Smashy Smashy: Nine Historical Triumphs to Make You Rethink Property Destruction
Smashy Smashy: Nine Historical Triumphs to Make You Rethink Property Destruction
By Jesse A. Myerson and José Martîn / rollingstone.com
Dec 15, 2014

After Officer Darren Wilson shot teenager Michael Brown dead this summer, Ferguson, Missouri, erupted with outrage, compassion and street protests. The response from many corners of the commentariat was predictable: condemnations of those "bad elements" among the protesters who resorted to property destruction as their demonstration of resistance. After two more high-profile incidents of cops shooting St. Louis black men to death, protesters even burned Old Glory, eliciting still more scandalized gasps from the usual crowd.

While drunken, rioting white college students may be surprised by how the cycle of condemnation plays out, it's a familiar refrain for anyone who's been involved in Occupy Wall Street, the anti-Iraq War movement, or any of dozens of other protest cycles: The "good" protesters march, carry signs and make their voices heard, but anyone who smashes, burns or vandalizes contaminates the otherwise defensible show of democracy.

This attitude is complicated by the facts, to say the least. In fact, the historical pedigree of property destruction as a tactic of resistance is long and frequently effective. To cite just one example, in recent years the largest police reform packages were only adopted after large-scale rioting. Here are nine more instances to call into question the conventional wisdom about good old Smashy-Smashy.  

1. The Boston Tea Party

Go figure: The 2010 libertarian-conservative insurgency claimed historical lineage from an act of property destruction. In 1773, British Parliament adopted the Tea Act, which encountered resistance across the Atlantic not, as is so often supposed, because it hiked taxes (it effectively lowered them), but because it imposed the supremacy of a capitalist monopoly, the East India Company, over the political rights claimed by colonists – as Englishmen. Some wildcat radicals left a Boston political meeting over the objections of a frustrated Samuel Adams, dressed up as Mohawk warriors (the better to preserve their anonymity – perhaps prefiguring a black bloc), and destroyed 342 chests of tea in Boston Harbor as an act of protest. Workers had produced that tea, capitalists had risked investment on it, and it was not the colonists' to destroy, but they said "fuck property rights" and did it anyway. Today's conservatives don't seem bothered by this inconvenient history, though, because think of the dress-up opportunities!

 

Boston Tea Party

Inhabitants of Boston, dressed as American Indians, throwing tea into the water as a protest against British taxation. (Photo: Universal History/Getty Images)

2. Smashing Columbus' Ship

In 1502, Christopher Columbus arrived in what is now Panamá to a people who were suspicious of his intentions, even though they didn't know about his ambitions for conquest, or his history of cutting off appendages of Arawak and Taino people in the drive for gold. When local Ngäbe leader el Quibian began to trade with and house Columbus and his brother Bartolomeo, he made the colonialists commit not to overstaying their welcome or go too far down the rivers. Eventually the Columbus brothers tried to trick and execute el Quibian, but he escaped, organized an alliance with his neighbors, and destroyed Bartolomeo Columbus' ship as it attempted to stray further down a river than was agreed upon. The ship didn't stand a chance, and neither did the Columbus brothers. Over 500 years later, the Ngäbe people are still free and largely autonomous, and still having to destroy the property of colonialists who try tosteal their land. We recommend taking a shot of seco herrerano to el Quiban next Columbus Day.

3. Slave Uprisings

There is a longtime debate among historians about why Black subjects of chattel slavery in the U.S. had fewer major rebellions than their counterparts in the Caribbean and Brazil. Many major rebellions were prevented before they began, and others were suppressed too quickly, but much has been written on the other forms of class war waged by slaves, from work slowdowns, to escape, to the sabotage of the property of the planters. Samuel, a slave under prominent Natchez, Mississippi, politician John Quitman, broke an expensive new plow. Another slave injured some of Quitman's family by driving a carriage into an embankment on the way to a wedding. The number of these incidents are countless, and most went unrecorded, but the property was always fair game to those people who themselves were considered property.

4. The Molly Maguires

The word "sabotage" itself comes from an old form of property damage used for class struggle. If bosses tried to get one over on workers, the workers would respond by chucking a shoe (or sabot) into the machinery of production. This tradition was carried on by the Irish immigrants in Pennsylvania's coal mines in the 1870s, who had experience with class struggle against landlords back in the homeland. After emigrating across the Atlantic Ocean, they found that in order to demand safety in a very deadly workplace, fight wage theft, and gain basic labor rights, they had to create secret societies like the Molly Maguires to bomb train tracks and destroy coalmines. If they couldn't work in the mines safely, no one should be working in them.

5. Venus In Shreds

On March 10th, 1914, in response to the arrest of suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst a day prior, Mary Richardson brought a meat cleaver into the National Gallery in London, and slashed up the shoulders, back, and neck of Venus, as painted by Diego Velazquez. Richardson later explained that she objected to "the way men visitors gaped" at the nude body, prone on a bed and admiring her reflection in a cherub-held mirror. "If there is an outcry against my deed," Richardson said, "let every one remember that such an outcry is an hypocrisy so long as they allow the destruction of Mrs Pankhurst and other beautiful living women." In the end, the painting was restored, Richardson's political leanings took a sharp right-hand turn, and British women obtained the right to vote.

 

Mary Richardson

'Slasher' Mary Richardson leaving court, 1914. (Photo: Museum of London/Getty Images)

6. Mandela's Guerrilla Force

After the passing of Nelson Mandela last year, there was an all-too-typicalattempt to whitewash his past – but the Apartheid regime was not defeated by Western rockstars demanding Mandela's freedom alone. In the early 1960s, Mandela organized the Umkhonto we Sizwe (the MK) guerrillas alongside the South African Communist Party. The MK bombed the communications, transit and energy infrastructure that helped run the Apartheid economy. Mandela considered the sabotage a necessary method of escalation that would hopefully preempt the need for guerrilla warfare (which he and his associated did not take off the table). For this, Mandela was branded a terrorist by Western governments, which have in the intervening decades gotten no better at accurately applying that label.

7. The Plowshares Eight

Trespassing onto a Pennsylvania General Electric Nuclear Missile facility in September 1980, a group of eight pious Christians, among them priests and nuns, took hammers to the nose cones of two Mark 12A warheads and poured their own blood on the facility's papers in a call for peace. The Biblical injunction for such destruction can be found in the Book of Isaiah's prophesy that the people of many nations "shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: national shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." The "Plowshares Eight" did prison time for their activism, but today remain unrepentant. Hallelujah.

8. Tear Down This Wall

The dismantling of the border dividing Berlin happened in phases. First, over the course of the fall of 1989, as sweeping border reforms precipitated a refugee crisis throughout the Soviet bloc, East Germans withdrew their political consent for the division of Germany, with rallies reaching the hundreds of thousands in East Berlin by early November, forcing the government to loosen the border. Owing to a botched announcement, people gathered in enormous numbers on the evening of Novermber 9th, overwhelming the border-enforcing soldiers. Having effectively destroyed the legal/social border, the East Germans took it upon themselves to physically destroy its concrete representation, showing up with renegade sledgehammers and, woodpecker-like, creating new crossing points, leading to more official action. It seems now that over half of East Germans miss communist party rule, but don't let that mitigate the badassery of literally smashing an oppressive border – a model Palestinians have tried to emulate with the land-grabbing separation wall that encloses the West Bank.

9. Frack The Police

Indigenous resistance in the Americas is not a story that ends centuries ago with the survivors of genocide left in poverty on reservations – it is still being written. The M'ikmaq people of the Elsipogtog First Nation took a stand againstcorporate resource extraction in 2013 when they spent months sabotaging efforts to start fracking near their land. When they blockaded the Southwestern Energy subsidiary's exploratory trucks, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police moved in with overwhelming force, pointing snipers at areas with small children and M'ikmaq elders. Someone in the community responded by setting five RCMP vehicles on the scene afire, and other police vehicles were damaged in later clashes. The fracking still hasn't begun, and at least one Canadian province has since banned fracking, proving that, once again, direct action gets the goods.

0.0 ·
0
Trending Today
"The Myth of Time" - Martin Luther King Jr.
3 min · 6,216 views today · Excerpt from MLK Jr.'s last sermon, "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution". Delivered at The National Cathedral on March 31, 1968 (4 days prior to his...
How a Lack of Touch Is Destroying Men
Mark Green · 4,931 views today · Why Men Need More Platonic Touch in their Lives
Real Underground Kingdom That Has Existed for Millions of Years Went Unnoticed, Until Recently...
Kid Krunk · 4,709 views today · 28 Stunning Photos Of The World’s Largest Cave
Surviving Capitalist Depression
Michael Emero · 3,122 views today · We live in a toxic society filled with toxic people. Even the ones with the best hearts- including ourselves- have been raised in ignorance, with disinformation. Our examples...
Thich Nhat Hanh: How We Can Learn to Love Our Enemies
5 min · 2,574 views today · This is a short excerpt from Peacemaking. I often think about this story when I think about the kind of activism I would like to bring into this world. I want to help build a...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 2,568 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
I Am Not Your Negro (2017)
3 min · 2,176 views today · In his new film, director Raoul Peck envisions the book James Baldwin never finished - a radical narration about race in America, using the writer's original words. He draws...
How Wolves Change Rivers
4 min · 2,173 views today · When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable "trophic cascade" occurred. What is a...
A Hauntingly Beautiful Short Film About Life and Death
5 min · 1,901 views today · The Life of Death is a touching handdrawn animation about the day Death fell in love with Life.
The Charter For Compassion
2 min · 1,760 views today · The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,501 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Hans Rosling Brilliantly Explains Complexity of Population and Resource Issues Using Simple Tools
3 min · 1,461 views today · Let me show you the world, says Swedish academic Han Rosling as he demonstrates the dynamics of population growth, child mortality and carbon dioxide emissions. The challenge...
True Justice Should Have Compassion in It
Thich Nhat Hanh · 1,145 views today · I believe that true justice should have compassion in it. When someone does something harmful, destructive, the destruction is done not only to the person who is the victim...
What It Really Means to Hold Space for Someone
Heather Plett · 698 views today · How to be there for the people who need you most
The Price of Certainty
7 min · 633 views today · It’s alarming to see how polarized politics have become in the United States. The wider the gulf grows, the more people seem to be certain that the other side is wrong...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 528 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
Meet the Earthship
7 min · 360 views today · Outside of Taos, New Mexico, you'll find a community of people living in off-grid homes made of garbage. The homes are called Earthships and were invented by Michael Reynolds...
The Importance of Empathy
3 min · 350 views today · With an increasingly polarized and divided world, we need empathy more than ever before. Too often we are talking at each other, unable to listen and jumping to entirely wrong...
HUMAN (2015)
382 min · 349 views today · What is it that makes us human? Is it that we love, that we fight? That we laugh? Cry? Our curiosity? The quest for discovery?  Driven by these questions, filmmaker and artist...
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 343 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
Load More
What's Next
Like us on Facebook?
Smashy Smashy: Nine Historical Triumphs to Make You Rethink Property Destruction