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.
By TreyS (registered) | Posted March 07, 2018 at 16:16:58
This is pure Ryan, pure genius. "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.". Thanks Ryan.
By AlHuizenga (registered) | Posted March 08, 2018 at 07:54:16
I don’t much agree with The Tower people – whenever you find yourself advocating against improved public infrastructure, you got to give your head a shake – but the statement does get at a truth that I feel like you’re stepping around.
While of course meaningful civic advocacy involves organizing and listening and bridge building, it’s also about power. We organize to build a movement with a voice that’s loud enough to demand change effectively, that’s impossible to ignore.
That serious conversation about how to reinvest in urban neighborhoods without driving out the people already living there won’t happen because we’ve taken a positive approach and made a good case. It’ll happen because a large enough network of powerful enough constituents are demanding it, and the people in a position to implement positive change are too scared not to.
Smashing shop windows is deeply stupid, but its whole appeal is that its a shortcut to power – a fleeting and illusory power, no doubt, immediately satisfying but eventually self-destructive. But at least it’s an honest acknowledgement that power is at the root of what we’re talking about here.
Gentrification hurts poor people disproportionately, and in that sense it does indeed resolve nicely into a class-warfare analysis: people of means are profiting by committing violence against poor people. Just because it’s reductive doesn’t mean it’s not true.
The collage of capitalism and liberal democracy that we live in isn’t just messy, it’s violent. How do those of us who survive and thrive in this collage justify our lives to ourselves? Just like author of the statement, most of us engage in “ethical contortions to celebrate violence without taking responsibility for it”, pretty much all the time.
That’s why the window smashing scares us so much. It reminds us of the violence that we’re all trying to ignore, every day. Look at all the heated law-and-order rhetoric in the wake of the action: The marchers are “thugs” and “scum” who better watch out because the police are coming for them. The Tower people are suspect because they refuse to fall in line and denounce the activity, or because they refuse to cooperate with police. Suddenly we’re all blind authoritarians, baying for blood. That’s problematic too.
By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted March 08, 2018 at 13:38:37 in reply to Comment 122526
You and your scarf-in-the-summer ilk want these guys to be The Underground. You want them to be The French Resistance because if they were just the White Middle Class Virgin Brigade out for a blast on a Saturday night it wouldn't suit your style. It would be embarrassing.
You want Shakespeare in the Park, not some homeless guy jerking off in the bushes...
By KevinLove (registered) | Posted March 08, 2018 at 13:20:51 in reply to Comment 122526
The collage of capitalism and liberal democracy that we live in isn’t just messy, it’s violent. How do those of us who survive and thrive in this collage justify our lives to ourselves?
Would you care to be a little more specific about just what is "violent" about our "collage of capitalism and liberal democracy"? Being poor is not fun, but scarcely makes one a victim of violence.
By AlHuizenga (registered) | Posted March 08, 2018 at 14:06:26 in reply to Comment 122531
Being poor and marginalized very commonly makes one a victim of violence.
By KevinLove (registered) | Posted March 08, 2018 at 21:27:56 in reply to Comment 122534
Source? Please be so kind as to provide evidence that poor people in a capitalist liberal democracy are more likely to be the victims of violence than poor people in other economic and social systems.
By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted March 08, 2018 at 11:26:09 in reply to Comment 122526
You give these guys way too much credit. Hamilton 2018 is light years away from Petrograd February 1917.
Just because you feel you are slighted doesn't mean you are correct.
By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted March 08, 2018 at 09:19:56 in reply to Comment 122526
Probably worst effect of the rioters actions was that it brought every pretentious pseudo-intellectual out of the closet to 'share their ideas'. Urrrghh even typing 'share their ideas' gives me the shivers.
What pissed me off the most - and Ryan hit the nail on the head - is that these guys were dicks out for kicks.
And I feel like I know them. When I was growing up I was poor. My dad was a refugee who's first language was not English, my mom was/is legally blind. Dad worked on Hillyard St as a general labourer and was laid off frequently (almost every year). He worked odd jobs to make ends meet.
Let's got to the point. In high school I was a metalhead. Most lower/middle class white males were. However, I also loved punk. In my day it was the Sex Pistols / Exploited / Forgotten Rebels (yay Hamilton!) but I could never dress like one. I couldn't afford it. Some kids could tho. Knee high docs ran you about $400. Leather jacket about the same. My clothes were from Bi-way. Anyone here remember Bi-way? It was like Walmart without the style. However, I did have a jean jacket and I made my own Eddie patch - drew it myself - and sewed it on myself because I couldn't afford to buy one.
Anyway, back to the punks. They had the boots and they had the jackets. They had mom and dads car. They had the studs (also $$$) and often cool hipster parents who loved their children expressing themselves.
Those same privileged punks screamed at cops, piled into moms car on the weekend to go to TO to sit on sidewalk and spange and generally had a blast playing the part.
Until proven otherwise - and I don't believe it will be - these well written anarchists are those punks. They DON'T DESERVE to feel the anger they say they feel. They haven't lived it. From their actions it is obvious to me that they don't get it. The violence they perpetrated has little to nothing to do with inequality or whatever else. They've used poverty as an excuse to throw a fit and that, ya, pisses me off.
By alhuizenga (registered) | Posted March 08, 2018 at 09:51:07 in reply to Comment 122527
We don't know anything about the culprits at this point.
By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted April 06, 2018 at 10:41:23 in reply to Comment 122528
Peter Hopperton 31 years old has been arrested ... again. Here's an enlightening blurb from the LAST time this guy was arrested about 8 years ago:
His conditions say he is under house arrest. He must live with his mother and father at their $500,000 North York home or their Georgian Bay-area cottage and he cannot leave the home without them but for an emergency. He cannot contact any of his co-accused or anyone from AWAL (Anti-War at Laurier) or anyone from Southern Ontario Anarchist Resistance (SOAR), of which he is alleged to be a leader. He is not to organize or attend any protests.
Earlier in the day, a G20 co-accused was handed bail in less than an hour. And his mother and father only had to put up $50,000.
So, I think I pretty much nailed it.
By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted March 08, 2018 at 09:59:50 in reply to Comment 122528
We know they had cars. Not many poor people have those unless of course they borrowed mommy's car. Oh, and we know they were also able to afford to buy and simply discard shitloads of clothing. Whose credit card did that go on I wonder? 30 pairs of black pants - even at a bargain of 20 per pair = $600 ...
Give me a efing break...
Comment edited by ergopepsi on 2018-03-08 10:02:31
By KevinLove (registered) | Posted March 08, 2018 at 13:24:23 in reply to Comment 122529
I would be willing to bet dollars to doughnuts (from Donut Monster, of course), that the vandals are NOT from poor families.
During my 16 years service in the Canadian Army, I had the honour to command five recruit and basic training courses. The identical terms of the above wager are given for the assertion that the typical Army recruit comes from a much poorer family than the families of the vandals.
I am also the Treasurer and a member of the Board of Directors of Micah House, which provides short-term housing to refugees upon their initial arrival in Canada. Very few of whom are wealthy.
In short, I have had a great deal of experience of actual, genuine poor people. Very few of whom are inclined to be vandals and break things. Instead, they tend to work hard to try to build, not break. To improve their lot in life. And are very grateful (particularly refugees!) that they are in a country where everyone has an opportunity to do just that.
Comment edited by KevinLove on 2018-03-08 13:34:30
By AlHuizenga (registered) | Posted March 08, 2018 at 14:10:21 in reply to Comment 122532
Given your extensive experience, you've been very fortunate to only come across hard-working and grateful poor people.
By KevinLove (registered) | Posted March 08, 2018 at 16:24:49 in reply to Comment 122535
Your use of the word "only" is inappropriate. Please re-read what I wrote. I wrote "very few" and "tend to."
Perhaps you would also be interested in acquiring some experience working with refugees. Tonight, March 8, is the Annual General Meeting of the members of Micah House. As the Treasurer, I will be presenting the Financial Statements to the members. The Volunteer Coordinator will also be there, and would be delighted to hear you volunteer to help.
We meet at 7:00 PM at Wentworth Baptist Church. This is at 120 Wentworth North, at the intersection of Cannon and Wentworth.
Hope to see you there!
Comment edited by KevinLove on 2018-03-08 16:27:08
By Wentworth (registered) | Posted March 15, 2018 at 16:16:22
A shame that they've chosen to absent themselves from civic dialogue.
Comment edited by Wentworth on 2018-03-15 16:31:04
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