Saturday, November 03, 2012

Musings: on black bloc and property destruction and violence

This is something I've been thinking about and trying to figure out for a while.  I'm also extremely nervous posting about it, for a lot of reasons, but I am interested in your thoughts so please feel free to respond (as always I reserve the right to moderate your comment if you just act like a jerk).

So I've finally put together why property destruction in demonstrations coupled with black bloc bothers me so much on a personal/emotional/psychic level.

I'm constantly afraid that destructiveness is going to turn on me.  

It's related to the feeling I get when cat-called or when someone I'm arguing with starts to take that anger out physically (hit a wall, etc.) - that as a woman I am NOT safe in this situation.  That I am a target of this aggressive behavior.  

And not just generally as a woman but also individually as someone whose experiences with violent/hypermasculine behavior has been in the context of people wielding power over me; whether teachers, cops or bullies.  Without knowing/trusting the people in the bloc and fully understanding/knowing beforehand what property they are destroying and why, I experience those moments as an unleashing of destructive feeling/emotion/impulse that I KNOW can turn on me and people like me and people not like me but who are also targeted by hatred/violence/aggressive/hypermasculine/-phobic behavior.

As someone who knows intimately the catharsis of slamming a door or punching a wall, as someone who knows well the symbolic power of smashing/burning/destroying something, it's not the theory of the tactic I really have a problem with, but with the experience of it that I've had over the last year in marches, with people I don't know suddenly performing acts around me that I experience as violence (and the looming police threat around us only magnifies that feeling, at times when they haven't been around I have been noticeably less frightened by these actions).  

Black bloc contributes to this because the masks don't just prevent surveillance by cops but by our ability to see each other.  Most of the time, I don't know if I know these people, much less if I trust them.  And I'm just not naive enough to trust on faith that if they're there in this march with me it actually means we're on the "same side."  

I also don't think I'm the only one having a reaction like this in these crowds, which may contribute to why some others also label these actions "violent."  

And PLEASE don't misconstrue this: on a theoretical and even practical level I don't have any problem with BofA having its windows smashed, they and all others like them have practiced violence on many communities, and the cathartic and symbolic power and the message of those smashed windows is, in my view, potentially really valuable.  

But I would also say that I don't think my reaction to these situations is just "a personal problem" or something like that, and that the way I, and others who have experienced destructive impulses/actions that target us, should be taken into account when these things are planned.  Obviously sometimes the smashing of a window is spontaneous and there is only so much you can do about spontaneous actions, but sometimes it's not.  And in those times shouldn't we know and consent to being in this situation BEFORE it starts happening all around us and we're caught in the middle?  If we are all comrades, aren't those of us for whom that might be triggering owed some sort of warning?  

Or do we just deal with it, or not show up?  Because not showing up is almost where I'm at with anti-capitalist marches because of these experiences, and that sucks, because I am anti-capitalist.  

Obviously, it's quite fashionable right now to hate on black bloc* and property destruction, particularly here in the Bay where those tactics have led to some pretty damned divisive conversations...and I don't really want to add to that? (Which is why I've sat on this piece for weeks, actually).  But once I FINALLY figured this out, I also really, really, wanted to write it out and share it and maybe get others thinking about it too, because it seemed important.

*Obviously not all black blocs practice property destruction and not all property destruction is done by a black bloc, this is simply the context in which I have experienced these moments.  The exception being the black bloc on Move-In Day for Occupy Oakland, which I found really inspiring because they took a really awesome militantly defensive tactic of having shields and protecting people by standing between them and the cops and serving as a kind of wall so medics could get to injured people more easily, etc.  That was great.  I would love to see more of that.