The Anarchists Have a Great Day
They must have been in it for the sheer thrill. Dressing up in black costumes and breaking expensive windows with sticks must be a rush. Nothing announces your hatred of capitalism so clearly as the sound of breaking glass. Nothing shows off your revolutionary chic better than a bandana, a black hood and a raised fist with a closet rod from Lowe's. There's nothing better than putting a hole in a Seattle bank on television and having the cops show up late to pepper-spray the camera crew. The joys of organized anarchy go all over YouTube.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, struggling with the difficult Seattle law enforcement ethic of being tolerant and intolerant simultaneously, did not call it a riot. He called it "The First Amendment uses of 5-foot long, 3-inch-wide sticks" which naturally "is outweighed today by our desire to protect public safety and confiscate weapons."
The difference between free speech and smashing things with clubs notwithstanding, I assume this well-orchestrated and planned spontaneous outbreak of violence had some political purpose. Alas, the teenage ninja window smashers made no statement that I heard. They expressed no ideology, made no demands, issued no manifesto. They just dressed in matching black outfits, jumped out of the protest march like flash mob vandals, and started the downtown break fest. It wasn't like parts of Europe, France in particular, where rock-throwing mobs are a tradition and setting overturned Renaults afire a form of political art. Those people make sure everyone knows what they are about. The ninja smashers weren't communicating through the usual news outlets. There are websites with rambling, expletive-strewn statements condemning the corporate criminals and bemoaning the fact that some people have money and some don't, but I can't hang there for long. Maybe all the cool connected people just know. The rest of us -- hey, we're part of the 99 percent, too -- are left to wonder.
News accounts are quick to point out that the vast majority of the people at the Seattle May Day protests were nice and peaceful and that Seattle police reacted with all the necessary firmness you would expect of experienced professionals. I can accept that. The whole thing started as an Occupy/immigrant rights march, and large parts of Washington's electorate might be sympathetic with their message. Assume the silent ninja smashers' politics are an offshoot. Their targets suggest they were attacking the bastions of the corporate oppressor class through the windows of a downtown shoe store and banks. Niketown lost its window, I assume because it sells the products of a company that employs Third World peasants to make expensive athletic shoes. A Wells Fargo window, smashed, presumably because its parent corporate folks loan capital to capitalists. Starbucks was hit, for its coffee-related crimes, the federal courthouse, Nordstrom corporate HQ, clothing stores, etc.
The point is obviously not to elicit sympathy or persuade the general public to share their political views. Smashing downtown does not appeal to many. More likely the anarchists are playing to their political base. You get better Web posts that way. Of course, with their tactic they ensure they will remain a fringe group, less than 1 percent of the 99. Most of us aren't likely to start shouting the F-word at our bank. We might find it difficult to hate corporations that make a profits, since most of us work for them and are happy they make profits, because we know what happens to us when they don't. And if the egalitarian society means we have to dress up and smash things, count me out. Stupid destruction is so uninviting.
Tracy Warner's column appears Thursdays and Fridays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 665-1163.