Seeing a group of black-clad, ‘masked-up’ people at your friendly neighbourhood political protest can seem daunting and scary to the every-day centrist liberal democrat, or even to a green party member who considers themselves progressive. But the Antifa black bloc is nothing to be afraid of, nor should you see them as a destructive or negative presence in the current political climate. While the mainstream media likes to depict them as equal to groups such as National Action and the Ku Klux Klan, or maybe even worse, it seems strange that a group which stands for feminism, worker’s rights and peaceful coexistence should be seen as equally abhorrent as those who condone genocide.
The black bloc is a name affiliated with anti-fascist, often anarchist protestors going back to the Brokdorf Demonstrations of 1977, when the German government used water cannons, armoured cars, pepper spray, and Tasers to break up large numbers of anti-nuclear weapons protestors. In reaction, the protestors in Germany began dressing all in black, to make it harder for police to distinguish individuals in the crowd, and covering their faces with masks, to hide their identity and to protect from pepper spray. The birth of the ‘block bloc’ exemplifies how the anti-fascist or ‘Antifa’ movement has come to be interpreted as offensive and aggressive, despite their origin in defensive, counteractive tactics.
In more recent protests, the black bloc have been successful in protecting themselves and fellow protesters from police brutality and unlawful arrest. However, many news sources have chosen instead to focus on the protests at University of California Berkeley, in the United States, where a group of black-blockers threw fireworks at the building where known member of the ‘alt-right,’ Milo Yiannopoulos, was planning to speak. The protest caused the speech to be cancelled, however many have vilified the black-blockers at Berkeley for their “idiotic, “violent,” and “childish” actions. However, the problem remains that people like Yiannopoulos, and others such as Richard Spencer – a public figure in the US who is even more outspoken in his support of white supremacy and fascism – are still being given active forums where they encourage people to do much worse than throw fireworks and break windows.
Richard Spencer openly advocates for “ethnically cleansing” the United States of all non-white citizens, while at a protest against Yiannopoulos speaking at the University of Washington campus in January, a protester was shot and seriously injured by a one of his supporters. Only a few months ago people living in liberal bubbles still believed that the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election would soon be a joke we could all laugh about . And yet in that short time we have seen families taken from their legal homes, children denied life-saving health care, and people with the legal right to live in the US turned away at the border, all because of the prejudices Yiannopoulos and Spencer spread.
I don’t see why people choose to vilify the black bloc as childish, when it seems that their opposition is by far the bigger bully in the playground. Standing up for equal rights, protecting themselves and others from police brutality, and speaking out against fascism should be enough of a reason to support these people, no matter what they wear.
Image: Wikimedia Commons