Violent Protest: Does it work?

Berkeley Protest Against Milo Yiannopoulos Takes a Violent Turn

By Katie McCluer

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Graffiti on Walgreens (Left) and smashed windows at Mechanics Bank. Berkeley, CA (Right) Photo Credit: Katie McCluerPhoto Credit: Katie McCluer

Black Bloc protesters crashed the UC Berkeley protest, smashing in the windows of corporate businesses such as Wells Fargo, Starbucks and Chase Bank in the midst of downtown Berkeley on Feb. 1, 2017. The Black Bloc is the name given to protesters that conceal their identities while creating property damage in order to avoid criminal prosecution. I’d come to UC Berkeley hoping to peacefully protest the hate speech of Milo Yiannopoulos; the Facebook event page said it would be a dance party.

By 8pm, public trash bins were lit on fire and the words “Kill Trump” were spray painted across the windows of Walgreens. The black bloc protesters carried crowbars and wore bandanas to hide their faces. As I stood on the corner, watching them bash in the windows of the high rise Chase building, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Does this help our cause?”

Mark Rudd doesn’t think it will. Rudd is an ex-member of The Weather Underground, a militant radical organization known for violent protest during the Vietnam war. Rudd was involved in violent civil disobedience in the latter half of the twentieth century, and after all that first hand experience, he realized “[he’d] spent a decade of [his] life vainly pursuing violent revolution, only to find that [his] efforts worked against the larger mass movement, the anti-war movement.”

Rudd was attending Columbia University in 1965 when he joined the SDS, Students for a Democratic Society. He was so successful in the SDS that he became the chairman of the chapter and in 1968, Rudd “formed a faction in the national SDS that wanted more and more confrontation and militant action.”

Rudd regrets the decisions he made when he was in the Weather Underground, and believes “property damage only works against the creation of mass movement. Mass movements are what ended the Vietnam War, got rid of segregation in the South, brought equality and human rights to women and gays and disabled,” said Rudd.

McKay Williams, protester and political activist since 2002, believes political resistance in the form of violence and property damage can be effective. “The easiest example is the Boston Tea party, which when you remove the patriotic glitz and glimmer, really was a bunch of angry people destroying property in a protest. Nelson Mandela attacked a nuclear plant in the fight for South African civil rights. The French Revolution destroyed a whole lot of Paris. Violence is often times effective,” Williams said, “the question is at what price?”

Often times, the “price” is giving the government a reason to instigate violence themselves. “For example, when a tiny number of protesters in Seattle in 1999 broke a few windows, it did call attention to the World Trade Organization protests, but on the other hand, it justified many millions of dollars to militarize police forces throughout the United States in the years following. In a very short time the government was able to label demonstrators as “terrorists” because of these few broken windows,” said Rudd. So while Williams has no ethical problem with property damage and doesn’t “mourn for broken windows and burnt generators when [his] fellow countrymen can be gunned down in the street for the color of their skin, when [his] fellow countrymen aren’t given agency over their own bodies, or are marginalized because of who they love,” he still doesn’t believe violence and property damage will create the desired effect, socially or in legislation.

Yiannopoulous used the violence at the Berkeley protest as a way to justify his hate speech. “He wasn’t coming thinking he’d be well received by the students and community at Cal, he was coming because he knew there would be protests and there was a high possibility of violence, and it would further his cause,” said Williams. According to CBS SF, Yiannopoulous plans to return to the UC Berkeley campus again to finish his speech.

So, if not property damage, then what actually works? Rudd believes the best path for civil resistance is through “mass movements and use of democratic mechanisms, such as elections.” Stephanie Wells, who worked for UNESCO, United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization said, “Vote because yes, it does count and it does matter. Go to a rally or a protest. Be counted. Politicians wants data. They want to know the number of people who supported a certain cause by attending a rally, by liking a social media post or page, and certainly by calling and writing.”


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