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March 9, 2010

Activists Debate Vancouver Olympic Protests

by Derrick O’Keefe
After years of organizing work, the protest movement around the Vancouver Winter Olympics can proudly claim a number of important victories. A vibrant demonstration of thousands met the corporate spectacle head on, marching to within metres of the Opening Ceremonies at B.C. Place February 12.

The ‘Welcoming Committee’ that organized this mass protest was representative of the range of groups challenging the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Vancouver Games conveners (VANOC).

The achievements of this movement include: Pushing back hard against attempts to restrict free assembly and speech, exposing the “greenwashing” of the Games, and raising awareness of homelessness and indigenous rights issues. The IOC brand was successfully dented and the longer-term impact of the Games illuminated. Over the course of the Games, a host of creative direct actions and protests pushed demands for social justice.

However, there were also missed opportunities, and some acrimonious debate in the activist community.

The ‘dualism’ of an event like the Olympics was perhaps not seriously enough considered. It’s a two-week sporting event and mass spectacle, replete with tons of free activities for the general public – it’s not the same as a meeting of the world’s bankers and politicians. In fact, many if not the vast majority of those critical of the Games and their impact, and critical of the anti-democratic depredations of the IOC – people who would have preferred public resources had gone to housing, health care, education, and other urgent needs – still enjoy watching the world’s greatest hockey players, or going out to see a free show, or just walking about and seeing and meeting folks from around the world.

I think this dualism was missed or underestimated by some of us in the protest movements, and as a result opportunities for creative outreach around a range of social justice issues have been given less energy than they might have.

The main focus of controversy has been a protest action billed as a Heart Attack (‘to clog the arteries of capitalism’), which marched through Vancouver’s downtown core on Saturday, February 13. In a crowd of 200 or 300, a number of people engaged in property destruction. The windows of TD Bank and the Hudson’s Bay Company were smashed, newspaper boxes were overturned, private vehicles vandalized – confrontations with the police and angry members of the general public ensued. Such incidents are frequently the work of unwanted intruders. But in this case, many supporters of the action affirmed that the destruction was planned by participants in a ‘Black Bloc’ contingent.

The Olympic Resistance Network and some other activists declared this action a success, while many others of us questioned its effectiveness. We were initially told, by some, that to raise concerns about the action was to “break solidarity.” This is a major tenet of the notion of “respect for diversity of tactics,” wherein no tactics are ruled out ahead of time and criticism remains internal. In practice, this can mean suppression of open debate in the activist community, especially since, in this case, the groups that had signed on to “diversity of tactics” represented only a part of those groups organizing around the Games.

Defending the action in, Alex Hundert claims that all participants in the ‘Heart Attack’ knew what was going to happen, despite the fact that uncertainty is a central tenet of diversity of tactics action:

“Anyone who says that they didn’t know what was going to happen is lying. There were 200 people in black with masks on, and ‘Riot 2010’ has been a rallying call for the movement for more than two years now. Everyone knew what was going to happen, and they all marched anyway.”

This statement is false. Many of those who went along on the ‘Heart Attack’ did not know what was going to take place – and the actions did not even communicate clearly with some of them. One activist, a woman of colour who grew up under a military dictatorship, explained:

“Some of those who engaged in property destruction appeared not to have solidarity with other protesters, displaying a hostile attitude towards some other participants and even independent media members, as well as the general public. This looked like kids playing at street fighting and mocks the struggles of Third World people who have at times had to use violent tactics to liberate themselves.”

Eric Doherty, a long-time environmental activist in Vancouver, put it this way:

“I was at the Heart Attack, and I expected strategic and targeted property destruction. I worried that there might be ‘trashing’ at random; unfortunately that is a lot of what happened. Some of it just looked dumb, like the plastic garbage bin dumped out on the quiet side road – littering does not block traffic.… This is not a condemnation of the black bloc tactic. It is a critique of what was done by people in black on one particular day.”

And on this basis, a critique of particular actions can still be done in the framework of movement building and solidarity. The same vigorous critique needs to be applied to all tactics and to all sectors of the progressive movements, from electoral politics, to NGOs and the labour movement.

No matter the radical and no doubt commendable motivations of many of those who used the Black Bloc tactic, and of those who engaged in property destruction at the Vancouver action, the result was a setback for the broad movement.

In the rabble article, Hundert asserts, “The Black Block is a wrecking ball tactic that makes space for more mainstream or creative tactics.” But part of making space involves the receptiveness of the public to your overall message. The action failed to communicate clearly with that public, whose reaction was overwhelmingly one of disgust, confusion or even fear. This was evident from hundreds of letters to the editor, and hundreds and thousands of conversations with ordinary people, even those predisposed to be critical of the Games.

The action didn’t create political space; it shut it down. And it served up a PR coup for the Vancouver Police and the Olympic organizers. No doubt this was in part whipped up by the corporate media, but that was an entirely predictable outcome. As author and Olympics critic Chris Shaw put it, it was VANOC’s “wet dream,” because it helped justify the $1 billion dollar security budget. Especially given that the authorities in Vancouver had refused to rule out the use of agent provocateurs, we must question the use of a “tactic” that inherently makes easier agent provocateur infiltration.

There are times and places where property destruction, sabotage and even armed resistance are necessary and effective. But the use of any tactic has to flow from a coherent strategy, and should be part of an effort to mobilize as broad a movement as possible. Effective use of civil disobedience is all about communicating with the people you are trying to win over. If the tactic you employ is not understandable to them, it’s counter-productive.

“Respect for diversity of tactics”, it must be frankly put, has become something of a shibboleth in parts of the Left today. A healthy Left shouldn’t let any shibboleth go unquestioned. In Vancouver, it was invoked to tell some of us to shut up. We didn’t. On this basis, I hope that we can count the debate around diversity of tactics as one positive outcome of the events in Vancouver.

With the G8/G20 looming and authorities promising to impose a “fortress Toronto,” we all need to be able to debate fully and frankly, and not be afraid to, if necessary, democratically decide to exclude certain tactics.

A version of this article will be published in Socialist Worker


47 Responses to “Activists Debate Vancouver Olympic Protests”

  1. Ian Weniger on 09 Mar 2010 at 2:31 pm #

    Thanks, Derrick. I want an effective left again in Vancouver. The ORN were successful in sustaining popular skepticism in the Olympics up to the Games. I’ll always be proud of that. By March 1st, however, the polling showed that any skepticism was gone. A haul of Canadian medals didn’t help, but the diversity of tactics that condoned the vandalism and harassment found at Heart Attack was counterproductive. Our side lost its connection to the mainstream. We have to get that connection back.

    Now that the BC and federal budget are the public’s price tags for the Olympics, the left needs to jump into campaigns for proper funding for health, education, the arts, seniors, sports and anything else that seems to be moving in the public at large. Tactics need to be consistent with inspiring as many people as possible to fight back. Those tactics need to be hashed out in public to show our side is competent to lead more than a handful of activists and supporters.

    Let’s move on from Feb 13 and join the masses to stop our leaders from sticking us with the Olympic debt.

  2. zig zag on 09 Mar 2010 at 7:30 pm #

    Just so people don’t get the wrong impression, it should be noted that O’keefe has not been involved in anti-Olympics organizing except perhaps for his involvement in the 2010 Welcoming Committee. Other than that, most people who actually did the work have no idea who he is.
    O’Keefe’s intellectualizing mirrors that of other, overwhelmingly white middle-class ‘actorvists’ that think their particular ‘constituencies’ (also overwhelmingly white-middle class) are the most important and the ones that social movements should be oriented around.
    This is incorrect. There are many other social sectors that O’keefe and others do NOT speak for, represent, or even have the slightest clue about.
    The day after the 2010 Heart Attack rally I talked with many Natives at the Women’s Memorial March. Without exception they supported the attacks and especially those against the Hudsons Bay Company. The action obviously inspired many who see little effectiveness in the often boring, routine, and controlled protests that pass themselves off as acts of ‘resistance’.
    Concerning the diversity of tactics and solidarity, these principles are not to smother debate or criticism, but to limit them to internal discussions so that our common enemies are not able to use them to further divide and demoralize our movement.
    That Okeefe and others can’t understand this only speaks to their narrow-minded analysis and approach to social movements. They can’t respect a diversity of tactics due to their privileged class position and the political ideologies which flow from this. In any real social movement, there is a broad coalition of groups, not all of whom will agree on tactics, strategies or even objectives. This is why we must adopt respect for diversity, and not just concerning tactics.
    I have coined a new acronym for those now jockeying to promote themselves as the ‘leaders’ of resistance: WiMPs: White (intellectual) Middle-Class Professionals. Don’t believe me? Just look at who’s having tantrums about the 2010 Heart Attack: lawyers, doctors, and aspiring social democratic politicians.

  3. Adriana Paz on 10 Mar 2010 at 1:07 am #

    Thanks Derrick, a very mature and respectful analysis -as always

  4. Roger Annis on 10 Mar 2010 at 5:01 am #

    March 9

    It would be a surprise if the anonymous “Zig Zag” lives in Vancouver, for he claims to not know the name of the author he so disrespectfully dismisses. Derrick O’Keefe has been a tireless voice and co-coordinator of Vancouver’s antiwar movement since 2002. He is the co-author of the enormously important book on the war in Afghanistan, “A Woman Among Warlords.” The book tells the story of one of the world’s most heroic anti-imperialist fighters, Afghanistan’s Malalai Joya. It has been translated into many languages, and the number is growing.

    Thanks to the work of the Olympic Resistance Network, the 2010 Welcoming Committee, Vancouver’s antiwar and environmental committees, and many other groups, a big shift in the attitudes of working people has taken place since the City of Vancouver received the hosting of the 2010 Winter Olympics in 2003. Serious questions are being asked about the social and environmental cost of what was, in essence, a corporate spectacle of greed.

    But ordinary people get turned off by anti-Olympic protests like the one on February 13 when it simply vents anger and frustration and does not present a thoughtful and alternative course to the corporate machine. This is not a “middle class” concern, as the anonymous writer states. It is a widely-held sentiment in the working class, including among the oppressed Indigenous peoples. Many Indigenous organizations and people joined in the Olympic festivities out of interest in the sporting events and because it offered an opportunity to showcase Indigenous artists and culture.

  5. Eric Doherty on 10 Mar 2010 at 2:38 pm #

    To clarify the context of my quote, I don’t think what happened was any great setback for the movement although the Heart Attack action could have been more effective and less divisive. I think the dialogue it has set off about all sorts of tactics could be very helpful over the longer term. And it may be better to be condemned in the main stream press than ignored.

    But the idea that no discussion of tactics should take place in the broader movement is hard to swallow. Sure – some people have crossed the line to attack and condemnation, which is destructive. But it is important to build understanding if we are going to build a bigger and more effective movement, and that means some public discussion.

    That discussion needs to include critiques of all types of tactic, including formulaic meetings and demonstrations.

    I think Derrick’s main point seems to be this one:

    “Effective use of civil disobedience is all about communicating with the people you are trying to win over.”

    This needs to be considered very seriously when evaluating any action.

  6. Vancouver on 10 Mar 2010 at 3:28 pm #

    I can admit that at the beginning of this whole debate I was not clear on the issue of diversity of tactics. However reading many articles and watching videos I feel that there is merit to diversity of tactics. What is troubling to me, however, is that I have become aware of and witnessed the ways in which O’Keefe has been slandering and denouncing other activists in Vancouver who disagree with him. This article hides the reality of the crusade he appears to be on to increase, not decrease, tensions and in which he is a responsible party not an innocent victim. His actions have been completely counter to this ideal of respectful and healthy debate that he is preaching, but most definetely not following.

  7. Claire Fontaine on 10 Mar 2010 at 4:35 pm #

    Anyone who doesn’t know who Zig Zag is needs to to some homework before they talk about anti-Olympics organizing, for sure.

    I for one had never heard or seen O’Keefe speak until after the Games, when he emerged as a critic of the anarchists.

    Of course, this ex post facto commentary reflects, more or less accurately, the position of the pro-Castro milieu.

    As Debord wrote, “Those who sit and watch what comes next never affect that which comes next.”

    - Claire

  8. Jeff White on 10 Mar 2010 at 6:26 pm #

    The “Black Bloc” anarchist tactics are of course more about self-indulgence than building mass movements, but I think there has been a degree of over-reaction to them. As far as I am aware, they injured no one. They committed property damage, which is really just a form of economic damage. And the scale of it was infinitesimal compared to the immense economic damage done by the Olympics to thousands of people, not to mention the ecological devastation resulting from highway expansion, clear-cutting forests for sporting venues, and trucking and flying in snow to Cypress Mountain.

    As a Black Bloc communiqué put it:
    “The media are now busy denouncing the political violence of property destruction, such as the smashing of a Hudson’s Bay Company window, as though it were the only act of violence happening in this city. They forget that economic violence goes on daily in Vancouver. People are suffering and dying from preventable causes because welfare doesn’t give enough to afford rent, food or medicine, and because authorities routinely ignore the medical emergencies of poor or houseless individuals. This economic violence has gotten worse as we lose housing and social services because of the Olympic Games.”

    The role of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association’s executive director David Eby was particularly reprehensible. The BCCLA had widely circulated among demonstrators a phone number they could call to get legal assistance from the BCCLA in the event they were arrested. But when a handful of Heart Attack demonstrators got arrested for property damage, Eby denounced them publicly and disclosed certain information that could be used as evidence to convict them. It was unprofessional and disgraceful. Four days after the demonstration, Eby got a well-deserved pie in the face at a public meeting.

  9. Kettle Calling on 11 Mar 2010 at 9:51 am #

    Why is it the supporters of the questionable and ineffective tactics of the Heart Attack action seem to find it necessary to attack Derrick O’Keefe rather than take a long, hard look at what he’s saying and how their action could have been more effective in educating the masses on their concerns surrounding the Games? Here’s a guy who has walked the walked, talked the talk and has brought more knowledge and critical analysis to this debate – and a genuine desire to drive the movement forward – than chronic detractors Gord and Harsha ever have.

    I have one thing to say to them: stop shooting the messenger, it only makes you look petty and insecure. Get over that he’s white and male and as such, a person of privilege – he gets what he’s talking about and he is a serious student of activism. Is the goal of activism not to make the world better? If so, than perhaps you would all do well to work together toward this common goal rather than knock a guy who is trying just so you can score a few points like some high school debating team. Harsha’s “rebuttal” to Derrick a couple of weeks ago was a disgusting display of ego and hubris – grow up.

  10. Toronto Activist on 11 Mar 2010 at 1:46 pm #

    No one has personally attacked Derrick in the posts above. The points of privilege are important ones, but have not been used to discredit Derrick ad hominem. He has largely been challenged on the merits (or lack of) of his arguments. If he is a serious student of activism, why didn’t he get involved in anti-Olympics organizing instead of being an arm chair commentator after the fact. There is lots of discussion about the Heart Attack demonstration and the entire Convergence amongst the anti-Olympic movement nationally. Censorship and silencing has never been the issue, though it is much easier to make it appear as THE issue. Derrick is not the champion of the critical thought brigade he is being made out to be, nor are others ‘detractors’ (that is a petty slander). Derrick, too, has engaged in his fair share of cheap swipes and destructive behavior against those who disagree with him with a barrage of relatively public emails received across the country including where I reside in Toronto. He appears to be a self-proclaimed leader of the Left, one who barely engages with people directly or attends any meetings, as an audience member pointed out in one of his debates.

  11. chouleat on 11 Mar 2010 at 3:44 pm #

    O’Keefe seems to take great joy in sabotaging the movement by snitching on comrades. During a panel at VIVO Media Arts in Vancouver on “diversity of tactics” in Olympic protests he published the first and last name of a comrade on a social networking website and accused him of a criminal act. It is well known that the cops monitor these sites, and O’Keefe carelessly endangered the freedom of a comrade. This is unacceptable. It’s no surprise that he leaves this information out of any post olympic analysis he publishes, as he attempts to save what’s left of his reputation.

  12. kala on 11 Mar 2010 at 3:48 pm #

    interesting that people are talking about the concerns that Derrick has raised. First of all his interventions at the VIVO debate weren’t all that “constructive” either.

    The issue here, TO BE CLEAR (for Kettle Calling), is that no one wants to prevent the debate from happening, but for it to happen in a way that is constructive and respectful to the movement (the whole movement including the black bloc).

    An internal dialogue is most constructive if it is to be truly internal (ie. not being broad cast through reporters from the Tyee or for that matter broadcast on

    Second, if people should be respecting Derrick for “walking the walk and talking the talk” shouldn’t the same be expected of him? How informed is he of the conversations that happened in planning the demo? does he want to get informed? how informed is he of what happened that day? Did he talk with others that have walked and talked far more than he has and were involved in the planning? If activists are supposed to respect him how come there is no expectation for him to even call and get informed about the action by those that he knows were involved before going out and having a semi-public debate. Til this date he has still, as far as I know, refused to get informed but continues to comment. How is this a debate? Should you not be informed about some of the key facts before you engage in a debate? Or ethically at least feel you should be informed particularly as you will be effecting some of the work that others he knows have done and spent a great deal of time working on??? Is it okay for him to assume that people aren’t having these debates because he didn’t bother getting involved and then shit on them?

    It is interesting to compare to something Derrick likely knows quite a lot about…

    Sometime back there was a debate happening in StopWar about whether they should take up the issue of Palestine. The arguments against it were that it would prevent them from building “the broadest mass movement” against the War as possible. Now it is ironic that supporting Palestine now, after a great deal of educational work, is not seen as a barrier to building a mass movement even though clearly there are both working class, middle class and poor people that will not support your movement if it condemns Israeli policy.

    But most importantly, I wonder how those involved in StopWar would have felt if someone that isn’t even involved in StopWar, without speaking to anyone in StopWar decided to host a debate hosted by lets say about what StopWar should or shouldn’t have done and people started publicly condemning StopWar (and the debate got out in the media and undermined their movement). And what I mean by that is someone that hasn’t attended a StopWar meeting, hasn’t organized with StopWar and hasn’t really even been an active part of the anti-war movement decided to engage in the debate.

    Now the respectful thing to do, which many people did, was to talk to members of StopWar, get informed and try to have a dialogue maybe within StopWar about the issue. There are so many other examples of this (in StopWar and many other movement).

    Last, it’s important to note the power dynamics here. The people that get masked and engage in these actions don’t have the privilege of getting live webcasts setup or to have a regular blog/articles posted on or any other venue. And they also can’t come out to always defend their actions due to the fact that they are engaging in activity that puts them at risk.

    We should be thankful that people like Harsha and Gord are able to speak up on their behalf and at least balance this public debate a bit. I would still prefer that the would have others in the movement doing the same and having a truly internal debate. As far as I know Derrick or Eby or Judy Rebick did not approach ORN or people involved in Heart Attack to have a discussion or dialogue about what happened.

    As much as I can respect the work that Derrick has done I don’t necessarily feel sorry for him right now because the level of disrespect that he has shown to people that have done a great deal of work in Vancouver and during the Olympics still far out weighs what has been said about him.

    And just so people know this dialogue about tactics is not being shut down but very active both within the olympics movement and beyond even before the 13th happened. Even those that were planning feb 13th have had discussions and are very capable of having this discussion without having a semi-public conversation.

    The black bloc and those that were a part of it have actually been far more respectful of less disruptive actions than the others have been of their tactics. They are also, right now, I think far more capable of having a respectful conversation that takes into consideration the work, safety and value of everyone in the “mass movement”.

    Thanks Zig-Zag for your comments. The movement is not just those involved in StopWar, unions, or ex-Trots. And this movement (against the games) was definitely not limited to those groups and most of the work that was done to build it was done by people that support the Solidarity and Unity statement. There are many young kids that have been excited by what happened. Solidarity has been expressed from many places outside of Vancouver but they certainly aren’t going to send their emails to Derrick or David Eby so I guess they would not be aware of that. You may not like it but there is a movement that the heart attack demo spoke to and inspired that is doing great work. It is really disrespectful of people to assume that they somehow aren’t building a movement or that they aren’t having or willing to engage in any debates to make the movement as a whole stronger. They will engage in the debate but I think it is natural for them to engage with people that treat them with some respect.

  13. Kettle Calling on 11 Mar 2010 at 4:20 pm #

    Thanks Kala and Toronto Activist for your clearly well-considered points. Eby isn’t even worth a mention for his flip-flopping and media-whoring throughout the Games and for going public with his criticisms, I agree. As for Derrick and Harsha, they sat down to a debate- both of them – in a public forum and she clearly loved the attention, so no one can claim this discussion of diversity of tactics should have taken place behind closed doors.

    I guess my question is this: was the ORN truly inclusive of all points of view and all manner of tactics? If so, then great and maybe people like Derrick missed out on an opportunity to take part and can’t turn around and be Monday Morning Quarterbacks – I don’t know what went down. But from where I sit, if any movement is going to succeed, we have to get past all the huge egos who have read too much of their own press and have begun to get off on it rather than focus on the movement. That’s our history in Vancouver and it’s happening all over again.

  14. Bob Ages on 11 Mar 2010 at 4:36 pm #

    For all it’s excesses I am glad to see this debate continuing. For people like Kala and others I should probably note that I was very involved in the 2010 Welcoming Committee (representing the Council of Canadians), including co-bottom lining the Logistics Committee. I chose not to get directly involved in the ORN although it was great to work with many of these activists in the 2010WC. I gained a lot of respect for their diligence, intelligence and work ethic.

    I was concerned that the agreement we had about the nature of the Friday event might not be adhered to and was very pleased that both the ORN activists and the young Black Bloc people who were also there abided by the consensus framework. That bodes well for future cooperation between mainstream progressive organizations like the Council of Canadians and StopWar (which also participated in planning for Feb. 12)

    That being said, I have still not heard a convincing argument from the supporters of the vandalism on Feb. 13 as to how this “opened up space” or otherwise advanced the cause. To me this is simply an empirical question as I have no moral or even tactical problem with what really amounted to negligible property damage. The real damage in my view was purely political but that is based on anecdotal experience within the circles I work in, the union movement, the NDP and the COC. Admittedly a mostly respectable working class milieu.

    I look forward to hearing from Kala, Zig Zag and others with some fact-based arguments.

    p.s. I will not bother responding to the attacks on Derrick who is one of the most hard-working and respected activists in the country except to say it does no credit to anyone who chooses that approach rather than addressing the serious points he raises.

  15. Sid Shniad on 11 Mar 2010 at 4:43 pm #

    It was in the early days of StopWar that the debate about whether we should take up the issue of Palestine. The arguments against it were that it would prevent them from building “the broadest mass movement” against the War as possible. I was one of those who argued strongly in favour of including Palestine in StopWar’s Basis of Unity.

    Contrary to what Kala argues, there is no irony at all in the fact that supporting Palestine is no longer seen as a barrier to building a mass movement. The fact is that achieving this change of perspective took a great deal of educational work.

    I see no parallel whatsoever between Black Bloc tactics and such educational work. If anything, the use of such tactics constitute a barrier to the achieving of the kind of changed perspectives that our society so desperately needs.

  16. Toronto Activist on 11 Mar 2010 at 4:47 pm #

    The comments that kala has made above are similar to the ones that Harsha made in the debate with Derrick. Thank you kala and Harsha for your level-headed analysis and comments about not only the nature of the debate but how to conduct ourselves in the movement.

    As kala as noted, not having some level of communication with your peers before publicly lambasting them is inherently disrespectful and a breach of trust, and cannot qualify as healthy or productive simply because you refrained from yelling or pie-ing someone. This has forced people in the movement to defend themselves understandably with some level of anger and frustration and disappointment;

    kala makes a good point, I wonder how Derrick would react if people not even involved in his organization started hosting public debates and writing public denunciations about him and his group without any relationship to the organization or movement, and without any at least initial attempts at communication with its members.

    if anyone has an ego, it is people like Derrick who appear to like hearing their own voice and writing articles about movements they are not even involved in.

    The question from Kettle about inclusive discussion about tactics prior to the demonstration, I know that in Toronto I received notice that this was taking place, a public meeting prior to the Heart Attack demonstration, which people like Derrick could have attended.

  17. kala on 11 Mar 2010 at 5:28 pm #

    Responding to Sid Shniad:

    There is actually a great deal of work that is happening to educate the public about black bloc tactics and property destruction. People that were on the speaking tours about the Olympics in BC and in the pacific northwest directly addressed concerns about possible property damage or “violence” that member of ORN and others addressed and educated others about. In addition to that, everything from large anarchist bookfairs to articles and internal educationals have done education work on this debate. The education that has happened is also reflected in the number of organizations that signed the Solidarity and Unity Statement.

    Again, to assume work and conversations aren’t happening in spaces that you are not a part of or at events you have not attended is one of the biggest problems with what has been happening with this debate. More mainstream progressives always like to believe that the “radical left” is not capable of having real debates or do not think through the actions they are taking. Again, out of respect it would be good for those who make these assumptions to first connect with people that are involved in these spaces and ask them if these conversations happen or not.

  18. Felipe Stuart on 11 Mar 2010 at 5:43 pm #

    Folx, especially those who helped resist the rip-off carried out in the name of Olympic sports in BC and across the Canadian state.

    This discussion you are having in the pages of Socialist Voice, and no doubt in other movement publications I have not seen, strikes me as both necessary and healthy.

    I was not in BC during the Olympics, and hence refrain from commenting directly on the tactical debate around the protests.

    However, as a long time militant in many different kinds of battles from student protests to strikes, and from indigenous rights actions to revolutionary activity in Latin America, I would like to appeal to those participating to stick to the issues.

    It does nothing to clarify issues to comment on who someone is, or is not, on whether or not someone participated in planning events, or is known to have done so, or not, or is a newcomer or an old-timer on the protest scene in Vancouver. So what, almost all other readers will ask.

    To say that someone is a lawyer or a doctor, or a would be Social Democratic MLA, does not in any way illuminate either the weaknesses or the strengths of her or his arguments. The same logic, of course, holds for trying to influence opinion by saying that an opponent is an impatient, reckless trouble maker. I don´t think anyone has done that, at least in such an extreme way, but the idea remains clear.

    The question of good and effective tactics or strategies needs to be discussed before hand, and evaluated afterwards dispassionately, and considered in terms of its real impact on the understanding of those whom the actions were intended to influence, educate, and inspire.

    It is entirely likely that more than one or two experiences with a given tactic will prove necessary before a balanced judgment can be made.

    As such discussions are held it certainly can do no harm to look back on previous experiences and try to inform ourselves on what has worked, and why and on the contrary experiences.

    Solidarity from Managua

    Felipe Stuart C.

  19. kala on 11 Mar 2010 at 6:11 pm #

    In response to Bob:

    I would agree that it is not useful to “attack” and individual with regards to this debate but as I said in my earlier post there are also attacks that were made at the VIVO event by Derrick. And again, it is frustrating to see that people that are defending Derrick from attack aren’t identifying ways in which he has disrespected people. Remember that respect is a two way street.

    In terms of the usefulness of the 13th demo. I would first say that even those involved would not necessarily argue that it was 100% successful or that there aren’t things that could have been done better. But what we do need to address is if they had a negative impact on the “movement”.

    In terms of the movement we need to recognize that it is diverse in itself. Diverse people with diverse politics get mobilized through different political forms of action. I think everyone would agree that there are many people (even if they are not the majority) that were inspired by that action and likely many more that first turned their attention to what was happening with the Olympic protests after the news that day. The VMC website was flooded with hits following the actions word about the protests spread much further around the world than it originally had.

    There has been a great deal of people that are more engaged with the movement now because of that action and are more excited to get involved in organizing. This is what people have witnessed but as you have rightly acknowledged there have been different responses in different spaces.

    If we recognize that people will have vigils, public forums and bake sales to rally people around an issue than allow those that get interested and involved by these types of actions to bring that constituency into the fold. As you have stated, they did not disrupt the mass demo on Feb 12th out of respect.

    The Black Bloc is a part of a movement of justice whether people like it or not. So the question is whether others involved in a movement against capitalism, colonialism, for the environment, etc. etc. should be undermining their work or allowing them to inspire who the inspire and using the media attention to again focus on the issues.

    Also, the goal of the demo was to disrupt business as usual. That was successful. The olympics works so hard to maintain a clean, friendly, peace-loving image that it needed to be disrupted. The social conflict that the olympics tries to hide (afghan war, poverty, indigenous land struggles) was brought into this olympics spectacle in away that I’m positive pissed of VANOC, Gordon Campbell and the IOC. Why did it piss them off? Because I’m sure that as the olympics travels around the world looking peaceful and providing great advertising spaces for their sponsors this the last thing they want to see happening everywhere they go. Unlike the trade summits the olympics heavily depends on “image” and that image was shattered. I think this is a small victory for the movement (not a determent to it).

    Again, I think people have been inspired. Others were inspired by Feb 12th, many more by the tent village and many by the memorial march. It was very smart of organizers to separate out the actions and give everyone their space. Again, unless we are saying that we don’t want to mobilize this segment of the movement there is no reason to believe that it was not at least in part a success (while not suggesting that it was perfect).

    But I can not fully answer you question here as I would end up writing too much.

    Finally, with all the destruction that has happened at other demonstrations around the world, why are people so upset about it happening here. Yes it may look more shocking in middle of pretty displays throughout downtown Vancouver and the media gave it much more airtime than what has happened in other places, but that is exactly what people expected. But the media’s aggressive response can also be seen as a sign of the significance of the action and what kind of impact it had. They went after the protesters because they were effective.

    A friend told me that during the demonstrations that happened against George Bush when he was speaking in Canada there were people paying thousands for the event smiling and taking pictures of the protesters like they were some sort of entertaining show as they entered. The attitude of the people walking around Vancouver that morning was different. It jarred them. They didn’t say “oh, look at those protesters”. They said “WTF is going on????” I think it is healthy in a movement that is trying to shift politics to much more radical place than it is today to have these moments of shock that encourage people to open their eyes. T

    Finally, there is bombings of pipelines in northern BC that in many ways brought attention to what is happening there. Many indy-journalists have covered the issues (not so much the bombings) in the area as a result of the attention. I just wish that indy-journalists had taken this opportunity to do the same, rather than writing condemnations. That would be a sign of a healthy mature movement.

  20. anarcho on 11 Mar 2010 at 6:32 pm #

    Well I’m an anarchist. I’m also a single mother and it’s been quite a few year since I have been able to attend many meetings. Since I was not able to participate in ORN, I’m I allowed to raise criticisms of some of what happened? I criticize my local MP all the time, even though I did not campaign for her. I criticize movies I watch, even though I did not work on producing them.

    I was in Seattle and that felt empowering. I didn’t smash windows but I didn’t have a huge problem with those that did. We shut down the WTO for the most part using non violent civil disobedience. It was well planned. Here, I don’t know what exactly the ‘Heart Attack’ was trying to get done. As someone who lost their father recently to a heart attack, I actually found the poster really unsettling. Shutting down a sking event does not seem as clear an objective. I get smashing banks but I don’t get spary painting people’s cars.

    LIke I said I have not been that active in recent years but I am aware of some of what Walia and O’Keefe do. They both seem like dedicated activists. I worry about other people getting driven out of activism altogether if being involved means so much stress and unplesantness. The anarchism that I know is about getting rid of power trips and about mutual aid and kindness.

  21. Ian on 11 Mar 2010 at 7:01 pm #

    For anyone that knows Derrick he is a dedicated hard working activist. Simply because he is not a self proclaimed leader of Olympics resistance one should not discount his involvement in the movement. He was infact one of the main organizers for the rally on the 15th against militarism and the Olympics in which several hundred people attended. Derrick is a very visible activist in Vancouver left, attending many meetings.

    As someone who was involved with a protest against the olympics at Langara college and worked as a medic for the welcoming committee and helped organize the stopwar march i feel intimidated to speak out because of the tone of this debate and others. People should not be discounted because of the color of their skin or that they were not key leaders in olympics resistance. It would be a sad day when we delegate discussion to a select few “real activists”. Furthermore the pieing of david eby is an act of violence unlike the window smashing. Regardless of what one thinks of eby’s choices physically attacking him at a public forum creates a atmosphere of intimidation. Regardless of our disagreements we should condemn any acts of intimidation and violence.

    As for the issue itself i think some people need to get their heads out of the sand. I have talked to dozens of people about this. Everyone with the only exception being the activists were disgusted by these actions. i have discussed this with everyone from cleaning staff to doctors. I have talked to people from the DTES who are indiginous. Regardless of the color of their skin i have found no support for the black block tactics . everywhere i went in the following week i would hear strangers on the street talking negatively about the activists. Very few people could even distinguish between the action on the 12th and the 13th. Furthermore you only need to look at the forums on papers such as the georgia straight or vancouver sun in the following days to get some since of the public outrage at these actions.

    I am not opposed to vandalism as a tactic if it can spread a message in a positive way. Most people do not respect destruction unless they are very angry. If the protesters had covered a Olympics billboard in a mural for example people would have reacted much more favorably. Anyone can tip over a newsbox, my brother does it all the time when he gets drunk, we need to reach people at a level they can understand or we risk sending our movment backwards. If the population is angry with the police and understand why windows might be smashed or police faught the tactic can win support but in the climate of vancouver during the olympics it only gave sympathy to the police and state.

  22. regarded on 11 Mar 2010 at 7:11 pm #

    To Bob: One of the best articulations of how the black bloc makes space for other types of protests was made by Harsha Walia in the debate with Derrick O’Keefe at W2. You can see the video here:

    Walia argues that the dichotomy between “good” and “bad” protesters actually gave room to people in the tent village, lauded as “good” and “peaceful” by the mainstream media even though they were carrying out an act of civil disobedience.

    It is also relevant that an ad for the heart attack march, as well as an invite for people to participate in the spokes council, was posted to in advance of the march.

    This attempt to reach out to social democrats and union members outside of the organizing core of those who planned the march have been ignored by people like O’Keefe, who now grandstand about being censored and claim there is no space for debate. Well, their input on tactics and organizing was sought.

    It wasn’t until after militants smashed a couple of carefully selected windows that O’Keefe showed any interest in or “concern” about the action. He and others used the opportunity to attempt to legitimize themselves to the mainstream, and to try and secure their future political careers by publicly denouncing the actions.

  23. Bob Ages on 11 Mar 2010 at 7:50 pm #

    Thanks Kala, I’m not sure I agree with you in terms of the balance of positive and negative effects but you make a reasonable argument. More importantly this is the kind of tone and give and take that will move the debate forward, as Felipe from Managua urged.

    My degrees are in finance and economics so I couldn’t help thinking of this debate in terms of algebra. My apologies to Arts majors. :-)

    If: A = intensity of support from radical youth
    B = positive value of increase in attention paid to issue
    C = intensity of repulsion from issue caused by violent tactic
    M = number of radical youth
    N = number of “mainstream” progressive supporters
    and Y = the net benefit of “diverse tactics”.

    Then both positions come down to determining the value of equation:
    Y = (A*M+B) – (C*N)

    The only problem is that the value of most of the variables above are indeterminable. Extensive surveys and focus groups might help but none of us have that kind of money. Published public opinion surveys give a value for N of perhaps between 40 and 50 percent in BC. Much lower in the rest of Canada. But that gives us only an approximate value for one variable out of five.

    We are all, therefore, forced to rely only on our own personal experiences and predilections to approximate an answer. I suspect that is why the discussion can sometimes get somewhat heated. It is a substitute and diversion from the fact that we are all faced with an insoluble dilemma – and nothing is more frustrating.

    My critique of the Black Bloc tactics on Feb. 13 is based on the assumption that while the intensity of feeling among radical youth is far greater (speaking from experience as one of the ’60′s generation) their numbers are currently so small that the overall value of the equation is negative. That sort of qualitative conclusion is probably as close as one can come to an answer at this point. I cannot say whether it is a large negative or not statistically different from 0 (given the level of uncertainty in the variables).

    Fortunately the struggle will continue, we will have many more opportunities to work together in taking on global capitalism, and we will learn from those struggles. The value of “M” will increase many fold – we all hope and trust – and that will change everything.


  24. old commy on 11 Mar 2010 at 8:29 pm #

    The black bloc reminds me of those who back in ’60s argued for armed struggle and a national liberation movement in North America, emulating the struggle in Vietnam even though we were living in the imperial heartland.

    The problem I find is that we have to gauge our tactics to where the mass of the people are in order to engage them. The power elites welcome our hatred as it reenforces their power, what they can’t handle is our ridicule as it attacks their self image. Maybe if the intent was to clog Georgia street locking down an intersection with a street festival ridiculing the Olympics might have been more effective.

    One thing I find interesting is that there are no quotes from Lenins’s “Left wing Communism an Infantile Disorder”. WTF.

  25. kala on 11 Mar 2010 at 8:36 pm #

    To anarcho and Ian,

    Just to be clear, I don’t think anyone is saying that you are not allowed to comment if you were not there or a part of the organizing but that if you know people that were involved it is important to touch base with them especially if you want to make statements in a semi-public setting. That’s a level of respect that people expect in a movement if we are to continue to work with each other.

    Also, there is a big difference between preventing debating / commenting on what happened and the solidarity people sought through the solidarity and unity statement (you can read it hear if you haven’t seen it:

    As you can see this statement existed more than a year before the convergence yet no attempt was made to have a discussion about this by the people that have been brought up in this string. It is clear in this statement that there was a good chance that windows would be broken or something might be set on fire. There were weekly publicly advertised ORN general meetings that people could have attended to bring up the issue. The few people that did bring it up were engaged in the debate and conversation.

    The statement clearly does not attempt to prevent debate but requests solidarity from within the movement.

  26. kala on 11 Mar 2010 at 8:37 pm #

    sorry, here is the link again:

  27. hw on 11 Mar 2010 at 8:46 pm #

    On the uses and effectiveness of the black bloc tactic:

    1) Black Blocs, ‘Violence’ and the Possibilities of Action:

    2) Black Bloc vs. Liberal Shlock

    3) Debate on Diversity of Tactics:


    Video talking to participants directly

    Solidarity and Unity Statement does not stifle debate:

    Why Eby’s statements are unethical from legal perspective:

    Indigenous Elder defenders Bloc tactics


    On property destruction

    1) Setting the Record Straight on Violent Protest and the Olympics

    2) Criminal Element” is VANOC and IOC


    As to why it matters who a person is, respectfully I do think it matters.
    This is not to automatically discredit anyone and it cannot be seen as a
    personal attack, but one’s role and location – within society and within
    the movement – is relevant to understanding where the argument they are
    making is stemming from. People have provided this information, from what
    I note above, as context – NOT to personally attack Derrick.

    If you are going to put yourself out there as a commentator, it is fair to
    expect that people will challenge what you are basing your information on,
    which is informed by how you got your information. So, for example, if
    there is a suggestion by Derrick that debate is being squashed and
    silenced then it is completely relevant to point out that there have been
    numerous internal spaces of debate and discussion, but that the author has
    been notably absent from these. This does NOT equate to saying that only
    certain people or activists are ‘allowed’ to speak.

    Also how you conduct yourself within this debate and the movement, such as
    with a lack of respect and basic communication with your allies as several
    comments above have noted, is a factor in understanding the credibility
    and accuracy of the merits of Derrick’s argument.

  28. AW on 11 Mar 2010 at 8:56 pm #

    As to why it matters who a person is, respectfully I do think it matters.
    This is not to automatically discredit anyone and it cannot be seen as a
    personal attack, but one’s role and location – within society and within
    the movement – is relevant to understanding where the argument they are
    making is stemming from. People have provided this information, from what
    I note above, as context – NOT to personally attack Derrick, who has certainly done tireless anti-war activism.

    But if you are going to put yourself out there as a commentator, it is fair to
    expect that people will question and challenge what you are basing your information on, which is informed by how you got your information. So, for example, if there is a suggestion by Derrick that debate is being squashed and silenced then it is completely relevant to point out that there have been
    numerous internal spaces of debate and discussion, but that the author has
    been notably absent from these. This does NOT equate to saying that only certain people or activists are ‘allowed’ to speak, in fact it is encouraging that so many people have participated in discussion and dialogue across the country on this issue.

    Also how you conduct yourself within this debate and the movement, such as with a lack of respect and basic communication with your allies as several comments above have noted, is a factor in understanding the credibility and accuracy of the merits of Derrick’s argument. To be clear, this is a standard for all of us to organize with, not just Derrick.

    Thanks to all those commenting.

  29. AW on 11 Mar 2010 at 9:16 pm #

    On the uses and effectiveness of the black bloc tactic:

    1) Black Blocs, ‘Violence’ and the Possibilities of Action:

    2) Black Bloc vs. Liberal Shlock

    3) Debate on Diversity of Tactics:

  30. AW on 11 Mar 2010 at 9:17 pm #

    Video talking to participants directly

    Solidarity and Unity Statement does not stifle debate:

    Why Eby’s statements are unethical from legal perspective:

    Indigenous Elder defenders Bloc tactics

    Setting the Record Straight on Violent Protest and the Olympics

    Criminal Element” is VANOC and IOC

  31. Oshipeya on 11 Mar 2010 at 9:27 pm #

    In a crowd of about 200, about half of them were using the black bloc tactic. Many of the other half were supportive of the bloc’s actions and stayed with the march throughout and even engaged in some of the tactics themselves.

    The main stated purpose of the march was to block traffic using a diversity of tactics. This was successful, since the confrontational nature of the march and its direction toward the Lions Gate Bridge (an essential traffic route) caused the police to shut down the bridge for more than an hour, if not several hours. Traffic was also blocked along the route of the march by the act of 200 people marching itself, along with newspaper boxes and a dumpster overturned in the street. The smashing of corporate windows was not the main component of the action.

    Such incidents are frequently the work of anarchists or other rebels who use the black bloc or similar tactics. They are not as frequently the work of intruders, if “intruders” means people outside of or opposed to the resistance, such as cops, as they are the work of actual anarchists and rebels.

    At no time has Derrick O’Keefe questioned the effectiveness of the Heart Attack march at accomplishing its own stated goal (traffic disruption), since it was objectively a success in that regard. He has only questioned its effectiveness from the standpoint of his own particular and personal goals as an activist attempting to recruit members and garner support to his particular movement or branch of the “social justice movement”.

    It would be equally inappropriate and irrelevant for an anarchist who supports the black bloc tactic to claim that O’Keefe’s tactics of peaceful protest are not a success since they don’t result in the same kind of traffic disruption of attacks on corporations that the Heart Attack march did. Because his protests are primarily aimed at communicating a message, recruiting and building “public support”, not blocking traffic. Not all tactics are used for the same purposes. Not all tactics are used at all times. Regardless of opinion or ideology. The use of the black bloc tactic at one time does not preclude the use of a non-violent communication-oriented tactic at another time.

    There was never a question or suggestion of whether concerns or critiques could or should be raised about the use of the black bloc tactic or any of the particular tactics used within the black bloc. Concerns and critiques of the black bloc and its use of tactics are also raised by the people who use the black bloc and its supporters. What was asked was that activists not denounce it in the corporate media, since this is the media and the state’s real wet dream (activists denouncing people in their “own movement”).

    It’s highly unlikely that O’Keefe didn’t know this before, but since it has been plainly stated to be such repeatedly by harsha and zig zag, he can no longer claim ignorance and must be in fact arguing in bad faith, in dishonesty.

    The only possible suppression of public debate in this case would come from the denouncements in the media, such as those made by Eby, which endanger those who use or support the black bloc tactic. Free debate cannot occur under increased police repression, internal division, tainted information spread to the public or imprisonment by the police, which can all be assisted by media denouncements.

    O’Keefe presents limited anecdotal evidence from two activists and no evidence whatsoever to support his claim of the public’s negative response to the Heart Attack demo. More anecdotal evidence of support for the demo has been made publicly and amongst individuals known to me. Reasonably, it would seem that many in the “public” may oppose what happened while many may have supported or been inspired by it, as many youth obviously were by the WTO riots in Seattle (during which non-anarchist Black youth were inspired to come down and loot because of the earlier actions of the anarchists in the black bloc).

    The Heart Attack demo objectively did not shut down but strengthened public “space” and debate given the evidence of two forums on the topic (at VIVO and W2) and numerous public statements in support (such as those made by SFU labour history director Mark Leier, or indigenous elder Stella August of the Power of Women DTES group) or against it, none of which would have occurred if not for the demo.

    The police did not require the black bloc to justify their budget and the bloc is not any more prone to infiltration than other tactics are. If anything, open public activist groups are the most prone to long-term and damaging infiltration as was shown in the anti-war movement in California where a cop became leader of a group or in the COINTELPRO era in the United States (although program names have changed).

    The strategy of the Heart Attack was clear, as I already stated, block traffic using a diversity of tactics. It was obviously quite successful at attaining this goal with its tactics, given the bridge shut down and other traffic disruption downtown.

    Critique can and should be productive. Denouncement is counter-productive. Bad faith, dishonest and side-stepping arguments is counter-productive.

    And how will you democratically exclude tactics when you are the minority position?

  32. anarcho on 11 Mar 2010 at 10:01 pm #

    It seems that nobody is interested in responding to the concerns of those of us who cannot get out to many meetings. O’Keefe is being criticized for not going to enough meetings to discuss with the organizers of the Heart Attack. So what does that mean for me, who is not able to make any of these meetings?

    As for intimidation or violence, I think we should save that for use against the rich. Even then its usually a bad idea since they have more weapons at their disposal. I have more radical idea than this David Eby but that doesnt mean I can pie him or threaten him to make my point. People who resort to stunts like this usually have a weak argument.

  33. AM on 12 Mar 2010 at 12:30 am #

    response to anarcho

    You may have missed kala’s response to your initial post, here:


    There is lots of stuff going on in this discussion, but I just want to refocus what I think the issue is (or ought to be): That public denouncements are not ok. It’s a jerky thing to do, has nothing to do with wanting to engage people in debate or conversation, and has the potential to legitimize police violence against people who participate in a “condemned” action. After all, the public and even other protesters are against it, right?

    My view on Mr. O’Keefe is informed only by what I’ve read online because I didn’t make it to the Vancouver. He seems to be engaged in general (but mild) public denunciation of those ‘dirty rotten not-really-true-activists’ that participated in the Heart Attack. Certainly, not the worst offender (Mr. Eby has acted incredibly inappropriately… not only ethically, but also from a legal standpoint!), but it’s not outrageous to point out the damage he has sought to do.

    It is disappointing when some activisty folks try to “legitimize” (in the eyes of the police? folks who didn’t participate and they want to join? politicians? media? all these people?) by separating themselves from other activisty folks and calling them the “bad protesters”. It does the work of the police, media and anyone else who considers them a foe of the type of change people came out to demand.

  34. really on 12 Mar 2010 at 1:43 am #

    look… y’all can fight over vancouver coz at least this derrick guy lives there … but why you gotta end with “With the G8/G20 looming and authorities promising to impose a “fortress Toronto,” we all need to be able to debate fully and frankly, and not be afraid to, if necessary, democratically decide to exclude certain tactics.”

    who is we all? what we are we talking about? van ‘organizers’ better not be coming to a city they ain’t done shit in, where they ain’t accountable to nobody to come tell us what to do.

    between the labor unions (clc to cupw to ufcw), the NGOs in Toronto (results canada to greenpeace to world vision) and the ones in Ottawa, the community groups (from noii to ocap to jane and finch peeps), to the over a hundred people that go to two different meetings once a month, and dozens of other people, media centers and party throwers – absolutely nothing is in agreement.

    why we all gotta talk about this now if a few windows get broken?

    did you notice that the ngos just came out and said they were against ALL protests..

    everywhere you look, you find someone wanting to be the principal of the movement, call someone in to the office to finger wag at.

    its one thing to talk about the problems that the G8/G20 is a model of. it is another thing to talk about demands to/against them. its some thing to talk about one’s own tactics and strategies …

    but to go and waste breath, ink, pixel and shit on criticizing other people’s tacitcs … you gotta be kidding me.

    i had 10 meetings in the last week. when i wasnt in them, i was doing the tasks i took in those meetings. and then i have a full time job. i wish i had the kind of time you have to write these loong things about what other people do.

  35. dan kellar on 12 Mar 2010 at 2:54 am #

    in response to opening up space:

    the media did not cover the 3000 people out to resist the opening ceremonies, it barely covered the 5000 people out to highlight canada’s disgusting record of justice around missing indigenous women and it sure as hell did not cover the stopwar march on the 15th.

    what made it to the press was insurrectionary actions targeting a colonial and genocidal company. the actions of the 13th opened up space for debate through showing the more radical parts of the resistance which makes less radical actions seem more credible in the minds of the apathetic or ignorant masses.

    example: “i can’t believe those people who were breaking windows, why can’t they be more like the people occupying MPs offices without destroying property.”

    if there is not a more radical element for people to compare actions to, then even the most celebrated acts of civil disobedience (like occupations) will become far too aggressive for the masses. its part of the pacification of the proletariat and the normalization of state repression.

    in response to having a debate:
    there are times and places where allies can discuss things. an inappropriate time is while actions are still taking place and an inappropriate place is in the public sphere (whether indy media or not, its still public)

  36. Derrick O'Keefe on 12 Mar 2010 at 5:02 pm #

    Glad to see a lot of thoughtful discussion taking place here. I’ve learned a lot and am still learning from comments and conversations.

    It’s really too bad if people choose to personalize this rather than discuss our political disagreements respectfully. The only thing that I believe needs to be responded to is the very slanderous and dangerous allegation of “snitching”. I spoke out against the attack on David Eby at the VIVO Safe Assembly Space, explaining that such acts have no place at a public forum set up to encourage discussion. I stand behind my comments that night, and believe it is all of our responsibility to denounce intimidation or threats that take place in public forum spaces:

    One of the people who has spread the “snitch” allegation, has also made a video in which he calls me names and re-orders and distorts parts of the debate at W2. That type of falsification/vilification is a sad waste of precious time and energy. We are all busy and life is full of obstacles and hardships; so here’s hoping we maintain a degree of understanding for our different perspectives while work to make the world a better place. Even in the relatively small progressive or activist communities (whose members, of course, are also part of other, bigger communities), we all have different groups, different friends and different activities. I hope no one feels they have to be in with the right crowd, or present their uber-activist CV before sharing their thoughts about a particular issue.

    If you have ideas about what the anti-war movement should be doing differently or better, for instance, let’s hear it! I, for one, know we could have done a way better job of using the fraud of the ‘Olympic Truce’ to educate people about Canada’s complicity in war crimes in Afghanistan.

  37. oshipeya on 12 Mar 2010 at 6:14 pm #

    I believe what you said then and again now regarding the pieing would technically be called “dry snitching” not snitching proper.

    Here’s one definition of dry snitching,
    “To explain how something works that, by nature, is not supposed to be explained but rather understood or experienced. A practice most commonly used in a number of rap lyrics. Basically tellin’ on yourself and others while trying to show out or look cool.”

    Humour also has a place within social movements. Within limits of course.

  38. Nueva on 13 Mar 2010 at 3:45 am #

    Hi folks,
    It seems there are several layers to this conversation, and we’re not hearing each other right now. face to face conversations willingly chosen by people in conflict are the only way to get past the tensions that we’re allowing to divide us, when we have an amazing opportunity here to continue to build on what was, on the ground, an amazing, inspiring set of actions. part of the reason they were so inspiring was the communication and trust that was built between organizers who did and didn’t want to engage in financial/property damage. The communication wasn’t perfect – because there was a need to find a way to communicate with people who had not come to meetings and were not informed when they arrived at the feb 13th march – but everyone who formed affinity groups and sent representatives to spokescouncil in preparation for feb 13 would have known what to expect, and had a say in how to organize – which meant that a lot of trust and mutuality was built up not only for the 13th but for the tent village and all of the other events as well. For those who were able and willing to organize themselves beforehand to get a rep to spokescouncil – even if they couldn’t go themselves – there weren’t surprises. the level of trust between organizers who choose various kinds of tactics was higher than I’ve ever seen it in Vancouver, and I’d like to build on that rather than destroy it due to lack of communication and information in the broader public discussion. we’re all in the same movement people… so this needs to be an opportunity to grow together. That means those with privilege need to continue to challenge their own choices and use of voice, and that we all around need to be able to speak of responsibility and willingness to learn how to conduct future actions in solidarity, without speaking blame that shuts each other down. i.e. call it like it is, and be willing to listen, and look at our own actions esp. for those of us with various kinds of major privilege in this situation.

    it also seems to me that a major point is getting lost. The fear that ‘there isn’t room for dialogue’ is just that – a fear. Before the Feb 13th took place, the right thing to do was to come out to a meeting if you can and try voicing your opinion on property damage. people may disagree with you, but they’ll still work with you and won’t – contrary to the fear – isolate you or tell you to shut up. in an internal meeting, where there aren’t cameras rolling, you can debate and be respected. if you skip that conversation, and then say no conversation took place, that is your own responsibility.

    This is not a critique of Derrick as a human being or an organizer. I’d like to ask people (Frank for instance…) to remember that Derrick has been organizing in Vancouver for many years, and that we’re all in the same community, and that it’s not going to be productive to engage in ad hominem attacks that bring up defensiveness and aren’t helpful. It is, however, a request for Derrick to take some proactive responsibility for the when and where of his words. rather than skipping the conversation and then trying to have it take place where you’re comfortable – i.e. on rabble, and in public – you need to be part of the conversations when they are scheduled and when you’re invited to come to them. You can’t ethically skip the spokescouncil and then say ‘dialogue wasn’t welcome’. So there are major crossed wires going on here – you’re hearing people tell you to shut up, when actually as it sounds to me, people are telling you to come join the conversation, respectfully, in the time and place and way that the organizers of the event request – since they’re in this case the ones who have their eye on the big picture and know the needs of the event.

    There’s been a lot of unneccessary defensiveness going around, and I’m hoping that we can get through this. I know organizing communities have come through worse before.

    with love to you all,

    “was the ORN truly inclusive of all points of view and all manner of tactics? If so, then great and maybe people like Derrick missed out on an opportunity to take part and can’t turn around and be Monday Morning Quarterbacks”

  39. alex hundert on 13 Mar 2010 at 5:18 am #

    I don’t know Derrick O’Keefe so I can’t comment on his personal credibility beyond what he has said publicly. I do know Frank Lopez though. I can say for sure, that Frank calls ‘em like he sees ‘em, and he tends to be pretty on point. Though I’ll agree, Frank is sometimes perhaps a little juvenile in his articulation of other people’s character flaws.
    O’Keefe says that he doesn’t like to see this debate personalized. Well then, he probably shouldn’t have mentioned me be name repeatedly in his article. I know Judy Rebick and have worked with her on major projects before (like the “Sovereignty Sleepover” at Queen’s Park in Toronto ’08). I felt that it was important for someone from Ontario, who has worked tirelessly on this campaign, who also has had a working relationship with Rebick, to confront an ally who had made the fault of commenting out of context. I don’t know Derrick O’Keefe and he doesn’t know me. I don’t know why he felt the need to attack my position so directly, and Im not sure how O’Keefe expects this to stay de-personalized, but I’ll try my best to respond directly to his critique of my article and then extricate myself quickly from the Derrick O’Keefe shit show that seems to be propagating here.
    Okeefe claims that “Many of those who went along on the ‘Heart Attack’ did not know what was going take place” and quotes a source as saying that “some of those who engaged in property destruction appeared not to have solidarity with other protesters.” While some people may not have known exactly what was going to happen, anyone claiming that they had no idea is either being dishonest or they weren’t paying attention. His quotation of Eric Doherty is a joke. Eric said that he did not know exactly what was going to happen, that he disagrees with some of the choices, and that he is not sure of the efficacy of the action—that is very different from the way O’keefe has positioned him. That is being dishonest. I’ve met Eric Dorhety and I kinda like him. There is no need for O’Keefe to drag Eric down with him. In terms of not being in solidarity with each other, O’Keefe ought to check his head and realize which side he standing on. If he thinks that he is currently standing onside with the resistance movement, he is about to find himself standing all alone, or even worse… amongst a bunch of liberals.
    O’keefe challenges my assertion that the Black Bloc makes “space for more mainstream or creative tactics,” and claims that “the action failed to communicate clearly with that public.” Derrick O’Keefe has completely missed the point.
    In terms of making space, to put it as simply as humanly possible, it goes something like this… “Look at that peaceful Tent City, it is so much more reasonable than that violent window smashing.” It is all right for us to be honest about the fact that we understand dominant media narratives, and that we are clever enough to use them in our favour. All tactics must be viewed in sum.
    And in turn, the windows, the masks, and especially the de-arrests put people on notice that there are people willing to fight back—literally, to smash shit and throw punches at cops. This kind of open antagonism of capitalist order represents a real threat to the system. If this were anywhere else (other than North America) there would have been cars overturned and cops lit aflame from molotov cocktails. It is about open insurrectionary resistance; a display that is very difficult to achieve through typical (so-called) non-violent direct action.
    Black Bloc tactics are not meant to win over the mass populace. But activists who participate in the Black Bloc are also community organizers, advocates, writers, teachers, front line service providers, parents… Building the mass movement is not something that can happen in an afternoon, during a convergence, or even a campaign. However, sending a message can be done in an instant. Like the instant those windows were smashed.
    Respect for diversity of tactics is not a censoring mechanism. There is a fundamental difference between having an analysis and making a public denunciation. O’keefe, like Eby and Rebick made a public denunciation. Denunciation of allies is not ok. It is traitorous. O’Keefe also called “diversity of tactics” a “shibboleth.” For those who aren’t familiar with the term, he means that respect for a “diversity of tactics” is being used as a phrase to determine who is part of an ‘in-group’ and who is out. He is not necessarily totally wrong about that—he has definitely put himself outside the group through his acts of denunciation. And if he does not want to be part of the radical, grassroots movement, and thinks he should feel free to denounce people that are supposed to be his allies… then fuck him. So be it his shibboleth.

  40. NE on 13 Mar 2010 at 1:55 pm #


    With respect, and in the interest of genuine debate, I was wondering if you might answer a few questions:

    1. Why, if there appeared to have been public discussion meetings leading up to the debate, do you repeatedly state that debate has been silenced and that there is no room for dissent?

    -For those who could not make the meetings, there were several anti-Olympic lists which could have been a forum for discussion.
    -By making the debate about you, you’re taking away much needed attention from the real issue at hand: how could outreach have been better? for people who cannot attend meetings, what are other avenues of communication?

    -I don’t think anybody is stating that you cannot criticize the 13th because you were not at meetings, only that you cannot authoritatively claim that there has not been any internal discussion, or that all debate has been silenced.

    2. Since when is the oft used political prank of pieing a “violent” act? While the pieing is a debatable tactic, by repeatedly mentioning it as a “violent” act, you are detracting from the issue at hand: why was Eby pied? What are his legal obligations to the movement and potential clients?

    3. Why, if you are positing yourself as a mouthpiece of the movement, did you not speak to the organizers first, during, or after the Feb.13th event directly? I am not saying you need to pull out your activist CV, I am genuinely curious as to why you did not speak to folks directly?

    4. Why have your articles, since the debate, focused solely on how you are being “attacked” and not on Diversity of Tactics itself? I think this is a necessary discussion to *continue* to be had and it is unfortunate that the attention is now focused on *you* rather than on the debate itself.

    5. Do you feel that you are partly responsible for creating a polarized, hostile environment within the movement?

    6. Are you willing to discuss the effectiveness of publicly denouncing fellow organizers by name?

    7, and most importantly: Are you going to respond to any of the questions I listed above? Also, there are several other questions within the comment section that I feel you have neglected in your most recent response as well.

    I do not think that it is fair to state that just because *you* feel that you are being attacked, that anybody who disagrees with those who support black bloc tactics will also be “attacked”.

    If people are interested, I think that it is entirely plausible that another community meeting can be planned (in addition to the hundreds of fruitful discussions that have already happened-in person-since) in which we all respectfully discuss DoT.

  41. bineshii on 13 Mar 2010 at 7:30 pm #

    This is an excerpt from a longer article, “Black Block vs. Liberal Shlock
    which can be found here:
    It may at times be held in moderation, so check back if it is not available.

    …the denouncements overall from many people, seems to be trying to frame the participants in the Black Bloc action as people who lack ‘real’ community connections, and that they are antagonistic to having or making those connections, and further, that the methods of organizing and actions they take are inherently incompatible with community networks.

    These presumptions are groundless and false. Anarchist/anti-authoritarian direct actions are dependent on support and acceptance from a wider community base. And that while there is room for a lot of improvement here, in Vancouver, one of the distinct advantages of direct action, is that people who do it are part of and supported by a wider community. They are not a bunch of hoodlum vigilantes on a rampage. In general, resistance and activist groups in Vancouver organize in a fairly organic network with a lot of over lap between individual groups and communities. There are real life relationships involved where face to face conversation can and does happen.

    The denouncements both distort and invisiblize this entire area of organizing, making it more difficult to actually address the real challenges and problems that do occur in this process.

    The denouncements made by Eby et al. [including Derrick O'Keefe] attack the participants in the Black Bloc, but on a more insidious level attack the primary defense they have: community support.

    Anarchists and anti-authoritarians in Vancouver are aware to a certain degree that direct action must be anchored in a strong base of community support. If it is not, the participants in these actions are basically, ‘hung out to dry.’ (While this awareness needs to be vastly expanded on, there is a strong foundation of it that anarchists and anti-authoritarians have been developing for years in this region).

    Given the unlimited supply of ammunition the state has to use against resistance movements, in particular militant ones, the reason they don’t crush us with a single blow isn’t because they physically can’t. They don’t do it because cracking down harshly on would create a flurry of dissent from the communities militants are attached to. The State, and it’s policing agencies, go to great lengths to target, attack and dismantle these community networks. It is clearly a high priority for the State to delegitimize direct action oriented movements by characterizing them as socially aberrant. While O’Keefe actually promotes catering to it to this dynamic, proponents of direct action are saying, “No, confront it and challenge it.”

    This is why this matter is so important. It is why people are so angry and upset. It’s not just that someone dissed someone else on the 6 o’clock news. Or that someone made an insulting or critical statement on their blog. It is that these denouncements threaten the fabric of defense that anarchist/anti-authoritarian movements need to exist and have built over long periods of time. And to add insult to injury, they do this from an entirely fallacious and ignorant platform.

  42. Gary Jarvis on 13 Mar 2010 at 10:23 pm #

    Awesome thread.

    Wish I had more time to read it. Thanks Harsha via NOII email for putting me onto this.


  43. Alex on 13 Mar 2010 at 11:22 pm #

    Hi folks,

    I’m an out of town person, who wasn’t at the Olympics. My comments come from that position. I am really stressed out by how much dirty laundry is being aired online, and how much lack of trust is being presented here. I personally think folks might want to consider asking themselves why they are arguing. It seems to me like people are arguing for the sake of it and talking past each other. It’s really an unfortunate situation, it is also not well thought out. It’s really a bad idea to allow the cops to know who dislikes who and what organizations don’t get along, because they will exploit it. I’ve made this mistake before, and really regret it. It does not do us or our movements any good.

    In these debates we need to value 3 thing:

    This is the basis of healthy debate. Secondly, we need to focus on building unity rather than exacerbating rifts that are developing. It takes people being more mature and caring about people they really don’t like at the moment. It really takes dropping ego. I have a hard time doing this, but I know it is what fixes things. Real healthy debate will take people stopping to lay accusations and starting to acknowledge what they have done that was unhelpful, hurtful or dangerous.

    If people cannot discuss in things in a good way, what is the point. I guess to make folks sit at their computer shaking their head with stress, or to do the cops work for them and split our movements?



  44. Itrath on 14 Mar 2010 at 3:23 pm #

    I don’t understand why Derrick’s article and his arguments are being so viciously attacked. The Heart Attack rally was a public demonstration. It occurred in the public sphere. Surely we are able to engage with issues that occur in the public sphere. Derrick did not publish his article in the National Post. Seriously, people.

    As a woman of colour and a person who is identifiably Muslim, I resent the repeated dismissal of Derrick’s concerns as being that of white middle class privilege. I chose not to attend that rally because I do not feel safe with such tactics. And even in the Friday rally, which I did attend, I purposely stayed well away from the Black Bloc.

    The history of police action in this city has proven that the first targets of violence are Indigenous people, people of colour, the poor. In police attacks against protesters, it would not be Derrick who would be targeted first. It would be people like me.

  45. CO on 14 Mar 2010 at 8:03 pm #

    i would really like to hear your sources on this,
    “The history of police action in this city has proven that the first targets of violence are Indigenous people, people of colour, the poor.”
    thank you.

  46. Durgan on 15 Mar 2010 at 1:46 am #

    Its impossible to substantively join the comment thread here so I’m not even going to try. My comments will directly address the pretty chilled out and brief article written by O’Keefe.

    The main critique is that 2010 Heart Attack was ineffective because its goal was social justice and it brought about a mass condemnation from the public in general. The premise of the argument is that for an action to be successful it is necessary to win over mass public opinion. Then it is assumed that social change will occur. If the premise is false then the conclusion, that 2010HA was ineffective, does not follow.

    I am convinced that struggles for social justice are always struggles against common sense. Widespread public condemnation of the Black Bloc tactic at the Olympics was to be expected. In saying that the 2010 HA was ineffective, people have to concede that the other stuff was, and that there is a legitimate cause at stake. This is enough, nevermind that HA achieved the stated goal of shutting down traffic.

    A good analogy can be seen in the ‘paradox technique’ of system’s theory psychotherapy. In psychotherapy the goal is always therapeutic change. In paradox technique at the termination of therapy the target problem is solved, but the client leaves hating, or not liking, the therapist. Our overall goal in the movement is social justice. I simply may not be necessary to gain public support at the moment in order for this to happen in the long run.

  47. Radical on 15 Mar 2010 at 8:08 am #

    From: “I’m A Better Anarchist Than You, Some Thoughts on Vancouver and the Black Bloc,” by David Rovics

    I also have no doubt that most of the young people participating in Black Bloc and advocating for “diversity of tactics” (translation: “don’t tell me not to throw rocks, you oppressive, ageist liberal carnivore!”) are well-meaning people doing a lot of good work in their communities when they’re not throwing rocks through windows. But whether or not they want to believe it, when they start throwing rocks during a march they are doing exactly the same work as the police provocateurs – I mean literally, not figuratively.

    Black Bloc: doesn’t this make you wonder about what the fuck you’re doing?

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