Diversity of Tactics from Vancouver to Toronto

Dear UTA,

The Olympics are finally over. And while legitimate concerns have been raised and there were things that could have been improved on, I agree with the Olympic Resistance Network (ORN) that the convergence was a success. While it is always true that it would be better if mass mobilizations were larger, the convergence did go relatively according to plan.

One glaring exception was the absence of high-impact actions by any well-funded NGOs. Rainforest Action Network (RAN), which was a part of the 2010 Corporate Campaign, failed to do any banner drops (or any other form of significant direct action) in Vancouver against Olympic sponsor Royal Bank of Canada and instead waited until after the Games to protest the bank’s AGM in Toronto. While there was a small protest in Vancouver put on by RAN and the Indigenous Environmental Network at RBC on February 13, it really seemed to me that, for RAN, the anti-Olympic movement was merely a vehicle to build momentum for their own campaign.

I was also expecting to see some major actions from the Native Youth Movement (NYM) and Native 2010; however, I recognize that both groupings probably have more immediate concerns to address than flashy anti-Olympics actions. I know as well that there were issues between segments of the ORN and NYM/Native 2010 concerning spokespeople and the tokenization of central figures. This was likely a factor in there being an absence of high profile Indigenous sovereignty actions during the Olympics. Various individuals and groups have taken on varying degrees of accountability for these dynamics, and I believe that in the long run, solidarity with the West Coast’s Indigenous sovereignty movements will be stronger than before the Olympics.

The experience of the convergence in Vancouver has affirmed one of the conclusions from the Olympics Roundtable in UTA 9: convergence activism has tremendous value to the movement provided that “the goal of those who converge in the host city is to support local communities of resistance.” This definitely seemed to have been the case in Vancouver.

In UTA 9, you also produced a roundtable on the 10th anniversary of the Seattle ’99 WTO protests. Just as happened immediately after Seattle, one of the loudest debates coming out of Vancouver has been about “diversity of tactics.” It is clear, more than a decade after Seattle, that this debate is not going away. It is a good thing that this debate is becoming more central, and I hope that future issues of UTA can take up this issue in a sustained fashion. Only in this way will our movement be able to overcome the cult of non-violence that has had such a immobilizing effect for so long.

Coming out of Vancouver, the debate over “diversity of tactics” has been more sectarian and personalized than it needed to be. However, I stand behind the position that public activists, especially those not connected to the dynamics on the ground, had no business condemning the action. Analysis is one thing, public denunciation is another.

Public activists need to be more responsible with their status and power within the movement. I think it is important for us to keep reminding those who have taken on roles communicating with the mainstream public that they cannot do so at the expense of being accountable to people on the ground and on the front lines.

It is of dire importance that activists do not fall into the traps of dichotomous categorization. That is to say, we need to stop qualifying some tactics as good and others as bad. The media and the cops are going to do that; we should not do it for them.

Members of No One Is Illegal Vancouver and elders from the Downtown Eastside Power of Women group have publicly defended the actions of the Black Bloc during the “Heart Attack” march on February 13 2010. Defence of diversity of tactics has not primarily come from people who organize as militant anarchists but rather from community organizers on the front lines of local struggles in Vancouver. Critics need to pay more attention to who they are denouncing and arguing with and also to those with whom they agree. When self-identified radicals are taking the same side as the corporate media, it likely means one of two things: either the revolution is over, or someone needs to check their head.

The Seattle ‘99 roundtable in the last issue spoke about lessons from that summit and about how that experience has shaped the last ten years of organizing. Running that conversation through the experience of the anti-Olympic convergence and with an eye on Toronto in June, I have the following closing thoughts.

The Seattle ‘99 summit shaped the expectations and the narratives of resistance for the broader movement in many ways over the last decade. From all of the critiques of that and other big anti-globalization protests, one concrete result that we are witnessing is the prioritization of local issues and those affecting marginalized communities. I think it is crucial that we remember that the analysis that feeds this direction is not purely strategic or tactical; it is primarily about principles. We are currently in a phase of building strategies based on these principles, and figuring tactics to fit them.

There were many victories on the streets of Vancouver despite the fact that we did not stop the Olympics or stem the tide of gross nationalism that swept the country during the hockey finals. However, at the Olympic Tent Village, we did force the city to find immediate housing for more than three dozen people – some of whom had been on waiting lists for nearly a decade. This is a small victory, but a victory nonetheless, and one that is not merely symbolic or rhetorical. These types of victories are just as important as front page headlines. This is the spirit from both Vancouver and Seattle that I want to see carried into Toronto this summer.

In solidarity,

Alex Hundert