It's easier to throw a rock through a window and feel pleased with yourself for a few minutes than it is to work toward building a better world.
By Ryan McGreal
Published March 07, 2018
The perpetrators of last Saturday's riot of vandalism in Durand Neighbourhood and Locke Street South dressed in black and wore masks, and the only statement they made was a banner reading "We Are The Ungovernable", an anarchist slogan that has turned up in previous anti-establishment protests in Hamilton.
The attack coincided with last weekend's Hamilton Anarchist Bookfair, and the police have since stated that they have evidence linking the attack with the event. The tactics used - black-clad rioters marching through a neighbourhood shooting fireworks and throwing rocks - exactly matched the footage that was used to make a promotional video for the Bookfair.
The organization behind that video is The Tower, an anarchist space on Cannon Street East that takes a hard line against gentrification and advocates direct action to attack what it regards as the inherently exploitive system of capitalist liberal democracy governing Canadian society.
Posts by an entity called The Hamilton Institute, which seems to be connected to The Tower, have specifically advocated for propaganda, graffiti and vandalism against businesses that are believed to be contributing to gentrification, and have claimed credit for previous acts of vandalism against businesses around the James North and Barton Street area, as well as a realtor in Westdale.
To be clear, there does not appear to be any direct evidence linking the riot with The Tower, but the circumstances warrant careful investigation.
After nearly four days of deafening silence on the riot, The Tower has finally issued a formal statement on its Facebook page, and the statement is problematic:
First, no, the actions on Locke and Aberdeen on Saturday night were not organized by the Tower, but yes, we support what happened and are in solidarity with those who carried them out.
It starts out tone-deaf and goes downward from there:
All the dramatics from Locke St show that they expected not only to make money pursuing their self-interest and ignoring its impacts on others, they expected to also be loved for it.
It allows that small, independent business owners are not "the main driver of gentrification and the suffering it brings", but that they deserve to be attacked anyway because they have "put themselves on the side of the speculators and landlords, positioning themselves to profit off forces that harm most of their neighbours."
The anonymous author hints that they might have "tactical criticisms" about the riot, but remain "in solidarity with everyone who resists the dominant powers in this city" and "oppose all repression and all collaboration with the police."
The statement also asserts that The Tower has been attacked twice since Saturday night: a smashed front window and a raid that overturned their bookshelves, which they attribute to "far-right goons"
Window smashed at The Tower
If true, this is unfortunate. Two wrongs don't make a right, and retaliatory violence does nothing to further the cause of justice or fairness.
Of course, buried in the statement's ethical contortions to celebrate violence without taking responsibility for it, some genuine points are raised about the crisis of inequality and injustice in Hamilton.
Gentrification is an extremely complex, multi-layered issue that does not resolve nicely into dogmatic class-warfare analysis, but there is no question that the urban revitalization dynamics unleashed in Hamilton over the past few years have distributed their benefits and costs unevenly.
This is a real crisis for people who are being squeezed out of their homes by rising prices or, more directly, evicted by landlords looking to raise rental prices, and as a city we are not doing nearly enough to understand what is going on, let alone to address and mitigate it effectively.
We need to have a serious conversation about how to reinvest in urban neighbourhoods without driving out the people already living there. Unfortunately, last Saturday's riot makes that task more difficult, by turning the violence and vandalism into the story.
As for the attackers themselves, we still don't know who they are but I am not persuaded for a moment that they were marginalized victims of gentrification struggling for recognition. The attack looks exactly like the work of bourgeois radicals looking for cathartic kicks.
Meaningful civic advocacy is hard work. It involves organizing, building relationships, listening carefully, finding common ground across sectors, developing policy tools and engaging in constructive exercises to raise awareness and build democratic constituency that can effect change.
Unfortunately, the branch of Hamilton's anarchist community that advocates rock-throwing has already foreclosed the potential of engaging in more constructive dialogue and capacity building.
In a bizarre exercise of gotcha logic, the manifesto published at The Hamilton Institute and plastered around downtown a couple of years ago rationalizes away every effort to make our society more humane, inclusive and just by claiming that such efforts merely legitimize the system of capitalist exploitation.
They oppose public services like transit, affordable housing and health care because they merely serve to make us "more valuable to the capitalists while also experiencing less starkly the fact of our oppression."
They dismiss democracy as a "smothering blanket" under which people who oppose development "contribute to its legitimacy" by "obligingly stepping into the role of loyal opposition".
Instead of doing the hard work of organizing, this group advocates "a purely negative approach" in order to "bring fault lines to the surface and force the contradictions that urbanists and leftists try to plaster over."
That approach entails attacking developers, rejecting the arts, refusing to go to trendy places, refusing to support transit, and refusing to participate in charity. Instead, they advocate graffiti, propaganda, vandalism and sabotage.
And what happens once those contradictions have surfaced and we cannot ignore them any longer? With what do we replace the messy collage of capitalism and liberal democracy in which we live today?
That's where the manifestos and propaganda pieces fall silent. It's easier to throw a rock through a window and feel pleased with yourself for a few minutes than it is to work toward building a better world.
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