Monday, December 30, 2013

Seeing Racism in a Colorblind Society

Image Courtesy of Psychology Today

All over the place people have been saying time and again that they want a ‘color-blind’ society, to not have to deal with racism or race anymore. They consistently quote Dr. King, saying that they want to be able to judge someone by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. Many argue that the way to do this is to develop a color-blind society that ignores color. While some may hail this as a noble effort, they fail to see the downsides and how arguing for a color-blind society actually supports white supremacy.

One of the potential downsides to a color-blind society is that, ironically, it could actually foster an atmosphere that allows racism to continue. In a society that no longer sees color, what is the use for anti-discriminatory policies much less hate crimes legislation? Theoretically, there would be no need for such policies as people would not be judged on their race/ethnicity, at least, not on a blatantly discriminatory level. No hate crimes legislation would allow for racist attacks to be perpetrated against individuals without acknowledging that the act was especially heinous. The absence of anti-discrimination laws would allow for businesses to discriminate against minority groups without punishment.

Another potential downside would be the absence of affirmative action/equal opportunity policies, which have been a major benefit to minority communities (even if white women are the main beneficiaries[1]). The purpose of affirmative action is to “ensure that qualified individuals have equal access to opportunity and are given a fair chance to contribute their talents and abilities”[2] yet with AA/EO gone, it could take away even the chance of minorities and women getting a shot at going to certain colleges or attaining certain jobs. This would only increase the racial/gender disparities in regards to visibility in a field and wage disparities.

The argument of a ‘color-blind’ society would actually harm the classroom as well. Most of our history focuses on white people, specifically white men, with token acknowledgements being given to people of color and women. In a color-blind society, we would still be focusing on those same white men, but the situation would be different in that already marginalized groups could be completely ignored or changes made to the language used which results in hiding the true horrors of what occurred, as we have seen happening in the past years.[3] The same would be true for culture, as the cultural heritage of minorities could be ignored in favor of pushing a ‘color-blind’ culture which in reality is the white-dominated culture we currently have today in America.

Overall, the idea of color-blindness is deeply problematic as rather than attacking the roots of racism in our society and the negative impact racism has, color-blindness chooses to ignore it and continue the oppression and marginalization of entire peoples. Only by challenging racism on all levels, from institutionalized racism to micro-aggressions can we actually dismantle racism as an institution and truly liberate ourselves.


1: North Caroline State University Affirmative Action in Employment Training, Who Are The Intended Beneficiaries of Affirmative Action?,

2: Southeastern Oklahoma State University, Affirmative Action,

3: Amanda Paulson, “Texas textbook war: 'Slavery' or 'Atlantic triangular trade'?,” Christian Science Monitor, May 19, 2010 (

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Political Language of Torture

Image Courtesy of The Liberty Hub

Torture is known as the use of physical force to extract information. It is consistently thought of in that manner, physical, whether it be pulling out fingernails or waterboarding someone. While torture expanded in recent years to being mental as well, in the form of temperature/food manipulation and isolation, torture is rarely thought of as having a linguistic quality to it as well. From ancient times to today, words have been used to define and redefine torture within a certain context and overall used as political language. Yet, not only does the way in which torture changes linguistically need to be taken into account, but also the effects of the words themselves and the subsequent shifts in language. This is quite problematic as it creates a situation in which governments can abuse their power for their own ends and in doing so, suppress dissention and make it easier to torture those who disagree with them.

Before going into the linguistic history of torture, we must first define what political language is. Simply put, political language is the use of language in the political realm, but this is rather special as it involves the twisting or bastardization of language rather than using blunt outright speech. Essentially it is the use of language for political ends, which in many cases can mean using exceptionally vague language to describe certain policies. Such use of speech can be seen on a regular basis, one only need to look at the news to get examples. Look at former President Bush’s use of the term ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ to describe the manner in which we tortured detainees. Such language is couched in the language, ideas, and reputation of science which allows it to be accepted among the public and deemed legitimate while obscuring the fact that the EITs were torture, yet that will be discussed later on in greater detail.

The use of torture has a rather long history, stretching back to the days of ancient Greece and Rome. During that time period, torture was used rather frequently; however, it was limited in scope upon who it could be used against. Within the Greek legal system, citizenship played a major factor into whether or not one was allowed to go to court, much less be subject to torture. Citizenship was thus “greatly strengthened” by such protections as “[limiting] the degree of coercion which [the citizen] might be subjected to, as well as the nature of evidence that might be used against [them], or by [them] against another free citizen.”[1]  With citizenship came honor, which also served as a deterrent against being a victim of torture. Of those that could be tortured, there were slaves and in some cases foreigners.

The refusal to use torture against Greek citizens in some ways parallels early Roman law, however, eventually Roman citizens could be subject to torture “in cases of treason under the Empire, and then in a broader and broader spectrum of cases determined by imperial order.”[2] Yet, even in the Empire, there was a distinction among citizens of who could and could not be tortured. Roman citizenry were divided into two classes, “Honestores, or first-class citizens, [who] could not be tortured except in cases of treason, but humiliores, or second-class citizens, [who] could be tortured in criminal cases, if the crime was serious and some evidence already existed to indicate guilt.”[3]

The difference between Greek and Roman law is rather interesting in that it reflects a respect of citizenship and honor, linking the two in protections from the use of state violence. However, as Rome became an empire, this protection was divvied up among the citizenry. This shows not only an increase in the use of state violence and potentially an acquiescence of the people, but also how the rise of Empire is reflected not solely in a change in the use of force abroad, but also the use of force at home. With the republic being restructured politically and economically into an empire, with an increase in hierarchical structures of authority, there was also an increase in hierarchy on a social level domestically with the separation of who could and could not be tortured. Thus, it may that as Roman society became more and more politically structured, social relations became more and more stratified, with some having more privilege than others.

The legal landscape changed during the Middle Ages, as the Church gained political power and the Inquisition took place. A legal revolution occurred in the twelfth century, which was caused by a number of factors. One of the most important factors was the upholding of confession as the “queen of proofs.”[4]  This focus on confession was the result of a legal revolution that left two doctrines of proof on which a person could be condemned: eyewitness evidence by at least two people or confession. This actually led back to a revival of torture as

Without a confession or two eyewitnesses, then, there was only a graded combination of partial proofs available to the judge and hence no chance of conviction. To overcome the lack of second eyewitnesses and the presence of many but never sufficient [circumstantial evidences], the courts had to return to the one element that made full conviction and punishment possible: confession. And to obtain confession, torture again was once invoked[.] [5]
Yet while torture was used, it was utilized in a way much different than the Roman Empire had used it.
While torture was used in by the Church, it was used not as a means of proof, but a means to extract a confession. While the Church was a religious organization, its methodology n the application of torture was surprisingly based in careful planning and logic. The Church had an entire procedure to approach torture which included that before the accused was tortured, “the court had to be reasonably convinced that a confession would be obtained.”[6]

The language used by the Church to refer to torture is rather striking. While a number of terms existed, a widely used term that referred to torture was quaestio (literally, the question), which was defined as “the torment and suffering inflicted on the body in order to elicit the truth.”[7]

Similar to the Romans, the Catholic Church also had a stratified society in which there was a distinction between who could and could not be tortured, “known criminals and the ‘lowest of men,’ vilissimi homines” as it was believed that those who lived honestly were unable to “be corrupted by grace, favor, or money,”[8]  and thus their testimony could be accepted on face value. What can be seen here is the continuance of this idea of honor allowing one to remain free from torture.

While Romans could be tortured for treason against the state and the Church tortured to attain confessions, the situation began to change in the early 17th century in Europe as the political landscape shifted and the idea of the nation expanded from the monarch or group of ruling elite to the idea of treason being an act which betrayed the nation as a whole. This can be seen in France during the French Revolution.

The idea of lèse-majesté was based on the thinking that the king was the physical embodiment of the nation itself and that any “assaults against the monarch in his public personality and, as such, against all his wards who constituted, beneath him, the nation.”[9]  There is also a religious aspect to this form of treason which linked the king to God and this viewed all crimes against the king to be “an offense committed directly against God, such as apostasy, heresy, witchcraft, simony, sacrilege, and blasphemy.” [10] Yet, this began to change during the French Revolution. Due to intellectuals such as Montesquieu and Beccaria, the people’s opinion of the state as well as treason changed.

The public’s “growing repulsion over the perpetration of agonizing torture and barbarian modes of execution for delicts of expression of opinion or against property” as well as “the mutation of the concept of treason itself in the light of the new understanding of the ‘nation,’ its composition and center of gravity,”[11]  resulted in a massive political change during the French Revolution. Such ideas had a major impact on the French bourgeoisie, the main proponents and beneficiates of the French Revolution, that they restructured the recreation of the state around themselves rather than the king. The middle class put itself “in place of the king as a subject representing society, no longer in the eyes of God but in its own regard.” [12]

This reorientation of society allowed for anyone to be accused of treason and it offers a contrast to the Roman application of torture, within the framework of the Empire. Due to the change of lèse-majesté to lèse-nation, what resulted was a reform and in the case of the idea and position of the monarch, out right destruction, of many hierarchical institutions and them being replaced with institutions based upon the inhabitants of a country.

While the view of state power changed in Europe throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, the use of state violence in the form of torture would eventually find its way back to a handful of individuals as can be seen in the form of the CIA and its research and use of torture. However, there was a major shift in the nature of torture as it moved to a science to obtain information rather than solely as a means to attain a confession.

This shift took place during the beginning of the Cold War, when the CIA was attempting to discover tactics which would allow them to more easily obtain information and achieve an advantage over the Soviet Union. To these ends, the CIA “led a massive, secret research effort to crack the code of human consciousness, a veritable Manhattan Project of the mind,”[13]  resulting in billions of dollars per year in costs.

The CIA heavily researched mind control and funded programs such as Project Bluebird, which of one of the main objectives was to investigate “the possibility of control of an individual by application of special interrogation techniques.”[14]  In order to examine mind control, the CIA began using psychedelic drugs such as LSD on US soldiers and the number of patients expanded under Project Artichoke, the new name of Project Bluebird assigned in 1951 and finally MKULTRA in 1953.

Much of the research for these projects was done at reputable institutions such as Harvard and Cornell universities, with staff working in concert with the CIA. One example of this is Dr. Harold Wolff at Cornell who asked the CIA to “provide him with all its information regarding ‘threats, coercion, imprisonment, deprivation, humiliation, torture, brainwashing, black psychiatry, hypnosis, and combinations of these, with or without chemical agents.”[15]  This information would be analyzed and used to formulate new methods to extract information which would be tested in studies.

The information on torture was furthered with the help of the US military who found that, at least according to one study, seventy percent of American prisoners of war worked with the North Korean forces. Upon interviewing many POWs, it was found that the Koreans had used stress positions, such as forced standing, combined with sleep deprivation in order to get the Americans to comply. This information was then used to formulate and implement stress programs that would familiarize US soldiers with such torture as well as give them ways to resist.

The use of mainstream universities and professors allowed for the programs to be based in a realm of legitimacy due to the prestige of such schools. It also simultaneously gave the programs a scientific air because of the manner in which the programs were analyzed and examined as well as that experiments were conducted by university faculty based in the scientific method.

It was this methodology and connection between universities and the CIA that gave rise to the idea that torture, for the goal of obtaining information, was a science, something that could be precise, measured, and was based in rationality. However, while torture may have been viewed as scientific due to the legitimacy of the institutions that it was produced in, it is important to realize that torture isn’t a science at all.

While the more psychological torture that was seen in the Korean War and has been seen in modern times, in Iraq, Afghanistan, and abroad, may make it seem that torture is scientific, in reality that is far from the truth.  This can be shown in a number of ways. For example, if torture was scientific, then it would be possible to calculate the amount of pain each person needed to experience for them to hand over information. However, “torturers know that human beings differ unpredictably in their abilities to endure extreme pain. They know that hardcore revolutionaries display ‘an unheard of physical resistance.”[16]  This is actually problematic from the torturer’s point of view because it is precisely these radicals that they are attempting to get information from.

Essentially, the idea that torture is scientific is nothing but a myth based on ideas about pain. These ideas assume that humans operate in a utilitarian fashion, looking to maximize pleasure while minimizing pain. However, this doesn’t factor in that people will be dedicated to not giving any information whatsoever and thus deal with the pain.

In addition to this, for torture to be a science, it would require at least “general rules, fixed in advance, that identify the correct choice in particular situations. It also requires a unit that is commeasurable regardless of its source,”[17]  in order to measure the pain. Thus, it lacks even the bare basics to even be argued as a science.

Torture may not be able to be defined as a science, yet the very definition of torture has been subject to heated debates over the past several decades and a number of politically motivated changes, starting with the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT). The CAT defines torture as

severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.[18]
The CAT was presented to the President Reagan to sign. The CAT’s definition of torture presented problems for Reagan as by that definition, the training used on US soldiers and the techniques used by its allies Britain and Israel were torture. To get around this, Reagan’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) essentially rewrote the definition of torture and added several provisions with the intent of allowing the US to continue using torture in training and torture as a tactic.

Reagan’s OLC took issue with the definition of torture and stated that the US understood torture as “a deliberate and calculated act of an extremely cruel and inhumane nature” and that acts such as “sensory deprivation, forced beatings, and sexual humiliation”[19]  were not within that scope. The concept of specific intent was also used, in which it was stated that in order for an act to constitute torture, one had to specifically want to inflict harm upon another for no other reason than to inflict harm. Using torture as a way to get information did not fall under the specific intent rule because, according to Reagan’s OLC, the goal of torture for the US was to get information, not inflict harm.

The OLC also rewrote Article 16 of the CAT which argued for the prevention of cruel, degrading or inhumane treatment. The OLC defined such treatment as falling under the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments in the US Constitution. This is highly problematic as not only does it allow for treatment to occur that would deemed as cruel, degrading and inhumane under the CAT, but is completely legal in the US, but also it protects the perpetrators of torture as it allows for the US Supreme Court to decide what constitutes such treatment and it is rather unlikely that they will pass a sentence which results in the US being seen as having violated the treaty.

 The OLC took the issue of the definition of torture further under Bush, Sr. Bush’s OLC stated that the US defined torture, in part, as using techniques to “inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering” and that such pain “refers to prolonged mental suffering” from procedures that “disrupt profoundly the senses or personality.”[20]  This essentially created a loophole in which procedures could be administered which would result in the senses of the personality being profoundly disrupted, such as isolation, forced standing, humiliation, or extreme deprivation, but had to actually result in cause prolonged mental harm to constitute torture. In other words, you can be in forced isolation for months, but it isn’t considered torture because the US pretends to not know if it results in prolonged mental harm or not, even when the available information clearly states that it does.[21]

There is also a problem with the definition of torture in regards to how it is used to protect the ones doing the torture. After the horrific events in Abu Ghraib were revealed, the accused soldiers defended their actions by arguing that their actions did not count as torture as “the ‘control of environmental factors such as light, food, clothing, and temperature’ and ‘the use of stress positions, the removal of clothing, isolation, and sleep deprivation’ as permissible interrogation techniques contextually sanctioned by the US Army.” The Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation did in fact state that such techniques “should neither be confused with, nor construed to be synonymous with, unauthorized techniques such as brainwashing, physical or mental torture.” The use of institutional definitions of torture in order to protect interrogators allows them to “escape not only the stigma of being labeled a torturer but potentially liability altogether.”[22]  This, in addition to the scientific language in which torture is described, allows for the perpetrators to use torture with ease as not only are they convinced of its effectiveness, but they need not worry about being prosecuted because they will be protected.

However, all of this then begs the question: Why would torture be cloaked in scientific language and rhetoric, when it could easily be proven false? By giving torture techniques the idea of being scientific, it not only increases the chances that the public will accept such techniques if the government is ever found out to be engaged in torture, nor solely because it allows the perpetrators of torture to be under the false illusion that what they are doing is legitimate and proven to work, but also because it allows for the power of the state to be increased.

The power of the state was increased and with it changed the political language of terrorism in the wake of 9/11 attacks when Congress passed the Patriot Act which defined domestic terrorism as “activities that involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State” and “appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping and occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”[23]

This language is quite problematic as it takes an international scope in defining terrorism as what may be legal in the US may be illegal somewhere else. But also, how do you define intimidation or coercion?

It was concerns such as these that led the ACLU to decry that the definition of domestic terrorism was “broad enough to encompass the activities of several prominent activist campaigns and organizations” such as “Greenpeace, Operation Rescue, Vieques Island and WTO protesters and the Environmental Liberation Front.”[24]  Such language could allow for activists in groups such as the aforementioned organizations to be accused of terrorism and thus subject to torture.

A similar problem occurred with the 2006 Military Commissions Act which uses the term “unlawful enemy combatant” and describes such a person as someone who “was part of or supporting Taliban or al Qaeda forces, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners. This includes any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported hostilities in aid of enemy armed forces.”[25]

The use of this term comes from the 1942 Quirin case in which eight German-Americans, after undergoing sabotage training in Germany, took a submarine to the US. Four went to Long Island wearing German uniforms and carrying explosives, four went to Ponte Verda Beach, Florida. Shortly after the landings two of the men backed out of the plan while a third turned themselves into the FBI. All eight were charged with eventually found, arrested, and tried by a military commission on the orders of President Roosevelt. Seven of the eight conspirators argued “that the President exceeded his power in ordering the commission and that the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the Constitution protect their rights to a regular trial”[26] and filed for a writ of habeus corpus.

The first attempt failed and the group appealed to the US Supreme Court, where the Court ruled that Roosevelt was in the right as “the conspirators, as spies without uniform whose purpose was sabotage, violated the law of war and were therefore unlawful enemy combatants.”[27]  However, the problem with using this term to refer to terrorists is that within the context of the original case it specifically pertained to Americans who had aided and joined the armed forces of a nation that we were at war with, the Constitutional definition of treason. This cannot be applied to terrorists or Americans who aid terrorists as such organizations are not nation-states with standing armies.

The problem with such language is that “it explicitly includes— but does not limit the definition to—anyone who has ‘committed a belligerent act’ or who has ‘directly supported hostilities in aid of enemy forces’ without further defining the key criteria of belligerent act, direct support, or hostilities.”[28]  Such language, coupled with the definition of domestic terrorism under the Patriot Act, make it quite easy for the government to declare anyone a terrorist for any reason and thus subject them to torture. Thus, American citizens can potentially be victims of torture on a president’s whim if they associate with the wrong person or the wrong groups, with the President deciding who and what organizations are deemed ‘wrong.’

While Obama campaigned on an idea of ‘hope and change,’ he essentially followed the same route by not only expanding the Patriot Act[29] , but essentially keeping the same language in regards to enemy combatants. Obama now uses the term “unprivileged enemy belligerent” which was passed under the Enemy Belligerent Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010 and defines an enemy belligerent as who “has engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners; has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners; or was a part of al Qaeda at the time of the alleged offense under this chapter.”[30]  This is just as vague as the unlawful enemy combatant term, but has the added twist of codifying into law that “if at any point, anywhere in the world, a person is caught who might have done something to suggest that he or she is a terrorist or somehow supporting a terrorist organization against the U.S. or its allies, that person must be imprisoned by the military,"[31]  for an indefinite period of time. Thus, the continuation of the political language of terrorism and torture remains.

The major problems with defining torture to fulfill certain political goals is potentially puts the citizenry in danger, but on a greater level debases the moral standards of the state as a whole. The continued use of torture and the expanding circumstances under which one can potentially be subject to torture risks the death of democracy.


1: Edward Peters, Torture, Rev. ed. (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996), pg 13

2: Peters, pg 18

3: Christopher J. Einolf, “The Fall and Rise of Torture: A Comparative and Historical Analysis,” Sociological
Theory 25:2 (2007), pg 107

4: Peters, pg 41

5: Peters, pg 47

6: Peters, pg 50

7: Peters, pg 55

8: Peters, pgs 47-48

9: G. A. Kelly, “From Lèse-Majesté to Lèse-Nation: Treason in Eighteenth-Century France,” Journal of the
History of Ideas 42:2 (1981), pg 270

10: Ibid

11: Kelly, pg 278

12: Kelly, pg 275

13: Alfred W. McCoy, “Science In Dachau’s Shadow: Hebb, Beecher, and the Development of Modern
CIA Psychological Torture and Modern Medical Ethics,” Journal of Behavioral Sciences 43: 4 (2007), pg 402

14: Michael Otterman, American Torture: From the Cold War to Abu Ghraib and Beyond (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Pluto Press, 2007), pg 21

15: Otterman, pg 24

16: Darius Rejali, Torture and Democracy (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2007), pg 448

17: Rejali, pg 449

18: Human Rights Watch, Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment,

19: Otterman, pg 109

20: Otterman, pg 111

21: Michael Mechanic, “What Extreme Isolation Does to Your Mind,” Mother Jones, October 18, 2012

22: Lisa Yarwood, “Defining Torture: The Potential For Abuse,” Journal of the Institute of Justice & International Studies, Number 8, 2008, pgs 327-328

23: Electronic Privacy Information Center, USA PATRIOT Act (H.R. 3162),

24: American Civil Liberties Union, How the USA PATRIOT Act redefines "Domestic Terrorism,”  (December 6, 2002)

25: Allison M. Danner, “Defining Unlawful Enemy Combatants: A Centripetal Story,” Texas International Law Journal 43:1 (2007), pg 4

26: The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, Ex Parte Quirin, (December 6, 2013)

27: Ibid

28: Danner, pg 5

29: NBC News, Obama, In Europe, Signs Patriot Act Extension, May 27, 2011

30: Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute, 10 USC § 948a - Definitions

31: Liliana Segura, “McCain and Lieberman's ‘Enemy Belligerent’ Act Could Set U.S. on Path to Military Dictatorship,” Alternet, March 18, 2010

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Politics of the 21st Century

Image Courtesy of Global Research

The New Politics of the 21st Century: Global Resistance and Rising Anarchism

A number of occurrences have taken place of the past 13 years since the rise of the new millennium; we have seen and are seeing the rise of popular movements all over the world and a resistance to the forces of imperialism, capitalism, and subjugation, from the most recent Arab Spring to the world’s largest coordinated anti-war protest in history with the global protests against the Iraq War[1], to the rise of the Occupy Movement and the rise of indigenous resistance as can be seen in the Idle No More campaign of Canada’s First Nations population. While not all movements are pushing for the elimination of the state, or even anarchistic in nature, they are rebelling against the current societal structures and creating an opportunity for radical change. What we are seeing around the world is a global resistance that, in some cases, has anarchist undercurrents. We are witnessing the new politics of the 21st century.

While many movements such as the Occupy Movement and the Arab Spring had anarchists and anarchist influences within them, anarchism as a political philosophy is quite misunderstood and some time should be taken to understand it.

Anarchism is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as “The theory that all forms of government are oppressive and should be abolished.”[2] While it does advocate the abolition of the state, anarchism also includes “a heightened and radical critique and questioning of power and authority: if a source of authority cannot legitimize its existence, it should not exist.”[3] This has led to anarchism being critiqued by a number of individuals and an increase in anarchist thought to the point today where there are a large number of anarchist ideas being championed, from anarcho-feminism to queer anarchism to black anarchism.

In the United States, anarchism has had a rather interesting history with regards to not only Occupy, but also the 19th century labor movement as well. Anti-statism isn’t anything new in the US as there have been a large number of crusaders who “condemned [the government] as an oppressive tyranny” when slavery wasn’t abolished in the newly founded country. This abhorrence of slavery and hypocrisy caused “Men like William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips [to renounce] their allegiance to it, John Brown openly declared war upon it, and thousands of others regarded it as unfit to command their respect and loyalty.”[4] The anti-statism only increased in the 19th century with the inclusion of anarchists in the labor movement.

The International Working Men’s Association (IWMA) put forward in its 1866 Congress that the 8-hour day be advocated for. The IWMA “had influence amongst the German-speaking immigrant anarchist and socialist workers of Chicago”[5] and after it was disbanded, the International Working People’s Association, being founded in 1881 by anarchists, took up the struggle.

This struggle for better working conditions culminated is what is known as the 1886 Haymarket Square Riot in which 40,000 workers went on strike to fight for an 8-hour day. The strikes beget protests which beget police confrontation. “On May 3, police fired on strikers who were menacing the strikebreakers at McCormick Harvester, and several strikers were injured. Labor leaders then convened a mass meeting for the following evening at the city's Haymarket Square.”[6] As the peaceful rally ended, the police demanded that it be shut down and someone threw a dynamite bomb towards a group of police to which the police responded with gunfire. The result: seven dead cops and several workingmen injured. A total of eight anarchists were charged, which resulted in seven people being sentenced to death and one life sentence. Two death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment by Illinois governor Richard J. Oglesby, one committed suicide and four were hung.

While anarchism continued until World War 1 with massive anti-war protests occurring, it was eventually forced underground. However, the Occupy movement breathed new life into anarchist ideas. OWS’s focus on “direct action and leaderless, consensus-based decision-making,”[7] embodied into the General Assembly, was an anarchistic aspect of Occupy. It also was anarchistic in its refusal to “recognize the legitimacy of existing political institutions,” “accept the legitimacy of the existing legal order,” and its “embrace of prefigurative politics.”[8] This refusal to recognize the political institutions is anarchistic in nature as usually when protests occur, they appeal to political powers to alleviate their suffering.

By rejecting the two-party system and rather than fighting for a third-party, and instead opting to create a small, autonomous community, OWS rejected the state and worked to create a community based on horizontal as opposed to hierarchical organization. By rejecting the legal order in the form of ignoring “local ordinances that insisted that any gathering of more than 12 people in a public park is illegal without police permission," [9] OWS refused to subjugate itself to the very forces that worked to establish and uphold the current status quo. Occupy embraced political ideas and experimented with them, which resulted in the creation of new institutions, from kitchens to clinics to media centers, but they were consistently built around the ideas of working together, horizontal organization, and voluntary cooperation, all of which are central to anarchist thought.

The Occupy movement is still alive as while the encampments may no longer exist, it has created a number of offshoots and the activists that made up Occupy didn’t disappear, rather they have moved on into other forms of resistance[10], though just not under the Occupy banner. They have even been involved in organizations that have provided large amounts of aid to damaged communities, such as Occupy Sandy, which stepped in when the federal government could not.[11]

Yet, this resistance to the status quo has not just been taking place in America, but also all over the world. In 2008, Zbigniew Brzezinski warned of a global political awakening. In a New York Tines op-ed, he stated “For the first time in history almost all of humanity is politically activated, politically conscious and politically interactive. Global activism is generating a surge in the quest for cultural respect and economic opportunity in a world scarred by memories of colonial or imperial domination.”[12] (emphasis added) This “global activism” is quite real and very well may upend the entirety of the current political, social, and economic systems.

In Brazil, protests have been occurring over issues ranging from inflation to education reform to forced evictions. Among all of this, teachers went to the streets to “demand better wages and school conditions when police decided to disperse the demonstration.”[13] There had already been violent clashes between teachers and police as nights before the protest, several striking teachers that were occupying a city council building in Rio de Janiero were beaten and dragged out by the police. During the demonstration in late October, the police decided to repress the teachers by using heavy-handed tactics such as shooting tear gas canisters. Brazilian anarchists came to the aid of striking teachers by protecting them from state violence, as one teacher Andrea Coelho said "It was the Black Bloc that protected me in that protest.”[14] This protection of teachers has caused the teachers union to declare unconditional support for the black bloc protesters.[15]

These protests in Brazil come amidst a time where, according to Time Magazine, there was “less than 1% growth last year and less than 3% forecast this year compared to 7.5% in 2010” and where its political leaders convinced the world that it “was developed enough to host the soccer World Cup next year and the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, yet seemed so unwilling to show their own people they could improve the country’s pathetically underfunded schools, staffed by just as woefully underpaid and undertrained teachers.”[16] Just last year, a UN study indicated that wealth inequality was increasing with “the richest 20% of the population on average earn 20 times more than the poorest 20%.”[17] It is among this massive increase in wealth inequality on a regional level, along with a corrupt government and lack of educational investment, that the people have finally decided that enough is enough and are demanding there be massive changes to the current system.

In Europe, where in Greek children are starving in order to repay banks, revolt is taking place there as well. In Bulgaria, around 4,000 people demonstrated “calling for an end to the ‘reign of the oligarchy’ and demanding that the nation's government step down to make way for early elections.”[18] They argue that the country is still unstable, unprosperous, and not well governed 24 years after Communist rule was ended. The protest was part of a five-month old anti-government movement that alleges that government has mafia ties. Such accusations are in part true as back in 2008, the European Union’s anti-fraud office was investigating the Nikolov-Stoykov group, a conglomerate with businesses from meat processing and storage to a Black Sea Resort, whose leading partners had connections to the government and has been accused of being a front for a criminal company network comprised of over 50 Bulgarian companies as well as other European and offshore companies.[19] More recently, the European Commission issued a report last year discussing the government-mafia ties in Bulgaria, with puts the blame on “both the executive and the judiciary in Bulgaria, which have been engulfed by power struggles, with each accusing the other of serving the mafia.”[20]

In Italy there have been anti-austerity protests going on for quite some time and the violence has erupted as late last month, police fired tear gas at anti-austerity protesters and at least 16 people, including four officers, were injured and eight protesters were arrested. The protesters were “calling for more affordable housing, better wages and improved conditions for immigrants and refugees, tens of thousands of whom live in a twilight zone of semi-legality in Italy, with many forced to squat in disused buildings or sleep rough.” [21] More protests are continuing in Italy where there have been cuts in education spending and they continue all over Europe as the EU proposes spending cuts in its 2014 budget. [22]

Amidst the talk and fervor of the Arab Spring, anarchist activists were heavily involved in organizing after Mubarak’s ousting. Egyptian anarchist Mohammed Hassan Aazab noted that after Mubarak was gone, they “started gathering, talking to people, printing up writing about our ideas, and organizing meetings in downtown cafes in front of whoever was there.”[23] The organizing continues and the fight against the oppressive Egyptian regime goes on, even as the Egyptian government bans protests of more than ten people without a police permit, effectively an attempt to end all protests.

In Bahrain, the protests against the Sunni monarchy continue as Shiites protest “repression against the opposition amid an ongoing crackdown on the largely peaceful demonstrations.”[24] These protests occur even though the Bahraini government has a history of using violence against peaceful demonstrators, even going so far as killing children.[25] The majority Shiite nation has been repressed for years; they face employment and educational discrimination, have little political representation, and are barred from most government and military positions.[26]

Protests have even hit nations in sub-Saharan Africa, such as Sudan. There, protesters have taken to the street, initially to protests a cut in fuel subsidies, but since the demonstrations have evolved “to wider dissent against the country's leadership after security forces killed at least 50 people [in late September], according to the African Center for Justice and Peace Studies and human rights watchdog Amnesty International.”[27] The Sudanese government so far admits “that 87 people were killed, while activists and rights groups say the number was at least 200.”[28] A main reason why the people began protesting was the fuel subsidies were cut due to the separation between Sudan and South Sudan, which was home to about 75% of Sudan’s oil production. All of this is occurring when “the Sudanese pound hit an all-time low on the key black market on [September 21st] as people sought to shift their savings into hard currency in anticipation of higher inflation.”[29] This increase in inflation, couple with the cut in fuel subsidies, will lead to a situation in which everything is more expensive, but especially food as Sudan is a major food importer.

While quite sparse in certain areas of the region, protests have spread to Asia as well. Overall, “Strikes have become increasingly frequent at privately owned factories in recent years, often involving workers demanding higher wages or better conditions” and technology has helped grow this protest movement as “the explosive growth in the use of home-grown versions of Twitter has made it easy for protesters to convey instant reports and images to huge audiences.”[30] These protests are in response to having low wages and unsafe conditions as the number of millionaires and billionaires in China increases and China has become the world’s second largest economy. Most recently, after the July 2013 floods, the government seems to have taken a rather slow response to addressing the problem, causing flood victims to protest. The Chinese government has responded to these protests by sending out riot police which may have used violence to quell the protesters as “Photographs showed several residents [of Yuyao city] bleeding from the head.”[31]

There are also protests in Thailand, as Thais seek to oust current Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who protesters say control her. Shinawatra’s older brother was wildly unpopular as in 1998 he used his American connections to boost his political image and after coming into office committed Thai troops to aiding the US invasion of Iraq amid protest from both the military and the public[32] and allowed for the CIA to use Thailand for its extraordinary rendition program.[33] More than just this though, Yingluck Shinawatra has also been criticized for “her alleged ignorance, lack of political experience, and tendency to stay adrift of key issues.”[34] Thus, on literally every continent there is resistance to the current political power structures and while many may not be pushing for the end of the state, they are pushing for radical change to the society where the many will benefit rather than the few.

Yet, for all of these protests and uprisings, it would not be complete without a group that has been exploited, ignored, stereotyped, and have been victims of genocide: the indigenous population.

In Canada, Elsipogtog First Nation members located in New Brunswick province have been fighting against fracking plans as neither the government nor industries discussed the issue with them, despite the fact that “Rulings by the Supreme Court of Canada and lower courts have established a duty to consult and accommodate aboriginal people when development is considered on their land, even non-reserve traditional lands.”[35] The First Nations argue that they have never ceded their lands and that the treaties signed in the 1700s were only to acknowledge peace and friendship between the immigrants and the indigenous population. This revolt has culminated in the Idle No More movement which is aimed to protect not only indigenous lands, but also the larger environment in Canada from corporations which aim to use the land for the sole purpose of extracting its resources using harmful techniques such as fracking.

Indigenous resistance is also occurring in Israel. In November 2013, the Israeli parliament moved to begin debating and possibly approving the Prawer Plan. The Prawer Plan, if passed, will result in “the destruction of 35 ‘unrecognized’ Arab Bedouin villages, the forced displacement of up to 70,000 Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel, and the dispossession of their historical lands in the Naqab.”[36] On November 30th, it was reported that “In the Negev village of Houra, clashes broke out at the main demonstration where about 1,200 protesters had gathered,” with protesters eventually throwing stones at Israeli security forces and the police responding with “tear gas, stun grenades and water cannon.”[37] The Arab Bedouins are fighting for the survival of their culture. It is rather interesting that even though they are citizens of Israeli, the Bedouins are still subjugated to the interests of the Jewish majority.

Yet, Canada and Israel are not the only places where the indigenous population is fighting back. In addition to be wracked by protests in regards to education, corruption and a generally inefficient government, Brazil is also witnessing protests from indigenous people. In October, 500 people set up camp in front of Congress to “oppose a constitutional change that would let lawmakers participate in the demarcation of territories. Indigenous people and their supporters say the proposal would allow agricultural interests to encroach on their lands.”[38] The fight of Brazil’s indigenous population to protect their lands has been going on for over a year now, with many of the conflicts resulting in deaths. According to a 2012 report done by the Indigenist Missionary Council, “54 Indians were murdered in 2012, most of them as a result of land conflicts”[39] and the problem only continues into 2013, with a total of three murders occurring.

Yet, what does this all mean? Why does it even matter? This global resistance is extremely important as it reveals to the elites that their façade of democracy and consumerism is falling rapidly a part in the face of lagging economies, high unemployment rates, and a political class that is more concerned with its own personal needs rather than that of the people who they have charge over. It shows the people that they can and must fight back against the current political, social, and economic systems if they are to survive, that they can create new communities and new institutions that don’t rely on the current systems of power and are organized horizontally rather than hierarchically.

These protests show that the people will not sit idly by and let the government serve them on a platter to corporations, or, even worse, neglect to uphold the promises they took to protect the population. These movements represent a mass awakening of humanity which has the potential to radically change the entire landscape of society on a global scale.

We must be willing to fight for as long as it takes to alter society so that rather than serving industry or a small societal elite at the expense of the many, society fosters a climate of peace: peace with each other, peace with the environment, and encourage education and cooperativeness for the good of all while respecting the autonomy of the individual. Most importantly though, we must foster peace within ourselves and not be afraid to engage with those in our immediate area on the issue, for if not, we will risk the continuation of this broken system and lose what may have been a great chance to change the current situation for the better.


1: Phyllis Bennis, “February 15, 2003. The Day the World Said No to War,” Institute For Policy Studies, February 15, 2013 (

2: American Heritage Dictionary, 5th edition, s.v. “anarchism”

3: Devon Douglas-Bowers, On Anarchism: An Interview with Andrew Gavin Marshall, Hampton Institute, (October 2, 2013)

4: Charles A. Madison, “Anarchism in the United States,” Journal of the History of Ideas 6:1 (1945), pg 50

5: International Workers Association, The 8 Hour Day, the Anarchists and the IWPA: Haymarket and the Radicalization of Labour Demands in the 1880s, (May 6, 2013)

6: David Greenberg, “Anarchy in the US: A Century of Fighting The Man,” Slate, April 28, 2000 (

7: Dan Berrett, “Intellectual Roots of Wall St. Protest Lie in Academe,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 16, 2011 (

8" David Graeber, “Occupy Wall Street’s Anarchist Roots,” Al Jazeera, November 30, 2011 (

9: Ibid

10: Democracy Now, Two Years After Occupy Wall Street, a Network of Offshoots Continue Activism for the 99%, (September 19, 2013)

11: Alan Feuer, “Occupy Sandy: A Movement Moves to Relief,” New York Times, November 9, 2012 (

12: Zbigniew Brzezinski, “The Global Political Awakening,” New York Times, December 16, 2008 (

13: Bradley Brooks, “Anarchist Tactics Grow Among Brazil’s Protests,” Associated Press, October, 22, 2013 (

14: Ibid

15: Revolution News, Brazil: Teachers Union Officially Declares Unconditional Support for Black Bloc, (October 9, 2013)

16: Tim Padgett, “What Brazil’s Protests Say About Latin America’s Fumbling Elites,” Time, June 19, 2013 (

17: BBC News, UN Study Says Wealth Gap in Latin America Increases, (August 21, 2012)

18: Al Jazeera, Bulgarians Protest Against Government Policy, (November 10, 2013)

19: Doreen Carvajal, Stephen Castle, “Mob Muscles Its Way Into Politics in Bulgaria,” New York Times, October 15, 2008 (

20: Turkish Weekly, EC Draft Report Slams Bulgaria over Govt-Mafia Ties, (July 17, 2012)

21: Nick Squires, “Anti-austerity Protesters Clash With Police in Rome,” Telegraph, October 31, 2013 (

22: BBC, Students Protest Over Austerity Cuts in Italy, (November 15, 2013)

23: Joshua Stephens, “Anarchism in Egypt: An Interview From Tahrir Square,” Waging Nonviolence, July 2, 2013 (

24: Russia Today, Thousands Protest in Bahrain Capital, Demand 'torturers be brought to justice,’ (November 23, 2013)

25: Huffington Post, Bahrain: Hundreds Mourn After Boy Is Killed In Demonstration, (Novemer 19, 2011)

26: Rannie Amiri, “Bahrain: Days of Rage, Decades of Oppression,” Antiwar, February 21, 2011 (

27: Henry Austin, “Is The Arab Spring Moving South? Violent Anti-government Protests Hit Sudan,” NBC News, October 1, 2013 (

28: BBC, Sudan Feels The Heat From Fuel Protests, (November 14, 2013)

29: Khalid Abdelaziz, Ulf Laessing, “Sudan to Lift Fuel Subsidies Posing ‘Great Risk’ For Economy-Bashir,” Reuters, September 22, 2013 (

30: The Economist, Unrest In China: A Dangerous Year, (January 28, 2012)

31: Sui-Lee Wee, “China Sends Riot Police to Block New Protests by Flood Victims,” Reuters, October 16, 2013 (

32: Fox News, Thailand Vows to Keep Troops in Iraq, (December 28, 2003)

33: Max Fisher, “A Staggering Map of the 54 Countries That Reportedly Participated in the CIA’s Rendition Program,” Washington Post, February 5, 2013 (

34: Samudcha Hoonsara, Somroutai Sapsomboon, Kittipong Thavevong, “Yingluck Enters 2013 A Survivor,” The Nation, January 1, 2013 (

35: Mark Gollom, Daniel Schwartz, “N.B. Fracking Protests and the Fight for Aboriginal Rights,” CBC News, October 19, 2013 (

36: Adalah: The Legal Center for Minority Rights in Israel, Demolition and Eviction of Bedouin Citizens of Israel in the Naqab (Negev) - The Prawer Plan,

37: Russia Today, ‘Day of rage’: Police, protesters clash in Israel at plans to evict 40,000 Bedouins, (November 30, 2013)

38: Fox News, Indigenous Groups Stage Protests Across Brazil to Press For Demarcation of Their Lands, (October 1, 2013)

39: David Dudenhoefer, “Brazil’s Natives Protest Threats to Their Rights From Congress,” Indian Country, October 8, 2013 (