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PMR - A Constructive Criticism

Despite the successes the Olympia community has reached these last two weeks there is still much the Olympia anti-war movement in general and PMR in particular have to learn.
Port Militarization Resistance, A Constructive Criticism

In Olympia during the last two weeks members of PMR, OMJP, SDS, community members, students, and people from all over the Pacific Northwest came together to speak out and resist the further militarization of our community and the imperialist, racist war in Iraq. Above all else, these two weeks have shown what can happen when people with differing ideologies work together and embrace a diversity of tactics. It was inspiring to see how people became radicalized over the events at the port. The discourse began with questions over whether or not our community should try to contain incoming military shipments and by the end of the two weeks had evolved into a debate over offensive and defensive tactics against police repression. Despite these successes there is still much the Olympia anti-war movement in general and PMR in particular have to learn.
It is first necessary that we all look at who came to the port actions and who didn't and also who is involved in PMR and who isn't. Race, class and gender will shape all of our answers. And while time and time again problems surrounding and issues of sexism have been addressed and confronted in PMR meetings, actions and overall organizing, issues regarding race, class, heterosexism and ability have been almost completely, if not entirely, ignored. However, when sexism is addressed within PMR it's only in very limited contexts. When we look at how issues of sexism are handled within PMR, it's important to look at who is missing from the group's constituency as a whole. PMR is primarily white, and the values of the group reflect this fact. Because of this, often times the deeper, structural roots of sexism and other kinds of oppression are ignored within PMR. Instead, "feel-good" actions that focus on personal "empowerment" but fail to threaten the dominant capitalist, white, patriarchal, heterosexual, able-bodied paradigm become the norm. In fact, to some these actions are really alienating. For example, in a lot of communities, such as those of color where police presence and brutality are part of everyday existence, sitting down in front of half of Olympia's finest, clad in riot gear doesn't seem like the smartest thing to do. For a lot of people, trying to get arrested just isn't something you do and because they've dealt with the police and the criminal justice system on a structural level and understand the racism and the classism that are part of it, they don't have the privilege to get arrested "symbolically" or just to make a point. When a group of mostly white women sit down in front of riot cops and get to feel "empowered" by their symbolic attempts to resist the militarization of our community, what's not taken into account is who's disempowered by this kind of civil disobedience not to mention the strategic effectiveness of this tactic. Instead of getting media attention, what we should be focusing on are strategies that work to dismantle complex systems of oppression and hierarchy from the bottom up and that means starting right here, in our own communities and within ourselves. These strategies are ones that get to the root of society's problems, not those that make us look good in the corporate media or make us feel good for a while without really making any lasting change. Effective strategies that work to build a strong anti-war movement are inclusive and non-alienating to all people, not just white, mostly middle-class people already inclined towards activism.
Perhaps one thing Port Militarization Resistance and the broader anti-war movement need to think about in making this inclusive, broad-based movement a reality can be found in the discourse around violence/nonviolence. Below are sections quoted at length from How Nonviolence Protects the State by Peter Gelderloos. We hope that this will shed some light on the organizing and motives of PMR and will help us examine what it means to build a truly broad-based, inclusive anti-war movement that isn't majority white and is going to affect positive change.

"Non-violence is an inherently privileged position in the modern context besides the fact that the typical pacifist is quite clearly white and middle class, pacifism as an ideology comes from a privileged context; it ignores that violence is already here, that violence is an unavoidable, structurally integral part of the current social hierarchy and that it is people of color worst affected by that violence. Pacifism assumes that white people who grew up in the suburbs with all their basic needs met can counsel oppressed people, of whom people of color are a major part, to suffer patiently under an inconceivably greater violence, until such time as the Great White Father is swayed by the movement's demands, or the pacifists achieve that legendary "critical mass".
People of color in the internal colonies of the US cannot defend themselves against police brutality or expropriate the means of survival to free themselves from economic servitude. They must wait for middle class people of color and conscientious whites to gather enough people to hold hands and sing songs, than change will surely come. People in Latin America must suffer patiently, like true martyrs, while white activists in the US "bear witness" and write to Congress. People in Iraq must not fight back. Only if they remain civilians will their deaths be counted and mourned by white peace activists who will, one of these days, muster a protest large enough to stop the war. Indigenous people need to wait just a little longer (say, just another 500 years) under the shadow of genocide, slowly dying off on marginal lands, until—well, they're not a priority right now so perhaps they need to organize a demonstration or two to win the attention and sympathy of the powerful. Or maybe they can go on strike, engage in Gandhian non-cooperation? But wait, a majority are already unemployed, non-cooperating, fully excluded from the functioning of the system."

"White and middle-class pacifists are afraid of the white supremacist, capitalist system being totally abolished, so they preach nonviolence to the people at the bottom of the racial and economic hierarchy precisely because nonviolence is ineffective, and any revolution launched by those people, provided that it remains non-violent, will be unable to fully unseat white people and rich people from their privileged positions. Furthermore, nonviolence requires that activists attempt to influence the power structure (rather than destroy it), which requires them to approach it, which means that privileged people, who have better access to power, will retain control of any movement as the intermediaries who allow the masses to "speak truth to power"."

Taking all of this into consideration, perhaps it would be wise for PMR to reconsider its Code of Nonviolence and adopt a new code such as:
"We, the members of Port Militarization Resistance (PMR), believe that the ideology of nonviolence is an inherently privileged position that only acts to reinforce systems of domination and oppression and does absolutely nothing to undermine these said systems. We recognize the right of people to self-defense and community defense and encourage people to dismantle the real violence, that is structural violence, of white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism by any means necessary."
We have two options before us—either take this and leave it or take it as constructive criticism. If we choose the former then simply we have failed in our fight for social justice long ago. If we choose the latter and act on this constructive criticism in a positive, meaningful way, then the only direction left to move is forward. The successes we experienced in Olympia recently and in other port towns will only increase; our strength and determination will expand. Our struggle is not one act or action, but a long, sometimes painful process. Now that we know who the enemy is, we need to destroy it. This can only be done if we work together and when we do so, through this destruction can we create something beautiful, sustainable and truly liberating.

Suggested further reading:

Looking for Color in the Anti-War Movement by Elizabeth Betita Martinez ( http://zmagsite.zmag.org/Nov2003/martinez1103.html)

How Nonviolence Protects the State by Peter Gelderloos

Pacifism as Pathology: Reflections on the Role of Armed Struggle in North America by Ward Churchill

Nonviolence and its Violent Consequences by William Meyers ( http://www.mcn.org/e/iii/books/nonviolence.htm)

The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon

Another view 19.Nov.2007 11:57


I can appreciate the points that Anonymous is making, but I think a better strategy (and one that Gelderloos encourages in the quoted book) is not necessarily to take a stand against non-violence, but to expand one's range of possible tactics and strategies to include both violent and non-violent actions, depending on what the situation merits. Or, alternately, to stay non-violent but be willing to ally one's self with other organizations or blocs that are willing to engage in violence in order to achieve similar goals.

Recent incidents at UC Santa Cruz (  http://www.infoshop.org/inews/article.php?story=20071108135827765) are, in my mind, a good example of how non-violent action can be effective AND supported by violent action.

Permission to do nothing? 19.Nov.2007 19:59


I appreciate the amount of time spent in writing such a long post.
And I disagree with your perspective. You offer criticism, at least in part because Port resistors were mostly white, as if that diminishes their actions. Have you looked around OLY? This is a pretty white community.
So, the fact that they are white--does that mean they should not do whatever they can do to end the war, because they are white? or young? or maybe have college degrees? or whatever characteristics that they are and others are not?
Are you going to post this to the Tax Resistors and tell them they shouldn't bother resisting the taxes because they they are middle-class, and poor people don't earn enough to pay taxes?
That people should not do anything until they have met your checklist of political correctness?
And no, I don't think you have made your case that African-Americans cannot successfully engage in acts of civil disobedience, so therefore whites shouldn't. In point of fact, African-Americans have a long history of doing non-violent civil disobedience and have longed served as models for the rest of us who seek to bring about a better world. Martin Luther King, Jr, understood the power of love to right the wrongs in our society.

"I am convinced that love is the most durable power in the whole world. It is not an expression of impractical idealism, but of practical realism. Far from being the pious injunction of a Utopian dreamer, love is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. To return hate for hate does nothing but intensify the existence of evil in the universe. Someone must have sense enough and religion enough to cut off the chain of hate and evil, and this can only be done through love."

Martin Luther King, Jr. 1957

It is clear to me that anger and violence are not the winning combination, no matter who you quote at me. People move away from angry people. People will not join an angry movement--ultimately, anger is not powerful enough to sustain a movement. What surprises me is that a whole lot of folks have yet to learn that lesson.
People must do what they can do. As for me, I choose love. I choose compassion. And I choose action. And no, I don't see any contradiction.People do what they can do.
What we need are people who have the ability to organize and lead non-violent actions. And the OLY PMR folks who organized and led this action are deeply rooted in non-violence and that is why they will win the hearts of many people in our community.