Filed under: Anarchist Movement, British Columbia, Climate Change, Critique, Featured
An anarchist critique and analysis of recent climate mobilization in so-called Vancouver, British Columbia. Includes several PDFs of outreach flyers.
Over the past month residents of so-called Vancouver, BC have taken to the streets demanding climate action. Roughly one hundred thousand people attend the climate strike and five hundred for Extinction Rebellions (XR) occupation of the Burrard bridge – a commuter bridge into downtown Vancouver. As anarchists it was difficult to decide how to engage with liberal, reformist movements. This piece begins by exploring how a group of us engaged with the climate strike and Extinction Rebellion’s (XR) “bridge out” event, then it shares reflections on XR and concludes by offering some leafleting material and a call for action.
The leaflets advanced a radical anti-capitalist and anti-colonial perspectives on the climate crisis, teach folks hands on skills and invite folks to stand in solidarity with Indigenous struggles for environmental justice. One of the leaflet materials is an adapted version of the Strike Back for the Climate other anarchists shared via IGD. We decided to adapt the original document to give it a more radical edge, and critique the hegemony of ‘Non-Violent Direct Action’ (NVDA) over social movements in so-called Canada – a position organizations such as XR play a critical role in maintaining.
Cambie bridge is full for #ClimateStrikeVancouver #ClimateStrike #Vancouver pic.twitter.com/Ecr88ZPPcm
— Adlen AFANE (@afanad) September 27, 2019
The second leaflet encouraged participants to mask up and provided instructions on how to tie t-shirt masks. The third leaflet was an update on the Wet’suwet’en struggle, an Indigenous nation who since time immemorial has resisted colonial expansion on their unceeded territories, but has more recently resisted the development of 7 pipeline projects. We felt that centering radical Indigenous struggles in our leafleting material was a critical way for us to attempt to combat the very white liberal character of the crowds and movements we engaged with.
The Climate Strike
Engaging with September 27th climate strike was complicated. After some discussion we recognized the need for us to seize the opportunity to normalize the presence of visible anti-capitalists at what was a predominantly white, liberal event. Through our presence we hoped to create space for more defensive tactics and distribute critical anti-capitalist, anti-colonial and anti-state materials. A visible black bloc presence; defensive and or offensive street tactics, have not been seen in Vancouver since the large scale ‘Heart Attack’ demonstration against the 2010 Olympics. The lack of basic defensive tactics such as masking up, limits our tactics and makes us all more vulnerable. Not embracing basic defensive tactics such as masking creates an environment were folks who participate in front line struggles, have criminal records, or find themselves more vulnerable easier targets for state surveillance and repression.
A small group of us attended the march and began distributing leaflets among the strikers. With low numbers we were at best a black dot; not quite a black bloc. What we saw was a pacified movement which was happy to both be policed and police itself. The crowd allowed itself to be constrained by the pigs, and when a group of us attempted to to block additional roads, other strikers were not supportive.
Attending the march we had hoped to see something which posed a threat to both capital and the state, yet we encountered a parade, and with our low numbers it felt difficult to push the marches agenda on a more radical bend. It is important to note that many of the marches participants where in high-school or younger, seeing them in the street was very exciting and it may have been their first time taking to the streets. Because we were engaging with many young people, whom were eager to be in the streets it seemed particularly valuable to distribute leaflets, and have a (somewhat) visible anarchist presence. It is possible that if we had not spread ourselves thin while leafleting we may have been able to better use our small number to shift the crowds energy. This may be a lesson for the next time.
Reflections on Extinction Rebellion
With busy schedules and a critical stance towards the politics of XR, we were unable to mobilize a large anarchist presence at XR’s ‘Bridge Out’ action. Nonetheless, some comrades attended the event. The action blocked the Burrard Bridge, a commuter bridge leading into downtown Vancouver, and roughly 500 people showed up.
Tactically blocking the Burrard Bridge seemed like a poor decision as it posed little threat to the state; it is a minor commuter bridge and doesn’t host much commercial traffic. A few of us attended the event and distributed leaflets containing anarchist perspectives on environmental crisis and calls for solidarity with Indigenous land defense struggles.
“Simultaneously the events they have planned so far do not seek to be in conflict with the state or capital – instead they attempt to make a moral appeal to the state and request it take action on climate change.”
XR is beginning to occupy a worrisome position in our movements. Emerging in Vancouver over the last year the organization has been able to pick up tremendous momentum and organize events where folks are willing to put their bodies on the line. Simultaneously the events they have planned so far do not seek to be in conflict with the state or capital – instead they attempt to make a moral appeal to the state and request it take action on climate change. Tactically, this position fails to recognize the fact that the state, supports and facilitates continued capitalist and colonial violence, the building blocks of environmental collapse. Without advancing an anti-capitalist, anti-imperial and anti-colonial theory and action we will fail to address the root causes of the climate crisis. It is commendable to see how large of a group XR was able to get on the streets, the power of that many people in the streets is tangible and we are hoping that as the organization builds it will escalate its tactics to challenge capital and the state.
#ExtinctionRebellion #Vancouver Occupying Burrard Bridge right now! pic.twitter.com/yujTqaUTjw
— Danika Dinsmore (@Danika_Dinsmore) October 7, 2019
Moreover, XR’s tactical fetishization of NVDA is threatening to our movements. As XR continues to grow it seeks to define and limit the scope of struggle, de-legitimatizing activists, militants, and communities whom seek to challenge the state’s monopoly on violence. By further marginalizing those whom chose to employ violence in their fight against the capitalist and colonial forces ravaging our planet militants will be made more vulnerable and be deemed nor worthy of support – a serious knee capping for any movement. For folks who exclusively support NVDA we recommend the book How Non-Violence Protects the State by Peter Gelderloos for an accessible straightforward analysis of movement history and why a commitment to NVDA is tactically horrible. In the end, while XR has done an excellent job mobilizing folks, it is failing to advance a radical analysis of the climate crisis and actively limits tactics for struggle.
We hope our critique is not taken as a fetishization of militancy in the streets; we support a diversity of tactics, and are not attempting to create a hierarchy of tactics in struggle. We recognize that the state is not threatened by both a hundred thousand people in the streets dedicated to strictly NVDA and 50 insurgents ready to fight by any means necessary. A threatening militant movement will not be sustainable without strong community bonds, resiliant infrastructure, and international solidarity. We support comrades engaging in struggle in the ways accessible to them. We must cultivate a movement were comrades are capable of fighting on whatever terms they deem appropriate and to do this we must reject XR’s attempt to draw rules of confrontation.
This does not mean we should throw Extinction Rebellion to the wayside, as some of their members have proven sympathetic to anarchist tactics and analysis. We should meet XR members (just like another members of our communities) where they are at and attempt to radicalize and mobilize them.
At the time of writing this article XR has called for a snaking march through downtown Vancouver at 4:30pm Friday the 18th. An unstructured “snake march” is an escalation of XR’s tactics and will be more difficult to police. Ideally we would like to prioritize the blocking of arteries of capital – rail, ports and commercial roads. We believe these are better targets for mobilizing mass support but also believe that the streets of downtown are worthwhile. We will be attending in bloc and invite other comrades to join us!
Solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en Struggle