Tuesday, June 12, 2007

East End Anarchists? What anarchists?

There seems to be a little broad stroked painting going around Pittsburgh since the window smashing of the Quiet Storm and the East End Food Co-Op. The night after they were hit, "anarchists" struck again. This time the manager of the Co-Op got a call from the police at 4am saying their new front windows were smashed again. Later that morning we learned that the windows of a number of Shadyside businesses were broken and tagged with anti G8 slogans and circle A's. My problem is the lumping of all black- clothes-wearing, bike-riding, Eastenders as "anarchists". Very little attention is paid to how this subset of Eastenders differ from one another. And the issue of lumping all these groups together then raises the age old political economic question of "who does it benefit"? Let's see.

Coverage from WTAE:

Police said they received a report of two men wearing dark clothes, riding bikes and throwing rocks through windows on Walnut Street.
Pittsburgh councilman Bill Peduto held a news conference Wednesday with community leaders regarding the recent vandalism.
Officials said they believe the Pittsburgh Organizing
Committee, a group that organizes anti-war rallys, is behind the vandalism, which targeted national chain stores.
Peduto said the vandals are only hurting local businesses.

Two men wearing dark clothes, riding bikes. Hmm, that's a pretty regular site in the East End. Pittsburgh Organizing Committee? Nope. It's the Pittsburgh Organining Group, not committee.

Coverage from WPXI and real insightful quote from James Ford, owner of Shadyside Market:
James Ford: "I heard that it was, some people on bicycles throwing river rocks because of the G-8 summit that they were protesting against some of the things going over in Poland and Russia... Probably environmental. I think so, the activists get pretty extreme. "

Police are not saying that there are protesters or anarchists involved.
Thanks Mr. Ford for your informed perspective on the matter. Sorry your windows were smashed but putting the blame on 'protesters', organized by POG that walked passed your store peacefully en masse by the hundreds before and after the invasion of Iraq are not equivalent to Greenpeace or, better yet, the Animal Liberation Front. But thanks for broad stroking and lumping together anything different from wooly cotton brained Shadyside. Sounds like you haven't gotten over the "love it or leave it" argument. Poland and Russia, huh? You obviously have no clue as to the well-intentioned aims of the alternate-globalization movement. It's the entire global South that is starving from the unfair political-economic policies of the North. Judging by the prices of your wax-polished produce for expensive palates I wouldn't expect more from you.

Initial coverage from the PG:
Vandals left the messages "Smash money" and "Down with G8"
The food co-op had windows broken, and an anarchy symbol -- a circled 'A' -- was drawn in several places along the building's front, as was this stenciled message in red: "There are no good corporations. Stop [word intelligible] selling."
Rob Baran, the general manager of the cooperative, said he spoke with Jill McDowell, owner of the Quiet Storm "and we think it's the same folks. I can't even think of these people as anarchists."
Righteo, Mr. Baran. I can't even think of these people as anarchists either. Pittsburgh labor organizers of the late-19th century wouldn't consider these dudes anarchists either.

Finally we arrive at the resulting conflict from all the coverage. Peduto has apparently struck a chord with POG, and rightfully so. The PG covers this today:

"They're losing the one elected official they had because of the accusations and tactics in the field. They're proving their actions don't work and actually are counterproductive," Mr. Peduto said.
"They're saying it's irresponsible for me to isolate any one group. What other group of anarchists are there in this city?"

POG, an anarchist group? POG is a well organized group that often holds "radical" positions on the war in Iraq and other global justice issues. They are a 'radical' group, not anarchists. Their stated position of identity is to "seek to understand and oppose the inter-connected forms of oppression while utilizing non-hierarchical, consensus-based organizing". And they do so, often collaborating with the Thomas Merton Center, which follows the principles of the Catholic monk by the same name.

"I am against war, against violence, against violent revolution, for peaceful settlement of differences, for nonviolent but nevertheless radical changes. Change is needed, and violence will not really change anything: at most it will only transfer power from one set of bull-headed authorities to another." --Thomas Merton

Consensus, as a principle, does not translate well to anarchy. Various groups who self-identify themselves as anarchist do not often agree with one another on ideological principles, and particularly on economic models.

So, POG has written an open letter , referred to in the PG article above, asking Peduto to take back his statements which was sent out to its mailing list and is also posted on its site.

Councilman Peduto's comments at the June 6 press conference were highly irresponsible for a public official to make, detrimental to local movements for peace and social justice, and a slap in the face to those progressives who have previously considered him an ally. He was the first, and as far as we are aware, only non-police official to attempt to link us to these events. His statements have contributed to a public perception of our guilt, caused division within the local anti-war movement, drained our time and resources away from important campaigns, and damaged our personal relationships with members of the community.
When you see dark-clothed bike-riders around town, they are likely NOT anarchists. From my perspective, they fall into three rough categories. They fall into what I term hipster vampires, DIY, and youngsters. Hipster vampires hang out at all the cool bars in the East End, are fashion conscious, and are vampires in the sense that their social circles are very insular and difficult to access to a non-hipster. DIY (do-it-yourself) are those progressive thinkers and actors who are really contributing to the new Pittsburgh. I would place active POG members in this camp (apologies in advance if I offend) as well as Free Ride volunteers, Construction Junction affiliates, and many many other progressives active in organizations, several newer organizations, that are driving much of the great culture-shift happening in the city. Youngsters are those who may appear as 'dark-clothed bike riders' but have not yet developed the nuances in their ideological positions to understand how to navigate tactically. Therefore, their tactics are to tear down and destroy (economic systems, Starbucks, everything). They likely don't understand that people in the resource-poor countries they are arguing for would probably not understand their position at all.

It doesn't seem as though POG would be involved in window smashing in this instance for a number of reasons. As they said, they are a public organization and it would not benefit them to have windows smashed at, among all places, the Quiet Storm or the Co-Op. When they came into being they were made up of young, smart, cleverly tactical members. They were well organized and carefully picked issues to which they would attend. They never sanctioned breaking the windows of Navy buildings during anti-war protests. When people choose to do this, they do so as free-choosing individuals. POG has been a great contributor to the organization of Pittsburghers against war and social injustices. Breaking windows of local businesses just seems too dumb and organizationally immature as a POG tactic.

If POG affiliates did commit the crimes, public pressure from Peduto and media attention will likely force the organization through growing pains. Peduto is not backing down from his statements. I would trust that he has good information to make such a claim but without definitive evidence that POG did, in fact, do this, perhaps Peduto could make some concessions that he may have overstepped his claims. There is a way that he could defend his constituents in the business district on Walnut St. without lambasting POG. Go after the criminals, not the radicals.

Finally, who does this all benefit? To make the argument that all those who are opposed to global injustices are to blame for smashed windows is being an intellectual cheapskate (ahem, James Ford-ians). According to WPXI, the police were not saying that protesters or anarchists were involved. Let's stay with that mindset and not benefit those whose worldview equates anti-war and freedom hating.

ADDENDUM:
Whoever did this at the co-op cut themselves pretty badly and bled on the front windows and sidewalk. Know anybody that wears dark-clothing, rides a bike, AND has a pretty bad cut on their body somewhere, likely their arm?

16 comments:

EdHeath said...

I remember back twenty five years ago, an ex-girlfriend had joined the Trotskyite’s, the Spartacus Youth League (this was during the cold war). She told me that when that when the SYL marched in Washington, DC, the ordinary Stalinist communist joined forces with the police to stamp out the real threat to bourgeoisie oppression (the SYL).

My point is that often radical groups identify other radicals with slightly different agendas as a real threat (thus Hamas goes after Fatah while the Israelis shake their heads). No objective observer would call the East End Food Co-op or the Quiet Storm agents of capitalist oppression, quite the opposite. But that is the point. Probably some member of the East End Food Co-op told a fifteen year old anarchist wanna-be to grow up, that his politics were silly, and the fifteen year old took his revenge.

But Bill Peduto ought to show more sense. Just because there’s a “Z” scratched there doesn’t mean Zorro was the bad guy (although I do believe that freedom fighters in Old California who do use the “Z” mark, other than Zorro, are guilty of copyright infringement and subject to prosecution). Does he really believe that members of the Pittsburgh Organizing Group have something against the Quiet Storm? “This latte is not fit for a member of the Worker’s Vanguard”

Pgh Lesbian said...

Hipster is thrown about almost as much as anarchist with the same limited accuracy. In the community, we now have queersters. What the heck are they? Queersters don't wear black bandanas, I can tell you that. I'm very confused by it all.

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The Yinsurrectionary Times said...

It's nice to read a more reasoned perspective on these events.

Skip said...

No objective observer would call the East End Food Co-op or the Quiet Storm agents of capitalist oppression, quite the opposite.---
Reading the article that came out in the CP yesterday, Rob Baran, manager of the co-op mentioned that the money to be used to repair the front windows is less for profit-sharing among employees. Of all food outlets around there, (TJs, Whole Foods, the dirty bird) they chose to smash up the co-op? Just dumb.
However, when the Quiet Storm did open up and the development of an art corridor on Penn Ave gained momentum, Unblurred events were just beginning. Graffiti would occasionally appear (one time on a CP box) calling Unblurred events, great 'white night' on Penn Ave. An article in the New People came out saying 'you can't eat art', and people were still unhappy with the closing of the Rite Aid. There were some negative feelings surrounding the developments on Penn Ave.

I agree there is limited utility in the term hipster. I therefore used it as an adjective preceeding vampire. But Queersters? Haven't heard that one, but I could see how it fits. If this is a self-labeled identity among queersters, I'm not hip to it. Are you referring to the 'gay mafia' and their likes in the east end. Or are we all just getting too old?

Anonymous said...

Of course, that profit sharing money at the co-op was created to get staff to back off on the cutting of their benefits, and I hear staff were told that they probably wouldn't be getting profit sharing this year anyhow (after those devilish workers extorted Baran for money last year with that IWW union campaign). Perhaps there would be more money for profit sharing if the Directors and Baran hadn't hired a union-buster for several thousand dollars.

Yinsurrectionary Times said...

I'm not sure what the relationship is between damages paid for by insurance and cutting profit sharing.
Sounds like another cheap trick...

Rob.Baran said...

I wish to refute your comment Anonymous. The year before the union drive, the first year in several EEFC made a profit, 80% of our profit went to staff profit sharing. We did this because the staff really did a great job that year, and we had not been able to raise wages for several years as we fought for our lives after Whole Foods opened.

I had petitioned our board for another major profit share several months before organizing activities started last year. Check the board minutes, they are open to the public.

This year it is uncertian wheather or not we will be profitable. If we are, some of it will go to staff. Trader Joe's has not impacted us anything like the Whole Foods opening did, but sales are down and profits, if any will be tight.

Oh, we also increased wages significantly and our labor costs are much higher this year, also cutting into profits. In spite of that, we are raising our starting wage another 50 cents next month.

Rob Baran
GM-EEFC

Rob.Baran said...

I wish to refute your comment Anonymous. The year before the union drive, the first year in several EEFC made a profit, 80% of our profit went to staff profit sharing. We did this because the staff really did a great job that year, and we had not been able to raise wages for several years as we fought for our lives after Whole Foods opened.

I had petitioned our board for another major profit share several months before organizing activities started last year. Check the board minutes, they are open to the public.

This year it is uncertian wheather or not we will be profitable. If we are, some of it will go to staff. Trader Joe's has not impacted us anything like the Whole Foods opening did, but sales are down and profits, if any will be tight.

Oh, we also increased wages significantly and our labor costs are much higher this year, also cutting into profits. In spite of that, we are raising our starting wage another 50 cents next month.

Rob Baran
GM-EEFC

Anonymous said...

Baran,

I think you are mistaken. I was told the profit-sharing policy was adopted in late 2002, during the previous organizing attempt. You would not know about this as you were too busy running Shadyside Natural Foods (later sold to yet another car dealership - very green) with money from a wealthy relative, no?

lynx said...

some anarchists smash things, most don't. property destruction is one of many issues that divides the movement. personally, i think it's usually counterproductive, but I understand why some people (anarchist and otherwise) use the tactic. there's a time and a place for everything, even tea parties in boston.

Most anarchists are far more likely to spend their time growing community gardens or volunteering with local organizations working for peace and social justice then they are to be smashing things, despite what the corporate media may want you to think. We do have a bit of a problem though as a movement because there's a tendency for angry kids who want to smash things to buy the media hype and call themselves anarchists. That doesn't make them anarchists though. not in any meaningful sense of the word.

you seem to have a rather innacurate (though not uncommon) perception of what an anarchist even is..... anarchists oppose hierarchy, not organization. that means we oppose the state, capitalism, racism, the class system, and patriarchy. and, for the record, most anarchist groups in north america use consensus and/or direct democracy to make decisions.

POG, as far as I know, is not an Anarchist group in terms of ideology but they are Anarchist in terms of structure, which is to say that they use consensus and they are organized non-hierarchally. I don't know them that well, honestly, I once spent several days going cross-country and back on a greyhound bus to perform at an anti-war convergence they organized and got top meet many of the people who were involved with the group at the time. They didn't strike me then as the types of folks to throw rocks through windows randomly and I think it's safe to say that the councilman's attempt to link them to a random act of vandalism is nothing more or less then baseless slander.

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