By Philippe Duhamel and Dave Martin

This three-part blog supports peaceful protest, and nonviolent action in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.  The authors challenge the concept of Diversity of Tactics, which has been used to encourage and condone violence, at great cost to the social change movement. 

Part 1: G8 & G20 protests and Diversity of Tactics
Part 2: Diversity of Tactics: What does it mean?
Part 3: Choosing a diversity of nonviolent tactics

Part 1 - G8/G20 Protests and Diversity of Tactics

GP USA

Social change groups are mobilizing around the upcoming G8 and G20 summits in Huntsville and Toronto, June 25-27, 2010, to demand action on a variety of crucially important global issues. Environmentalists are demanding action on climate change in the lead-up to the United Nations conference in Cancun this December, and calling for the G20 to deliver on its commitment to curtail subsidies for fossil fuels. The labour movement is demanding green jobs, and that workers not be forced to shoulder the cost of the financial crisis caused by irresponsible, greedy financial institutions. Many groups are supporting the Robin Hood Tax that would provide financing for international aid as well the struggle for climate justice in the developing world.

Meanwhile, the Harper government, in its important role as host and chair of the summits in 2010, is squandering the opportunity. On climate change, the Harper government has shamed Canada by being the only country in the world to not only weaken its target for greenhouse gas reductions after the Copenhagen Summit, but to now have a 2020 target above our current Kyoto Protocol target: 3% above, instead of 6% below the 1990 level.

We now also know that the cost of the summits has climbed to $1.1 billion, including $933 million for security alone. At the same time that skyrocketing costs for the G8/G20 summits became known, on May 28, Canada announced paltry funding of $119 million over four years for “fast start funding” of climate change action in developing countries. Greenpeace and other NGOs have said that Canada’s fair share should be about $300 million per year for three years – ironically less than the security cost for each of the three days of G8 and G20 summits.

Yet as has so often happened at these important international meetings, vital issues receive little public scrutiny, while media coverage has focused on the debate about construction of security fences and the threat of violent protest.

The debate on violent versus nonviolent protests took on new urgency after the May 18, 2010, firebombing of a local branch of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) in Ottawa. A group calling itself "FFFC-Ottawa" claimed responsibility for the action, blaming the bank for “exploitation of people and the environment” and threatening further violence.

While the vast majority of organizations and individuals oppose violent actions, and support Nonviolent Direct Action (peaceful civil disobedience), the concept of “Diversity of Tactics” has been raised to defend the role of violent actions within the context of a broader social change movement, or at least to encourage silence and discourage criticism of violence. The problem is that violence cannot be morally or tactically justified, and silence is complicity. Violence will discredit and discourage participation in broad-based social change movements, as well as being incompatible with Nonviolent Direct Action, as espoused by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

The Birth of Diversity of Tactics

Ten years ago, on October 23, 2000, a demonstration was called outside the Sheraton Hotel in Montreal by the Convergence des luttes anticapitalistes (CLAC). Inside the hotel was a closed meeting of the Group of 20 (G20) to discuss financial globalization. A leaflet said the demonstration was going to target the meeting based on "Respect for a Diversity of Tactics". A peaceful protest by hundreds of demonstrators had barely started when, despite the vocal opposition of many present, a small group of masked protesters, some wielding two-by-fours, set garbage bins on fire and started throwing rocks and bottles at the police lines. The ensuing script has now become familiar. 

The protest quickly degenerated into brutal chaos. As masked protesters provoked the police and destroyed property, an all-out violent police response was unleashed. The police, armed with pepper spray, some on horseback, charged the crowd and chased demonstrators down the streets. Dozens of arrests were made, leaving many protesters frightened, hurt and disempowered. It was later revealed that at least 23 plainclothes Sûreté du Québec (SQ) infiltrators, and eight local Montreal undercover police were posing as protesters. The uniformed Montreal police riot squad, police on horseback, and RCMP were also present in force.

Ten years after the first "Diversity of Tactics" demonstration in Montreal, numerous violent protests have taken place based on the concept. These include the 2001 Carnival against the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, and the 2001 G8 summit in Genoa, Italy, which saw hundreds of protesters injured and one shot dead by police. A string of yearly G8 and G20 summits with violent clashes have extended from 2002 in Ottawa to the 2009 G20 protests in Pittsburg. The track record of Diversity of Tactics also includes protests aimed at other targets, such as the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP) in Montebello, Quebec, the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia. This tragic pattern of violence needs to challenged.

To be continued...

Philippe Duhamel is a trainer, organizer, and nonviolent activist based in Montreal. He has trained on five continents on the principles of nonviolent struggle, direct action planning and strategic civil resistance. In 1988, as an organizer with the Alliance for Non-Violent Action (ANVA), M. Duhamel crossed the barricades to attempt a "citizen's arrest" of the G7 leaders in Toronto. Ten years later, he was the main organizer of Operation SalAMI, the group that put the "altermondialiste" movement on the map in Quebec. M. Duhamel is now a volunteer organizer and trainer with Greenpeace, and blogs on NewTactics.org.

 

David Martin has worked for 30 years in the Canadian non-profit sector on environmental issues. Mr. Martin was Climate and Energy Coordinator for Greenpeace Canada from 2004 to 2010, and now serves as a policy adviser. He has been arrested in numerous nonviolent direct actions beginning in 1980. Most recently, he was charged and fined as a result of a November 2009 sit-in at the office of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, calling for Canada to support action on climate change.