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I came across an interesting little report the other day – an analysis of traffic from Occupywallstreet.org. Studying trends in hits, new/repeat visitors and length of stay, they came up with a very interesting theory. They’re calling it the “riot porn hypothesis”. The second slide makes fairly clear why – the eviction of Zuccotti Park on Nov. 17th generated an immense surge in views, from ~`10 000/day or less to more than half a million. This date and other events led to the hypothesis, which states that traffic spikes after incidents of arrests or police brutality.

Quantatative Analysis of Phase One of Occupy Wall Street – OWS Analytics (Google Docs)

To anyone familiar with the media or activism in general, this should come as no surprise. “If it bleeds, it leads” has just been put to the test, and it got the result everyone expected. Nothing catches people’s attentions like a bunch of arrests, and that’s just as true with new media as old.

Why? Because arrests show that both “sides” were serious. That something “happened”. In an atmosphere of conflicting accounts where most are wary of cops, reporters and protesters, they give a solid number by which to judge the “scale” of unrest. The create a story with compelling characters and conflict, and make normally “boring” issues exciting. “Riot porn” in particular – images and footage from “the front lines” captivates people, whether for or against, and it’s very hard to ignore.

OWSAnalytics didn’t manage much detail on what in particular drives this attention. Is it police brutality per se? Does it matter whether protesters resist arrest or go peacefuly? How about property destruction? How do the effects differ between Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Oakland? Ultimately, this may matter a lot less than one might think, since the coverage of these events is so standard, no matter what actually happened. Papers will write about “clashes between demonstrators and police” whether those demonstrators are seated quietly or burning police cars.

We need to be really careful here of treating these events as simple “spectacles” for the sake of viewers at home. They aren’t. There’s a difference between protests and publicity stunts. Success cannot be measured in “views”, and getting people to read your website is only the first step in changing the world. Focusing too much on publicity obscures real strategic goals. These struggles are newsworthy because people are fighting for a cause, not our attention, and once that changes things start to seem a little forced. When it becomes obvious that a group of demonstrators wanted only to be arrested or break stuff, it’s never quite as interesting. Beyond that, these actions are really frackin’ dangerous, and shouldn’t be undertaken lightly.

How this all relates to debates about “violence” at protests is a really interesting question. Above all else, it certainly does lend some credence to the oft-made claim that the only reason protests get any coverage is because things get broken and people get hauled off. That does kinda suggest that the actions of the Black Bloc aren’t nearly as “unpopular” as often claimed, and that they’ve done a lot more for moderate groups than most would like to admit. It also suggests that police violence is a less popular than we might think, and that these actions are having a serious impact on public opinion of the justice system. None of this, of course, is any kind of “vindication” of one tactic or another – but it also can’t be ignored.

As someone who often writes about rioting, I must say, my own traffic sees the exact same patterns. Posts about riots get at least double the hits of others, and keep getting visits long afterward – seen most recently when I wrote about Quebec students. This kind of attention ensures that these confrontations will keep happening. When peaceful, thoughtful, polite protests get consistently ignored, while a few dozen rock-throwing vandals can capture the world’s attention, this kind of chaos is inevitable. Condemn them if you like, but you’re the ones tuning in every time it happens.

Late yesterday, Greece’s Parliament just passed the latest round of austerity measures, a total of over three billion in cuts. As they debated and voted, the population raged in the streets, battling police lines and setting at least ten buildings aflame. Hopes at reaching a bailout agreement and write-down of Greece’s debt will now continue, in the hopes of preventing another financial system meltdown, but given the deteriorating situation so far, I can’t say I’m hopeful.

What got Greek protesters so angry?

Perhaps it’s the total failure of austerity measures so far. The cuts in wages, benefits, jobs security and pensions have devastated the already crumbling Greek economy. This has meant increasing trouble keeping up with creditor payments, rather than the intended effect, and inflicted even more brutal hardship on the people of Greece. Blaming the Greek “national character” for these problems likely doesn’t help either. The rage may also have to do with the recent “regime change”, where former PM George Papandreou was replaced with “technocrat” Lucas Papademoms after threatening a referendum on this issue, a coup perpetrated openly and directly by the financial elites of Europe. Overall, it probably has most to do with the general feeling that Greece is being “thrown under the bus” by the rest of Europe.

There is a very important lesson to be learned here. Debt is political. Economists and pundits love to claim that national debts are only a monetary tool for financing public spending. They aren’t. This is money owed to people, and those debts can be called in (or sold short) as a means of achieving political and economic goals. This is a lesson the Third World has been learning for decades through the IMF’s “structural adjustment policies“. Entire countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America were restructured for the good of their creditors – with rampant deregulation, cuts and privatizations. Like Greece, economic “progress” actually slowed as a result, and the populations often suffered in ways First-Worlders find unimaginable, but it was terrifically profitable. For every dollar in aid which flows to poor nations like these, there’s a dozen or so dollars going back in debt repayments. What’s been happening to Greece and many others in the last five years shows that First World nations can suffer this fate too, and it’s likely that Greece won’t be the last where things get this bad. In all of these cases, public debt was leveraged in order to gain massive concessions which voters, unions and other “democratic” institutions would never have agreed to under other circumstances.

Even for countries like Canada with ‘sustainable’ debts (by debt-to-GDP ratio), the language of debt-crisis has clearly infected nearly all political and economic discussions. From Reagan to Mike Harris to Rob Ford, this strategy has been incredibly successful. Social programs, rights and benefits which took decades of struggle to achieve now threaten to be eroded, not because we couldn’t afford them, but because of the way we’ve been paying for them. From public health care to workplace rights, welfare and others, this claw-back is immense. The moderate left hasn’t helped with knee-jerk defenses of these problems which critique simply the math behind them and not the deeper motivations.

Financial elites have deposed two heads of state (Papandreau and Berlusconi) directly in the last few months. These coups didn’t come as a covertly funded insurrection, an act of aggression by proxies like the US military or over-funded establishment political parties. They simply demanded it and it happened. This isn’t a conspiracy theory – it was widely reported in the world press. This demonstrates very clearly who is really in charge here, and makes their goals very obvious.

There are limits to austerity. Both in the limits of real-world economies to function under sustained cuts and in the willingness of populations to put up with them. These policies destroy countries. Greece is only the latest example, and there will be more. As traditional means of social pressure prove increasingly ineffective against it, the only options left open are far less “civil”. There is a very good chance that the Greek government will not survive this ordeal, and I don’t just mean the ruling party. This latest hurdle will avoid short-term problems at the price of again worsening the long-term crisis – this isn’t over, not for Greece, and not for Europe. The smoke may be clearing over Athens, but the fires are far from out.

Well, folks, it’s 2012. The world is set to end on schedule in the coming year, be it by polar alignment shift, Mayan prophecy or the bumbling of Europe’s financial leaders, so I hope everyone partied like it was 1999, again.

In the spirit of these celebrations, I’ve been meaning to follow up on one of my top-viewed posts ever, 10 Riots that Changed the World. Posted in the wake of the G20 protests, when everyone seemed dead-set against the idea, I felt compelled to remind folks that riots do, often, have a fairly shattering impact on world history. At the time, the notion felt a little…controversial.

Since then, the image of the revolutionary has had something of a facelift, behind all the masks. People, worldwide, have taken to the streets in numbers and ways not seen in generations, and quickly began to dispatch with tyrants at a rate George W. couldn’t dream of. By the end of the year, “The Protester” had earned the honour of being named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year”. By mid summer, it was clear that 2011 would probably have enough of these riots for its own list. And throughout the fall, 2011 failed to disappoint. It’s been a hell of a year, and I shudder to think what 2012 will bring, but first, let’s take a look back. I’ve generally omitted specific dates here, since most of these disturbances went well beyond a single day or location, and in many of these cases the disturbance went well beyond any one month or city. As for the definition of “riot”, I’ve also left that correspondingly vague – some of these cases were rather passive, and didn’t involve most of the “crowd”, others were entrenched and deadly battles involving large parts of the population. A working definition would be incidents where people fought back against police or other security forces in ways which weren’t passive or “nonviolent” (chaining themselves to things, etc). If I had to draw a line, it would probably be the throwing of rocks. In all of these cases, police or other security forces were injured, and demonstrators (and bystanders) hurt or killed in far greater numbers. All of these injuries and deaths, of course, are tragedies, and the point of this post is not to impose a simple moral judgement one way or the other, but instead to remind everyone that each of these events takes place in the context of a far larger story.

10. Wukan – China – December
After an escalating series of protests and repression regarding land deals and corruption among civic administrators, including the death of a teenaged boy at the hands of authorities, protests got very serious. Communist Party officials were chased out of town, which then declared self-governance. The Communist government then sent 1000 cops to retake the village, who were fought off by rioting townspeople. Their blockades held for two weeks, and after threats that villagers would march on government headquarters in nearby Lufeng, the central government agreed to many key concessions, such as returning land to local farmers, and Wukan triumphantly took down the barricades.
China sees hundreds of thousands of protests every year, and that number has been rising (mostly labour unrest), as well as murmurs of a wider resistance, which the authorities have so far attempted to stamp out at every turn. While a tiny example in an enormous nation, Wukan is one of the smallest communities here, and China the largest and autocratic government, yet their impressive successes only go to show how far this kind of collective determination can go.

9. Syria – April (Ongoing)
Like many Middle Eastern nations, Syria took part in the “Arab Spring” protests. By early April protests across the country, especially in Douma and Daraa, had begun to clash with security forces in a very serious way, leaving a growing number dead. The response came in the form of snipers, tanks, mortars and even shelling from gunships, provoking worldwide shock, rage and disgust.
Of all these examples, Syria is one of the most grim. While many of these protests quickly snowballed into all-out uprisings and even revolutions, Syria’s President Assad was determined not to let it happen to him. Over the past year he’s shocked the world with brutal crackdowns and used the full force of his military on Syrian cities. In the face of this, the people of Syria have not backed down, but continue their fight (right up through the last few weeks), amidst an estimated five thousand casualties so far. Throughout much of the year, Syria has been a terrifying reminder to the world of the brutality possible when opposing a tyrannical government, but also of the inspiring capacity of humans to refuse to back down.

8. Baghdad – Iraq – March
One of the major sites of “Arab Spring” unrest during the last year has been Iraq. While we’re used to hearing of “insurgent” groups placing bombs and battling American troops, a growing protest movement has also been taking centre stage. In Bagdad and other cities huge numbers have turned out to protest the occupation and it’s puppet government. In response, occupation troops fired on crowds, killing many, presenting an even uglier spectacle for the world. These protests showed the world how unhappy the Iraqi people are with this sad state of affairs, and only helped to encourage the recent “official” end of the war and withdrawal of American troops.

7. Oakland – USA – November
Overall, it must be said that it’s very remarkable that after months of nation-wide resistance, Oakland is really the only “riot” which stands out here. For all the talk of how “violent” America is, it’s also a nation thoroughly captivated by non-violence, a fact which has meant a largely peaceful set of demonstrations throughout throughout thousands of arrest. Like all of these flare-ups of popular rage, this helps remind us that all of these “riots” exist in a far larger context of struggle, which all too often gets forgotten once rocks start flying.
Long before any of this went down, I’d already heard that Oakland was one of the most radical Occupy sites. The city has an incredible history of resistance, shown by their recent General Strike, the first one in 80 years, the last one also having been in Oakland. After the particularly brutal eviction of Occupy Oakland, as well as a recent history of rioting over police shootings, the community was enraged. During nonviolent protests, police had nearly killed a young Iraq veteran on camera then attacked those who came to his aid as he lay bleeding at their feet. In the demonstrations that followed, protesters, particularly the “black bloc” vandalized a Whole Foods, seized and squatted an abandoned building and built barricades in the streets, battling police for control. Since then, West Coast resistance has continued amidst a long set of evictions of “occupied” parks, culminating in a series of major west-coast port shutdowns last month, in solidarity with an ongoing (and also, at times, somewhat riotous) labour dispute involving the longshoremen’s unions.

6. London – August – England
Over the past two years, London has had a number of protests which got “out of hand”, with mild black-block rioting, a few occupations and even a group of rascals who managed to get close to a royal limo. None of this, though, could compare to what are now simply known as “the London Riots”. This wasn’t an outburst at a violent demo, but rather a spate of rioting that gripped cities across Britian, with looting, assaults and even deaths. Though there have been many debates about how much political character (if any) existed in these rampages, they didn’t have a lot in common with the insurrections of the Arab Spring or others. Rather, these orgies of destruction were far more emotional and visceral – exposing to the world the rage of a growing British underclass in one of the world’s richest (and most expensive) cities. In the wake of the riots the government combed social media looking for evidence, handing out multi-year sentences for remarks made on Facbook and elsewhere, as well as using photos and videos to identify rioters.
What London reminded the world, like so many before it, is that brutal, crushing social conditions don’t need political movements to riot. Political repression is useless, or even counterproductive against this kind of rioting, since it only closes off the last chances for any kind of controlled venting of this rage. When entire communities feel totally rejected by the establishment, the entire urban environment around them becomes a battleground in which many would rather see buildings burn than cede that space back to the establishment. Any spark can set off these wildfires, and they often see horrific amounts of damage to everyone involved or nearby. The London Riots are a frightening example of what could be waiting for all of us if we don’t address these issues in our own cities.

5. Rome – Italy – October
2011 was the year in which pretty much everybody, from the financial leaders of Europe to the black bloc rioters in the street finally came to consensus: Italy’s legendarily rich, corrupt, philandering despot; Silvio Berlusconi had to go. As the year wore on the nation’s economic situation deteriorated quickly, like Greece threatening to default on its loans, require more bailouts or possibly bring about European financial Armageddon. Unpopular “austerity” programs were pushed, leading to massive cuts and further economic nightmares and to widespread revolt. By September and October, general strikes and mass protests began to rock the capitol and other cities, and by October 15th, in conjunction with a wave of global protests, huge crowds took to the street of Rome. Though most were peaceful, a few masked vandals smashed banks, set fires and did battle with cops amidst a huge and overpowering police presence. Though the austerity measures did pass, it meant the end of Berlusconi’s reign as Prime Minister by early November.

4. Puno – Peru – July
In Puno, Peru, Bear Creek Mining, a Canadian firm, had been planning to open a new silver mine amongst mostly poor, indigenous peoples which threatened to contaminate Lake Titicaca. As often happens in thee cases, local residents launched a campaign of resistance which culminated in an attempted occupation of a local airport, met with tear gas and live rounds from police in which several people were killed. In the wake of this violence, Peru’s government revoked Bear Creek’s claim in the area and has promised reforms in the wake of continuing, similar protests.
I’ll admit this choice left me a little perplexed, and with more than a few options to choose from. Recent riots in Indonesia told a very similar story, as have many others accross the globe. We haven’t heard a lot about these movements in our Eurocentric press over the last year. Perhaps it isn’t as fun to hear about rioters when they aren’t in our own cities, or those of our official “enemies”. When similar protests break out in otherwise “quiet” client states like Peru or Indonesia, we ignore them. Unless “Islamic Terrorists” are involved, we frankly don’t want to know. Even when the companies responsible for the projects in question are headquarters are located down the street from us, or perhaps, especially in those cases. “Development” policies and programs like these probably affect a larger population and landmass worldwide than the First World and Arab states combined, and the associated debt crisis is measured not by high youth unemployments, but in tens of thousands of preventable child deaths daily. I could just as easily have compiled a list of the top ten or twenty Third World mining riots over the last year, and that should give some sense, not only of the scale of the problem but also the growing global resistance to it.

3. Athens – Greece – Ongoing
Athens has witnessed incredible amounts of civil unrest over the past few years, but it was in 2011 that the issues of the Greek people suddenly took centre stage. For much of the year, the European Union stared at the brink of financial oblivion as heavily indebted poorer member states, saddled with bailout costs, began to look as they’d be needing a lot more in bailouts. For much of this time Greece was the main concern, but before long it spread to Italy, Portugal, Spain and any number of others. The “contagion risk”, if these loans went bad, posed serious threats to most of Europe’s banks and a good chunk of the rest of the world (and still do). Greece has been the victim of an austerity regieme which has crippled its economy and the thought of further cuts in order to float foreign banks is not terribly popular with the population. Major protests and general strikes raged in spring, summer and fall, often descending into rioting including molotov cocktails, barricades and attempted sieges of Parliament. The passing of the austerity bill itself was highlighted by a massive brawl outside, and Prime Minister Papandreau’s resignation, soon after, was met with 50 000 in the streets.

2. Benghazi – February – Libya
Libya was one of the first nations to witness the ‘Arab Spring’, and as protesters gathered across the country, the nation’s legendary dictator, Mohammar Gaddafi was quick to send in security forced to stamp them out. The resulting clashes left many injured, including a few of the troops, and quickly escalated into a national civil war. Soon after America and other western nations saw an opportunity to do something they’d wanted to do since Reagan – they sent bombers to “assist” and paved the way for the eventual overthrow of Gaddafi.
This case highlighted the risks posed by demonstrators, and how ugly things can get when a ruler feels backed into a corner. The case highlighted many of the problematic aspects of Western intervention, and will hopefully (though not likely) give us a bit of pause in the future. Nonetheless, another of the world’s longest reigning and most notorious dictatorships has come to an end, and I can’t help but feel the world’s a better place without Mohammar Gaddafi in it.

1. Cairo – Egypt – January
Though Tunisia and Libya also played important roles in the early “Arab Spring”, it was the demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square which really caught the globe’s attention. The square was first occupied on January 25th and numbers swelled to hundreds of thousands or possibly a million, as the occupiers fought off police, military and paramilitary forces to unseat Egyptian Dictator by the 11th of February.
The military, of course, remained in charge, so the protests have continued, but the effects of last January’s uprising resonated around the globe. with sticks and stones, they managed to hold onto a space which was soon to become a global symbol of revolution.

In the past week we’ve witnessed enormous uprisings across Southern Europe, with six-figure turnouts in nations like Spain, Italy and Greece against the crippling austerity measures now being imposed on them in the hopes of resolving the European debt crisis. In Italy over the weekend, and over the past two days in Greece, violence flared at these protests, leaving one dead (heart failure), around a hundred injured. There are reports of fighting between rioters and other protesters from both. Given the explosion in similar North American protests over the last month, many are drawing parallels to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Many are asking: could it happen here?

That’s not a question I or anyone can answer – it will depend on everyone’s actions in the months ahead – police, parliament and protesters like. So far, things here have been overwhelmingly nonviolent. What I can do is put all of this in some perspective:

First of all, protests over austerity in this region are hardly new – Europe has been raging since the latter half of last year, and Greece for few years longer than that. Protests in general tend to involve 10-100 times more people in Europe (or Asia, Latin America etc…) than North America, and there’s a much stronger tradition of militancy, especially in the south. While North American protester “violence” usually involves broken windows and flying rocks, Europeans are far more likely to resort to barricades, molotov cocktails and large-scale street-fighting. Nor is this limited to “protests”, as recent riots in London and Paris have shown. In many ways European society is coming apart at the seams.

This isn’t to say the situation here is “good”, or that our history of protests has always been friendly. It is, however, a far cry from the post-war horrors of dictatorships in Spain or Greece or the chronic instability of Italian governments. Then there’s the history of radical guerillas fighting the fascists in the region during WWII (or in the case of Spain, just before it). Canadian and American and British radical guerillas, of course, also fought – though mostly in Spain.

It’s worth noting, however, that Spain’s ETA, the militant group which has been fighting for an independent, socialist Basque region for decades has just announced an end to armed part of struggle. So, of course, there are always avenues for peace, and for peaceful resistance.

Second, things are clearly worse in Europe. Economies like Spain and Greece have been characterized by 40%+ unemployment among the young, and banking sectors threatening to implode and take the world with them. In Italy, a major catalyst for the unrest was Silvio Berlusconi’s recent survival of another confidence vote. You might know Berlusconi as the legendarily corrupt Italian leader who’s run their economy into the ground while getting caught up in numerous sex scandals and attempting to pass a law granting himself and his cabinet immunity from prosecution because his many criminal prosecutions were “taking up too much of his time”. In Spain, the recent two-day general strike was a response to their latest austerity bill, which barely managed to pass inside the besieged parliament. In Greece, the cuts, privatizations and tax increases being put forward are now so bad that small businesspeople have joined workers and unemployed in the streets.

Spain, Italy and Greece are threatening to default on their loans, and that would threaten much of the world’s banking sector. This could destroy the European Union as a financial entity and Euro as a currency, as well as set off a(nother) worldwide economic collapse. Their leaders are being leaned on hard to pass nightmarish cuts, despite clear scepticism by real economists that it’ll help them meet their targets (Greece is continuing to fail). Their governments are between a rock and a hard place, and so far have opted to do the best to ignore their indignant populations. This is a clear prescription for civil unrest, and one our governments would do well to learn from.

Riots happen, for better or for worse. It’s easy to sit idly by and critique them (or revel in online riot-porn) from the relative comfort of countries like Canada, but the ugly truth is that in situations like these, they’re only the tip of the iceberg. Beneath them lie buried worlds of suffering and hardship, as well as countless examples of systemic and institutional violence. The fact that some people feel rioting is the only way to bring light to this is sad, but sadder is the fact that it’s too often true. In the absence of meaningful, peaceful means of addressing them, a more emotional and visceral reaction is bound to fill that vacuum. Constructive nonviolent protests on a large scale take extraordinary levels of discipline, organization and coordination. Riots don’t.

So far, North America’s protests have been very peaceful, even by our standards. That fact has done wonders for the ‘image’ of the movement, as well as bringing no end of shame upon police for their heavy-handed responses. This only goes to show the value of these kinds of tactics. Peaceful strategies can work, but passive strategies cannot. As Gandhi stated, “poverty is the worst form of violence”, and it doesn’t stop taking its toll for lack of attention. Every time a peaceful protest gets ignored, violence wins in one way or another.

On a slightly related subject, here’s what one member of America’s military thinks about the police response to Occupy Wall Street, as he told about thirty of them during a recent demonstration. Youtube

By last week, the need to write about police brutality was once again starting to overwhelm me. Despite all the attention over the last year, these incidents are still happening and in some cases are becoming more common. Then, this past weekend, the issue burst forth with a fury – London’s burning, and a young black man shot dead by cops provided the spark.

Stories about police violence have been rolling in from everywhere lately. Locally, the officer under scrutiny in the case of Po La Hay was found not-guilty. With this verdict, the judge issued a scathing statement directed at the officers involved for non-cooperation with the investigation. In Toronto, a mentally challenged man died in custody after being tackled on Bloor Street. In Chicago, shooting by police have reached epidemic proportions with 43 so far this year (as many as last year in total, mostly black). And in New Orleans, a group of officers were just convicted for shootings and a coverup which took place in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

In London, once again, the victim was young and dark-skinned. What began as a peaceful protest against this shooting and others has now led into three days of rioting, spreading across London and now into neighbouring cities. Like clockwork, Britain’s tensions seem to lead to explosions of rage in the first year of every decade, and it seems they still haven’t learned the lessons needed to prevent them.

Police forces across the world are beginning to deal with questions of legitimacy. The more cops get caught breaking the law without being punished, the more populations doubt both. And the more people feel personally threatened, the more they’ll respond with hostility. This is the kind of climate in which the British government just tried to “pacify” the population with large numbers of cops.

If your city were being torn apart by Canucks fans, would you summon a horde of Bruins fans to stop them? If militant vegetarians were looting shops and setting cars alight, would you throw bacon at them? So why, when the people of a city are outraged at the cops, is an aggressive show of force by police so often sought as the answer? These tactics only tend to antagonize crowds, and it seems that’s exactly what happened.

I’ve seen a lot of “action” over the years, and if there’s one pattern I’ve noticed it’s the relationship between rioting and riot police. When cops take a “hands-off” approach, protests go fairly smoothly – even if people showed up with the expressed intention of starting a riot. On the other hand, even avowed pacifists loose their patience pretty quickly while watching friends and comrades tackled and stomped for no apparent reason. Once the sense of police as “our protectors” disappears, they become simply another group of people, albeit a very organized, armed and often hostile group. When this happens, people are far more likely to respond in kind – with hostility and violence of their own.

If it wasn’t obvious from the number of these cases that involve people with coloured skin or mental disabilities, we are not all equal before the law (or its enforcers). The issues of racism and bigotry involved here are very well documented in academia (and government reports), but virtually taboo in the media. Morally, this is mighty ugly, but it has practical downsides as well – when an entire community feels targeted by police, they begin to view cops like an occupying army (because that’s exactly what they are). People lose trust, they stop “snitching” or cooperating and scatter when they hear sirens. This helps cement the community’s reputation as a haven for crime. If persecution persists, people may even start physically resisting. Chicago, as well as other cities, have reported a rise in assaults on officers in recent years.

The shock and befuddlement which accompanies “fighting back” is thoroughly predictable and more than a bit clichéd. In our society, it’s tantamount to sacrilege. Much like the response when occupying troops are hit in Afghanistan or Iraq – there’s no shortage of condescending commentary. “How dare they…” and “…but, they’re on your side…” come first, followed by a long string of insults. A journalist can say whatever they want about people in these situations (“cowards”, “thugs” etc) without any evidence whatsoever – as long as it isn’t positive. A chorus of ignorant and emotional responses follow, in which readers and listeners parrot these lines and offer their pronouncements about what life is “really like” for people far less privileged than themselves, and how easily they could solve all their problems if they were as “clever” and “motivated” as rich white suburbanites.

If there’s one thing that the media has gotten right about these riots, it’s the many vague references to “underlying tensions”. Social problems like poverty and racism cannot be expected to simmer indefinitely simply because those in power don’t feel like dealing with them. They can’t be solved with bullets, beatings or jail time, but they can get much worse if that’s tried. People, in general, don’t respond well to threats and intimidation – sooner or later, hatred and rage conquer fear.

Maintaining our social structure with violence means maintaining a social structure of violence. And that will never be sustainable.

Greece’s debt crisis has hit a flashpoint. As European and Greek leaders struggle over whether we’ll see a default and/or a bailout, shockwaves are flowing through European markets and beyond. Since yesterday, protesters have laid siege to Athens’ central Syntagma square and the adjoining parliament buildings, with numbers being quoted in the tens and hundreds of thousands.

The crisis in Greece is not unlike what faces many if not most countries right now – their debts have grown out of control, and the economy is struggling to keep up. Similar debt crises are looming in Spain, Ireland and Portugal, as well as simmering nearly everywhere else in the industrialized world (see America’s debt-ceiling battle), and fears are widespread that one way or the other, this could have drastic consequences for the European Union.

The question is whether to default on a large chunk of this debt (known in the financial world as a “bondholder haircut”) or seek a bailout from the EU’s central banks. The first option would spread pain quickly across European banks, many of whom have billions invested in Greece, and the second would see them take on even more debt on its behalf. The EU and IMF have now offered a new bailout deal, but it’s still depending on the ability of the government to pass controversial austerity measures.

Like all good debt crises, especially those where the IMF is involved, the immediate solutions involve gutting workers rights, public services and the national economy in general. These “austerity” proposals have once again infuriated the public and enormous protests and a general strike have erupted, with crowds measured in the tens or hundreds of thousands. Police have attempted to clear crowds, but have been confronted with rioters throwing everything from food to molotov cocktails.

Demands are coming in for the resignation of Papandreou, who has fired his cabinet. Defiantly, he’s pledging to press on with austerity measures, but as he’s getting little support from the conservative side parliament, it seems very likely he may have to make good on his offer to resign.

Once again, we’re seeing dramatic evidence that the world’s economy is walking a tightrope right now. Most big markets are now hitting their lowest points in many months or even a year. The bailouts managed to put off a total meltdown, but only by making the fundamental problem much worse. We’re now seeing the costs of this explosion of public debt, and the political fallout as they’re spread around. This system is not sustainable, and never has been, but only now are we beginning to see it really hit limits. Behind all of this debt-based spending is a much larger crisis looming, which is already taking a huge toll on balance sheets. As I write this, many markets are in freefall, and that’s something we may need to get used to for a while.

Brace yerselves folks, we’re in for a very bumpy summer.

In response to all of the public cries over rowdy protests at the G20, I thought it wise to point out that rioting can and has changed the world, many times.

1. Stonewall Riots – 1969, New York – In response to a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a prominent Greenwich Village gay bar, and to the general tactic of targetting gays, lesbians and transgendered folk, all of the above rioted. The Stonewall Riots are a considered a turning point in the American history of GBLT rights.
LA Times Link

2. Rodney King Riots – 1992, Los Angeles – one of many famous and influential race riots, it was also unbelievably violent – more than fifty people were killed and over a billion dollars of property damage was done after almost a week of rioting. The riots were sparked by video footage of a brutal police beating of Rodney King. After the riots, the officers involved were charged and he was given a large settlement.
Wikipedia Link

3. Seattle WTO Protests – 1999, Seattle – As the World Trade Organization attempted to meet in their city, tens of thousands of protesters managed to halt the summit with a mix of nonviolent tactics (such as blocking roads to the meetings by sitting down in the street) and black block rioting. Seattle made globalization into a household word, and shone the light of day on back-room trade policy dealing. Since Seattle, more than a decade of other protests like it have rocked groups like the IMF, OAS, WEF, G8 and G20.
Zmedia Link

4. Cochabamba Water Wars – 2000, Bolivial – In the face of water privatization policies which were denying water to the city’s poor, a wide array of protests, including a general strike, rocked the city. Demonstrators clashed with police – 70 protesters and over fifty police were injured. In the wake of the “Water Wars”, water privatization was reversed and the people of the city and the protests have since been a global inspiration to other communities fighting water privatization.
Wikipedia Link

5. Haymarket Square – 1886, Chicago
– During a rally in Haymarket Square to support striking workers and argue for shorter workdays, the police ordered the crowd to disperse. A bomb was thrown at police lines (to this date, nobody really knows who threw it), and fierce fighting broke out, with police firing into the crowd. Organizers of the rally were put on trial and convicted on the basis that they were Anarchists and thus they were guilty. Many, including the original August Spies, were put to death. The trial and executions outraged and infuriated workers worldwide, and to this day, we still celebrate May Day to remember them.
Wikipedia Link

6 .Pakistan – 2007 – The assasination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto ignited long-standing outrage at Pakistan’s brutal and corrupt military dictator, Perez Musharraf, and riots quickly spread across the country. This highlighted Musharraf’s tyranny to the world, and by the end of the next year he had been deposed by a coalition government.
Wikipedia Link

7. Argentina – 2001 – After years of failing economic policy and interference by groups like the IMF, the Argentinian people took to the streets throughout the nation and the government was forced to declare a state of siege. President Fernando de la Rua was forced to step down and flee by helicopter on national television. The new government was forced into economic and social reforms, and the protests stood as an example to developing nations all over the world.
Wikipedia Link

8. DNC – 1968, Chicago – At the height of America’s hippy rebellion in the 1960s, massive protests broke out around the Democratic National Convention, to protest the two-party rule which still strangles democracy in their country. And the shooting death of a black youth, Dean Johnson, by police, ignited a generation’s rage over civil rights and the war in Vietnam. Hundreds rioted in the streets of Chicago for days, injuring over a hundred and fifty cops. The trial that ensued caused the “Chicago Seven” national celebrity – figures who are still famous, like Abbie Hoffman.
wikipedia Link

9. Gastown Police Riot – 1971, Vancouver – prompted by a wave of police drug raids, a group of peaceful demonstrators staged a smoke-in to protest the drug war in Maple Tree Square and were attacked by police. In what has since been called a “police riot” by a federal inquiry, the cops attacked everyone in sight and vastly overstepped their boundaries. Protesters fought back with rocks and bottles, and the The Battle of Maple Tree Square has been rememberd since as a precedent-setting case of police brutality.
Historyofrights.com Link

10 .Tibet – 2008 – After decades of brutal Communist occupation, a large group of Buddhist monks attempted yet another peaceful protest for Tibetan Independence. Chinese police attacked and sparked weeks of rioting across occupied Tibet. With the world’s focus on China thanks to the Olympics, this brought a renewed worldwide attention to a free Tibet.
Wikipedia Link

(A note on Wikipedia sources: I recognize that wikipedia isn’t a terribly radical or academic source, but I like using it because it shows a fairly good glimpse of publicly recognized history.)

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