I propose that our movements put effort into preparing for all manner of resistance, and develop plans and best practices that can maximize our stability, longevity, and effectiveness while maintaining our most prized visions and values.
As much as I love to imagine it, I know that none of these overlapping proposals for counter-power and alternative structures and mass scale will ever exist in the idealized forms that I describe, cleanly and purely buzzing along toward victory. That will not be reality. To prepare for reality requires first imagining all these different ideas, and then crunching them against everything we have seen done to Muslim communities, to police saturated communities of color, and to the more militant wings of anti-war, ecology, and anarchist movements. To prepare for reality means expecting non-stop electronic surveillance and drone fly-overs, stop-and-frisk harassment, pre-emptive arrests and indefinite isolated detention, intensive cultural misinformation and destabilization campaigns, lurid threats and blackmail, middle-of-the-night raids and hooded drives in the back of nondescript vans, targeted assassination, and attempt after attempt to wedge us, buy us off, split us up, or get us to turn on each other.
We live in an empire. Empires will protect their interests.
On an optimistic note, I do believe that trying to build mass support now—winning people to our vision and ideas before we’re even close to being a significant material threat—is helpful because it preventatively provides safety in numbers before repression gets really bad. And, in all honesty, if mass organizations—which actively practice mutual solidarity—find the kind of foothold in young, white, middle class and professionalized communities that I think is possible, that would provide even more of a buffer, for a time.
Still, eventually, I know that boots will come marching for us, while agents will come whispering.
Here I believe that some of the best lessons for how to handle repression comes from the non-violent organizing tradition, especially the non-violent direct action of the civil rights movement. Regardless of what your overall philosophies are around non-violence vs. armed struggle, it can be agreed that the purpose of non-violent resistance is never to be passive, but rather to actively, militantly stand firm according to ones hopes and values, refusing to stoop to the dehumanizing level of the oppressive forces. In doing that, not just once but consistently and in large numbers, this resistance can not only physically disrupt business as usual, but it also acts as a mirror for any act of brutality that comes our way, reflecting back at both bystanders and the oppressors themselves, hopefully giving them pause and sapping their will to continue. By keeping our eyes held on what we are fighting for, on building and strengthening our vision while refusing compliance with the system, then the system’s thuggishness and manipulation can be exposed for what it is: the pettiness of a minority of elites squandering to hold on to their privileges.
This isn’t easy, though. Not by a long shot. That’s why I think that our movement cultures should be steeped in awareness of and preparation for heavy resistance. We should document, track, know, and name every act of subterfuge and hostility. We should compile and devise responses to every dirty trick we see or can even imagine. We should get out our megaphones and our most media-saavy tactics and blow the whistle on every attack, especially those against our most marginalized communities. We should tie and braid a long chain of memory, publicly recognizing and celebrating each lost life, each traumatized comrade, each jailed soul—and this must include structures for relentless support and accompaniment for each political prisoner and their loved ones.
To avoid the paranoia and fatalism that can so easily overcome us, though, all of our preparation for resistance should be wedded to our constructive project, and especially to our more interpersonal processes of growth and mutual inspiration. With each heinous act, a soft hand on each others’ shoulders, a reminder that we will retain our dignity. With each suspicion of a spy or a misinformation campaign, a calm and sturdy re-connection to our commitment to openness as we take concrete steps to unearth the truth, even if it means sometimes slowing down to sort through questions of tension. Here once again, I believe that revolutionary congregations could create a helpful venue for maintaining hope and community while simultaneously trying to survive and heal from repression.
While I think it is impossible to weigh in definitively about the non-violence vs. arms debate, I do feel the need to say here that I am quite unconvinced by any attempt to imagine a military path through the repression and to the other side of liberation. I do not believe that the current dominant array of armed military and police forces can be overcome militarily, even through protracted guerrilla warfare. Even more, I think that any possible victorious revolutionary army would be so twisted and distorted by the violence, that any anti-authoritarian revolutionary project would be shattered from the start. While maybe some contexts in some places will necessitate skirmishes of armed self-defense, in the long run I think our only hope of winning is for a critical mass of military and police to put their weapons down, demoralized, de-spirited, and haunted by lengthy campaigns to destroy communities that are not only non-threatening to them, but actively appealing to them. In the end, then, I think we win through the attrition of cultural and moral force, not through military power.