When Non-Violent Pigs Fly

This piece is in response to an unfolding argument regarding an otherwise lovely livestreamer who shouted down and threatened to identify individuals throwing bottles and antagonizing police during the Fuck the Police march in Oakland on the 7th of January, 2012.

The debate over non-violence (NV) and diversity of tactics (DT) becomes trivial when solidarity becomes a muddled and confused concept. Those of us passionate about DT rightly attribute those who follow NV as seriously lacking an understanding of the history of political movements and repression. The problem is that just saying that to someone who also passionately follows NV won’t get the point across and can come off as patronizing. Telling the NV camp that they need to look at history more carefully is meant less as an insult and more as a frustrated plea to take a step back and mull things over.

Arguing NV on a moral basis is impractical because morals themselves are impractical. Making decisions that may actually hurt comrades can fall in line with NV ideology rather frequently when matters that involve police are concerned. It’s a heartbreaking moment when it becomes clear that many people in the NV camp would prefer indirectly supporting violence via cooperating or passively interacting with police, rather than resist police force. Understanding how the state or patriarchy or racism or capitalism oppresses you through bank bailouts or home foreclosures only scratches the surface of the face of oppression. Oppression necessarily includes the forces that actually defend and carry out those orders; in other words, the police and prison, rape and police fraternity, physical and emotional abuse to name a few; these things are faces which seem less tangible, or even hidden to people who have not had to deal with them.

The defense of NV ideology leads some to also directly interfere with what they deem as “violent” tactics. This is perhaps the most dangerous aspect of NV ideology, that is, not so much the ineffectiveness of dogmatic, resolute non-violence, but the potential violence they impose on others through their actions. (Sidebar: these actions typically originate from their own unchecked privilege.) Notable examples include physically restraining or sometimes assaulting “violent” individuals that may be, for instance, smashing windows; videotaping intentionally or with no regard to the (legal) safety of “violent” individuals; or involving police directly. This precisely returns to the original purpose of this piece, solidarity. It must be explicitly understood that involving oppressive forces such as the police or the judicial system necessarily imposes violence upon “violent” individuals. Debates about NV versus DT ad nauseum mean nothing if anyone continues to hold the threat of state violence through their cooperation with oppressive forces over someone’s head. It is worth repeating and emphasizing that the police and the judicial system are unbelievably violent (in order to carry out the agendas you protest). Above all other ethics in the journey through protest and resistance, the idea of solidarity is the most valuable and important.


Solidarity is not a monolithic, unchangeable, or all encompassing concept. It is completely fair to place boundaries at some point or another in order to prevent obtuse actions to hurt your person. With that said, it takes a certain degree of experience with oppression to demarcate those points; when in doubt it’s probably best to simply remove yourself from any questionable situation or simply trust that your comrade has your back.

More concretely, solidarity is understanding that we all disagree at some level on issues, even profound, life-changing topics like the role of violence in movements, or lack thereof. Solidarity is not a blank check, and accountability is an important thread in its fabric. However, accountability is something that must be formed through time and trust, and an understanding that we have to create accountability through our own devices, and not through the state’s courts. If you can’t trust a movement to hold folks accountable to their actions, or at least bring a much needed issue to the foreground to be worked through, then you shouldn’t continue to engage in it.

Solidarity places political differences below camaraderie. Solidarity means being able to recognize who your friends and comrades are because they stand against oppression in its many and varied forms; and in doing so, place trust in your friends and comrades to hold a strong critique of oppression that may differ than your own, that may be weaker in some areas than your own, and trust that they may even have some insights you don’t have about the nature of oppression.

Solidarity means never cooperating with oppressive forces – the structures that crush you and me. Solidarity also means moving forward with resistance while supporting your comrades, your friends, hopefully, your new family. Solidarity with individuals or groups should end, however, when these individuals threaten to unleash oppressive forces upon you, either directly or indirectly, or manifest or reconstitute oppression directly upon you (such as sexual assault). All bets are off at this point, in order to maintain your mental and physical health.

Smashing windows or throwing bottles at cops, lighting some trash cans, or whatever crops up during the course of a string of “violent” demonstrations may insult your sense of ethics or contradict the public opinion you’ve been trying to cultivate, but they do not reconstitute oppressive forces on you, nor do they cooperate with oppressors to intimidate, arrest, or kill you. It’s fair to argue that certain actions may not reconstitute or cooperate with oppression, but place you in danger or take on certain privileges you don’t have (such as bail money, or skin color). This should not be mistaken as oppression reconstituted through these individuals, but as the consequence of resistance: in other words, repression. In this case, solidarity means criticizing tactical errors and mistakes that put you in danger. Solidarity sometimes means that things you disagree upon still happen simply because you trust your friends, your comrades, your companer@s enough to allow them to make mistakes.

Solidarity means never snitching or cooperating with oppressive forces.

Solidarity means attack.

Solidarity means we are your friends.

Solidarity means that you’ll never be alone again.


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