues. Many of the most serious and experienced members of aboveground resistance thus become cut off from further escalation.

There’s no perfect solution; serious resistance entails risk, and all members have to decide for themselves what levels of risk they are willing to take on. Keeping a low profile is part of the answer. Someone who is considering serious underground resistance should avoid prominent, militant aboveground action; it’s important not to draw unwanted attention in advance. That doesn’t mean that people should stop being activists or stop being political, but militant aboveground action is a definite disqualifier for underground action.

This paradox must be addressed by individual communities of resistance having a culture of resistance. We must offer alternatives to the traditional routes of radicalization. Rather than simply following the default path, budding activists need to be told that there is a choice to be made between aboveground and underground action. Activists can privately discuss these options with trusted friends, but without planning specific actions (which would entail extra risk). This applies regardless of whether a movement is willing to use violence or not. As we have discussed, repression happens when a movement is effective, regardless of their tactics: witness Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Furthermore, it’s our assumption that successful resistance will grow, gather attention, and progress toward more militant activity as needed. That growth will increasingly draw unwanted attention and infiltration from intelligence agencies. That means any resistance movement that plans to eventually succeed needs to incorporate excellent security measures from the very beginning. Because the situation has been worsened by the rapid development of electronic surveillance, we radicals have been a bit behind the curve on this. Recruitment is a crucial area to apply good security.


Read the entire chapter by purchasing Deep Green Resistance or borrowing it from your local library.

Courage: excerpt from Derrick Jensen’s Endgame

Excerpted from Endgame vol. 1: The Problem of Civilization , by Derrick Jensen. Page 317-319.

Desperation is the raw material of drastic change. Only those who can leave behind everything they have ever believed in can hope to escape.

William S. Burroughs

I learned about e-bombs from one of my students—Casey Maddox, an excellent writer—at the prison. He wrote an extraordinary novel about someone who is kidnapped and put through a twelve-step recovery program for an addiction to Western civilization. The book’s title is The Day Philosophy Died, and, as we’ll get to in a moment, that title is related to E-bombs.

E-bombs are, to my reckoning, one of the few useful inventions of the military- industrial complex. They are kind of the opposite of neutron bombs, which, if you remember, kill living beings but leave nonliving structures such as cities relatively intact: the quintessence of civilization. E-bombs, on the other hand, are explosive devices that do not hurt living beings, but instead destroy all electron- ics. Casey calls them “time machines,” because when you set one off you go back one hundred and fifty years.

At one point in the novel the kidnappers are going to use a small plane to drop an E-bomb over the Bay Area. They carry the bomb on board inside a casket. The main character asks, “Who died?”

“Philosophy,” someone says. “When philosophy dies,” that person continues, “action begins.”

As they prepare to set off the E-bomb, the main character keeps thinking, “There’s something wrong with our plan.” The thought keeps nagging him as they do their countdown to the celebration. Five, four, three, two, one. And the main character gets it, but too late. The E-bomb explodes. Their plane plummets.

One of the kidnappers clutches his chest, keels over. He’s got a pacemaker. Even nonviolent actions can kill people. At this point, any action, including inaction, has lethal consequences. If you are civilized, your hands are more or less permanently stained deep dark red with the blood of countless human and non- human victims.

Long before he finished the book, Casey showed me where he first read about E-bombs. It was in, of all places, Popular Mechanics. If you check the September 2001 issue out of the library—which even has rudimentary instructions for how to construct one—make sure you use someone else’s library card. Preferably someone you don’t like.

The article was titled, “E-bomb: In the Blink of an Eye, Electromagnetic Bombs Could Throw Civilization Back 200 Years. And Terrorists [sic] Can Build Them for $400.”

And that’s a bad thing?

The author, Jim Wilson, begins: “The next Pearl Harbor will not announce itself with a searing flash of nuclear light or with the plaintive wails of those dying of Ebola or its genetically engineered twin. You will hear a sharp crack in the distance. By the time you mistakenly identify this sound as an innocent clap of thunder, the civilized world will have become unhinged.”

So far so good.

He continues, “Fluorescent lights and television sets will glow eerily bright, despite being turned off. The aroma of ozone mixed with smoldering plastic will seep from outlet covers as electric wires arc and telephone lines melt. Your Palm Pilot and MP3 player will feel warm to the touch, their batteries over-loaded. Your computer, and every bit of data on it, will be toast.”

I know, I know, this all sounds too good to be true. But it gets even better.

Wilson writes,“And then you will notice that the world sounds different too. The background music of civilization, the whirl of internal-combustion engines, will have stopped. Save a few diesels, engines will never start again. You, however, will remain unharmed, as you find yourself thrust backward 200 years, to a time when electricity meant a lightning bolt fracturing the night sky. This is not a hypothetical, son-of-Y2K scenario. It is a realistic assessment of the damage the Pentagon believes could be inflicted by a new generation of weapons—E-bombs.”

When I mention all this at my shows, people often interrupt me with cheers.

The core of the E-bomb idea is something called a Flux Compression Generator (FCG), which the article in Popular Mechanics calls “an astoundingly simple weapon. It consists of an explosives-packed tube placed inside a slightly larger copper coil, as shown below. [The article even has a diagram!] The instant before the chemical explosive is detonated, the coil is energized by a bank of capacitors, creating a magnetic field. The explosive charge detonates from the rear forward. As the tube flares outward it touches the edge of the coil, thereby creating a moving short circuit. ‘The propagating short has the effect of compressing the magnetic field while reducing the inductance of the stator [coil],’ says Carlo Kopp [an Australian-based expert on high-tech warfare]. ‘The result is that FCGs will produce a ramping current pulse, which breaks before the final disintegration of the device. Published results suggest ramp times of tens of hundreds of microseconds and peak currents of tens of millions of amps.’ The pulse that emerges makes a lightning bolt seem like a flashbulb by comparison.”

As good as all this may sound (oh, sorry, I forgot that technological progress is good; civilization is good; destroying the planet is good; computers and televisions and telephones and automobiles and fluorescent lights are all good, and certainly more important than a living and livable planet, more important than salmon, swordfish, grizzly bears, and tigers, which means the effects of E-bombs are so horrible that nobody but the U.S. military and its brave and glorious allies should ever have the capacity to set these off, and they should only be set off to support vital U.S. interests such as access to oil, which can be burned to keep the U.S. economy growing, to keep people consuming, to keep the world heating up from global warming, to keep tearing down the last vestiges of wild places from which the world may be able to recover if civilization comes down soon enough), it gets even better (or worse, if you identify more with civilization than your landbase): After an E-bomb is detonated, and destroys local electronics, the pulse piggybacks through the power and telecommunication infrastructure. This, according to the article, “means that terrorists [sic] would not have to drop their homemade E-bombs directly on the targets they wish to destroy. Heavily guarded sites, such as telephone switching centers and electronic funds-transfer exchanges, could be attacked through their electric and telecommunication connections.”

The article concludes on this hopeful note: “Knock out electric power, computers and telecommunication and you’ve destroyed the foundation of modern society. In the age of Third World-sponsored terrorism, the E-bomb is the great equalizer.”

Read more excerpts from Endgame, or purchase the book from Derrick Jensen’s website.

Organizational Structures – An excerpt from Deep Green Resistance


From Deep Green Resistance, by Lierre Keith, Aric McBay, and Derrick Jensen

Page 293-296

Within both aboveground and underground activism there are several templates for basic organizational structures. These structures have been used by every resistance group in history, although not all groups have chosen the approach best suited for their situations and objec­tives. It is important to understand the pros, cons, and capabilities of the spectrum of different organizations that comprise effective resist­ance movements.

The simplest “unit” of resistance is the individual. Individuals are highly limited in their resistance activities. Aboveground individuals (Figure 8-Ib) are usually limited to personal acts like alterations in diet, material consumption, or spirituality, which, as we’ve said, don’t match the scope of our problems. It’s true that individual aboveground activists can affect big changes at times, but they usually work by engaging other people or institutions. Underground individuals (Figure 8-la) may have to worry about security less, in that they don’t have anyone who can betray their secrets under interrogation; but nor do they have anyone to watch their back. Underground individuals are also limited in their actions, although they can engage in sabotage (and even assassination, as all by himself Georg Elser almost assassinated Hitler).

Individual actions may not qualify as resistance. Julian Jackson wrote on this subject in his important history of the German Occupation of France: “The Resistance was increasingly sustained by hostility of the mass of the population towards the Occupation, but not all acts of indi­vidual hostility can be characterized as resistance, although they are the necessary precondition of it. A distinction needs to be drawn between dis­sidence and resistance.” This distinction is a crucial one for us to make as well.

Jackson continues, “Workers who evaded [compulsory labor], or Jews who escaped the round-ups, or peasants who withheld their pro­ duce from the Germans, were transgressing the law, and their actions were subversive of authority. But they were not resisters in the same way as those who organized the escape of [forced laborers] and Jews. Contesting or disobeying a law on an individual basis is not the same as challenging the authority that makes those laws.'”

Of course, one’s options for resistance are greatly expanded in a group.

The most basic organizational unit is the affinity group. A group of fewer than a dozen people is a good compromise between groups too large to be socially functional, and too small to carry out important tasks. The activist’s affinity group has a mirror in the underground cell, and in the military squad. Groups this size are small enough for participatory decision making to take place, or in the case of a hierarchical group, for orders to be relayed quickly and easily.

The underground affinity group (Figure 8-2a, shown here with a dis­tinct leader) has many benefits for the members. Members can specialize in different areas of expertise, pool their efforts, work together toward shared goals, and watch each others’ backs. The group . can also offer social and emotional support that is much needed for people working underground. Because they do not have direct rela­tionships with other movements or underground groups, they can be relatively secure. However, due to their close working relationships, if one member of the group is compromised, the entire affinity group is likely to be compromised. The more members are in the group, the more risk involved (and the more different relationships to deal with). Also because the affinity group is limited in size, it is limited in terms of the size of objectives it can go after, and their geographic range.

Aboveground affinity groups ( Figure 8-2b) share many of the same clear benefits of a small-scale, deliberate community. However, they may rely more on outside relationships, both for friends and fellow activists. Members may also easily belong to more than one affinity group to follow their own interests and passions. This is not the case with underground groups-members must belong only to one affinity group or they are putting all groups at risk.

The obvious benefit of multiple overlapping aboveground groups is the formation of larger movements or “mesh” networks (Figure 8-3b). These larger, diverse groups are better able to get a lot done, although sometimes they can have coordination or unity problems if they grow beyond a certain size. In naturally forming social networks, each member of the group is likely to be only a few degrees of separation from any other person. This can be fantastic for sharing information or finding new contacts. However, for a group concerned about security issues, this type of organization is a disaster. If any individual were compromised, that person could easily compromise large numbers of people. Even if some members of the network can’t be compromised, the sheer number of connections between people makes it easy to just bypass the people who can’t be compromised. The kind of decentral­ized network that makes social networks so robust is a security nightmare.

Underground groups that want to bring larger numbers of people into the organization must take a different approach. A security-con­scious underground network will largely consist of a number of different cells with limited connections to other cells (Figure 8-3a). One person in a cell would know all of the members in that cell, as well as a single member in another cell or two. This allows coordination and shared information between cells. This network is “compartmentalized.” Like all underground groups, it has a firewall between itself and the above­ ground. But there are also different, internal firewalls between sections.

You Don’t Have to Reinvent the Wheel- What Occupy Can Learn from the Populists

Introspection, retrospection, and learning from past movements like the Populists of the late 19th century could propel the Occupy Movement to new heights. Some strategic framework based on the lessons of history could open a world of possibilities, but the movement must first begin to challenge some of the patterns and assumptions that have defined it thus far.

Occupy Albany protesters moving their info tent
as they’re evicted on December 22, 2011

Reposted from Truthout

Excerpt from article by Ashley Sanders:

…[T]he Populists came within an inch of changing the entire corporate-capitalist system. They wanted a totally new world, and they had a plan to get it. But as you may have noticed, they didn’t. And now here we are, one hundred years later, occupying parks where fields once stood. We’re at a crucial phase in our movement, standing just now with the great Everything around us—everything to win or everything to lose. It’s our choice. And that’s good, because the choices we make next will echo, not just for scholars and bored kids in history class, but in the lives we do or don’t get to have. The good news is this: the Populists traveled in wagons and left us their wheels. We don’t have to reinvent them. We’re going in a new direction, but I have a feeling they can help us get there.

Occupy has done a lot of things right, and even more things beautifully. But strategy has not been our forte. That was okay at first, even good. We didn’t have one demand, because we wanted it all. So we let our anger grow, and our imagination with it. We were not partisan or monogamous to one creed. That ranging anger got 35,000 people on the Brooklyn Bridge after the Wall Street eviction, and hell if I’m not saying hallelujah. But winter is settling now, and cops are on the march. Each week we face new eviction orders, and wonder how to occupy limbo.

It’s time for a plan, then, some idea for going forward. This plan should in no way replace the rhizomatic-glorious, joyful-rip-roarious verve of the movement so far. It can occur in tandem. But we need a blueprint for the future, because strategy is the road resistance walks to freedom.

Read whole article here.

Occupy the Machine – Stop the 1% Has Begun

Our Bodies Will Be Our Demand

Photo Credit: Not a DGR Action. Earth First and Rising Tide blockaded a gas-fired

power plant construction site in Palm Beach County, Florida in 2008.

Occupy the Machine is an ad hoc umbrella group using serious, sustained direct action campaigns to shut down major targets that destroy the land and exploit humans, permanently.

Sign up here to be notified when the target is announced.

Occupy the Machine has begun.

We are pleased to announce the Occupy the Machine US Speaking Tour! Learn more

Pass it on!


The Occupy Movement is beautiful. We support it and though we are small, we are participating all over the country. We invite all occupiers to read, give feedback, and if you feel moved to do so to present this at a General Assembly or committee meeting near you.

We invite you to imagine, as many of you already probably have, if thousands of people occupied local refineries, roads, ports, oil and mining extraction sites, etc. – in other words, imagine if people occupied the locations where the 1% destroy the land and exploit humans, all for profit.

Imagine their stock prices falling, their cash flow being interrupted, their ability to get loans and/or expand “production” – a euphemism for converting living beings into dead products – finished.

Imagine if we were able to stop them, stop the 1%. Literally. Not symbolically.
We think it can be done if we all do it together. We think it can be done if we all figure out how to do it and if we are willing to make the necessary sacrifices, together.

Here’s one way we could start:

Though we are all part of the 99%, not all of us are impacted the same way.

First and foremost we recognize that nonindigenous people in the US are occupying stolen land in an ongoing genocide that has lasted for centuries.

We affirm our responsibility to stand with indigenous communities who want support, to risk our lives, and give everything we can to protect the land without which none of us have anything.

We also recognize and stand in solidarity with communities of people of color who are also disproportionately impacted by environmental racism, capitalism, and a system of white supremacy.

We recognize that women combat a system of sexism and patriarchy, and we commit to supporting the struggle for gender equality, which is the basis of equality for all.

Our focus will be to stand in solidarity with local indigenous communities, people of color communities, and women in struggle—ask if they would like support and what that support would look like, and share some version of this overall strategy.

Then, based on this information and in collaboration with local communities if all agree, each Occupy General Assembly would decide what they want to target. Or they would call on people to form local affinity groups and those groups would decide the local targets on which they would focus.

Many local affinity groups could conceivably attempt to occupy multiple targets. Strategically, however, it will likely be more successful if occupiers focus on one or two major targets – such as Tar Sands refineries, fracking, coal plants etc. The idea is that if we can successfully shut down a few major targets all over the country, one or two targets per region, people more broadly will see the power they all have and then more targets can be taken on.

To be clear, what we’re envisioning here would mean a massive escalation. It would mean hundreds of thousands of people all over the country leaving behind school, jobs, family, and comfort, to really go for it. To not settle for less than victory. To leave behind symbolic action for good.
Continue reading Occupy the Machine – Stop the 1% Has Begun

Occupy Seattle: Open Letter Regarding Non-violence vs. Diversity of Tactics Debate

Diversifying tactics does not mean that our movements have to polarize around the “violent/nonviolent” debate. This letter from a member of Decolonize/Occupy Seattle frames the debate well. It might give you some ideas for clarifying this debate at your local General Assembly.

Open Letter to Decolonize / Occupy Seattle

Originally published at Occupy Seattle

I am writing concerning the debate about nonviolence vs. diversity of tactics. I can’t be at GAs this week because I am visiting friends and speaking about the port shutdown to folks from Occupy Wall Street in NYC. Please share this with people on all sides of the debate; I wished to raise some of these points in the GA on Tuesday but was never called on (which is okay, a lot of other people had crucial things to say). For transparency’s sake, I wish to emphasize I am definitely part of the broad “radical” tendency of Decolonize/ Occupy Seattle, but I do not speak for all radicals. We have no representatives or leadership structure; in fact, we are a loose grouping of like-minded activists, not an organization. Here I wish to emphasize a particular radical perspective that I think has been unfortunately drowned out by the polarizing debate.

First of all, I want to emphasize that when radicals argue for a “diversity of tactics”, we are not arguing for “anything goes.” If someone advocated a stupid tactic that would put all of us in unnecessary danger than the radicals would surely oppose this. There are all sorts of stupid tactics. Some of them, like trying to explain to a police officer why he should support a militant direct action would be considered “nonviolent.” Others, like setting off a bomb near cops stationed inside the family-friendly “green zone” of a demonstration, would be considered “violent”. We’d try to stop both of these because both of these would surely lead to violence coming down on folks who have not chosen to participate in a violent action – the first by giving the police info that could lead to violent arrests of fellow activists, the second because it endangers protesters’ lives.

In contrast, “diversity of tactics” means we are are open to all sorts of smart tactics that would be considered nonviolent by the mainstream society, as well as others that are similarly smart, but get labeled as “violent” by the mainstream media. Basically, I think we should start the conversation with the question: which tactics are smart and which ones aren’t? We may find we have more agreement there then we’d expect, agreement that’s getting overlooked in this debate about violence vs. nonviolence.

Given that, I think we need a clear, non-polemical answer to this question: why is this debate happening right now? If folks think it is because liberals are trying to take over the GA they need to prove it. If folks think it is because radicals are trying to take over the GA then they need to prove it. If it is for a different reason, what is that reason? I think answering this question will help us move forward.

My hypothesis is that this is coming up right now because the movement is at a turning point. We no longer have the camp, which brought out its own clear social groupings that have been in motion together since the fall. Some of these groupings have been dumpies (downwardly mobile urban professionals who the economic crisis has dumped into the working class), homeless folks, unemployed folks, and low wage workers. We are asking now: what new strategies can continue to mobilize these social groupings together ? What strategies can reach out to new groupings that we haven’t yet reached? Which groups should we be trying to reach? Is it possible to reach all communities at once? If not, which communities should be prioritized?

It’s clear the movement still has vitality, but it does not yet have a new direction. Really, we should be debating about how to find that direction. There is no reason why that debate should rip us apart, especially since it is entirely possible that some of us might choose to focus on some communities, and other might choose to focus on others, and that’s okay because we’ve already established a principle of autonomy in the movement.

Instead of having these debates in a healthy way, a few folks from the liberal faction of Occupy Seattle decided to frame the debate in terms of violence vs. nonviolence. It think this is unfortunate. We are trying to name and debate about the “elephant in the room” which is how this movement can grow as it enters its second phase. A few of the liberals have found the elephant’s tail and they are shouting “I found the elephant! We need to be nonviolent!”.

However, beneath their overzealousness lies some serious political concerns that can’t easily be dismissed, and need to be addressed through healthy political debate. Their main argument, as far as I can tell, is that unless we adopt a policy of nonviolence, they won’t be able to reach out to the groups they want to reach out to (groups that will be turned off by anything that can be labeled violent). This is a serious point that deserves a serious political response.

To give folks the benefit of the doubt, I’ll assume that not all of the folks who are for the nonviolence proposal are doing it simply to get funding from liberal groups. Some might be, but some of them are probably doing it simply because they want people from their communities to participate and may be getting strong criticisms from their communities for the actions that some of the radicals in Decolonize/ Occupy Seattle have done. This could be amplified as folks spend time with family over the holidays, and face pressure around the dinner table.

The main response from the radical faction, as far as I can tell, is equally serious: if we adopt a policy of nonviolence, then we wont be able to reach out to the groups we want to reach out to: groups that face systematic racist, sexist, capitalistic, and homophobic violence and will not participate if we are required to renounce our capacity for self-defense. Radicals also face pressure from our communities – life is getting increasingly harder, there is more and more drama going on as the economic crisis deepens, and people all around us are asking how we can come together to provide safety for each other as we struggle to get free. Just when we think Decolonize/Occupy could be a way to provide this safety, we are faced with a mandatory nonviolence proposal that will tie our hands and make it harder for us to do that.

I think if we could cut out a lot of the rhetorical fireworks and focus the discussion on these contending points, we might be able to reach a breakthrough. I do think some choices will need to be made about which community’s concerns we prioritize most, but this does mean that other communities need to be shut out of the movement and it does not mean we need to split.

For example, I think that this movement should be grounded in, and in solidarity with, the struggles of working class communities of color. Wall St. and the 1% get their profits by exploiting working class people of color more than they exploit working class white people. (Note, when I say working class I don’t just mean people who currently work, I also mean unemployed folks, and anyone who has been displaced, dispossessed, or separated from their land and the means of production by colonialism). I do think that this movement will not be relevant to working class communities of color if it relies on the police for safety. In a white supremacist society, people of color are far too likely to be attacked by police or by racist white people. For this reason, it is unfair and unrealistic to ask folks to check their capacity for self-defense at the door if they wish to join the movement. A mandatory nonviolence policy also puts at risk people of color who have been tirelessly building this movement from the beginning. That’s not right and we won’t let it happen.

However, I don’t think the radicals’ response to this demand has simply been “white people go home.” If you listen closely, folks are not saying white people have no role in the movement. Most radicals are simply saying the movement should not be white dominated and white people should not be telling people of color they can’t defend themselves.

Many of the radicals recognize that white people are not all the same, and that white women, queer, transgender, working class, and gender nonconforming folks are also much more likely to be attacked by police or by other violent, reactionary forces in society than white middle and upper class straight men are. We want to build alliances, and defending each other is part of that.

This piece by a few of the radicals argues that working class white people are actually facing less and less privilege under the system. The economic crisis has lead to even greater attacks on working class people of color, but it has also lead to attacks on working class white folks. It is in the interest of working class white folks to unite with working class people of color, and to be in solidarity with their struggles: Not all radicals agree with this article, but it’s worth considering.

It’s important to emphasize that none of the radicals are advocating that Decolonize/ Occupy Seattle should take a position of guerilla warfare or armed revolutionary warfare right now. This is a straw-man argument that some liberals have raised to discredit us. Primarily, many radicals are concerned about our personal safety and our need to defend ourselves. People won’t join the movement if they know they will be needlessly unsafe within it.

At a broader level, many of us are part of this movement because we believe in taking responsibility for all aspects of our lives, including matters of security and accountability. We don’t believe in leaving these up to a racist, capitalist, sexist, and heterosexist police and judicial system. We wish to start building an alternative, rooted in the same principles of autonomy and direct democracy that animate the General Assembly. Many of us were central to attempts to provide safety in the camp. We are not saying we oppose this nonviolence proposal because we love violence. We are saying we oppose it because it limits our ability to take responsibility for ourselves and each other. In some respects, it actually means we’d have less freedom than we do outside of the movement, which seems backwards.

I am hearing from some white middle class folks that they can’t be associated with OS unless it takes a pledge of nonviolence because their own communities will see them as violent by association even if they don’t participate in violence themselves. They are saying that being in a movement that is labeled violent will hurt their organizing efforts more than it will hurt radicals if we are associated with a movement that is “nonviolent.” First of all, this is not accurate. In many of our communities, we will be seen as naive, whitewashed, bourgie, or not serious if we are associated with a movement that is known to require nonviolence for all of its participants. Worse, some reactionaries out there might think that they can take advantage of us more easily because the movement has required us to renounce our capacity for self-defense and we might be put at danger.

Given this, I don’t think the nonviolence proposal should be passed. At the same time, I don’t think that radicals should just dismiss liberals, including white middle class liberals, when they say that the defeat of this proposal will mean it’ll be harder for them to organize in their communities. I think that Occupy Seattle should work together to make it clear to the public that we are for a diversity of tactics, not mandatory self-defense or armed struggle. We should make it clear that folks who believe in nonviolence can still participate in the movement. We should also try to open up a dialogue about how organizers from white middle class backgrounds can go back to their communities and explain why Occupy Seattle has not passed a mandatory nonviolence resolution. This could be a great opportunity to educate and challenge folks, and to expand the movement.

At the same time, I think radicals should be careful not to catch people in the crossfire. (to be fair, most of us have been careful, but if the debate polarizes further this could become an issue). Not everyone who believes in nonviolence is white, and not everyone is a liberal. And some people who started out liberal have become radicals the past few months; others are somewhere in between. The vitality of the radicals so far is that we have not hardened into a rigid organization. We don’t have our own borders or leaders. We have many voices. We are open to new people joining; many of us are in fact new to organizing, and folks who are more experienced are working together for the first time. This is exceptional – it is not happening as much in other cities, and it is a major reason for the dynamism not only of Seattle’s radical scenes but of Decolonize/ Occupy Seattle as a whole. It is also a major reason for the sucess of the port shutdown. If we start to draw hard lines against everyone who belives in nonviolence then we will loose this vitality. If someone believes in nonviolence and they’re willing to shut down ports chanting “everything for everyone the revolution has begun”, then we should work together.

I’ve been doing research recently on the tactics police use when they try to infiltrate and destroy movements. One tactic they have used over and over again is to infiltrate liberal circles and label all radicals as violent extremists, or to suggest that radicals are police provocatuers to discredit them. Often, their goal is to join and encapsulate/ contain a movement within a limited and moderate set of goals. Another tactic they have used is to infiltrate radical circles in attempts to provoke an over-reaction against liberal nonviolence, and a premature split. They want radicals to become closed off, paranoid, and mistrustful so that our organizations and communities will no longer be accessible or attractive to new folks. I think Seattle’s radicals are too smart to fall for that. I hope Seattle’s liberals are as well. I have no evidence that there are police agents in Decolonize/ Occupy Seattle currently, but I do think that how we handle this debate will affect our long-term resiliency in the face of possible police interference.

One of the things that disappoints me about this debate is that there have been few folks who have made arguments from a principled, radical pacifist perspective. It seems most of the main arguments for the nonviolence proposal center around tactics, not principle. I worry that folks who believe in nonviolence on principle might be getting sidelined or silenced. I am not a pacifist today, but I first became an activist through Christian and interfaith organizing against the war in Iraq, and was deeply inspired by radical pacifists like Daniel Berrigan who burned a bunch of draft files with homemade napalm and went underground to evade the FBI because he thought that a violent, oppressive, racist state has no right to apprehend him and put him on trial. This goes a lot further than classic notions of civil disobedience where you’re supposed to turn yourself in to accept the legitimacy of the system minus the one law you are protesting because you think it’s unjust. In fact, I think Berrigan’s actions actually have a little more in common with some tactics used by anarchists, and I’m not sure, but I think he may have considered himself an anarchist pacifist.

Berrigan was working in solidarity with the Black Panthers and the Vietnamese resistance movements against colonialism. He wanted to build a nonviolent alternative to the armed solidarity work being done by groups like the Weather Underground. However, he didn’t distance himself from the Underground or from the Panthers or any other armed groups. He was not ashamed to be associated with the anti-war movement just because these groups were a part of it. Instead, he stayed in the movement and tried to create a nonviolent option for resistance through his own activity.

Instead of trying to impose mandatory nonviolence resolution, I encourage those who really believe in nonviolence to figure out ways to challenge the violence of the state, capitalism, patriarchy, rape culture, heterosexism, and white supremacy. We can work together on that. If you want to challenge it nonviolently, I respect that. But to be philosophically consistent, you shouldn’t collaborate with politicians, cops, and the system because the system is incredibly violent. Instead, you should think of ways to work with the radicals in Occupy Seattle to oppose the violence of this society. If you want to do that nonviolently, then organize yourselves to do it. I’m sure you will find support, even from those of us who may be labeled as “violent”. That’s what “diversity of tactics” is all about.

I’m not an anarchist, but I’ll end with a quote from an anarchist flyer that was distributed at the camp this fall. It is a reminder of why we are all here in the first place: “the greatest violence would be to return to normal.” After what we’ve all been through together we can’t just walk away from this movement without inflicting great violence on our own hearts, minds, and souls. Think about the level of of repression and denial that it will take to walk away and to go back to a “normal” life where you just put up with a future-less, dream-less reality full of endless work and economic anxiety. Trying to readjust to that just because you lost a debate in the GA is a recipe for misery. Doing that to yourself is way more violent then anything the radicals have done in this movement.

peace and solidarity,
participant in Decolonize/ Occupy Seattle