I don't want to distract too much from the point of what Brendan wrote earlier today. The point, as I understood it, was to explain what might have been going through the heads of some of the property-destroyers at the Seattle May Day rallies, and I'm as curious as anyone to know what was on their minds. It's a worthwhile question to ask. We shouldn't be afraid to ask it, even if it takes us to uncomfortable places.

That said, and having read what Brendan wrote a couple times, I still don't think we know for sure what actually was on their minds. We don't hear from any of yesterday's property-destroyers in Brendan's post, as far as I can tell, and they haven't issued any explanatory communiques, as far as I know, so for now it's all conjecture—and possibly, as Brendan says, retroactive "justification."

I hope we hear the rationale for yesterday's "Black Bloc" actions, from the actors themselves. Meantime, there are a few points that Brendan makes that I really don't agree with.

For starters, it seems to me that anarchists and journalists should be among the last people telling anyone what words they can and cannot use. I used the word "violence" to describe what was going on in downtown Seattle yesterday, so did a lot of other people, and I don't see it as inaccurate.

Maybe Brendan's suggestions—"vandalism" or "targeted property destruction"—constitute more precise descriptions, but they have their problems, too. If we can only call the destruction of property "vandalism" or "property destruction," then we don't allow ourselves to enter the realm of how that vandalism or destruction is perceived (or is intended to be perceived).

Was the intent of yesterday's window-smashing simply vandalism? Was the smashing of Mayor Mike McGinn's windows last night just property destruction? I don't think so. In any case, both are violently disruptive (not necessarily a problem in the abstract) and come with the distinct connotation that further violence is possible and even desired (this is where the real violence lies, from my point of view).

Also, as a number of commenters have pointed out, not calling these types of actions violent in other contexts—window smashing by the KKK is perhaps the easiest to imagine for these purposes—would be, well, immoral.

So if Brendan is concerned about degrading the power of the word violence, then I'm listening. But when he constructs the following moral argument to tell me when I can and cannot use the word violence, I recoil:

"Smashing a window is not violence, it's vandalism," he writes. "There is a difference—unless you think of people as the moral equivalent of property."


The word "violence" doesn't have a fixed definition that excludes its use in describing the destruction of property. More importantly, destroying property can very easily be a violent act, and I don't turn people into the moral equivalent of property (or, ala Citizens United, turn corporations into people) by calling out violence when I perceive violence, even if the main physical consequence of that violence, in this case, was some broken corporate glass.

Anyway, I think the moral question here involves intent more than the fact of broken glass.

Intent takes us to the political question, and here we just have to assume (for now) that Brendan has correctly described the political intent of the window-smashers. Which I'm very willing to do. I think the odds are decent that he has their intent right. I have some thoughts about the intent as he's outlined and justified it, though.

1) History tells us that there are times to smash a state, as well as times for direct violent action. History also teaches us that the leaders of a violent revolution can quickly become just as ugly, uptight, and immoral as the regime they replaced. Given this, it's not unreasonable to be careful about who you march behind. It's also not unreasonable to expect people who are advocating violence as a means to a political end to explain themselves. Sometimes the explanation is simple and obvious. If it were simple and obvious in this case, more than 50 people would have been smashing windows downtown yesterday.

2) Having to build popular support for political change is hard, much harder than smashing a window. But it's what representative democracy is about. Hijacking someone else's effort to build popular support for political change—by hiding in the midst of peaceful protesters who are trying to call attention to workers' rights, immigration rights, and all the other issues Brendan mentioned—is not just a bit cowardly, it's also somewhat anti-democratic in the sense that it disrespects the democratic process and turns it into a smash-and-grab (in which attention is what's grabbed by the smashing).

3) You could say: Well, anarchists are by definition not that into our current form of democratic process. That's the point of the smash-and-grab. Fine. Stand in front of the window you just broke, explain why you broke it, and see if you grab the support of enough people (or the right people). This is what Sean Carlson, the anti-Apartheid activist Brendan mentions, was doing when he smashed that window at the University of Washington in 1986 (and got arrested, and explained himself, and turned out to be right). This is not what the window-smashers yesterday were doing, so I don't think it's accurate to draw a parallel, as Brendan does, between them and him.

4) Brendan also suggests—at least to me—that there's a parallel between the economic violence perpetrated on the working poor in this country and the "bottom line" damage that window-smashers were trying to cause to banks and places like Niketown. Or maybe a cause-and-effect relationship? Either way, implicit in this idea is that we need to pay more attention to this economic violence. Who could disagree? But left unexamined is the fact that the distracting actions of the "Black Bloc" ended up hurting the protest efforts of the people living this economic violence (immigrants, the working poor), and in a sense did violence to their cause. Which, you could argue, is immoral.

So there's about 1,000 words in response to Brendan's 1,500. I hope even more words get used on this topic, and that some of them come not just from people like me and Brendan—since neither of us are actually advocating for people to run on out and start destroying property—but also from the violent (sorry! but true!) vandals themselves.