---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sat, 02 Feb 2002 16:33:41 -0800
From: radtimes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Direct Action: Memoirs of an Urban Guerrilla
Recent interview with Ann Hansen of the Canadian urban anarchist
guerilla group, Direct Action
Ann Hansen, author of Direct Action: Memoirs of an Urban Guerrilla,
in conversation with Peter Steven, 2001
Peter Steven: Direct Action is a book about radical politics that might seem
uncomfortably close to advocating violence. Given the events of September 11
in the U.S. what are your thoughts and feelings about what happened in New
York and Washington?
Ann Hansen: My first reaction was deep sorrow for those who died and
compassion for those who must endure the pain of living without those
people. Sadly, those who died were the innocent victims of both the
suicide-bombers and the U.S. legacy in the Middle East. Sadly, because those
who died were no more responsible for U.S. foreign policy than the Afghan
people are of the Taliban's policies.
PS: During your days in the early 1980s as a member of "The Squamish Five"
or "Direct Action" you committed robberies, firebombed stores, and toppled
hydro towers, in British Columbia, and bombed the Litton plant in Toronto.
Most people who pick up your book will want to know if you still believe in
political violence. How do you respond?
AH: I am certainly not opposed to peaceful protest. Yet, I also believe that
to make real social change people and movements must be prepared to go
beyond. In some cases that means so-called political violence. We didn't see
ourselves as terrorists. I prefer the term sabotage because that implies a
strategic action, with references to economic issues, and not simply a
violent reaction or lashing out in frustration. I don't agree with terrorism
as a political tactic because it is morally wrong to punish the innocent for
the crimes of their leaders. And it's not politically effective because fear
does not enlighten people, but instead will often drive them to support even
more reactionary actions by their leaders.
Our goals were to expose Litton's role in arms production and to stop the
environmental destruction within B.C.
PS: You've admitted some mistakes. Are you sorry about the past?
AH: I'm sorry about some things that happened, but not everything. An
underground group was probably not necessary--we should not have been so
isolated from the social movements. The bomb we used at the Litton building
was too big and we didn't properly assess the police response. We thought
that they would take our warning seriously and clear the building. I am very
sorry that people were hurt. And yet, there was, and is, huge damage being
done by our governments--look at the legacy of the Cruise missile, in the
Gulf War, for instance.
PS: How would you now assess your mistakes: youthful naivety, impatience,
AH: We suffered from all those mistakes, and we also didn't fully think
through the consequences. But the most important error was in not realizing
that without a revolutionary social movement in place urban guerrilla
tactics won't work--there is no continuity. These links between social
movements and radical actions are strategic political questions that must be
addressed. Global warming and climate change are huge problems--nobody seems
PS: What was the biggest misconception that people had about your group?
AH: That we believed we could create a revolution ourselves. On the
contrary, our aims were always more modest--to jolt activists into seeing
the seriousness of the issues, and to hope that our radical actions might
spark a new militancy. During our trial and afterwards we were looked at
with a magnifying glass, but there was no serious discussion about the need
for, and effectiveness of, our strategies.
PS: What were your thoughts when you saw the demonstrators at Quebec City
AH: I felt great. Here, finally, is a broad-based movement that encompasses
so many issues. The mainstream media gravitate to the sensational and the
most violent of tactics. They ignore the substance. Of course, the
demonstrators went to Quebec with many motives. For some it's exciting to be
involved and close to danger. It's also the result of genuine frustrations.
I like to see these events in all the shades of grey.
What the media have missed in the recent international protests is that the
actions are not indiscriminate. The targets are generally international
corporations with a bad public record towards the environment or their
workers, etc. These include the banks, the big car companies, the high-end
clothing outfits, the McDonalds of the world. In other words the targets are
politically motivated. Let's not forget that politically directed events
formed an important element in the civil rights and the anti-Vietnam
PS: Is your book meant to be a cautionary tale for young political people
AH: Yes, to some extent it is. Many young people in this contemporary moment
don't think through the consequences of their actions. There are risks
involved in serious political opposition and certainly when engaging in
sabotage. Young people today could, perhaps romantically, duplicate our
actions and also, like us, act without understanding the consequences.
People should realize that the powerful will not sit back. There will be
repression. But I mainly want the book to inspire more militancy, not less.
I really want a discussion of "going beyond." I want real debate about these
issues of sabotage and of going beyond legal protest. Unfortunately, there
has been almost no reasoned discussion of illegal actions or uncivil
disobedience. But history has shown that violence will be used by the police
and the state, and some in the opposition will always move in that direction
as well. So we must discuss it.
PS: Many people in the peace movement, such as the Toronto Disarmament
Movement activist Murray MacAdam, argue that your forms of protest set the
movement back. How would you respond to that?
AH: I respect his work but I still feel that if there is going to be social
change there will be repression. If a movement is not strong enough to
withstand some of this repression or stand up to the dominant media it's not
very effective. As one sympathetic writer put it, the "Direct Action people
were not about to give the state the right to determine the allowable limits
As far as the Red Hot Video actions were concerned, I believe we were
directly effective. We shut down some of those places, they never reopened,
and the public perception was turned around.
PS: Some feminists today might question your attacks on video pornography in
the Red Hot Video chain.
AH: Red Hot was a special case. They carried the really violent videos. We
firebombed those places because of the violence against women, not because
they were simply pornographic. Red Hot specialized in explicit violence,
gang rapes where the women were obviously not consenting. I believe in the
effect of an increasing desensitization of people towards violence, and I
believe that violent images of women are damaging.
PS: What was the hardest part about writing this book?
AH: Being honest in talking about our life-styles, talking about actions
that were unacceptable or were mistakes. We were normal people, with flaws,
like everyone else. It was difficult, but extremely important not to censor
myself. My honesty was not "brutal" when discussing other people, but I do
emphasize that in retrospect our decisions were not always the best.
The writing process was painful. There was social pressure from many
directions and pressure from the authorities not to speak, but to put
everything behind me. And yet the writing was also therapeutic because I had
a strong desire to put our actions into a historical context. My memories
and analysis are no longer just a memoir.
PS: You have said that you admire the M.P. Svend Robinson and
anti-globalization activist Maude Barlow. In the past wouldn't you have seen
them as hopelessly compromised by working within the system?
AH: I've always admired Svend Robinson. He follows the beat of his own drum
and he's involved for the right reasons. He has a real idealism and honesty,
and he was the only politician to visit us in prison. Social change occurs
as the result of many actions and in huge social movements. There is no one
way. I am now wary of simplistic thinking and of oversimplifying the
political system and human beings. I was intolerant. I hope I'm less so now.
I worry that too many people are passive and complicit. Maude and Svend
PS: Why do you spend so much time writing about the details of the robberies
and the mechanics of the actions? Doesn't that tend to sensationalize the
AH: Well, yes I suppose some readers might find that sensational. However, I
wrote in detail about our robberies and small crimes to show what our life
really was like. Once we decided to go underground we had to find money and
food and the means to carry out the actions. Regular jobs and support from
others didn't seem possible. We cut ourselves off--by necessity.
The conversations and situations that I write about during our underground
life were largely based on wiretap evidence gathered by the police and used
in our trial. They show the dynamics of the group, the pressures, tensions,
and problems that we faced. It isn't pretty and I see it as anti-romantic. A
true crime book like mine is hardly sensational or violent compared to
something like The Sopranos that is hugely promoted by mainstream media.
Ann Hansen lives on a farm near Kingston, Ontario. Formerly the co-owner of
a cabinet-making business, she is now a freelance writer.
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