Those Dangerous Anarchists, Begging to be Beaten
Whenever there is a controversial event sure to garner large (and possibly violent) protests, I wait eagerly like a child on Christmas Eve. Mimicking the igneous method employed by Bart Simpson to reach his Christmas presents at the earliest possible hour, I drink enough water to insure that I awake to meet the inky-fingered paperboy as he saunters to my doorstep with the package that I so eagerly wish to uncoil. I flip through the pages anxiously in search of titillating accounts of windows smashed and innocents saved (or the more common inverse–windows saved, innocents smashed). Upon hastily skimming through stories of vandalism and violence, I become infuriated at the nefarious hoodlums who would dare disrespect my fine country and rouse the rabble that occupies it. I then faithfully flip to the the back in search of strongly-worded condemnations populating the editorial and opinion section of my trustworthy newspaper. I intently read the penetrating analysis made by revered pundits, invariably offering stern admonishments to troublemakers and troubles made. These petty criminals offer no coherent political viewpoints, I am told; a rag-tag group of attention-seeking vandals worthy of nothing better than pity, with a dollop of derision and a dash of condescension.
Well, Santa Clause came early today, with a sack full of Marcus Gee:
It would be simple enough for other protest groups to distance themselves from this lawless fringe and commit themselves to purely peaceful protest. But they won’t. . . The fact is that activists find the violent fringe useful. Violence draws television cameras – if it bleeds, it leads – and cameras draw attention to the struggle.
Oh, but there’s more. Gee is the gift that keeps on giving, deriding “anti-capitalists rioters” and calming civilian discontent over “lockdown” with authoritarian pablum:
But, then, the security folks have a serious job to do and they have to prepare for any eventuality. Inevitably, some of their rules will seem arbitrary and excessive. But “better safe than sorry” seems a good way to go when the safety of world leaders and the security of Canada’s largest city is at stake. It will all be over in a few days anyway and Toronto can go back to being its usual self: pleasant, banal and safe.
Gee has taken the art of delegitimizing large social movements to new heights: preemptive condemnation; discarding the views of citizens simply by virtue of the possibility that a violent fringe incites violence. These are nothing more than “rag-tag street fighters,” despite there not being any actual street fighting to speak of yet.
Even beside the curious chronology, it’s something of a strange criticism levied at the street fighters. Gee claims that the larger movement finds the violent fringe “useful” insofar as it brings media attention. The argument goes something like this:
a) Violence brings the media.
b) The media gives the movement exposure
c) Such exposure is useful, because the general public pays an inordinate amount of attention to police brutality and always sides with violent protest movements.
Returning to reality, footage of hooded vandals (unsavoury anarchists clad in black, etc) is invariably capitalized by the media to delegitimize the larger movement and trivialize (or simply ignore) its actual views. Sensational stories–far from garnering positive attention–sully the peaceful protesters and serve as justification for sweeping police crackdowns, as evidenced by the response to vandalism perpetrated by a minor contingent of the anti-Olympic protests:
“What we have seen today is the criminal element in the group has taken over and is dictating the actions and in fact a lot of criminals who wanted to commit those crimes hid within the legitimate protesters.”
This is our press, serving as an unchallenging venue for the chief of police to spew ludicrous falsehoods. Is this the kind of attention Gee imagines the anti-G20 movement longs for? Gee is either failing to see, or simply distorting the way that protester violence plays through mainstream media. Certainly if there is violence there will be vociferous condemnations (perhaps by Gee himself), further tainting the larger movement and distracting the public from its substantive political concerns. Furthermore, the argument is self-refuting. It’s very aim is to delegitimize the movement on the possibility of violence, yet it claims the movement could very well employ violence because the attention would be positive. Let’s get people to to disapprove of them now for the violence they may commit, because if they actually commit it, people might support them. It’s a wonder this passes for serious comment.
You can read more by Gordon Katic on his blog poetsandgutters.com