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  • Sue Ann Martinson, Editor of Rise Up Times

On Violent & Non-Violent Activism, the Media, Philando and the G20

This is not to say that these protests should become violent to attract media attention. The deficit is rather on the other side. The mainstream corporate media should be covering these many nonviolent protests where people risk arrest and often go to jail for their actions.

The G20 (or G-20 or Group of Twenty) is an international forum for the governments and central bank governors from 20 major economies. It was founded in 1999 with the aim of studying, reviewing, and promoting high-level discussion of policy issues pertaining to the promotion of international financial stability. (Wikipedia)

This article was written in response to an article about an anti-G20 action in June:

Radical left-wing protesters have claimed responsibility for a strong of arson attacks on the Deutsche Bahn, in protest at Germany’s hosting of the G20 summit next month.

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Once upon a time (it seems that long ago) when I was an undergraduate a professor from the English Department was a guest in my World History class with Dr. Breunig. Dr. Chaney of the English Department drew a very simple diagram on the chalkboard. Starting at the center bottom, he drew the shape of an oval; he labeled the right side the radical right and the left side the radical left. At the top which he marked with an X he showed where the two sides come together, in the use of violence as a tool, where radical right and left merge. This lesson has stayed with me all these years, and is once again in the forefront as a discussion in the left, along with the discussion about the emphasis on capitalism. The group “Shutdown G20 – take Hamburg off the net!” who have claimed responsibility in a statement is described as follows in this article: “They attempted to justify setting fire to the cables, claiming that they represent the ‘central nervous system’ of capitalism, transporting goods, labor and data.”

The obvious bias against them is clear in the way the description is framed, that is, “they attempted to justify” and “claiming that they represent.”

Beyond the obvious media bias, this action exemplifies a debate that is taking place around the use of violence, and what is nonviolence (does it include destruction of property) that was discussed during Occupy and before and continues today, as well as around capitalism, which has been described as reaching the state Karl Marx said it would, rebounding on itself: What Chris Hedges often condemns in his speeches and columns and what Henry Giroux calls Casino Capitalism.

In an article in Roar Magazine, Beyond Violence and Nonviolence, Ben Case discusses the use of both as tactics in the context of recent protests. He mentions the origins and uses of nonviolence in the 20th century in the work of both Gandhi and Martin Luther King (although he does not mention Thoreau’s On Civil Disobedience from the previous century) during a time when armed insurrection was also taking place around the world. But his focus on what he considers violence is on such acts as window breaking and throwing stones, minor property damage, not damage to human beings. It is in that context that he discusses violence and nonviolence and their various strategic uses, as well as commenting on the moral basis for nonviolence.

Case raises some interesting questions about the use of nonviolent tactics as he describes them. For example, some argue that such tactics and confrontations with the police lead to more press coverage, given the mainstream media’s proclivity to violence. Others argue that such coverage is detrimental to the cause being pursued. Some think fear of violence drives people away from protest, others think it attacks people to protest.

The escalation of tactics is of concern: to include a public utility such as a train signals desperation, an increased distress that demands attention be directed to the oppressive forces of capitalism on steroids in our present moment. Clearly the organizers of the bombings were very careful that human life was not taken. An important question is, will this lead to even increased tactics involving property damage with risk of human life being taken in the process.

Case uses a quotation from Martin Luther King from his last book The Trumpet of Conscience (1968), a collection of speeches supporting the use of nonviolence.

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