When I think of activism in Europe and activism in the United States, for some reason activism in Europe seems more violent overtly, whereas activism in the USA definitely seems violent, but seems to contain more covert state sanctioned violence. When I google ‘mai 68 Paris’ for the student protests in France, some of the first pictures that show up include violent confrontations between students and the police.
Similarly, in the case of activism in Italy, I think about ‘gli anni di piombo’, or the years of lead. A tumultuous period in Italian history, that saw many violent attacks, including the bomb explosion in the National Bank in Milano in 1969 and the attack on the train station in Bologna on August 2nd 1980.
To me it seems that in both France and Italy, activism and protests took place with overt use of violence.
Alternatively, when I think about activism in the United States of America, it seems more peaceful from the side of the protestors, while the police backed by the state has been inherently violent, specifically towards Black people. Consider for example the Black Panthers. Their activism did not at all start out violently, yet they were crushed by covert state sanctioned violence. Going back to the year 1968, the treasurer of the Black Panther Party, Bobby Hutton, died at the hands of police violence in Oakland, California, while Hutton was in the process of surrendering. Additionally, the FBI infiltrated the Black Panther Party with the aim to ‘neutralize’ the Black nationalist movement. However, ‘neutralizing’ in this case referred to actively jailing and assassinating many Black Panthers. It therefore seems to me that the US government crushed the movement by means of covert violence, assassinating even some members while they were sleeping – which unfortunately resembles the recent assassination of Breonna Taylor.
“the fascist [government] have already decided in advance to murder Chairman Bobby Seale in the electric chair.” Emory Douglas, March 15, 1970, in Sam Durant, Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas, (New York: Rizzoli, 2014), 47.
Though freedom of speech and assembly are in theory legal in both France / Italy and the United States, the violent response of the US government shows that this right of activism through protesting is not always respected.