Several groups in Seattle set up protests and demonstrations for yesterday--some related to Occupy Wall Street, some related to strikes, some related to other issues workers in America are facing now. And, as is wont to occasionally happen in Seattle during protests (please see WTO 1999), things got a little violent. Dressed in black, with balaclavas and billy clubs to match, Seattle protestors took to the downtown areas, smashing in the windows of large corporations with questionable business practices, setting fire to garbage cans, and in some cases assaulting those careless (or unable) enough to not have avoided downtown for the day. Some onlookers and news stations referred to "black bloc groups," which is actually a malapropism, as "black bloc" is a tactic, and not a "group." Sorry guys, but anarchists don't form groups. As Maggie Gyllenhaal once pointed out, anarchists don't hold meetings or schedule protests or rally together...
Considering this is not the first time black bloc tactics have been resorted to during Seattle protests, I wasn't surprised by yesterday's events, until I logged in to Facebook and saw the commentary posted by people I considered calm, rational, peaceful individuals. Take, for example:
"Dear Occupy Seattle and May Day rioters...Ffing Move! This country hates you more than you hate it. Better yet...Just choke out on the pepper spray and rid the world of your vermin. That's all!" -Sallie*, a Christian whose religious views listed online state "Love the Lord!"
Or perhaps this:
"You know why you're dressed in black, protesting and breaking shit in downtown Seattle instead of being at work today? Because you're the kind of person who would dress in black, protest, and break shit in downtown Seattle. Which is why you're unemployed. F*ck knuckles." -Daniel, who at least offers an (admittedly, rather feeble) argument to support his hatred.
Another favorite, which begins innocently enough:
"Hope all of you in Seattle can avoid the crazies that are out and remember if you see one kick them in the face." -Luke, who declares in his About Me that there is no point to life without his family and friends. But evidently, everyone else deserves to get kicked in the face.
In fact, the only post about the May Day protests in Seattle that was negative but still thoughtful, educated, and informed was from a friend who wrote, "Rioting assholes: let's pretend like you even have any idea what May Day started out as. What the hell does breaking every glass window and door accomplish?" -Melanie.
While "Melanie" may not agree with the protestors' tactics (and to be fair, I do not entirely, either), at least she doesn't want violence done against them.
Which is more than I can say for most people online, apparently.
The thing is--and the thing I tried to convey with a post later in the day on Facebook--political moderation doesn't accomplish things. In the well-known "Letter from Birmingham Jail," Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke out against the white moderate as being the greatest stumbling block between African Americans and their civil rights. Not the KKK. Not Bull Connor. But the white neighbor who did not hate Black people, and believed Blacks should have the right to vote, but became uncomfortable when asked to do anything about it.
Most will point out the flaw in my argument: it is absolutely preposterous to equate the peaceful Civil Rights Movement with the window-bashing that went down on the streets of Seattle yesterday afternoon and evening. Of course it is. But the point I am making is not about violence or non-violence, but rather about complacency. It was the complacency of the moderate white person in the years leading up to the sixties that prevented Black Americans from voting, from sitting at a lunch counter, from walking in the same door as a white person. It will be the complacency of Americans like Sallie, Daniel, and Luke--and the downright anger against any form of change, no matter how it comes about--that prevent Americans from changing anything in our society that is unjust--economically, socially, or politically. Unfortunately, while it is easier, sitting pretty in the middle means shit don't change.
*Names changed to protect people who would regret the things that they posted publicly.