Monday, November 28, 2011

Boots Riley: "we can't be dedicated to a tactic; we have to be dedicated to winning"

First of all, Boots Riley of the Coup might be the most underrated MC in the world. If you've never heard the Coup before, I'd advise you to get familiar. But Boots is also a long-time community activist from Oakland, one who always has a brilliant way of mixing political philosophy with on-the-ground experience and realism.

Below is a series of Tweets from Boots regarding the Black Bloc tactics used during Oakland's general strike.  I caught some of these tweets as they were happening, but Dan DiMaggio forwarded me a full transcript that I think is (despite being written in Twitter-speak) extremely insightful.

The only thing I'd add here is to think about these ideas not just in the context of the Black Bloc (which is a very specific group/action that has been debated for years), but relating to all tactical choices.  It's not just smashing windows that can be counter-productive; there's a whole array of tactics, rhetoric and iconography that might not be doing what we want them to do.  The question that I keep coming back to is "how do we build a MASS movement?"  Not "how do we remain ideologically pure," or "how do we win the debate," but "how do we mobilize and radicalize as many people as possible?"  Some great food for thought here:

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An extended series of Tweets from @BootsRiley from Friday, 11/24:

Not that we need that, but some dedicated non-violent folks in the movement should know that u have2work with others to make change.

Folks dedicated to blac bloc tactics shuld understand working w/others as well. We can't be dedicated2a tactic. We must b dedicated2winning.

I believe that breaking windows is not "wrong"- it just doesn't work. For a number of reasons. That is a tactic that puts the mask wearers

in a "vanguard" position. It says "We are the revolutionaries- everyone else needs to wake up!" This either turns ppl off cuz their not at

that point yet, or it causes people to simply cheer from the sidelines. It's problematic in a mass action where the masked ones know whats

about to happen and everyone else is caught off guard and more vulnerable to the police. The other problem is one of analysis. If we are

in the middle of one of the biggest, most overtly class conscious acts of the last 65 years- one that has the unity of action of 50,000 ppl-

one that caused millions in damage through an action that teaches class analysis and builds an apparatus for future action-why would u think

breaking a window at whole foods is taking it to another level? Its not. The message it gives to most is one of futile frustration. It makes

many feel that they can't win, that all we can do is break windows. We are making a movement that can stop the wheels of industry. That's

much more powerful than breaking some windows. Those tactics are ones that could b of use when masses of ppl aren't taking action. But w/an

action in which 50,000 people are making a huge step and having a general strike, the message should just be "We are all awake."

But, I think there is an ideological trend that i have encountered that leads to this- one that thinks that the ppl can't win.

When I critiqued someone around a similar action a few years ago, saying it didn't pull ppl in, & u can't win w that tactic. they resonded:

responded: "You can never win, you can only choose how to lose." Versions of this idea are at the heart of some of this, I believe.

I believe, now even more than a few months ago, that we can win. This is a new era. People are ready. We can win.

The other thing that I left out is that when a group of masked white kids break windows in a city that's many ppl of color, it feels like

the white kids are claiming ownership, not saying that this city is all of ours. It makes it harder to build a viable mass movement.

I'm saying this knowing the truth, many masked blac bloc folks are NOT white. But, if everyone perceives u as white cuz u have a mask on-

then it has the same effect. We need tactics that help build that movement. That's all. Black folks in the community I come from look at

marches on Washington and breaking store windows in a similar light- that they're futile appeals to power. So people stay away.

The thing is, no one can show me a successful revolutionary organization who relied on the tactic of breaking windows as a lynchpin.

It's like saying, in war, that ur gonna use 1 tactic in every battle, even if it doesnt work.

To be clear, I'm speaking to folks as comrades. Blac Bloc is not a group, its folks deciding2use that tactic at a certain time.

But, I have to say, there is a reason why ppl suspect that as bein done by agents:

Recently- During the OscarGrant case, proven police agent, Mandingo, did similar things. There r other cases as well. The problem comes w

using those tactics in a crowd. If u wanna break windows do it separately, don't have the crowd b the buffer btwn u & police.

Now, the only tactics I'm speaking of are vandalism and why that doesn't work. There are other tactics that do work.

There are tactics I've seen, and that we used for the march to the port, in which we have a group of folks with shields that can push thru

a police line, blocking themselves from batons and bullets & creating a spearhead for the march to go thru. That's a good one.There r others

Often as seen in OO's thanksgiving video, police will charge@ one person, causing our line to break and allowing them thru.

We can use our own distractions as well2get thru their lines. This takes not being dedicated2 a certain tactic, but being dedicated2winning.

The main thing I'm saying is that every situation, every terrain, calls for different tactics.

For example, most of you wouldn't know me if I had just made an album w different versions of "The Internationale". We'r in a new situation.

For everyone quoting Gandhi: His movement wasnt the only reason India gained independence. U think the British were only fighting Gandhi?

India had been fighting for its independence for decades via MILITANT movements that still existed during Gandhi's time.

Britain was involved in a BLOODY conflict w Palestine that soaked up resources. The Hollywood version of Indian independence amazes me.

Gandhi called strikes violent cuz they physically kept scabs out. He was at odds w many others in movement.

Lastly,2supporters of blac bloc tactics: it keeps folks away that would otherwise be militant supporters otherwise. We need the numbers.

We must be guided by what's rightðical,not what's legal. Blockin the port: illegal. Did we do it? Yes. Will we do it on Dec 12? Hell yes.

To answer some tweets- Nothing I said advocates assault. I advocate using numbers2make it so police can't stop our movements.

Sidenote: I'm in Paris, doing shows. When I say I'm from Oakland, many say "Oh! Caleeforneea!", but half say "Oui! Occupy Oakland!"

BONUS VIDEO:
Here's my old friend Josh Healey performing a poem for OccupyCal:

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