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Now I understand why Randi Rhodes says that the news has been cancelled…

June 15, 2010, 9:25 PM

I recently had a request for an interview by Kathryn Blaze Carlson of the National Post. It’s a Toronto-based newspaper, and according to its Wikipedia article, has a conservative-leaning editorial section. I was asked for an interview about black blocs due to my having participated in more than a dozen black blocs. I figured that since this was a news article and not an opinion piece, that some journalistic integrity would be in effect here, and my comments would be quoted truthfully. Not so, I’m afraid. As political pundit Randi Rhodes has so eloquently put it many times in the past, “The news has been cancelled.”

Now I’ve definitely done interviews with the media before. I was interviewed on WHSV back in 1996 about Virginia’s Standards of Learning, I had an interview in 2001 about Schumin Web in Turf (a short-lived supplement to JMU’s The Breeze newspaper), and then I was interviewed in 2006 by The News Virginian about the Skyline Parkway Motel at Rockfish Gap. This was my first interview about political issues.

What I found out after reading the final story, called “Black Bloc & Blue“, is that I could have said anything, and the story would have come out the same. Seriously, I could have said that when a black bloc forms at a demonstration, the sky turns yellow and people all start singing “La Marseillaise”, and it wouldn’t have made a difference. Carlson seemed to have it already set in her mind that “black bloc” was a movement and a defined group, and despite my best efforts at talking her down from it, it seemed that my assertions that the whole thing was a tactic and not a movement fell on deaf ears.

There are a few points worth noting in this article that exemplify the sloppy journalism that was employed here.

Carlson said:

Ben Schumin, a self-described anarchist who has participated in upward of a dozen Black Bloc protests, including the 2008 G20 Summit in Washington, D.C., said the security unit is right to prepare for a violent Black Bloc appearance at the June 26 and 27 gathering of international leaders.

I never said that! If you’ve read this Web site, you’ll know that’s uncharacteristic of what I’ve said of black blocs in the past. I think I could probably find where she got that statement, but I would need the help of a doctor with a flashlight to reach it. Honestly, a bunch of anarchists in black are not the problem, and while they may look intimidating at first glance, most black blocs I’ve been in have been peaceful affairs, with the main thrust being to ensure that there is a radical presence at a given march. Now there are exceptions to that, such as the Georgetown march during October Rebellion, where windows were broken, but that particular event was interesting in its own way, in that the goal of the march – to shut down Georgetown – was accomplished without a single shoe ever hitting the pavement. Even the police were scared that night. Honestly, we could have shown up at Washington Circle and then sat down and played pinochle all night, and Georgetown would have still been shut down. That was brilliant work there on the PR front, to get Georgetown to shut down like that ahead of any actual action. So many boarded storefronts…

I was quoted this way further down:

“There are some people who wear the all-black simply to send a radical message, but there are also those who will be willing to get violent,” he said, adding that he does not support radical tactics, and will not be at this year’s summit. “A lot of the people who cause the biggest problems are the ones who come in from out of town–the locals don’t want to mess up their own bed.”

About the only parts of that which they got mostly right were the first part of the first sentence, where I said that the locals aren’t about to seriously mess up their home turf, and that most black blocs form to maintain a radical presence in a given movement (note the difference in the wording, however), and the last part of the final sentence, where I said that locals don’t want to mess up their own bed.

On the first note there, some of the best black blocs have been ones where the goal was to just establish a radical presence. The National Equality March was a perfect example of that. We maintained the radical presence, and even drowned out a few counter-protesters. The presence was maintained, and we made sure we were louder than the counter-demonstrators.

On the second point, let’s not forget, when the protest is over, we still have to live there, and they completely dropped the point I made that these same activists are actively involved in building their community in a positive way (remember the Brian MacKenzie Infoshop?). I also didn’t specifically cite people from out of town as causing problems, but that I’d never seen any of the regulars engage in violence in DC.

Otherwise, my words were contorted quite a bit. There is a small minority of radicals who will actively go out and break windows and such. The problem is that the media latches onto these things and uses it to paint the whole movement as a bunch of rock-throwing thugs. After Georgetown, what did the media latch onto most? The fact that a woman was accidentally struck in the head by a brick. That was a very unfortunate accident, and should have never happened. Those that threw the brick should have ensured that no bystanders could have been struck before throwing it. The next day, no one was proud of that, and the discussion was about why it happened, and how to prevent it from ever happening again. Plus, the last thing I want to have to do is explain to my mother why people that I associate with hit a woman in the head with a brick. I don’t like doing that. Also, unlike what Carlson stated about my not supporting “radical tactics”, radical tactics come in many forms. I’m not big on property destruction against corporations, because in the end, it’s counter-productive. I understand going after and bringing down unethical corporations, and think it’s a very worthwhile endeavor, but breaking the window of one of a company’s outlets is counter to that. So the window gets broken. The company more than likely isn’t the one paying for the window replacement. The company’s insurance carrier will do that. So Big Insurance is paying for the new window, and then they can raise the company’s premiums for it because they’re more of a risk. Thus in the end, more money ends up in the coffers of unethical corporations – not less. And no radical really wants to see that happen. Leave the windows alone, people…

Additionally, I wonder if Carlson’s idea that I don’t support “radical tactics” came from my criticism of the nighttime phase of the G20 demonstration in DC. There, that march was ended by police in thirty minutes, and I’m sure that many participants in that march believed that they had wasted their time, never having reached a single protest target. When your whole effort is on tactics for outfoxing police and not on message, you’ve lost sight of the forest for the trees. While I consider it undesirable to roll over for the police, and tactics for handling the police are valuable and welcomed, if all your effort is spent in trying to thwart the police and not on message, then what’s the point? Black blocs are about message, and there was no message during that evening march.

By comparison, however, the black bloc that formed for the daytime march was of the radical-presence variety, and it was quite successful. I didn’t participate with the black bloc in the daytime march, since I spent my time with the radical cheerleaders. That’s another thing that I brought up that didn’t get mentioned – diversity of tactics. Sometimes a black bloc is the desirable tactic. Sometimes it’s radical cheerleading. Sometimes the best tactic lies in more community-based efforts. And you have some of the same people working in all of these things.

And I was further misquoted:

“Oftentimes there’s no plan at the outset, but usually you have a couple people who will take charge a bit,”

There are many black blocs I’ve been to where there is no defined plan ahead of time. There’s a call for a black bloc, and once everyone gets there, it’s like, okay, what do you think? The whole thing gets planned on the spot, pretty much. That’s what happened at the March on the Pentagon in 2007. The black bloc was assembled, and then everyone discussed and agreed on a plan. It happens. Then there are other blocs where some folks do have a predetermined plan, and it goes based on that. In the black bloc’s independent march as documented in my March on Crystal City photo set, the whole going-through-Georgetown plan was predetermined, and it was executed.

And lastly:

Mr. Schumin, who offered a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the movement, said that while the Black Bloc is not a group, per se — even the capitalization of the movement is debatable — there are those who make regular appearances at events and who co-ordinate via email.

What will it take to get through to people in the media that there is not a formal group known as the “Black Bloc”? There is no organization, community-based or otherwise, known as the Black Bloc. It is a tactic – one of many in any good activist’s bag of tricks. There is no organization that goes around placing groups of people in black hoodies and masks at demonstrations. Yes, there are “regulars” at events that have black blocs, at least in DC. I should know – I’m one of them. Many organizations put on events where black blocs make an appearance. Are these black blocs called by the events’ organizers? Not necessarily. Do organizers always want a black bloc at their event? Not necessarily. I know that ANSWER hated us last March. And coordination by Email and message board isn’t that uncommon. I’d dare say you’ll find very few grassroots groups that don’t coordinate via Email. And some participants will change clothes when leaving a black bloc. I’ve done it myself numerous times in the past (though I don’t do it anymore).

So I certainly gave them lots of good information, and a nice, well-rounded image of what a black bloc is about, presenting them in a positive light. I gave them no information that’s not already publicly available, either on Schumin Web or elsewhere, nor was I about to name out anyone to the media, because I consider many of these activists to be my friends. However, anything that didn’t fit Carlson’s preconceived notions of what a black bloc is and what they are about was discarded or twisted around until it fit. The news has been cancelled, replaced by opinion and advocacy, while branding itself “news”…

Web site: Once again, the article.

Song: A black bloc at its finest, blocking a counter-protester during the National Equality March

Quote: Meanwhile, Randi Rhodes is definitely onto something when she says that organizations should have to meet certain standards in order to call their product "news". Currently, a lot of "news" is not even worth the paper it's printed on, and this is a fine example of advocacy masquerading as news...

Categories: Black bloc