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Which caused more harm: the black blocs or Assange?

Power is unfair and criminal. We all agree. But how do you beat it?

I'm not going to tease out the reasons why the young rightly take to the streets. We wholeheartedly agree with them. But at the moment many are discussing the use of violence and that is what I would like to talk about, because we don't all agree  with it but it would be foolish to deny that many think that the time has arrived "to put words into action". The kids say: they don't listen to us, let’s smash everything and see if they can go on pretending that we don't exist.

The issue of violence is very complex. Our culture leads us to believe that violence is a great way to tackle problems. A good smack can straighten out a disobedient child. A good armed revolution can bring justice to society. I do not believe that violence can result in anything good, even if I do recognise the right to self defence (insofar as self defence must cease as soon as the glaring threats are no longer present).

On the other hand a problem of indifference exists in the power and censorship of the media and violence remains an effective means of attracting attention. But blocking traffic, smashing windows and damaging cars are actions that bring discredit on the movement and give those in power an excuse to hammer it even harder. Do we agree? What do we hope to achieve?

Certainly, there are rallies which work because they have elements that are sensational or amazing, like to peacefully climb the leaning tower of Pisa or occupy university rooftops. People’s creativity will probably devise other forms of lasting struggle, spectacular and peaceful. If you do not harm anyone and obtain maximum visibility you have won twice over. If however the objective  is to create difficulties for the Cast of Weasels responsible for poor governance, there are many other potent means which do not alienate public opinion  and, on the contrary, achieve the effect of making the rebel movement popular and appealing.

The globalised world of the internet offers us many new possibilities. It doesn’t take much to understand how the actions of the likes of Assange, who published a million classified documents on the web, have the capacity to hit the systems of power very hard, more so than any demonstrations. Certainly, to have access to the Pentagon’s secret files is not a possibility for everyone… But it would be an error to think that there would necessarily have to be great secret agents to wreak havoc on the system. Those in power are so sure of themselves that they hide the traces of their deceptions poorly. If students and contract workers want to respond hand to hand to the worsening conditions of the school system and the research environment they can, for example, start by scrutinising university budgets, and they are sure to discover some discrepancies when reading them. This is especially true in those universities where the rector employs his son, daughter in law, aunties and cousins.
...Hard to believe that someone like that wouldn’t also fiddle with heating costs, expense claims etc.

These days, to make the wheeling and dealing visible and then denounce everything to the magistrate is a proven weapon of war. Whenever comrades have brought transparency to the house of power they have dealt a serious blow to the system.  It is a tactic that many local territory defence groups are using like a club, and it’s working.

We at Santa Cristina have used it successfully to block the construction of a huge enclosure that would have spoiled a marvellous valley. We knew that it was difficult to stop a project that had major vested economic interests behind it. We got together with all the valley locals (from infants to the elderly) and at 6:30 a.m. we occupied the area peacefully, we blocked trucks and excavators which were about to start work. We went to work simultaneously with lawyers and engineers to verify every single authorisation. It didn't take much to discover some rather smart irregularities and within 48 hours the battle was won and we got a binding agreement to preserve the valley landscape.

Imagine if a thousand students dedicated a few days to detailed examinations of the finances of faculties, schools and research centres, to check the legal integrity of interview boards… Imagine if the students got to the heart of the balance sheets and demanded that they stop throwing hundreds of millions of euro out the window every year because schools and universities are lacking in the most basic thermal insulation and everything is based on wastage. Imagine if the contract researchers decided to check how much equipment cost. All this information can be accessed rather easily…

Imagine if someone decided to leave a few tape recorders running, or to shoot a quick video of those professors who make advances towards their female students.

It would be a devastating form of guerrilla warfare…

Translation by Ingrid Clancy and Edward Valentine, MA in Advanced Language Skills, National University of Ireland, Galway.