Views in brief

February 22, 2017

A life-changing experience

I'M THE very same Rachel mentioned in the article "When I caught a glimpse of a better world". I wanted to give a heartfelt thanks to Nico for coming to our kitchen at Standing Rock and lending us a hand. I have to say that everything written was spot-on regarding camp life!

Thank you so much for giving people a glimpse into some of the behind-the-scenes action. Taking part in this major historical event has been nothing short of life-changing and truly inspirational. For the first time in my life, I feel whole. I feel I have found my life's purpose. Much love and gratitude to all who support us and encourage us as we sacrifice to make our stand.
Rachel, Oroville, California

Planting seeds of change in many fields

I WANTED to say that it was a pleasure to read Leela Yellesetty's article "Do protests matter?" I appreciated the insight. Here are a few of my thoughts regarding the matter.

"Do we channel this energy into electing marginally better candidates, as Democratic Party politicians and many liberal groups suggest, or do we use the opportunity to build the self-organization of ordinary people--to move from demonstrating our collective power to using it?" Yellesetty wrote.

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I would utilize the opportunity to do both, because I believe there should be a focus not only on the here and now, but on planting seeds for a future fully functioning revolutionary party. Political organizing is seldom so cut and dry, and allies, even if they don't see eye to eye with us, are important in the political process. I would hope that we have enough people in the movement to plant seeds in both fields of change.

Yellesetty quoted journalist Anand Gopal saying, "A single protest, as important as they are, has never changed anything. But the social movements of linked protests--that is the lifeblood of resistance. That is the only thing, ultimately, that's ever changed everything...Resistance isn't a moment. Resistance isn't a state of mind, but a tapestry which is collective and enduring. It's so enduring that the status quo cannot sleep at night."

Agreed, a single protest is a starting point for further action, but people, although motivated, often need guidance in further action, at least initially. Often, this is when protesters are most open to alternative viewpoints. Marching side by side with other protesters gives the opportunity of solidarity and mentoring. It can provide a glimpse into the tapestry.

Readers’ Views welcomes our readers' contributions to discussion and debate about articles we've published and questions facing the left. Opinions expressed in these contributions don't necessarily reflect those of SW.

Yellesetty goes on to write: "So one of the goals for socialists is to use the opportunities presented by mass protests to continue the work of building lasting networks of resistance. But we have another goal in mind as well, which is to pose the question: What are we organizing for? In today's context, how do we organize to not only oppose the worst of Trump's attacks, but make progress in the struggle to win lasting change?"

I believe the movement needs more people willing to roll up their sleeves and put forth physical effort. The movement could use more forward thinkers and social engineers, people who can utilize opportunities provided by social circumstance or ones we deliberately create to sow the seeds of change in the fertile fields of political and social upheaval.

This is a manifold processes that focuses on the here and now, but again in the bigger picture, we obviously want to plant seeds and take action, so in the future, there is a fully functioning revolutionary party in the U.S.
Clayton Hardee, Denver

Violence and the impact on people

IN "CLARIFYING what we mean by violence," Brian Bean contends that activists should stop claiming that property damage is not violence, and instead should say: "Of course property destruction is violence." The reason for this, Bean says, is that he wants to promote a more constructive, class-based analysis of violence that underlines the difference between violence that preserves oppression and violence that fights oppression.

While Bean's concerns are certainly valid, and I agree with him that we should not categorically dismiss violence, his solution is misguided and somewhat dangerous. In his eagerness to distinguish revolutionary acts from corporate/state oppression, he misrepresents the complex nature of violence and its relation to destruction of property.

A more effective and consistent way of looking at violence is as actions that do serious harm to individuals--which hate speech and building the Dakota Access Pipeline do, while breaking a Starbucks window or shouting down fascists do not.

When it comes to social struggles, we should not be so scared of the concept of "violence" that we attempt to strip the term of any real meaning and usefulness in direct action, and fail to use the term's moral connotations to our advantage. Instead of Bean's minimalist conception of violence, a more comprehensive one can help guide activists in their actions, not just rhetorically defend them afterwards.

In that view, a necessary condition for something to be called "violence" is that it must do substantial harm, physical or otherwise, to a sentient being. Note that if the harm wasn't substantial, everything could be viewed as violent on some level, and the term would be meaningless.

Destruction of property thus can be seen as violent, but only if it substantially harms someone. The serious impact on people is the reason that bulldozing homes and burning churches aren't just destruction of property, but are also, in fact, violent acts. This is in contrast to smashing a window at a big corporation or sabotaging the aforementioned bulldozer. Such acts cannot reasonably be said to do substantial harm to individuals, and thus should be considered nonviolent.

Of course, the philosophical discussion becomes where to draw the line in terms of substantial harm, but in the case of direct action, we often operate with paradigmatic examples. Most destruction of property in relation to civil disobedience must reasonably be categorized as nonviolent, simply because even a corporate lackey would be hard-pressed to show any substantial harm to living sentient beings.

This understanding of "violence" not only fulfills the desire of being able to make a general distinction between the violence of oppressor and oppressed, but it takes it one step further and lets us use the moral connotations of "violence" advantageously.

We can also use it to help guide our future tactics. Tactics that might otherwise seem very similar suddenly stand in stark contrast. We see why smashing a window at a corporate headquarters is very different from the Black Bloc torching a random car on the side of the road--which might lead to someone losing their job and subsequently their home.

The distinction is also useful in terms of our communications on social media. Understanding "violence" in this way, we more clearly see the difference between smearing a corporate brand on Twitter and threatening the company's content moderator on Facebook with physical injury. These nuances will not only make it easier to defend good tactics, but they have the added benefit of helping to recruit participants who would otherwise not embrace the struggle due to discomfort with violence.

To take revolutionary action to the next level, we need more than a justification for violence. We need a comprehensive framework that we can apply to specific tactics and actions, and which is palatable to a broad spectrum of the public.

Understanding violence as something that causes harm to individuals invites a more systematic understanding of how capitalism prioritizes profit and property over people, but does not force us into the corporate/state trap of being labeled "violent," and thus subjected to increased scrutiny and punitive measures.
Rasmus Svoldgaard, Copenhagen, Denmark

Will conservatives protect the planet?

IN LIGHT of the confirmation of Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and considering his contention that he's the leading advocate against the EPA's "activist agenda," I am concerned about California's water infrastructure.

I'm sure I don't have to convince you or your readers that global warming is a very real phenomenon and that most climate scientists have found that we human beings are the primary cause of climate change. So it is a lot more than concerning that this man is the new EPA director.

The Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, signed into law in December 2016, was meant to protect and improve on our dams and other water systems. This act potentially decreases the many risks to Oroville residents, many of them people of color, undereducated, undocumented and underinsured, from the looming threats to the Oroville Dam, as described in your article "An emergency caused by neglect".

According to the legislation, the WIIN Act is set to increase jobs and boost the economy throughout the nation. Without improvements to the Oroville Dam and other water infrastructures, the California salmon industry is at particular risk, both environmentally and economically.

According to the article, "state officials...made a deliberate calculation years ago that the safety of residents wasn't worth the cost of updating and repairing the dam." Given Pruitt's vow to dismantle the EPA or render it utterly useless, I hope California focuses more on the boost to employment and the economy as structured in the WIIN Act.

Despite California being a "blue state," Butte County is a "red" county, according to the New York Times, and as such, I'm thinking that appealing to these particular conservative values might be a good strategy.
Andrea McDaniel, Murrieta, California