Saturday, June 9, 2012

Black Bloc

Black bloc contextualized in political action

An attempt at placing Black Bloc in the greater theater of protest and political action.

A continuing goal of this blog is to take a look at all sides of political discourse from legislation to protest action.  In this article I hope to explore the use of black bloc as a tactic. As well as (hopefully) provide context for where it sits in the greater scheme of protest and political action. 

I know there isn't really a way for me to examine this from ALL angles.  Given the nature of the debate, there's a certain amount of practical experience that I (completely) lack.  I would posit, that as this movement grows, we need to provide context for these branches of political action, so that folks looking to get involved can make an informed decision.  As we discovered with the #anonbloc debate, it's super fun to discuss things.  So, as per usual I'll shoot off at the mouth, and y'all can feel free to ring in where I've either left something out, or missed a point.

Black bloc is a technique used by activists, and is rooted in the Autonome Movement (scroll down in das-wiki) in Germany. I'm not even going to attempt at explaining Autonomism or the windy ways of politics and protest in Germany in the 70's and 80's.  

Dubbed "der schwarze bloc" by German media, the tactic also incorporated protective gear into the "outfit". Members of the Autonome movement would use black bloc as a method of hiding their identity from law enforcement while engaging in illegal activities,  using Molotov cocktails to keep police at bay while blockading neighborhoods in Hamburg.  At the time, black bloc was helmeted, hooded and masked, as much for psychological advantage as identity protection and personal safety.  A successful tactic at the time in defense of squatters communities in Hamburg in the 70's.  After a 24 hour standoff, Hamburg officials legalized the district. Read "Fire and Flames: A History of the German Autonomist Movement"

I'm going to stop right here and re-iterate that black bloc was and is a tactic, one of many used by Autonome and other such organizations during specific actions.   I wasn't there, (or alive) for a good deal of the rise of that particular movement, but from what I've read Hamburg could be delicately referred to as a shit show in the 70's and 80's.  

The development of this tactic was as much to protect the identity as ensure the safety of members of movements dubbed "extremist" by popular standards. Giving members some measure of protection even if by plausible deniability; while other members were engaging in questionable activities.

By extension, with a lack of a specific "person" to point the finger at; the use of black bloc has been largely portrayed by the media with an eye on the resulting destruction.  With good cause, the persisting "May Day protests" that occur in Germany, and across Europe on May 1st, have shown an almost sinusoidal fluctuation in violence over the past 30 years.  Another example of violence among the "blocs" was in 2007 with the June riots during the G8 Summit held in Rostock, Germany.

Continued examples of the use of black block (specifically) in the US include the protests held during the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh 2009, and the RNC in 2008, Oakland on May 1st, as well as the NATO Summit in Chicago last month.

Main Stream Media response to "anarchists" using black bloc in St. Paul during the 2008 RNC

That's just the tip of the iceberg, the tactic has been developed as one of a set of techniques within a greater "theater" called "diversity of tactics".  Diversity of tactics has been debated and widely criticized left, right and ignorant center (myself included).

srsly... I can do this all day.

Diversity of tactics includes; heckling, "arrestables", de-arresting, blockading, direct action, property damage, rear-acceleration (herding protesters from behind), front acceleration (providing a path through city streets by stopping traffic etc), and misdirection to name a few.  These actions happen regardless of whether black bloc is there or not.  The "passive protest" model is in many cases is carried out in clear communication with activists willing to participate in black bloc and diversity of tactics.

Occupy Trainers Practice Tactics For NATO Summit (RAW)

Lisa Fithian Teaching Radical to Chicago Teachers Union

Activists may be acting in accordance with their own political ideologies such as anarchism. One of the many ideas being; the rights of the people are more important than private property rights. That damaging property, is not in fact "violence" rather a demonstration against the violence used to maintain those private property rights.  The use of black bloc in that case would again, go back to the tradition of protecting the activists identity when engaging in such activity.

(Please if anyone can find a source to confirm or deny the above, I'd appreciate it.  Anarchistic praxis tends to go over my head, and wading through the MILES of literature is going to be a daunting task. In the mean time, here's the wiki-blurb, happy hunting)

Black Bloc - Introduction [anarchism]

These sets of tactics are used along side leaflet distribution, door to door campaigning, sit-ins, marches, rallies, etc in order to raise awareness for any given cause.  Activists who use black bloc in particular tend to be experienced, and overwhelmingly aware of the possibility of arrest, or violence from both law enforcement or protesters. Below is a series of videos with Harsha Walia addressing concerns and points raised about black bloc during the 2010 Olympic "Tent Village" protests in Canada.

Transcript of 10 Quick Points via Rise Like Lions

Ⓐ Black Bloc Tactics - 10 Quick Points! (1 of 3) 

Ⓐ Black Bloc Tactics - 10 Quick Points! (2 of 3) 

Ⓐ Black Bloc Tactics - 10 Quick Points! (3 of 3) 

An activist chooses to use the black bloc tactic based on their own personal/ political/ ideological interests.  Circumstances in each city, state, country vary so while interests may overlap, to say the black blocs at a protest are "anarchists" or "anonymous" or "etc." is both misleading and ignorant.

My observation has been that by refusing to incorporate or at least acknowledge the black bloc, "the movement" may be collectively shooting themselves in the foot.  The black bloc seems to provide a "vent" to the tension that comes part and parcel with jamming a bunch of folks into one spot. However tenuously they may be connected by similar political/ ideological views.  Black bloc has the potential to be quite literally the largest tactical arm of political action, by the nature of being able to simply cover your face and participate regardless of rhetoric. 

That's what I've got, and as you've seen I'm fully willing to admit what I've been wrong about so far. So please add to the conversation, school me, break it down.  I love to learn.

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