Sunday, June 17, 2007
black and white
I remember watching "Do the Right Thing" and being so conflicted because the message of the film is not clear at the end. It is Spike Lee's masterpiece about a hot day in 1989 when temper's flare and one New York kid loses his life due to police brutality. Who's fault is it? Who had the most power to avoid it? Was this the only way the tension could be released? Who did the right thing, in the end? At the anti-Atlantica march in Halifax on Friday, 300 or so people gathered and marched along the streets of Halifax to bring attention to the fact that decisions about the economic future of the region are being made behind closed doors. Most citizens have no idea what Atlantica is even about (please see http://resist.stopatlantica.org/about.html for a short summary), and politicians and businesspeople are already making plans and counting hatched chickens. After the march was concluded, 50 or so people split-off, moved away from the conference centre, possibly smashed some bank windows and threw light-bulbs filled with paint at cops (some I saw were dressed in riot gear, some were not). Twenty were arrested, and the next day the newspapers ran the story of the arrests and the clashing, with short mentions to the peaceful march and everything that led up to the conflict (http://www.herald.ns.ca/Search/841681.html). Now, within the movement, we are told to support a "diversity of tactics" (euphemism for violence. Why do we condemn and mock the establishment's usage of euphemisms like "collateral damage" and "friendly fire", only to make up some of our own when they suit our purposes?). We are told to not undermine those who are on our side who employ different ways of getting the same message out. It is called "direct action"... a broad term I think. A term I don't think applies to what the 50 militant minority did on Friday. I think direct action implies that something is directly being done to stop or hinder those involved in the negotiations that were going on behind the police lines and the closed doors of the conference centre. However, the only direct action taken on Friday was against the police. The police responded with brutality, and proved the point I guess that the black clad protesters were trying to make. I don't think they very much minded getting arrested or beat up, since that was their purpose in coming after all. But they use the experience to feed their anger, to justify their violence, to increase their bitterness. The cops, like those in the Spike Lee film, have the obvious power advantage. The decision to overreact was theirs to make, as well. We know that it is an overreaction to pepper spray and use a taser gun on a human being because they threw some paint at a window. But the protesters also knew that this was an overreaction that was to be expected. Were they successful in pointing this out? Did they do the right thing? (just because it is obvious that the cops didn't, as it is in the movie, it doesn't make everything else that leads up to it completely clear). I believe the black-clad protesters, and the police were both wrong. I believe, however, that one group had a choice about how to act, whereas the other group was obligated to react according to training, and with the whole weight of the corporate state bearing down on them. Cops are trained wrong, but we should be smarter than them. We can't beat them by playing their game and losing to them. We have to create a new game, were violence has no chance of competing, much less defining who comes out on top.