As a series of flash bangs shook my body yesterday in Portland I wondered two things: 'Why did the Portland Police decide to put families (whom they allegedly protect) at risk by firing harmful gases, semi-lethal projectiles and deafening, trauma inducing sound grenades in the middle of a peaceful demonstration, while simultaneously canceling the march from the back, denying access to the disability truck and splitting the marchers into scared bunches without a clear exit or end destination?' Shame on the City of Portland. The second thing I wondered was, 'Who gave you, Black Bloc, the right to put my body in harms way by your actions?' Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting property is more important than people-in fact I am consciously weeding out the word from my language-especially in regards to land management, but I do think we need to have a serious conversation about tactics. When I first heard the phrase "Diversity of Tactics" I thought, 'huh, yeah that sounds good.' We can all poke at the beast from different sides with sticks of our choosing, but when I realized that actually means that we don't have to come together and decide on a course of action that protects people who are at heightened risk for arrest (and possible deportation or torture), I rethought the term.
In the Bay Area for example, I see folks organizing their own direct actions in concert with the general protests. While we might not know that an action is going to go down if we are not core organizers, there are trusted security there that are aware of the general plan in order to keep everyone else as safe as possible. Among other strategic actions in the Bay, activists in San Francisco used people power to block the ICE garage from shipping people out yesterday! Now that is something I find worth defending. Yes, the Black Bloc isn't responsible for police violence, the police are, but the bloc needs to be more aware and take responsibility for actions that will most certainly put others in danger.
At Standing Rock we stood together on the front lines and that shit was scary. I still suffer from PTSD which gets triggered after a day like yesterday in Portland. But what was different about Standing Rock? We all agreed to be there, in full understanding of the consequences. We prepared ourselves with supplies and had medics standing by that also consented to our tactics. We all agreed to support our brothers and sisters as they risked arrest by not forgetting about them. Free Red Fawn! We went there with prayers in our hearts and when those prayers wavered because it is really easy to hate a cop, we were encouraged to sit down, to feel the earth and re-focus our purpose. OUR. PURPOSE.
Some say that the Bloc just exposes pre-existing State violence and police brutality. But I ask the Bloc, 'Who are you trying to teach? The babies? The glitter bloc that can't necessarily run away quickly from a police barricade? Our black and brown brothers and sisters at the front of the march?' Surely they had no idea that police violence existed until the Black Bloc pointed it out. Thank you Black Bloc. Or are we trying to start a revolution? Cuz if that's the case, we need the numbers. Personally I'd rather organize with someone who asks me first whether I support their tactics and listens to me when I offer my concerns, shows me their face, and times their actions appropriately. Does the Bloc even need to be related to a march? In fact if they weren't, I think I'd probably be more likely to support them.
As a Street Medic, not only am I concerned about my own safety, I've chosen to take on the extra responsibility of caring for the people around me. I can tell you that people were near tears. I think about trauma a lot and in particular, the trauma and re-traumatization caused by State sanctioned violence. This violence as we all should know by now, disproportionately falls on the backs of black and brown folks. No, the Black Bloc didn't force the marchers to disperse in less than five minutes while surrounding and dividing several city blocks creating an unsafe situation for everyone. That was the Portland Police.
Sure we can debate the efficacy of a sanctioned march as an organizing tool, or whether we even have the time to debate in this urgent time. However, there is no part of me that feels like what happened yesterday challenged the State or the Trump Regime let alone got us any closer to an end to Capitalism or Fascism. What I predict from yesterday's march is that it further alienated many people from the Black Bloc. Which is unfortunate, because obviously some of these masked-primarily white males are willing to throw down for the cause. As someone who does support the theoretical idea of anarchism, while simultaneously believing that it isn't attainable on a large scale in my lifetime, I find it hard to understand how these tactics benefit the whole. I ask you Black Bloc, 'Who do you protect? Who do you serve?'
In conclusion, I leave you with the words of one of my favorite writers from the very well organized EZLN movement, Subcomandante Marcos, who wrote,
"I should confess something to you. When I laboriously climbed the first of the steep hills that abound in these parts, I was sure that it would be my last. I wasn't thinking of revolution, of high human ideals or a shining future for the dispossessed and forgotten of always. No, I was thinking I'd made the worst decision in my life, that the pain that squeezed my chest, more and more, would end up totally closing off my increasingly skimpy airway, that the best thing for me would be to go back and let the revolution manage itself without me, along with similar rationalizations. If I didn't go back it was only because I didn't know the way back."
1. Our Word Is Our Weapon: Selected Writings, Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, 2001. pp 214-215.