The following is a letter to the editor published in the Summer 2012 edition of The RoundTable, a publication of the St. Louis Catholic Worker Community.
I appreciated the latest issue about the occupation movement. It seems to me that the Roundtable offers a practice of concrete analysis of current social movements and discussion of how we can effectively engage with them that is sorely needed within the Catholic Worker.
I particularly appreciated “Reclaiming Our Spaces” which highlighted the possibility of building and maintaining autonomy from the State and its complex systems of violence and domination. It highlighted concrete moments of struggle, such as the street battles and occupations in Oaxaca in 2006, as visions of the way ruptures of the norm can lead to moments of liberation and experimentation.
Also interesting to me was “Nonviolence, Catholic Worker Style: Misunderstood, Irrelevant, or Revolutionary?” Although there is so much I could say about this article, I want to highlight one sentence that was particularly refreshing to me: “Our attitudes and disposition toward the fist of the state, especially the military and police, come into play here…As pacifists…we oppose these two institutions and their basis in coercion and violence.”
Although this may appear common sense, in my experience of more than six years of involvement with the Catholic Worker, it appears that within the nonviolent movement a firm opposition to the police and the State power they wield is extremely rare. I believe that this absence, the lack of analytical clarity it is rooted in, and the practical implications it has for action in the real world, are the most potent roadblocks to the development of a truly oppositional nonviolent movement.
The examples are everywhere: “Peace Police” (nonviolent protesters who snitch to the police about acts of property destruction during protests); the tradition of legitimizing State power by doing actions and then waiting to be arrested; proponents of nonviolence who obscure the role of the police, prison guards and other agents of the State by pointing out that “we all maintain the system;” allegedly nonviolent communities who lack a firm commitment to not calling the police. There exists everywhere an unwillingness to recognize the State for what it is and to maintain a clear opposition to it and the violence inherent in its existence.
For the nonviolent movement to be relevant and effective in combating violence and domination in the world, it must adopt an analysis of State power that leads to the recognition that calling the police is totally at odds with a commitment to nonviolence.
The concrete reality is that introducing the police into a crisis puts us all at risk. We’ve seen it a thousand times: the police respond to a domestic violence call and end up handcuffing and locking up the survivor, they intervene in a scuffle and beat and bloody both parties worse than they ever would have done to each other, they respond to a sexual assault and rape the survivor again, they are good-naturedly called to help someone in need, and that person is then arrested on an outstanding warrant, beaten for saying the wrong thing, or deported due to their “immigration status.”
The theoretical background to this is that in the U.S. the interlocking systems of State, capitalism, and the innumerable apparatuses* they wield, together create the most comprehensive and powerful system of organized violence, domination and control the world has ever seen. Their violence should be our focus first because no other manifestations of violence in our world come close to rivaling these systems. And second because together they represent the crystallization of all forms of domination into our lives. In other words, without these systems we may imagine the freedom to autonomously organize ourselves in a way that allows us to resist violence and domination. But their existence ensures that will will never have the capacity to move freely or to openly experiment with solutions to these problems.
There are some inspiring examples of opposition to the police within the Catholic Worker. Some communities are committed to not calling the police because of the immigration status of their guests or because of their first-hand experiences of police violence. Some refuse the presence of weapons in their houses and drop-in centers, which manifests in their attempting to prevent police from entering. I’m looking forward to these currents deepening, and our critical reflection on these topics remaining rigorous.
In love and solidarity,
* the tools they use control us in our daily lives, such as the way they divide us and pit us against each other based on their invented and forced race and gender categories and the daily horrors of racism and sexism that result.