Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dealing with agents provocateurs

Again and again, movement after movement, it is proven that agents of the state or corporations infiltrate movements and cause disruption, in-fighting, discrediting, escalation of destructive conflict, justification for violence against the movement (even lethal violence), and even the end of campaigns or organizations. How can we immunize ourselves against this perennial problem? There are two major steps with many smaller sidesteps to each:

  • First, create an image of the movement that is nonviolent and only seeking justice by peaceable means. We see this accomplished historically by many movements that went on to victory, even despite outbreaks of violence by those who proclaimed themselves seeking the same nominal ends, or goals. The image of the movement needs to assure everyone that it sees no distinction between the means and ends.
  • Second, defend that image from those who attempt to discredit or flip it. Use all possible opportunities to stress the nonviolent nature of the movement and be specific. Use the word nonviolent in all public outreach and internal documents. Set that tone and standard. This seems redundant but it is inoculation with booster shots on an ongoing basis.

Image creation
How can an image be created? There are a number of steps to this:

  • decide on code of conduct
  • publicize code of conduct
  • enforce code of conduct

Decide on code of conduct
This requires a decision first by each individual in the leadership of the movement (there is no such thing as a leaderless movement, just alternative forms of leadership). Some may have specific conduct they will not be willing to be associated with. They must make their specifics known and the movement leadership must decide if that is acceptable. At this point, in some movements, leadership may lose one or more leaders if no consensus is reached or if the majority are unwilling to adopt a rigorous code of conduct that excludes violence. The final code of conduct agreed to by the leadership should be simple, basic, and minimal, and then sent to the larger movement for additions. For example, if 75 organizers agree on just one simple item such as "We will not engage in nor threaten physical violence as we wage this campaign," that is a deal-breaker for each and all. Anyone who cannot sign on to that for the duration of the campaign is not considered a member of that campaign and whatever conduct that person or persons use is explicitly described as separate from and not approved of by the campaign.

The membership may add elements, such as, "We will not threaten or engage in property destruction as a part of this campaign." Or, "We will not use expressions of hatred or objectification of anyone as a part of this campaign." The code of conduct is a document, then, that the campaign uses in its outreach to recruit, to the media, to the police and to any party with whom it negotiates, such as city officials or others who may be stakeholders. The code becomes the image by its declaration and enforcement.

How does a movement enforce its code and thus defend its image and protect against agents provocateurs?

First, the code should be ubiquitous and should be one of the sets of filters that applies to all decisions. If someone in a meeting suggests an action or value that falls clearly outside the consensed upon code, that is regarded as patently inappropriate. If there is insistence upon that sort of behavior, again, that person or persons should be invited to start another organization or campaign as such behaviors have already been rejected by your movement.

Peace monitors who are identifiable (arm bands, hats, t-shirts, name tags or other clear visuals) should help everyone keep the code of conduct uppermost. Often a small handout with the code on it given out to everyone is enough to help foster an  atmosphere of image projection and protection. Done routinely, a standard becomes accepted and calls for any other behavior become immediately recognizable as out of bounds within the context of your campaign. This does not need to involve moral denunciation, just a stated and restated code that makes your movement much less vulnerable to anyone who might try to hijack it. It also becomes very hard to smear your work with the behavior of someone who claims to be with you but is acting outside your code. In a crowd without a clear code of conduct, agents provocateurs have an easy time of it and will assist in wrecking your image and make the public grateful for all police action against you.

There is no perfect guarantee of immunity, but these measures, though they may seem difficult, really have worked quite well for many movements. They are the best protection against the threats of agents provocateurs, who often look like the most radical but are often the ones setting up the rest for attack and who pose the most serious threat to the movement. Those who say these measures or something like them are unnecessary have not had much experience with movements that succeed and those which fail. We can always learn how to do this better, but this is at least a good start toward protecting your people and your campaign.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The sinking Occupy movement

The Occupy movement is submerging faster than it's growing. There are two manifestations of an underlying primary problem causing this in my town, Portland OR, and I suspect it's not entirely dissimilar elsewhere.

Symptom #1: Street people magnet
As one of my students and a devoted Occupy worker put it, "What street person WOULDN'T be attracted to free food, no serious rules and protection from police?" That sums up a situation that may seem delightful to those who romanticize street folk but the reports are coming in from many Occupy encampments of police starting to raid tents and find meth, other drugs, inevitable incidents of schizophrenic breaks, fist-fighting and so forth. Street people suffer the hardest, but they also spread their suffering around. This is not their fault, but a movement that cannot handle this influx cannot pass muster with the general public.

Symptom #2: Violent 'radical' flank
The so-called anarchists, or black bloc, or whatever they call themselves, are a mixture of ultraleftists, romantically confused adventurers, spoiled brats, immature teen rebels without serious analysis, dedicated but underinformed activists who genuinely believe violence is best, and testosterone-addled young males. They are never in the majority, or even the sizable minority, of any mass movement, but they are loud and kinetic. They are often conflated with the street people though they are quite different in almost all cases. Again, any movement that cannot handle this general grouping will falter and slide in the view of the 99 percent the movement claims to speak for.

The underlying problem in both cases? It's lack of analysis and the spine to do something about it. The problems both involve achieving a modified consensus about a behavior code and then growing the backbone required to implement it. If Occupy is meant to be a social service refugee camp it will also not be a serious movement at this time in our history. If Occupy embraces a diversity of tactics that includes violence it will lose any chance for a diversity of people that includes most of the 99 percent. If Occupy realizes this and cannot understand that it needs to evict anyone failing to sign on to a nonviolent code of conduct for all actions associated with the movement, including an alcohol-and-drug-free encampment, it will sink.

OK, I am writing categorically and I could be proven wrong. I am an academic and should know better than to make those sweeping statements. I admit I am worked up about this because I am tired of watching mass movements get hijacked by fringe elements who enjoy the rumble and really don't care about public policy change or corporate policy change. I take hits all the time, usually behind my back, for making these unpopular assertions. But I've seen it all again and again and again and it's sad that so many in so many movements fail to learn that if we don't discipline ourselves, here comes the police to do it instead. Is that a happy result? And when the armed agents of the state come, they will do so with the full approval of most of the citizens because most of the citizens firmly reject rape, sex offenders, meth use, stabbings, and violent threat (including threatening one of my students with a gun), all of which have occurred recently in Occupy Portland.

The best aspect of all this may be that activists start to learn how to avoid or, when necessary, deal with these presenting and inevitable challenges. They are all surmountable. My hope is in the young activists, learning bitter but valuable lessons. When they come out next time they will do so with a strategic plan ahead of time and, I hope, they will teach us all some new ways to make gains toward peace and justice.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Who are we?

So, we wonder,  how would we characterize a nation that had invaded or intervened militarily in various other sovereign nations some 73 times in 55 years? Militaristic? Bellicose? Imperialist? Domineering? Brutal? Arrogant? Power-hungry? Ruthless? Pitiless? Hegemonic?

“Between World War II and the end of the last century, the United States led seventy-three military interventions throughout the world, almost double the total from the preceding fifty-five-year period.” 
—Pilisuk, Marc (2008). Who benefits from global violence and war: Uncovering a destructive system. Westport, CT: Praeger Security International. (p. 2).

Ewps—that nation would be US. That raises even more questions.

But it also produces an opportunity. 

We wonder, for instance, 
  • how to balance the budget? Um, stop spending ungodly sums on military intervention (almost a $billion just on Libya alone)?
  • how to stop terrorism? Well, perhaps we could stop stepping on other people and enraging them?
  • how to create jobs? Hey, if our military and military aid didn't suppress collective bargaining in Colombia, Indonesia, and many other nations, perhaps some of those jobs could begin to drift back to the US.
  • how to create even more jobs? Duh. Stop spending our taxes on capital-intensive military contractors and spend instead on labor-intensive infrastructure, education, public works and feeding everyone.
  • how to stop killing others and sending our young over 'there' to get killed? Does that even rise to the level of deserving a response? Just Say No to more intervention.
Once we listen instead of dictate—listen to the Global South and our own internal Global South, better known as the Occupy movement—we will get along, we will share this world more equally with everyone, we will find much more peace and we will find a new power we haven't felt, possibly ever before.


Pilisuk, Marc (2008). Who benefits from global violence and war: Uncovering a destructive system. Westport, CT: Praeger Security International.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Sunset for American Empire

As we in the various movements have been warning for decades, America is sliding downhill fast, globally. Of course, it's blamed on everything but the massive, record-shattering, conflict magnet military expenditures.
"Subprime loans"
"Darn Chinese"
"Government regulation"
And so the fantasies continue. We can fix it all by spending more on the military and controlling more of the universe. We can fix it all by eliminating all government help for the poor. We can fix it all by allowing industry to pollute like they used to. Why don't we go back to the good old days when we could send in the Marines, shoot thousands of indigenous people and install our own strongman to help our companies extract cheap natural and human resources?

Some are helping the youth to understand this. Right now the National Priorities Project and the American Friends Service Committee present youth responses to the question, What would you do with a trillion dollars? Youth get that you cannot spend that on the military every year and expect the economy to flourish. They see the fallacy that you cannot give that much in tax cuts to the most wealthy and look for job creation. They totally understand that pouring that amount into the wars in the Middle East has not helped our society to sustain, much less advance.

We are an empire sinking slowly into the sunset, well on our way to becoming just another nation, but how we exit empire will determine how the rest of the world treats us--and let's not forget that we've armed them well. Will we pretend that military power is ruling Earth? Will we spend our way on useless ecologically disastrous weaponry and military actions until there's nothing left to bioremediate our wreckage?

Leave it to the One Percenters from Richistan and we are doomed. If the 99ers don't take back control, real control--not Fox-mediated, Rush Limbic-propagandized war-warped ersatz democracy--we will continue to lose more and more, faster and faster.

The choice is entirely ours. The Occupy Movements may not be clear on much, they may be too alienating for many middle-class Americans, but they are a manifestation of radical discontent with the Big Lies of flag-toting, gun-waving nationalism. They could use your help in finding the way to clarity, to a real radical nonviolence, disarmament and genuinely new evolutionary way forward. If you can't help them, get into a political party and never stop agitating toward making that party stand for something new, something nonviolent, something with real peace content and forward motion. Compromise with war profiteering is Just So Second Millennium. Let's finally enter this one.