Non-Violent Direct Action Anyone Can Do (That Everyone Should)


It’s been a while since I last posted (and in fact, even since I last wrote an entry on my personal blog), and this entry is about part of the reason why—and that if you’re reading this, you should take up similar pass times. For anyone who is unfamiliar with the distinction between so-called “peaceful” actions and non-violence, I’d suggest you keep a stopper on that query until a later date, when I will answer that question for you in another piece of writing. In this piece of writing, I am deliberately choosing not to talk about “peaceful” anything; however, I am also not talking about aggressive behaviour or confrontation of any kind, while focusing on a specific form of non-violent direct action. As for the term “direct action”, this generally means, as an activist of any kind, taking matters into your own hands. Direct action is often associated with aggressive behaviour, confrontation, hostility, and violence, whether or not the actions taken even are violent (i.e., police and sometimes even military tend to be responsible for the escalation of direct action to the point of violence, as is being seen in New Brunswick right now, where non-violent protesters in a road blockade are being arrested for laying tobacco on the highway). For instance, I’ve written before about effective grassroots protest methods including the formation of a Black Bloc, and generally speaking, any community of activists can reasonably anticipate infiltration by undercover police if they are effective at anything they are doing (i.e., one more reason for the Black Bloc). Violence is often rather paradoxically mis-characterized as well, in that many see vandalism of inanimate property such as vehicles and buildings as violence, but fail to acknowledge or even recognize systemic oppression such as poverty (a direct and necessary product of capitalism) or racism (a direct and necessary product of cultural chauvinism, cultural imperialism, and white supremacy) as violence. For that matter, most people fail to recognize the inherent violence of the very existence of those buildings and vehicles themselves — environmental violence. I’ll be addressing that further when I write about the distinction between “peaceful” and non-violent some other time.

Now that all of that is aside, I bet you’re wondering what the actual fuck I’m talking about — what is the non-violent direct action anyone can do and that everyone should? Well, it started with a strong curiosity about a certain bird (I’m kind of nuts about birds, as anyone who knows me personally can tell you). Then it became very long walks in the forest. And then the marsh. And recently, the beach too. Most often, these walks have been a solitary activity, but on a few occasions, I’ve had human company. Over the past few months, it’s become the (technically illegal) gradual discovery, extraction, and disposal of several hundred pounds of trash by yours truly from former Coast Salish village sites, forests, marshes, and beaches. And you could (and should) be doing it too.

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Ray Bobb: To The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Re-Posted With Permission)

A brief note from Jamie on the piece of writing (by another author) that takes up the majority of this post:

For readers who are unfamiliar with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, this is a government-implemented program in Canada, which visits indigenous communities primarily for the express purpose of hearing the experiences of residential school survivors, which are then reported to the Canadian government along with any insights shared by those communities about how the government can take steps towards reconciling with indigenous communities. Residential schools were geographically isolated institutions initiated by the Canadian government and run by the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, in which more than 150,000 indigenous children over the course of more than a hundred years were forced to face horrific physical, sexual, and spiritual abuses while being racially and culturally brain-washed, in a campaign of systematic cultural genocide. Many children were assigned Anglicised names or even referred to only by numbers, many healthy children were intentionally exposed to tuberculosis, and countless children died alone in remote wilderness trying to escape. The last Canadian residential school closed in 1996, in Alberta. A majority of Canadian public schools do not even acknowledge this facet of Canadian history, and as a result, a significant majority of settler Canadians have literally no understanding of the continued legacy of trans-generational violence within indigenous families and greater communities. As a result, that majority tends to harbour dehumanizing and blatantly racist attitudes towards this country’s indigenous peoples, which prevents reconciliation between indigenous peoples and settler society, continues to maintain serious social barriers against the social growth and empowerment of indigenous communities, and prevents the Canadian government from being held accountable for its actions and racially selective policies against indigenous peoples (thus contributing to the perpetuation of debilitating racial injustice on the scale of genocide, merely repackaged to appear otherwise). This is all especially important given that indigenous populations across the country are once again on the rise (e.g., it is estimated that within the next ten years, up to a third of the province of Saskatchewan will be of indigenous heritage) and yet currently, approximately one half of all children currently in the custody of child care services are of indigenous heritage (i.e., child care services taking custody of indigenous children has become the new residential school system — there are now more indigenous children separated from their families by this abuse of power than there were during the 60s scoop). The following is a two-page essay that was handed to me by the author (a residential school survivor) at a recent consciousness-raising rally for indigenous rights.

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Philosophy Dudebros, Boston, & Nazis

A post by Jamie

This past week, the United States has experienced a horrific series of civil rights violations: the Boston Marathon bombing, followed by the lockdown of the entire city under martial law (during which several civilian homes were burst into with military might, in SWAT raids searching for one of the suspects, both of whom were considered armed and highly dangerous), and the passing of a bill (CISPA, or Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act) that allows the United States government to monitor traffic on the internet at its whim and fancy. And that’s not just American citizen’s internet traffic — that includes monitoring of non-Americans accessing US websites too. Canadian civil liberties organizations have asserted that this is very likely to result in further violations of Canadian citizens’ civil liberties as a result (e.g., extradition to the states for alleged “cyber crimes” against the US government).

Also this past week, I observed someone on my Facebook comparing the Boston SWAT raids to the Nazi invasion of Poland and rounding up of Jews at gunpoint. And to my utter shock, not one but two philosophy dudebros came along to defend this individual, on the basis that they think my emotions have clouded my ability to think critically about this outrageously offensive comparison (which directly equates Jews to terrorists, no matter which way you attempt to slice that). This post is going to get personal.

Concern troll warning: Take your “reverse sexism” claims right now and stuff them where the sun doesn’t shine—unless you’re homophobic, in which case, get ready to chew and swallow. If I could literally force-feed it to you, I most certainly would not hesitate.

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“Accidental” racism and intentional brilliance

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows what my position is on “intent” when it comes to things like racism and misogyny. Intent lies on an orthogonal axis to racism – someone doing something intentionally racist just adds bad intent to bad action. If we are of the opinion that racism is harmful in and of itself, we have to identify something as ‘racist’ or ‘not racist’ based on its own merits, regardless of whether the person “meant to”.

This appears to be a major sticking point for people. They have bought, either consciously or unconsciously, into the myth that racism is something perpetuated by “racists”, and that if someone didn’t mean to do it then it can’t really be racist – just “ignorant” or “an accident” or whatever euphemism they prefer. This myth has a lot of popular currency and is fairly ubiquitous within North American discussions of race. The problem, of course, is that people can be and are discriminated against based on their race in ways that have nothing to do with ill intent all the time. Demanding that intent be consubstantial with racism precludes us from taking any action against these kinds of racism.

In a stunning display of well-intentioned cluelessness (and what could be called willful ignorance), country star Brad Paisley has decided to step into the fray by teaming up with LL Cool J in a ballad called “Accidental Racist”. Here’s a sample: [Read more...]

Segregation in 2013

I went to a high school with an incredibly diverse student body. While I didn’t really recognize it at the time, I was incredibly lucky: I was surrounded at all times by people from all over the world with a wide variety of experiences and beliefs. It didn’t “force me” to be tolerant or anything like that – like all things that happen during youth I just took it in stride. It wasn’t really until I got to the largely monochromatic environs of my undergraduate program* that I realized what it was like for major parts of the rest of the country – surrounded by people who look like you, and taking it in the same stride that I took my variety of classmate.

The idea that someone would want to segregate schools is, thus, very foreign to me. My education benefitted immensely from being cheek-by-jowl with people whose backgrounds were dissimilar to my own. It broadened my world view and allowed me to reflexively challenge a lot of racist and xenophobic assumptions about people who weren’t born in Canada in a way that the classes I took couldn’t hope to approach. The idea of someone choosing to rob someone of that kind of opportunity is baffling.

And yet, we find pretty much exactly that happening in Georgia: [Read more...]

Come too far to turn back now

When I was in Chicago, I was (deservedly) upbraided by a member of the audience for referring to the #IdleNoMore aboriginal sovereignty movement in the past tense. Of course this movement is still ongoing, just as it was before the advent of the hashtag and the dramatic public demonstrations that accompanied it. The latest federal budget, announcing that benefits for First Nations youth (but not youth in other places) would be tied specifically to a Workfare program (with an enforcement budget that is larger than the budget for actual benefits), suggests that despite the statements of intention to co-operate, the Harper government has no interest in treating Aboriginal Canadians as anything other than inconvenient wards of the state who are in need of instruction in fiscal discipline (yes, the ironies abound).

And so, the revolution will go on, and an opportunity to change the toxic paternalism of the nation of Canada to the people it has colonized has been squandered.

Yesterday marked another dramatic milestone: [Read more...]

Atheism is a social justice issue – race edition

This is part of a series of articles intended to illustrate the usefulness of treating atheism as a social justice issue, rather than trying to wall atheist discourse off from social justice discussions. Read the introductory post here. Read the second post here.

One of the most common critiques of discussing issues of race in atheist communities is that it is ‘divisive’. For a moment, I will hold my bile and grant the most generous interpretation of this kind of statement – since race is not a valid reason to divide groups of people, we should not treat people from different racial groups differently; discussing race divides the population into arbitrary groups, and that’s not fair. The reason that it is almost exclusively white people who make this statement is perfectly illustrative of the problem with it: race may not be a morally valid way of dividing the population, but racialized people are acutely aware of the fact that it does divide the population. Pretending that isn’t so does not somehow make the effect disappear.

At her new blog Freethoughtify, Bridget Gaudette tries to tackle this meme head-on: [Read more...]

South of what, exactly?

One of the chief arguments pressed into service in defence of so-called “casual” racism – that is, racism that occurs as part of popular culture without any awareness of racist content on the part of the majority – is that in the absence of intent, acts are not racist. While we here know this to be largely a fiction born of self-flattery, it is surprisingly persuasive and popular. It’s not exactly a difficult puzzle to solve – if you have not had to deal with the consequences of racism in your own life, you’re unlikely to have much appreciation for the myriad ways in which it manifests itself and exerts its influence.

The close cousin of the intent argument is the “well that’s not what it means to me” argument. When someone uses racist imagery in this same “casual” way, either out of apathy or ignorance, the typical response is for the person to say that ze simply doesn’t see it as being racist. This is often the case for things like blackface or cultural appropriation from First Nations – it’s not racist, it’s like, totally meant as a compliment! Or it’s completely blind to the culture from which it’s taken. I’m honestly not sure which is worse.

What I do know is that some explanations are more bafflingly clueless and indefensible than others: [Read more...]

Reflections on the Oakville Klan story

I want to follow up this morning’s post with a couple of things that were sitting in the back of my mind as I was reading.

Canada’s polite racism, and the ‘tone’ crowd

One of the defining features of racism in Canada is that it usually comes disguised in very neutral, inoffensive language. Canada’s myth of its own “non-racist” status owes dearly to the fact that for the most part, outright racial hostility was much less common here than in the United States. This is not in any way to say that racism didn’t exist (as this book more or less conclusively proves), but rather that we found euphemistic ways to express violent thoughts without having to use the appropriately violent words, for fear of shocking our delicate consciousnesses.

While it’s not a perfect analogy, I couldn’t help but think of the endless admonishments that people press into service about the importance of “tone” in social justice movements. While tone has a role to play in persuasiveness, the argument about tone often manifests itself as a proxy for righteousness. In the nagging tones of faux-concern, people often chastise participants in social justice conversations for “demonizing” or otherwise offending members of the majority group. “Tone” is used as a way of dismissing the disempowered as being “too angry” or “divisive”, rather than recognizing that whatever anger there is is entirely justified, and the divisions pre-extant. [Read more...]

Black History Month: The KKK in Oakville, Ontario

This year for Black History Month I will be examining Colour-Coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canada, 1900-1950 by Constance Backhouse. Please read the preamble post if you haven’t already. Part 1 of this series is herePart 2 is here, and a follow-up can be found herePart 3 can be read here. Read Part 4 here, and its follow-up here.

On the night of February 28th, 1930, Ira Johnson and Isabel Jones were awoken by a cadre of about 75 members of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klansmen told Jones to exit the house, whereupon she was taken to the Salvation Army house (her place of work) and reunited with her parents. Johson was taken outside, and warned that if he were ever found in the company of Ms. Jones or any other white woman, there would be consequences. As was their modus operandi, this ‘warning’ was conducted under the light of a burning cross on Johnson’s front lawn.

The chief of police, having been located and summoned, arrived in time to observe the throng of men gathered on Johnson’s lawn. To what I’m sure was Johnson’s great consternation, the chief, recognizing the men as members of high standing from the nearby city of Hamilton, declared that no crime had been committed, and that everyone was free to leave. The newspapers, reporting on this late-night accosting, remarked on the Klan’s orderly conduct, and opined that while their tactics may have been a bit dramatic, their intention to dissuade miscegeny was surely laudable and appropriate. Indeed, this line from the Globe on March 3rd, was particularly telling about the prevailing attitudes of white Canadians: [Read more...]