A Small Critique on Rhetoric: Notes on the Tolman Occupation

This is a brief response to the communique, Notes on the Tolman Occupation, posted on Indybay, occupyCA, and reclaimUC.

Perhaps it’s just rhetorical poisoning that my mind has suffered through the years by the media and the movement police, but it seems reckless to say, carte blanche, that “violence works.” This is not an ethical criticism of the argument, but rather a concern for the lack of clarity portrayed by this rather brief statement. I would take it, the “critical lesson” is that given the imminent political force of the crowd outside, and the aggressiveness of the police, the use of violent force to circumvent further atrociousness from the police was effective, worth the risk, and justified. Perhaps more importantly, that as a tactic, it’s easily justifiable to a community critical of police brutality against students who were merely demonstrating, and was thus something that might help bring a community together. I bring this up only to say that this argument isn’t given a fair chance by the brevity of the original statement (i.e. violence works) or by the dramatic and defiance-infused description of events that took place. In short, does all “violence work?” No of course not, it depends on the situation. It’s clear that this statement is a reaction to the moral condemnation of what happened, but as you realize, the problem with moral condemnation is its outright ignorance of how nuanced the issue is; and how general sweeping statements (i.e. moralisms) are aggravating excuses for failing to think critically. The approach of this argument falls under that same trap of being too general.

Similarly, stating “the police are the enemy,” seems a little extravagant. Certainly they often hold the role as the enemy, and are physically present to disable you from being effective. But the police are not the capitalists. The police are (massive) obstacles that must be dealt with. They are often the racist fuckers that shoot unarmed black men face down on the platform, but they are not the ones that solely perpetuate the system of oppression. If you’re purpose is to explain to the uninitiated that the police are not our friends, then you’re a folly of your own third lesson: failing to engage a diverse crowd the right way. An argument like this won’t reach folks. This kind of message, by far, is a lesson best learned through direct action: through the realization that your attempts to make the world better (and thus by extension communize) will be struck down with a baton every time if you fail to organize yourself to resist. This statement does help justify the event for those who were present, but it stops short of contextualizing the power structure thats at fault. It’s most certainly frustrating to have people constantly defend the police and absolve them of any wrongdoing, but the medium to change that won’t be in a brief communique.

I think generally, insurrectionary rhetoric like this overuses hyperbolic language and exaggeration. It usually comes off as grating rather than evocative of romantic adventurism and adrenaline-infused, humbled righteousness. I really appreciate the perspective and analysis though — for which y’all should be much lauded.


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