To the Editor:
I was not surprised that the editorial “Don’t become an enemy of free speech, no matter how hateful it is” ended with a quote from Winston Churchill, a man whose white supremacist views have been brushed aside so that history, and this editorial, may now call him a “great leader of a different time.” Such is the power of nation states.
What is made clear time and again is that when the state, and its accomplices like Yiannopoulos, use a range of violent tactics, from tear gas and rubber bullets to the doxxing of undocumented UC Berkeley students, these methods are considered necessary violence and free speech. The police use violence to “protect” “free speech” (and the state) while Yiannopoulos’ forum, had he been allowed to spew his speech in Berkeley, would have made it incredibly dangerous for the undocumented students whose identities he was planning to reveal to a crowd of young white supremacists (and, mind you, they exist: there are plenty in Sacramento and a large population in the Bay Area, and they are more than happy to harm those they deem unfit for this society). Basically, Yiannopoulos would have been able to translate his hate speech into more hate crimes, which is what hate speech does. Regardless of the debate around whether the Constitution protects hate speech (and, really, I don’t give much of a f— about what the Constitution, a piece of paper written generations ago by rich, slave-owning white men, says), the fact of the matter is that hate speech is violence and creates a climate where the most marginalized of us are in fear of repression against our minds and our bodies.
Hate speech doesn’t care about sit-ins, vigils, and cardboard signs, though there are times when those actions are beautiful and necessary. The purpose of hate speech is to invoke violence on the marginalized. And that is why such speech must be shut down, regardless of how many views that idiot may have gotten afterwards (and keep in mind, number of views does not mean number of supporters). In order to protect the lives of our friends and families and to make a definitive stand against the fascist uprising in our country and around the world, combative tactics are necessary. If anyone was at Berkeley that night, they would recall the moment the black bloc showed up to campus. The militant bloc was met with a roar of excitement and cheers that signalled the crowd was down for what was to come. This crowd had the same goals that the black bloc did: to shut Milo down; and they knew that the bloc would get that result. Within minutes, the barricades were down, there was glass and fire, and it was obvious that the event could not take place. What commenced after the initial goal was met, were dance parties, conversations, the sharing of food and water, and an overwhelming sense of joy, solidarity, and fervent recognition that the shutdown was absolutely necessary. While the media, campus officials, and the police automatically demonize the “violent anarchists” (as the Hornet editorial wanted to point out), it was made clear that night that through those tactics of “violence” against windows and barricades, we seized the space and showed that we could care for each other and stand with strength and love in the face of hate.
Now, I’m not saying that everyone should mask up and join the black bloc (though that’d be dope if they wanted to), but to recognize that such a combative tactic is effective for opposing perpetrators of hate and violence. The editorial was quick to paternalize the black bloc by reducing the tactic, and riots, to merely “emotionally” satisfying catharsis. Sure, I’ll be the first to admit that breaking the windows of banks that advocate for the destruction of the planet and the imprisonment of our comrades at Standing Rock, is cathartic indeed. But a riot is not solely emotional. A riot is in fact, deeply political and anti-capitalist, joining a history of combative tactics that have been successful in garnering results for marginalized people living within powerful states that seek to oppress them (see “The Failure of Nonviolence” by Peter Gelderloos for a history of these tactics. “How Nonviolence protects the State” by the same author is available for free on theanarchistlibrary.org). “A riot is the language of the unheard,” as Martin Luther King Jr. once said. Ironically, MLK Jr. has been whitewashed in order to pacify our communities into the use of nonviolent tactics, actions that may have some symbolic impact on our perception of the world but rarely change our conditions in a way that allows us to be more free and have more control over lives.
Hate speech may be protected by the Constitution, but a riot is the thunderous language of those who will no longer accept the conditions under which hate speech can fester. I encourage everyone to protest in the ways they see fit for themselves, and for many people, this does not include the more combative tactics of the bloc. However, when black bloc shows up, don’t condemn them. Recognize the bloc as a strategic tactic, and one that, historically, is very effective. A bloc might not always be necessary, however in the case of UC Berkeley, it was. And it won.
And no, sorry/not sorry, I’m not gonna “take off” my “black bloc outfit” to go “face-to-face with the other side,” putting me and my friends at risk of being doxxed and/or imprisoned. Strange that those who openly uphold the racist, sexist, imperialist values of this nation can do so in public and with impunity, while those who are trying to make a new world with as much freedom, care, and joy we can imagine, must remain covered or face the risk of harassment, prison sentences, or worse. Shouldn’t that tell us something?
Until next time,
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