Berkeley Bloc

By Moumita Ahmed

I feel that I needed to clarify my position on the protesters who disrupted Milo Yiannopoulos’ visit to UC Berkeley because some of my colleagues felt that I was being too nice to the black-clad protesters partaking in what is known as the black bloc. According to Urban Dictionary, the black bloc is

“a revolutionary anarchist street tactic where participants engage in direct action against the forces of corporate and state repression, dressing as the indigenous zapatista rebels of chiapas do, in black with bandannas or balaclavas. also the bane of bed-wetting conservatives, cry-baby liberals and ignorant neo-fascists alike, many of whom have been upstaged or bitch-slapped by the black bloc with extreme vigilance.”

150 black bloc-ers appeared at the Berkeley protests on Wednesday night to protest Milo, who was scheduled to speak that night. And as usual, the media went right into talking about the bloc non-stop while downright dismissing the majority of the peaceful people who showed up and the organizers who organized the protest in the first place. And now, even other leftist organizers are joining the media in doing the same. putting down the protest and its success completely because of the black bloc.

Here’s how I feel about the protest, as someone who lived right next to Berkeley last summer — so I have a fond connection to the area and its residents, and also watched the entire protest go down from start to finish on Buzzfeed’s live stream:

When I first began watching, I was initially excited by the student turnout, the convention of diverse youths gyrating to M.I.A’s song borders, the anti fascist chants, and the passionate speeches against hate and bigotry. Those people were the majority, and they were the folks who stole my heart as I was watching on live stream. Not to mention, they succeeded! Milo bounced right out of Berkeley without looking back. Some of the credit goes to the black bloc. Their presence played a part in Milo’s swift evacuation from the parameters. However, I remain skeptical about whether or not a bloc was necessary or appropriate for the situation.

I was actually dismayed by the black bloc that showed up, who were nothing resembling the disciplined anarchist bloc, made up of 100’s of anarchists who descended upon DC to disrupt Trump’s inauguration on January 20th. And trust me, there were plenty of Trump supporters all around us for the J20 bloc to knock around senselessly, yet no one but Richard Spencer was punched, and I don’t really care because that guy is a self proclaimed neo-nazi! I was also perturbed by the news that the black bloc in Berkeley was led by outsiders, not Berkeley students, essentially making them trespassers showing up to a peaceful action organized by students and then beating people up and pepper spraying people as they pleased. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who was in Berkeley at that time said in a CNN interview on Thursday night that he “wouldn’t bet against” a theory that “right-wingers” were behind the violence. As someone who is indifferent to smashing the windows of Bank of America, I think jumping people who are wearing MAGA hats and beating them senseless is not ok.

One other thing! I am for free speech, not hate speech which is why I don’t believe we should allow fascist types to get away with speaking on a college campus without disrupting it. If I was there, I would do what we did at the Democratic National Convention —fill 50% of the auditorium with our people and create a cacophony of chants loud enough to drown out the voice of the speaker.

Don’t get me wrong, I still support diversity of tactics, and I accept that not everyone will express dissent the same way I would. In fact, we need to stop signing and co-signing letters demanding that activists behave a certain way at actions we didn’t organize. I think Berkeley should be taken as a learning experience for young leftists. Unlike the media, and the neo-liberals and even self-proclaimed leftists, I do not believe, that this was some grand test that we failed. I don’t believe this single event diminishes our entire movement. I mean, Fuck Milo! who is he to even test us? he’s one garbage human being against thousands of us taking it to the streets everyday. He was going to out and shame undocumented immigrants that night!

I think in any type of movement building, there will be times when we will make mistakes but that’s how we’ll learn, in order to do a better job next time. I sincerely hope that instead of being bitter and turning on one another, we all make an effort to try to understand the emotional impact this administration has on some of us and all the different groups that exist on the left. Just be aware that the sense of urgency varies from group to group, that ultimately we are all human beings, and in a decentralized resistance, these things are bound to happen.