October 31, 2011

OWS-A Discussion on Tactics



On Tactics

              I've been wondering why the show of force with the OWS protesters and not with the Tea Party protesters (and many of them had guns), and the only conclusion I can draw is that its not about "being prepared for any contingency" as many of the cops are told, but basically pure intimidation.
                The powers that be are afraid of us and want to do anything to disburse us including intimidation, infiltration, and propaganda.
                So, my conclusion is simple:  the language and tactics of left-leaning activism need to change.
                First some visuals:
(Un)Occupy Albuquerque

Thrill the World-Albuquerque







Notice the difference?  Not much...except that Thrill the World is a group dance of Michael Jackson's "Thriller."
             The other major difference, not pictured, is the police presence.   During the OWS march, pictured at top, when the protest was close to the scheduled time to end, a group of cops pulled over at Richmond, started donning body armor, helmets, and riot sticks in plain view of all the protesters, which were congregated at the corners and along the medians.   Immediately, the crowd grew visibly agitated, jaywalking by protesters increased, and people started to pack up and leave.   After about 15 tense minutes, the cops packed up and left never actively engaging the protesters.
 My first premise is that the cop's premise of "suiting up" is not to protect themselves from violent protesters but is deliberately and systematically provocative.   Who makes the decision to police protesters that way but dancers another?   Is the decision based on how the permit is filled out?   
 After the protest in 2003, when I got tear gassed by the Albuquerque police, I wrote, "I’m afraid, and effectively silenced," as part of a longer work recounting what happened that day.   In essence, what they hope to accomplish is to actually scare people away from protesting.   If just donning the gear doesn't do it, then they are prepared to wade into the crowd and win the confrontation by any means necessary.       
My sister, a cop in Denver (a Sex Crimes Unit Detective) occasionally updates her status about what's happening in regards to her job and her perspective is usually quite different than mine.   Recently, she had a post about the recent crackdown in Denver where the protesters pulled a motorcycle cop off his bike.  Here's how she characterized it, "I hope the officer that was pulled off his motorcycle and beat and the others that were assaulted are okay. The protestors attacked a couple of officers and that is what started the riot last night leading to the gas and pepper spray....don't start a fight with the police and expect them to play nice."  Now, I wasn't there so I don't actually know what transpired.   And when I tried to weigh in, "Actually David, I think they [the police] tend to overreact. From my perspective, the demonstration of force and superior fire power seems to escalate rather than de-escalate, but then again I've only been on one side of this," and didn't get any response.  Zero.  
My sister's FB friends did not want to engage in any discussion about what appropriate police response would look like.   But, in reality, that is not the most interesting thing about her post.   What I find the most interesting is this phrase, "don't start a fight with the police and expect them to play nice."   What it indicates to me is a sort of mindset, a way of looking at their jobs.   Like the military, the police see themselves as a unit so when a member of their unit  is "attacked" they respond as a group.   Thus, if you antagonize one, you antagonize all of them.   For unit cohesion and practicality they aren't taught to look at the situation, they are taught to respond, stick together.   In fact, the camaraderie and "esprit de corps" trains them to protect each other above all else.  So when a confrontation happens, they are responding the way that they are trained.   And they seem incapable of looking at a group of protesters as a collection of individuals, so all the protesters are implicated and punished by the actions of a few.  
 Thus, the most obvious tactic we need to use is non-violence.   By engaging in any tactics that can misconstrued as violent we are playing into their hands.  There are reports from Oakland that the reason the police force responded the way that they did was that some protesters were throwing rocks and bottles at the police. 
Now don't get me wrong and many people are troubled by the terminology I'm going to employ.   But, what is happening here is in fact a "war."   Unfortunately, "war" has become so synonymous with violence that we forget that it also means, "...a state of organized, armed, and often prolonged conflict carried on between states, nations, or other parties."    Now "armed" suggests weapons but can't it also mean civil disobedience and other non-violent tactics?  
Gandhi and MLK didn't avoid confrontation.   If they avoided confrontation they wouldn't have been marching to the sea or linking arms and marching down the streets of Birmingham.   But what they did do was maintain a passionate and disciplined use of "non-violence."   In fact, non-violence may be the only tactic that can also be a strategy.   Thus, the strategy of our movement may be to effect change, radical, radical change "non-violently."

My second premise is that we need to police ourselves better.   
One of the tactics of numerous administrations was COINTELPRO.  Officially disbanded in the 70's, one of their major strategies was Infiltration.   Now I wish I could believe that my government no longer engages in those tactics, but it only makes sense.   If the government wants to silence dissent and the police are the willing stooges by showing up ready to use force, then how hard could it actually be to instigate a violent confrontation?   
 Thus, before any sort of protest is engaged the most basic tactic that has to be agreed upon is that all our actions are non-violent.   Any protester who engages in activities that can be construed as violent is not a part of the movement.   Any demonstration or protest that devolves into a violent confrontation needs an appropriate PR response.   We need to make sure we get "our" story out.   Frankly, since the strength of the movement is premised on "non-violence" we need to distance ourselves from any show of violence, no matter how justified.  My argument is that any sort verbal confrontation is also a form of provocation and should not be tolerated.   They want a reason to employ force.  If we give them no reason, then they can't employ force and, thus can't intimidate us into being silent.   There's a video of an Occupy protest in Berkeley that actually demonstrates some effective strategies.   Despite the fact that the protester who got hit first was wearing a bandana, there doesn't appear to be any physical provocation and the police are merely enforcing a "grass is closed policy."

 My third premise is the simple recognition that not everyone is going to be actively involved, but can still be supportive. Most people's lives are busy just trying to survive. Thus people should recognize that traditional activism was premised on a time when we weren't all struggling to survive and thus had a lot more free time. Basically, a lot people simply can't afford to be activists in the traditional sense. Nor do people want to sleep out, get gassed, possibly arrested, and spend the day in the jail. 
 Sounds kind of like I don't have the strength of my convictions, but basically, I don't want to lose my job because I protested about the fact that there aren't any jobs. I don't want to lose my house protesting the fact that people can't pay their mortgage and lose my house because I can't pay my mortgage because I lost my job.   We're too dependent on a corrupt system, so show me how I can work to change the system without sacrificing everything I've worked for and I'll be there. And, for the record, I've gone to a couple of general assembly meetings and teach-ins, emceed a teach-in, and written lots of letters to the editor and posts in support of OWS.

The system is now set up to squelch 60's style activism, in my opinion, and thus we need to be a bit more creative. There's certainly a perception (false I might add) that protests in the traditional sense don't work. I've heard many of my students say, "Well the Vietnam protests started in the '60s, but the war didn't end until 75, so protests don't work" or "The protests didn't stop us from invading Iraq."
  What that statement neglects is that no one ever said that protests were a "fast and easy solution" nor do we teach that protests actually did work...LBJ didn't seek reeelction because he didn't feel like he had a constituency because of his decisions regarding Vietnam. Nixon was elected (partly) on the premise of getting us out of Vietnam responsibly and when he actually expanded the war into Cambodia the country exploded again. Kent State was in 1970 and many of the protests were protesting into the war's expansion into Cambodia.
As a result the police apparatus learned a variety of techniques including fostering a belief system that protests don't work.  I think the police state has learned how to handle, intimidate, and diffuse a 60's style protest movement (took them a better part of 15 years), yet our methods haven't evolved very far. Up until the 2003 protests and the OWS protests there have not been very large protests that challenged the legitimacy of the government (yes there have been protests around Environmental issues, Women's Rights, Gay rights) but those didn't challenge the legitimacy of the system and thus didn't require the use of propaganda, intimidation, infiltration, etc. 
  I think the system also learned we can't have an "educated" population or a population that has too much leisure time or else we'll get disruptive. Thus, the moves that Reagan largely started in the '80s were moves that largely cut the rug out from any real effort for any real change and now we're seeing the results.
  The most basic tactic to employ is to educate people.   Many of the 99% don't know that the system is rigged against them.   Most still believe the myth that if they work hard, play by the rules they'll make it.   And there is enough evidence that that is the case.   But trying to change a corrupt system shouldn't be dependent upon people who merely have had rotten luck.   We need to actively engage people's lives who aren't that bad.  We need to give them a reason to support the movement.
  I think we need to change the terms of the debate.   What if we stopped calling it a "protest?"   What if we framed the discussion as something other than a protest against the system but a rally for a better way?   What if we said, the "protest" was actually a "Pro-Democracy Rally?"   What if along side of the "rallyers" who are challenging UNM's rules, we actually used the permitting promise they already have?  If their permit requires that groups that are larger than 10 people (for example) get an additional permit to use a park, then we break the large group into smaller (10 or less groups).   If its the size that creates the restrictions, then we use it to our advantage.  If its the hours that create the restrictions, then we set up a system to work around that.   
  Let's face it, a well worded sign on Central is not going to change anybody's mind.   But, perhaps, a conversation over coffee, a small gathering at someone's house might.   Let's expand the movement by creating community and create it intentionally.   
 When we do want to get together as a group to "protest our government for a redress of grievances," we manipulate the permitting by calling what we are doing a "parade?"  Is what we are doing any different than the Dia de los Muertos parade?   Perhaps, we petition other organizers to let us take part and we play by their rules when we do.

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