Nonviolence and Its Violent Consequences (2000, Gualala, CA.)
There are some debates that will rage forever without a conclusion: dogs vs. cats, West Coast vs. East Coast, tastes great vs. less filling… At the end of the day the answer to these questions means very little to the way that we live our lives and forge new, more just societies. There are, of course, angry divisions which, although equally unresolvable, play a major role in the world that we live in and hope to create. Most notable is the chasm between those who advocate strict Non-Violence and those who see the need for other tools to be used. This argument has been taking place for a very long time and will continue to be a weapon in the hands of our oppressors. It guarantees that they will see much of our energy wasted on horizontal conflict, and that our actions will be slowed by the constant need to justify every move we make in the struggle against global capitalism, industrialism, and anthropocentrism.
Still, there are times when people on both sides of this debate make errors that must be confronted. Recently a media and electronics group within Occupy Denver worked to discover the identities of people who had thrown water bottles at cops during an Occupy event. They claim that they are doing this to fight “violence,” and somehow they have magically ignored the much greater violence that sparked the throwing of plastic bottles to begin with- the Denver PD pepper spraying and firing pepper balls at protestors whose only crime was setting up tents in a public square.
Back in the 1990’s pacifism and it’s sister dogma, “Non-Violence,” had paralyzed the once thriving Earth First! movement. It was argued that cooperation with the authorities was somehow not violent (Despite those same authorities carrying weapons and working for a state with a nuclear arsenal) but sabotaging machinery made one akin to a mass murderer. Tackling and attempting to citizens arrest people breaking the windows of Nike town was not violent, but harming the property of people who own slave-run factories abroad was “just as bad” as owning those factories yourself. Many books and pamphlets were written at the time to counter this nonsensical, non-strategic, non-resistance movement, most famously Ward Churchill’s Pacifism as Pathology. Still, for it’s conciseness and applicability to wilderness defense (and offense!) movements, nothing beats William Meyers “Nonviolence and Its Violent Consequences.” Given the current rhetoric of many in the Occupy movement who see sabotage as violence, while working within the system as somehow not violent, this booklet has suddenly become a must read once more.
Activists the world over know the story of N30, the name given to the 30th day of November 1999, when the World Trade Organization held it’s third ministerial conference in Seattle, Washington. Tens of thousands of protestors came out in opposition to the policies of the WTO, a group of unelected officials who make decisions which effect the lives of millions of people, entire eco-systems, and yes, billions of animals.
The story of the WTO protests have become the stuff of legend, even spawning a terrible Hollywood portrayal in 2007. The large scale participation, the police response, and the so-called rioting still generate discussion and contentious debate, with some details being dissected constantly since they initially occurred. Amidst all of this talk there is one piece of information that is often overlooked: The role animal liberationists played.
For months prior to the WTO protests animal activists traveled from town to town, encouraging anarchists, socialists, environmentalists, feminists, and others to come to Seattle. From hardcore bands speaking at shows, to Ben White gathering his army of people dressed as sea turtles, everywhere that vegans roamed they were told to make the journey to this historic protest. And they did, by the hundreds.
Despite claims to the contrary, animal rights folks are a diverse grouping and this was readily apparent at the WTO. Feminists roamed the downtown corridor with pro-animal slogans written on their bodies, Northwest Animal Rights Network members passed out leaflets in the streets, three people climbed atop a bus at a busy intersection and unfurled a banner reading “Vegan Revolution.” Not to be left out, those who were more direct action oriented made a large showing as well. It was an animal activist who broke the first window, setting off two days of economic sabotage against corporate property. That window belonged to McDonalds, one of many animal exploiters who suffered small scale vandalism during the resistance to the World Trade Organization.
The participation of anti-speciesists was not just about the place of non-humans in our world, it was also about showing solidarity with the rest of the oppressed worldwide. Far from being a single issue attempt at hijacking a larger protest, this was the animal liberation movement at it’s finest, demonstrating the depth of our politics and our unwillingness to stand by while the powerful run roughshod over the masses.
Those protests were just one tiny battle in a much larger struggle against myriad forms of exploitation and brutality. Since that time the state has become more savvy in controlling mass gatherings and also in targeting individuals who utilize non-mass forms of counter-aggression. Still, people from many backgrounds and causes have persisted, and in recent weeks an outpouring of frustration has led to the Occupy Wall Street movement, and its sister movement, Occupy Together. Unlike the WTO protests, few animal liberationists have been participating, and that speaks poorly of us. Non-human animals are very much victims of corporate greed and dominance. At the top of any chain in the world of systemic animal torture lay the banks, the brokerages, and those who speculate on the value of dead pigs, cow secretions, and other goods that come from animal slavery. Who lobbies congress for tougher sentencing of animal activists, and who holds stock in the labs, the breeders, the pharmaceutical companies? The very same people being protested by the Occupy movement.
Just as we saw at the WTO, it is time for animal liberationists to join and strengthen a broader movement, to give our support to all of the world’s underclass, and to make certain that the billions of non-humans in cages are understood to be part of the 99% howling for freedom from corporate governance. Vegans, to the barricades, to the streets, TO VICTORY! This fight is our fight and it’s well past time that we start swinging.
Window at McDonalds Restaurant. First window to be smashed at the Seattle WTO Nov 1999.