Debate on Tactics

In the wake of the breaking of a few windows in downtown Seattle during the WTO protests on November 30, everyone wants to debate the \”violence/non-violence\” or more aptly the \”property destruction/no-property destruction\” question. Rather than continuing this tired debate, we should be talking about how everyone-no matter where they fall in the debate-should be smarter and more strategic about using tactics to achieve identifiable goals.

In Seattle, the non-violent, civil disobedience tactic worked beyond anyone\’s wildest dreams, mostly because the Seattle police couldn\’t figure out that perhaps they should arrest, rather than shoot and torture, the peaceful crowd. But this tactic doesn\’t and won\’t always work, and adopting it like a religion, rather than as a sometimes effective tactic, is unfortunate.

Similarly, property destruction in one form or another can be and often is an extremely effective tactic. This tactic is not \”violence,\” and where practiced with discretion, should only affect faceless corporations. These corporations, along with governments are undoubtedly the most violent and destructive institutions in the world. How many forests, villages, neighborhoods, family farms, and individual lives have been crushed by corporations, compared with the number of humans that have been inconvenienced by a few broken windows? The folks who broke windows in Seattle generally chose excellent targets: Bank of America, US Bancorp, Key Bank, Washington Mutual Bank, Fidelity Investments, the Gap, McDonalds, Old Navy, Banana Republic, Niketown, Warner Brothers, Planet Hollywood, Starbucks… Only one store, a jewelry store, that had its windows broken was not a clearly chosen, corporate target.

The fact that they chose good targets deserving to have their windows broken, however, however does not mean that the window breaking was an effective tactic under the circumstance. In fact, as much as it was great to see Niketown boarded up, the window breaking was unfortunate. It was obvious by 9 or 10 in the morning that we had won the Battle of Seattle using completely non-destructive, non-violent, and generally non-controversial tactics, which could be embraced by the vast majority of the population.

I don\’t disagree with the decision to break windows, but I hope it was a conscious decision made after considering the political situation, the military situation, and with some goal and politics in mind. I fear that it was not. Keep in mind that at least at this stage, we can\’t hope to beat global corporate domination with hammers and rocks-it is simply too vast and too well defended. Property destruction has to be about manipulating symbols and making a political point.

While it is a mistake to think that the struggle against global capitalism is a popularity contest necessitating concern about the anarchist \”polling numbers\” so we can somehow win some mythical election of \”capitalism\” vs. \”cooperation\”, public opinion and sensibilities is not irrelevant. The most amazing thing about Seattle was the ability of many diverse sectors of society to unite around anti-corporate, and therefore, radical goals. Radicalizating these folks, building coalitions and going beyond the youth/punk/anarchist ghetto is crucial if we are serious about challenging corporate dominance.

The over 90 percent of the population who works for a wage and are therefore generally powerless over their lives are all potential radicals and allies. Don\’t forget it.