Rebel greetings on this year’s May Day international worker and immigrant rights day, commemorated around the world with street marches, strikes, and sabotage against the system that oppresses and exploits us all. After the May 1, 1886 general strike in Chicago, in which workers fighting for the eight-hour day were shot by police, eight anarchist labor organizers were arrested and sentenced to death for a retaliatory bombing none of them had committed. 128 years later and the rich ruling class still maintain their wealth and power through a monopoly of violence, exemplified by the brutal repression of Occupy Wall Street and targeted prosecutions such as the NATO 3, who recently received lengthy prison sentences for yet another fabricated “bomb” plot.
True to the Chicago Police Department’s legacy, they sought to disrupt protests in advance of the 2012 NATO conference by passing city ordinances limiting free speech, spending millions on new “less lethal” crowd control technology, and sending infiltrators to entrap unsuspecting activists resulting in the arrest of the NATO 3. They hoped to demonize them as “terrorists” based on a molotov cocktail plot cooked up by the CPD itself, charges so trumped up and ridiculous even the feds wouldn’t pick it up. At trial, the jury did not go for the “terrorism” charges – a victory in itself against the post-9/11 hysteria – but they were sentenced to several years in prison anyway for possession of incendiary devices and mob action.
In sentencing the three, Judge Thaddeus Wilson lectured, “As a society, in the face of threats, we don’t wait for a building or property to be damaged … peaceful protest is not synonymous with rioting,” setting yet another precedent that you can be imprisoned for even thinking about committing a crime even if you were entrapped by an undercover cop. In crafting this spectacle, the authorities wanted send a message to protesters dictating which methods of protest are “legitimate” and if you think about crossing the line you could be charged as a “terrorist.” They hoped that Occupy Wall Street, which many wanted to brand as a “non-violent movement,” would join with the police and media denouncing those arrested for unapproved forms of resistance. It was a cheap shot, and it is terrible that our friends are having to do years behind bars so that the powerful can make a political point. Fortunately, their plan failed: most everybody rallied to support those arrested, and through solid legal defense and PR, were able to convince the jury to acquit of the most serious charges and sway the public against the prosecution.
But there were also many others supposedly on our side who would not support the NATO 3, and who continue to campaign for strict adherence to “non-violence.” They seek to purge the movement of those that refuse to be controlled and corralled. I remember during the months of preparation before the NATO conference, many heated arguments of whether Occupy Chicago would co-sign the “Chicago Principles” which had already been passed by dozens of organizations. Specifically, many dogmatic pacifists opposed embracing a diversity of tactics (in which everybody could resist against NATO in any form they feel necessary without interfering with or condemning the work of others) because they were worried “violent black bloc anarchists” would ruin “their” protest, “their” city.
Since Haymarket, anarchists have always been demonized as wild-eyed, bomb-throwing crazies, propaganda perpetuated by the ruling class to turn the workers away from the idea of a self-governing society free from bosses, police, or politicians. In reality, everyday anarchists are engaged with projects like community infoshops, feeding the homeless, books to prisoners, labor organizing, and writing zines/newsletters. In arguing for the maximum sentence in my case, both the judge and prosecution dismissed any argument that I had fought for transparency, instead scolding me for wanting to “wreak havoc” and cause “mass mayhem.” But as Bakunin once said, “The passion for destruction is a creative passion.” We do need to bring down – by force if necessary – their established power structures in order to make room for an egalitarian-free society.
There have been many examples throughout history of successful militant action, from the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, the NLF victory against the US during the Vietnam War, and even the American Revolution which this supposedly free and democratic country was founded on. The Arab Spring, which many occupations tried to recreate, was not a “non-violent movement” – they held down their occupations by throwing bottles, rocks, and molotovs at the police. In Tunisia, half the police stations were looted and burned down. And most international conferences of the rich and powerful, such as the G8, NATO and the RNC/DNC are met with riots, most notably, the 1999 World Trade Organization summit in Seattle where the black bloc not only brought attention to the devastating systemic violence of the WTO, but shut it down entirely.
Those who advocate or participate in militant direct action are often snitch-jacketed as “agent provocateurs” by pacifists who sometimes go so far as to say that the government wants us to resort to violence. Such conspiracy theories are naive and dangerous: of course the ruling powers would prefer that those they screw over only voice their anger in established reformist channels such as the courts, elections and peaceful protests. They want us predictable and non-threatening to their business as usual, which is of course the greatest everyday violence of imperialism, racism, and economic inequality.
How much longer do you expect people to stay peaceful when killer cops get away with murdering unarmed citizens from Albuquerque to Fullerton to NYC, or when the US has “kill lists” of “suspected terrorists” they can execute with drone strikes anywhere in the world, murdering thousands of innocent bystanders in the process? Why are they allowed to wage war around the world and on our own streets while we are expected to obey the ineffective doctrine of non-violence?
Yes, the NATO 3 were taken advantage of by overzealous undercover police, similar to the Cleveland 4 and the majority of “terrorism” cases (see The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism, by Trevor Aaronson). But I do not believe they were as naive and stoned as their lawyers (perhaps necessarily) made them out to be. It is courageous, not crazy, to risk your freedom fighting the police. We have an obligation to expose, confront, and sabotage by any means necessary the system which oppresses and exploits us all.
We cannot allow the threat of politically motivated frame-ups to deter us from taking action ourselves or exploit differences in our movements over tactical differences. The best way to show solidarity with those caught up is to escalate and retaliate: being incarcerated, it brings me great joy to hear news of riots in the streets, corporate property being destroyed or expropriated, and government websites being hacked.