As protests go, there was progress--a May Day of long marches and spirited speeches, smartly organized by a schedule easy to follow using high-tech handhelds, all of it coordinated by Tweets and text, then debated long afterwords by web commenters and Facebookers. Yet, in the middle, were the Luddites of protest, the tired old anarchists of nostalgia, with no point to make but violence, going to the old federal courthouse, then revisiting Niketown, with paint bombs, hammers, and rocks. Been there, done that.
Their black bloc tactics and wardrobe are themselves relics of the past, dating to 1970s Europe and used most infamously in Seattle's 1999 World Trade Organization riots. But at least then, anarchy could be creative.
The WTO rioters donned the uniform of black hoodies, facial scarves and motorcycle helmets of the day, as did the anarchists of May Day yesterday. They also stormed Niketown and the U.S. courthouse-- most of its functions having moved since then to another building--with the usual glass-breaking and vandalism.
But they stopped long enough in 1999 to make a subtle point: they'd brought along Super Glue to put into door and window locks at Niketown. Breaking windows, one bandanna-ed member said, still allowed people to enter the stores that protesters wanted to shut down. This made it more difficult to get in, or out, at least in the anarchist's mind.
I stood there watching that December as a girl came from the crowd and asked one of the ninja vandals, named Brad, why he was doing this. "There's no point to that," she said.
"I'm making a point," said Brad, applying his glue. "It sucks."
"That's it?" the girl asked.
"Nike sucks. The child labor, all that."
"That's who ends up paying for this," the girl said. "Some kid in Indonesia."
Yesterday the black bloc passing by on Pike Street, mixing with peaceful marchers for cover, rushed Niketown and, while breaking a window or two, mostly beat hopelessly on the glass with their flag poles, like one of those trapped-in-a-7-Eleven scenes from a dumb-criminal show.
Unfortunately, now as before, violence works on some level. The organized speeches on police brutality, immigration, social justice and capitalism went mostly unheard by the public watching and reading yesterday's and today's media reports: most coverage was in-depth windows-breaking news.
The anarchists, meanwhile, were counting their loot this morning, listing their acomplishments: Wells Fargo: smashed; Taphouse Grill: smashed; Multiple Starbucks: smashed and painted; Federal Courthouse: smashed; Nordstrom corporate office: smashed; Barney's New York: slogan painted: "proletarianism," and so on. Same ol', same ol'.
There was also a treatise of sorts on how black bloc tactics have "clogged the arteries of capitalism by having a riotous time," and how "it really breaks the heavily ritualized nature of modern civil disobedience."
For contrast, there was this by an organizer of a recent police protest march in Portland where, just as the window-breaking began, everything went wrong.
Namely, everyone in the march became self-righteous professional revolutionaries, whether they were Peace Police "Occupiers" spouting shit about Love and Gandhi or some members of the Black Bloc who labeled everyone and everything liberal, spouting fuck about five times in every sentence. As for me, I honestly just shit myself in [the] face of a Public Relations disaster for the movement in its entirety. Not because of a Smashed window, but because we looked like dipshits on what became National Television.
"We within the radical community, he adds, "will always remain a minority as long as we act in a way which is alienating."