In his appreciation of Milwaukee’s civility, David Glenn calls the state defense of civic order “a fundamental and necessary condition of a decent society.” But I don’t think our current state is defending civic order; it’s defending the concentration of wealth in the bank accounts of the few from the anger of the many. I would prefer a community, rather than state, response—a community defense when the community’s agreed upon standards are violated.
All of Glenn’s examples are of physical violence toward other human beings; he’s making quite a large jump from racist attacks over school desegregation (which hurt people where they live and work) to damage to billboards or neon signs owned by corporations. The latter is not violence against people or against a neighborhood; nor does it necessarily involve breaking a community standard. It is a limited and targeted attack on property owned by companies that themselves perpetuate violence.
First, about Seattle. Glenn calls it a wash. He argues that the property destruction repulsed Middle America and gave the media something else beside the labor march to focus on. Yet many of the young people who came out later in the day (surely they count as “citizens”) came out because of the unusual energy and the combination of groups and strategies. As for the rest of Middle America, those who would have otherwise supported the demonstration supported it anyway and were able to tell the different groups apart. Those who were repulsed, like Thomas Friedman, were repulsed by the whole thing—the audacity of all those non-experts who had thoughts, feelings, and arguments about the WTO. The media in fact did a better job than usual; in papers I looked at from Chicago, California, Washington, and New York, many of the articles made a point of separating the different messages. Finally, Glenn admits that property destruction may have been effective in the “short term” in influencing politicians and WTO delegates. Aren’t these some of the same people we must reach for any long-term change?
Seattle seems more of a positive example than a wash, but—if possible—let’s put it aside for a moment. There’s been enough focus on those few hours of property destruction. They represent only one example of a larger argument about how to widen and reinvigorate political movements.
Glenn argues that if property is going to be destroyed in the service of progressive causes, the agitators should follow his three commandments: try other means first, connect to broader social movements, and do their time in jail. The first two I agree with wholeheartedly. Of course the overall goal is social transformation; if this can be achieved by orchestrated or non-orchestrated protests without property destruction, then I am all for it. But historically, property destruction has often come about after these methods have been tried and failed.
As for the second, this...
For just $19.95 a year, get access to new issues and decades' worth of archives on our site.
Print + Online
For $35 a year, get new issues delivered to your door and access to our full online archives.