More on violence and non-violence

Aug. 24th, 2017 12:03 am
smhwpf: (Sandman)
[personal profile] smhwpf
I am really struggling with what I think about violence and non-violence. For a long time I called myself a Pacifist. I'm not sure I would these days. What this clergyman who was at Charlottesville, and who also considers himself a Pacifist, said, resonates a lot.

"And so I come to this – white liberal Christian friends, I’m talking to you. I’ve seen a lot of condemnation of “violent response,” lots of selective quoting Dr. King, lots of disparagement of antifa and the so-called “alt-left,” a moral equivalency from the depths of Hell if I ever saw one. You want to be nonviolent? That is good and noble. I think…I think I do, too. But I want you to understand what you’re asking of the people who take this necessary stance against white supremacy, the people who go to look evil in the face. You’re asking them to be beaten with brass knuckles, with bats, with fists. To be pounded into the ground, stomped on, and smashed. You’re asking them to bleed on the pavement and the grass. Some of them are going to die. And you’re asking them to do that without defending themselves.

Are you willing to do that? Are you going to to go out when the Nazis come here, to the Bay Area, next week? Are you going to offer your body to them? No? Are you willing to take a bat to the head? To be surrounded by angry young men who want nothing more than to beat you unconscious, like they did Deandre Harris? Are you going to rely upon a different type of violence – that imposed by the state – to protect you – even knowing it is a danger to your neighbors? To outsource the violence your safety requires to someone else? Or are you just not going to show up, at the rally or afterward? To choose passivity over pacifism – because let’s be clear, nonviolence is still about showing up.

If you are unwilling to risk your bodily integrity to stand against literal Nazis, but you are willing to criticize the people out there who are taking this grave threat seriously but not in a way of which you approve….I just don’t know what to say to you. Truly. Your moral authority is bankrupt and you’re not helping. You’re a hypocrite."

In the end, in this situation, yes, I would rather defned myself, or others, or have others defend me, than be beaten into a pulp by Nazis. I cannot say that pure non-violence is the right answer all the time.

Here's where I still believe in non-violence though:

There is far, far, too much fucking violence in the world. Too many people, even those with good ultimate intentions, are too quick to resort to violence, or to support violence by others, as the solution to problems.

And there is far, far, too little non-violence. By which I mean, active non-violence. There is far too little thinking and praxis about opposing evil without using violence. Lots of people are willing to say "Fight hate with love", but very, very few actually have any clue or willingness about how to put that into practice beyong sharing memes on Facebook. There are people who do this, and who think about it and develop creative ideas, but there are far too few. I think there are a lot of situations where active, creative, large-scale non-violent methods could achieve an enormous amount, ultimately at less cost in lives and pain than violent methods.

You do not have to be a pacifist to engage in active non-violence. A non-violent approach says "I am going to confront you, but I am going to do so, as far as I possibly can, in a way that does not inflict harm and that does not succumb to hate". But one can do this and still say "But if this does not work I am not going to let you beat me or my neighbour to death if I can stop you by whatever means at my disposal".

It is not just about avoiding harm to the other side. It is not just about the state of your soul. It is about what comes next after you have beaten the immediate threat or got rid of the immediate tyranny. If the revolution is achieved by force of arms, then the people in charge after the revolution will not be the ones with the most popular support or the best ideas, but the ones with most firepower. And if the first against the wall are the old regime and their elite cronies, then the second against the wall will be the revolutionaries who are seen as a threat to the ones who gain power.

(The best case, though, is where one never actually faces this dilemma, 'cos you outnumber the fash 1000 to 1 like we did in Boston last weekend, and the fash have to be surrounded by a giant police cordon before being escorted away in a police van with their tails between their legs. Yes, I like that scenario.)

Amsterdam trip - day 3

Aug. 21st, 2017 09:17 am
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
[personal profile] wildeabandon
I did not sleep especially well on Sunday night, and woke up with an explanation for why I’d been so sleepy during the day in the form of an unpleasantly sore throat. I threw painkillers at it until it subsided and decided that I would give up on any silly ideas about morning runs until I was feeling back to 100%.

By the time I woke up properly and we’d eaten breakfast, Ramesh realised that he was also feeling quite under the weather, and decided to treat it with spending a while longer in bed, so I set off into town alone to spend some time in the red light district. Naturally, I spent that time looking at churches. Why, what else did you expect? First I went round the Oude Kerk, which was originally a Catholic cathedral, but became protestant during the reformation. There was a very good audio guide, which managed to personalise the experience without being twee. It had been left very austere by the iconoclasm, but in recent years has been used as a space for new art, sacred and secular. Afterwards I went on to Our Lord in the Attic, a house church which has been reconstructed to be very similar to how it was in the seventeenth century. Catholicism at that point was not exactly tolerated, but the authorities would turn a blind eye if people weren’t too blatant about it, and despite looking like a normal house from the outside it was impressively spacious and opulent inside.

After an ecclesiastical morning I went and had lunch with [personal profile] ewan (because what foreign holiday would be complete without running into someone who lives down the road and just happens to be visiting the same city). We met at the Foodhallen, which had a good range of choices, including several for the vegan. After lunch I gave Ramesh a call to see if he was feeling up to coming out, but as he wasn’t I went for another attraction he was less interested in - the Zoo! I hadn’t been to the Zoo for about 25 years or so, and wasn’t expecting to enjoy it nearly as much as I did. There was a panther who was very stealthy, sea-lions who were very loud and playful, lions who were very sleepy, a gorilla and a capybara who were both completely uninterested and much smaller and much larger than I expected respectively.

By the time I got back to the hotel Ramesh had rested sufficiently and we went out looking for dinner. We had foolishly assumed that on a Monday evening we’d probably be able to just walk into somewhere, but after the first three places we tried were fully booked, didn’t have any veggie options, and fully booked we decided to go back to the sushi place we’d liked on Saturday, and make a couple of bookings in the places that were popular enough to be fully booked.
smhwpf: (Default)
[personal profile] smhwpf
It is fucking scary.

Nazis, Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, gathering in large numbers, armed, chanting "blood and soil" and "Jews will not replace us", violently attacking and even murdering those who protest them.

And a President in the Whitehouse who clearly demonstrates his sympathy with them, praising the defence of monuments to those who fought to preserve slavery, and calling those who protest Fascism as bad as fascists.

While running an Administration with a clear agenda of keeping out immigrants, denying black people the vote, abandoning all efforts for promoting civil rights, and stepping up mass incarceration.

I have white privilege. I do not face the systemic oppression that people of colour face, and which the political establishment maintains and promotes, or at best takes half-hearted measures to moderate.

But I am also Jewish. Or, at least, Jewish. Christian by religion, not actively part of a Jewish community. But I, and members of my family, are very clearly on the target list of the tiki-torch wielders at Charlottesville, if not of the more respectable racists in Congress. So yes, this is not an abstract or distant issue for me.

This by way of prelude.

That Nazis, white supremacists, and their enablers in the halls of power need to be vigorously opposed is not something in question among my friends and progressive people generally. How to do so is a matter of legitimate discussion.

Should you punch the Nazi? Under what circumstances? Should protest against them be kept purely non-violent? Does using violence in return to their violence make things better or worse? I don't think the answers to these questions are as obvious for those with a modicum of human decency and political awareness as the question of whether they should be condemned and opposed.

For a Christian, Jesus's teaching and action are also a central consideration. "Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be true children of your Father in Heaven, who makes the sun to shine on the righteous and the unrighteous, and the rain to fall on good and evil alike". Or, in secular terms, there is a human being inside every Fascist, with the possibility for change, for love, for a different path to the one they're on.

That's not simply a matter of sentimental wooliness, it's a fact. Daryl Davis, the black musician who befriends KKK members, and has got 200 of them to leave the hate group, for example. Then, lately, I read a Sojourners article, Confessions of a former white supremacist, anout the group Life After Hate. There's an anecdote about one of the people in it, when he was still a Nazi, being served at McDonalds by an African-American woman, who saw the swastika tattoo on his hand, looked at him, and said "Oh. honey, you're so much better than that". And it didn't make him turn around and repent on the spot, but "That seed germinated for years until the man left white nationalism and dedicated himself to helping others leave".

[Geeking out], it sort of reminds me of when Dream of the Endless says to Hob Gadling at one of their Centennial meetings, when the latter has become a slave trader, "It is a poor thing to enslave another". That's all. And several books later we find these few sparse words likewise gnawed at Hob's soul until he stopped. [/geekery]

So yes, I believe that we should never forget the humanity even of the worst people, those who most hate us.

That does not, however, answer the question of what to do about hundreds of armed, torch-bearing Nazis gatheing in a city to march, spew hatred, intimidate, and commit acts of violence.

The first option I would rule out is "Just ignore them, they're a tiny insignificant bunch of losers who are no real threat. Just don't give them th attention".

Tell that to an African American, a Jew, an LGBT person, or a lot of straight white folks for that matter, in a town like Charlottesville where they come to play. From the articles I've read, they were an intimidating presence well before the actual day of the rally. At the rally, they surrounded a synagogue and an African American church. The synagogue was prevented from holding their Sabbath service, and went to the step of hiding away their Torah scrolls. (The police did nothing).

As for the oldest white supremacist group in the US, the KKK, they were orchestrating lynchings within living memory, with complete impunity. When Fascists gather in large numbers, they are a very serious threat.

I do not think it at all likely that explicit white supremacist groups, of the type that paraded in Charlottesville, will take over the government. I don't think we'll see a President Richard Spencer. But when we already have a government that is pushing hard against every gain people of colour have made over the past 60 years, and one of the two major US parties moving further and further to the right, embracing voter suppression and vicious misogyny and homophobia in the name of Christian Fundamentalism, these most extreme groups could play a significant role as the 'tip of the spear' of an increasingly authoritarian polity - in addition to the violence and terror they can spread at a local level.

And, well, I don't think it at all likely that actual Nazis will take political power, but the original Nazis started pretty small too. Unlikely is not the same as impossible. I'm not keen to take the risk.

So I think that left unopposed, far right groups would become more and more emboldened, dangerous, and probably bigger. They need to be confronted, in the streets, opposed and if possible shut down wherever they go, denied the possibility of becoming a more serious threat.

The police have shown, time and again, that they will not be the people to do this. Most police officers are not affiliated with the far right themselves, but they are a reactionary institution, a highly racist institution, and tend to see the left, not the right, as the ones that need to be kept down. Black Lives Matter, the Standing Rock Water Protectors, striking workers, etc., these all regularly find themselves on the wrong end of batons, tasers, tear gas and worse. Fascists far less often.

It is not primarily about beating Nazis up (satisfying as it may be when that happens), it is not about doing them injury, it is primarily about getting sufficient numbers in the streets to block their path, drown them out, make it clear that they are not welcome and will not be allowed to spread their evil, and basically get them skulking off home with their tails between their legs.

The British experience suggests that shutting Fascist groups down on the streets before they can get too big can be effective. The Battle of Cable Street in 1936, when Oswald Moseley's British Union of Fascists, aided by the police, were prevented from marching through the East End of London with its large Jewish community, by a large crowd of Jews, Communists and Socialists, and local workers, is widely seen as having been one of the factors in stemming the tide of Fascism in Britain. A generation later, when the rapidly-growing National Front tried to march through Lewisham in South London, they were likewise stopped and beaten off by left-wing counter protestors, their own internal literature shows they saw it as a defeat that harmed their momentum.

This is a small sample, and moreover there were a lot of other factors at work, and the exact role of these events in the political outcomes is of course highly debatable. I don't know in the end what is going to be most effective in stopping these groups, and nor does anyone else, for certain. But my best guess is that putting up a large and powerful street opposition to them will probably help, and that letting them rally and march unimpeded is dangerous.

If that can be done without violence, great. But, and here's the but, Nazis and their allies are not non-violent. They showed that very, very clearly in Charlottesville, as often before. They will, they do, they did, use violence, sometimes lethal violence, against those who stand in their way. So if you are going to protest against Nazis in the streets, then either you need to be willing to get beaten to a pulp, or you need to be willing to engage in self-defence, or allow those more prepared and capable to defend themselves and you.

Parts of the Civil Rights movement, led by MLK and others, did take the approach of allowing themselves to be subjected to police violence without fighting back, and it was arguably very effective at changing public opinion in favour of their cause and forcing political action. This was not the only aspect of the movement though, and I think that the Malcolm X wing, the Black Panthers, and so on, were also part of what brought about change. Who knows for sure what the balance was. But this is a rather differnent case. Bad as the police are, even less restraint can be expected from a white supremacist mob. Fighting back against a heavily armed police force in a pitched battle is generally going to be a pretty clearly losing option. Nazis can be outnumbered and beaten. This is not so much about changing public opinion in favour of equal rights, public opinion is already against the Nazis, it's about stopping an incipient movement from growing and spreading.

Besides, I don't think you're going to get too many takers for "Let's go and get our heads kicked in by Nazis".

At Charlottesville, those practicing pure non-violence and those willing to engage in self-defence found themselves in sometimes uneasy alliance; a group of clergy, of several faiths, along with Professor Cornel West and others, were among the former, linking arms, singing, putting their bodies in front of the Nazis, incredibly bravely, and willing ultimately to face the consequences. But at one critical moment when they were about to come under very serious attack, they were protected by a group of AntiFa.

West said, "The anti-fascists, and then, crucial, the anarchists, because they saved our lives, actually. We would have been completely crushed, and I’ll never forget that. Meaning what? Meaning that you had the police holding back, on the one hand, so we couldn’t even get arrested. We were there to get arrested. We couldn’t get arrested, because the police had pulled back"

I would never, never belittle what those clergy did, or say it was worthless. I've been involved in non-violent direct action in the face of state violence. But I would certainly, like West and the others, be very glad of the AntiFa stepping in. Is that hyporcytical, to engage in active non-violence, but be willing to have others use violence to protect you? I don't know. Maybe it is. I don't actually care if it is a bit, if it can bring about positive effects. Different roles, different gifts. Not everyone is physically cut out for serious fisticuffs, whatever their ideological approach, but as I say, sheer numbers are most important (so I'm told by one who knows this stuff, anyway, and I'm inclined to believe it).

If you do have the numbers, the likelihood is that you will never have to worry about when and whether to use violence in self-defence, because when far right groups are heavily outnumbered, the police will generally form a very solid cordon around them. (Like I say, much more willing to protect the Nazis than their opponents). The Fascists will not be able to go anywherem they will be restricted to making their speeches and chanting their slogans in their little cordon, hopefully drowned out with plenty of whistles and vuvuzelas and shouting from the other side. Some of the more militant AntiFa might try to break through police lines to get at them, but those who do not wish to do so can remain with the rest of the crowd, making a joyful noise. (This is pretty much how it went down at one anti-Fascist counter protests I went to in Stockholm, although the cops kept the sides so far apart that we couldn't really drown them out.)

From everything I can gather, overwhelmingly the violence in Charlottesville was from the Nazis, and that used by the counter protesters was mostly a matter of self defence. Is going beyond that, actively seeking to attack far right gatherings, justified? Is it effective? I don't know, and I don't know. I would be unlikely to engage in it myself. Getting a bit old, and not in sufficient physical shape, apart from anything else. I'm not going to condemn those who do.

This is not all a matter of theory for me. There's a far-right 'Free Speech' rally in Boston on Saturday, I'm going on the counter-protest. It looks like there will be good numbers. 10,000 have clicked "Going", so hopefully we will be in the thousands at least, whcih will be way more than the Peach Freezers. I will be with a group of people I know. I will be prepared. I will not do anything stupid. I do not intend to be in the front lines. There's a Q&A on the Facebook page for the counter protest. One of the questions is "Are the organizers committed to non-violence?", to which the answer given is "The organizers of this event are committed to community safety, survival, and protecting marginalized communities." I am on board with this.

Where did we leave things with loving your enemies and so forth? I do believe in this. I think it is pretty crictial to calling oneself a Christian. (Though a whole lot of Christians seem to have missed that memo). it is important not to lose sight of your enemy's humanity. I do believe that hatred, even when most understandable (and sometimes emotionally unavoidable), is corrosive at an individual and a collective level. (Though the hatred of the victim for the abuser and oppressor should never be put on the same moral plane as the abuse and oppression itself).

Love of enemies is not about entertaining warm fuzzy feelings for Nazis, it is about remembering that they are also a child of God, on whom the same sun shines and rain falls, and desiring and seeking their ultimate good - part of which of course involves abandoning Nazism. I don't think it means you do not try to stop your enemies from harming you or others, especially when they are gathering in a large group with evil intent.

Incidentally, Daryl Davis's vocation of meeting and talking to Klansmen while black has not always been the safest of pursuits. He says that he's only got into a couple of physical fights as a result though, and won them both.

wildeabandon: A glass of wine with text "Moderation is a fatal thing.  Nothing succeeds like excess." (excess)
[personal profile] wildeabandon
Last night [personal profile] borusa and I went for dinner at Counter Culture in Clapham. It was bloody brilliant. We sat outside, overlooking the common and enjoying the summer night air.

The restaurant has a short menu of small plates, and the waiter said that for two people they recommended one of everything, which was exactly what we'd just decided on. As it turned out, the combination of the quality of the food and the fact that we're both quite hearty eaters meant that we ordered seconds of some of them, and there wasn't a single dish that wasn't delicious. We were especially pleased by the plate of salami, which were lovely and piquante and aromatic, the parmasan and chive gnocchi, which somehow managed to be both rich and comforting and light and summery at the same time, and the pork cheeks with smoked aubergine and barbequed pickled onions, which was expertly conceived and balanced. We were also extremely taken with the cheese course, which was a soft goat's cheese, not too pungent, not too mild, served with slices of peach, firm but not so underripe as to be sharp.

Given the short menu, it probably wouldn't be the greatest dining experience for veg*ns, or people with other major dietary restrictions, but if you're mostly omnivorous, I can't recommend it enough. Dinner for two hungry people, including service and drinks (three beers and two soft drinks, but they also offer BYO at £10/bottle corkage) came in at a very reasonable £115. Also, unlike so many of these new small restaurants, they take bookings, so no annoying queuing.
sohotrightnow: Thor with a big smile on his face. ([avengers] god of thunder and :D)
[personal profile] sohotrightnow
So, the highlight of July was SDCC! As always, this was a delight, though not as much fun as last year, since Mom couldn't make it (she promised Rita a year of childcare, and BiL's parental leave ended the week before). Dad also kept procrastinating on calling his sister to ask if we could stay in their condo again, to the point where when I discovered he still hadn't asked, just assumed, it was too late for us to get in the hotel registration as a backup. So by the time he finally got around to it, his sister said we were welcome to stay again! Except she and her husband would be there for part of the weekend, too. The place is massive (EAT THE RICH AND TAKE THEIR CONDOS), so there was plenty of room for all of us, but it meant being on our best behavior and, as Dad thanked me for doing, discreetly leaving the room when conversation turned to politics. They're ~genteel~ enough to think Trump is vulgar, at least, and we were able to politely agree to disagree on some things, and even agree on a couple of things, so that was a win, too.

BUT it was still lots of fun anyway; I spent a ton of money, in keeping with tradition, and got some new art (I am gonna run out of wall space, but probably not anytime soon since I still haven't found frames for everything from last year) and other goodies. The main panel I wanted to get to was the Star Trek: Discovery panel in Ballroom 20, which I'd told Mom I'd at least try and get into on her behalf, since she couldn't go. The line was dreadful when I got there and I wasn't optimistic, but it moved much quicker than I expected and I actually ended up getting in three panels ahead.

DISCOVERY LOOKS SO GREAT, UGHHHHHHHH I HAD SO MANY FEELINGS.

Panel highlights )

Then there was some hilarity on Monday because my father had misread the tickets for our flight home. So we arrived at 8:30 for a 10:30 AM flight, went to check our bags...and discovered that, in fact, our flight was for 10:30 PM. To be honest, I just burst out laughing when we learned, but Dad and Doug spent most of the day sulking. I mean, it was annoying, sure, but it wasn't that bad. It's better, as Doug pointed out once we finally got home, than the time he was going to visit our parents in Australia, misread the tickets, and realized he was more than twelve hours late for his flight. I ended up finding a movie theater not far from the airport, the fancy kind with big reclining seats, good food, and alcohol, so we took a Lyft over there and saw Baby Driver. I had a couple of excellent Moscow Mules, which improved my tolerance for their sulking, and the movie was lots of fun.

I spent the following weekend popping large amounts of sparkling wine with Mom in our relief over the healthcare vote. CRIPES I can't even tell you how fucking relieved we were, Internet. And that Monday, the 31st, I took a half-day from work, and went downtown to have lunch with [personal profile] newredshoes. We have been friends for aaaaaages but have never actually met in person before and IT WAS SO GREAAAAAAT, we had brunch at Kramerbooks (and cocktails when they switched over to their lunch menu) and talked for ages and bought books and it was just a total delight.

So, all in all, July went pretty well, I would say. Well done, universe, that's definitely made it a bit easier to bear August.

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