On Violent and Non-Violent Resistance

The brutality of Charlottesville and the promise of upcoming events that may bring similar carnage has opened many eyes to a social reality long ignored.  Many friends have approached me and asked for my opinions on non-violence, punching Nazis, and how we can understand what to do in the face of mobilizing neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and neo-fascists.  After thinking heavily on this topic, I have prepared the following:

1. The Resistance

I view non-violent and violent forms of confrontation as just that, forms, not as moral imperatives.  This is to say that I do not advocate one or the other in absolute terms.  To me, there is no "must do" in this discussion as I see these as tactics to be employed strategically. This can be seen as an openness to a diversity of tactics that I believe to be paramount.  Non-violence is always preferable to violence, but sometimes violence is strategically necessary to push back against aggression.  As I shall argue, to rule out the latter is to doom the former to failure.

2. The Threat

The threat does not seem to be the KKK, the neo-Nazis, the Confederate militias, or the white guys who murdered and terrorized in Charlottesville.  I see such an analysis as a simplistic reading of the situation.  These examples are current forms of the threat and the threat is historic, cultural, and systemic.  The threat began with genocide of American Indians and buying and selling of non-white human beings.  The threat lives in every institution, every police officer, every school, and every home.  It lives in all of us to different degrees.  The threat can be qualified as white supremacist settler-colonialism, class exploitation, and hetero-patriarchy.  At this juncture in history, it manifests in Charlottesville and elsewhere across the US.  The government is not going to help; it is the ultimate defender of this paradigm.  And no one person can defeat the threat on their own, we can only do so as a community.

3. The Terrain

Using point 2 as a way to contextualize point 1, I hope that this openness to a diversity of tactics is put into perspective.  It seems naive to speak in absolutist terms: us vs. them, antifa vs. fascists, regular people vs. reactionaries.  There appear to be three distinct terrain upon which this confrontation takes place:

a) The terrain of the mobilized fascists themselves.  This is Charlottesville and soon to be SF, Boston, and so forth.  This terrain is an immediate one: white supremacists converge on a place to test social waters, instill fear, and carve out space to operate.  This terrain is temporal, which is to say it comes and goes unless/until it takes the next form.

b) The terrain of the state.  This is Jim Crow, the Muslim ban, anti-abortion legislation, the legacy of broken American Indian treaties, wage suppression, and so forth.  This terrain is a systemic one: reactionaries take positions of political power and shape the form of society to oppress and brutalize.  This terrain is structural, guiding and contextualizing the following form.

c) The terrain of ourselves.  We all reify these structures of oppression within ourselves in some manner or another.  We then socialize and are socialized as such.  This terrain is an interior one: it is how we view people who look different than us, how we approach them, extend them our hand (or don't), how we view the law and how we conceptualize our place in a complex environment.  This is the terrain of humanness and can be filled with many things including love and despair.

No one terrain is above another and all flow into each other continuously.  As most recently demonstrated in Charlottesville, to ignore the first is to condemn people to brutality and death.  To ignore the second is to condemn the future to continued slavery and barbarism.  To ignore the third is to condemn ourselves to despair.  Thus we must engage on all three terrains at once, using a diversity of tactics to best ensure our safety and survival.

4. The Response

Each terrain can have a different tactical response.  It is possible to be non-violent towards one's community and oneself while pushing back violently against neo-fascists.  It is also possible to be violent towards oneself and non-violent towards the state.  The question becomes: what is the best tactic at hand?  And this question reveals why we must be open to a diversity of tactics.  To demand that all terrains be fought with the same tactic is to provide those who wish to hurt us with a blueprint for how to do so.  To demand that each terrain receive a specific tactic is no different.  Furthermore, no two people are exactly alike and to force everyone into a specific tactic is to embody the threat itself.

Our response must be radically different from the threat.  If the threat is qualified as white supremacist settler-colonialism, class exploitation, and hetero-patriarchy, the response must be something like a radically diverse, open, classless society of people dedicated to a reciprocal welfare of all.  But this is just a personal sketch, no one person can declare the response: we must come to it together as a community.  And when we think about this in terms of our discussion of non-violence vs. violence, we realize that our openness to a diversity of tactics is precisely our openness to one another.  Some people are non-violent and they will require others to defend them in the face of brutal aggression (see Cornel West's remarks on antifa in Charlottesville).  Similarly, those who practice non-violence provide the movement with solid and safe ground from which to mobilize individual responses and actions.  Non-violent tactics also remind us of the immense power of compassion and virtue, things that are so easily lost in struggle.

5. The Cake

I guess my point is that we've passed the time for Tina Fey fun with cakes.  For white people, that's all we've ever really done, had our cake and eaten it too.  This is because we escape the paradox by taking other people's cake and calling it our own.  In the case of Fey's jokes, white people have the luxury and privilege of "not showing up and letting the racists shout into the void."  For most POC and marginalized folk in general, everyday is showing up because the threat is real.  If we want to adequately address the real threat to our communities, we have to stand up, listen, and act.  We have to understand that each person is different and will come at this in their own personal way, and that's ok so long as we're acting together.  We have to be open to different tactics on different terrains and be prepared to leave the cake behind.

Solidarity, and all power to the people.