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First They Came for the Protesters

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  • Dan Clore
    News & Views for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo First They Came for the Protesters By Rachel Neumann AlterNet Posted on September
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 5, 2004
      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:

      First They Came for the Protesters
      By Rachel Neumann
      Posted on September 3, 2004

      Tourists, old ladies and gentlemen, a building
      superintendent who was taking out the garbage, teenagers on
      their first date to a play, ministers, students, bicycle
      messengers and a good number of bruised and dirty yet
      singing and chanting protesters. It's the kind of diversity
      that New York City is famous for, and during this past week,
      the best place to find it was in the makeshift jail at Pier
      57. The biggest underreported story of the Republican
      National Convention was not Laura Bush's Botox or
      conservative women making fools of themselves for
      California's manly governor. It was this: how could 1,800
      people be arrested when they had done nothing wrong with the
      exception of crowding the sidewalks or block traffic? These
      events happen a thousand times every second in New York
      City. If these are crimes, all of New York should be
      arrested every single day.

      In a country that engages in preemptive war against a small
      nation that had neither the intention nor the ability to
      attack us, preemptive suppression of dissent is the next
      logical step. But the word "preemptive" is misleading here,
      because it implies that a crime was about to be committed.
      It implies that Barbara Gates, 78, whose plans were as
      nefarious as walking at a slow pace to somewhere near the
      Convention and lying down, is a criminal and a threat to
      society. It implies that Julia Gross, 24, arrested while
      walking away from a "kiss-in," is a potential terrorist.
      These arrests, the lack of media attention concerning them,
      and the simultaneous pageantry within the convention imply
      that there is a legitimacy, in these "unsafe" times, for
      arresting anyone who has the audacity to even think about
      speaking up for dissent, even before they do so. After all,
      the Boy's Choir of Harlem is about to sing and the show must
      go on.

      Some are calling the pier where the arrestees were held
      "Guantanamo on the Hudson." While the comparison is
      obviously a gross and privileged exaggeration (arrestees
      were released within days, not years, and none were
      interrogated, tortured, or isolated to the extent of the
      Guantanamo detainees), it does emphasize the cold but
      consistent policies of this administration: bomb, suppress,
      detain, arrest and shoot first, defend and prevaricate
      later. The police officers and the major newspapers were
      generally full of nothing but praise for the
      unconstitutional tactic. "It's been a good day," said Police
      Detective Kevin Czartorsyski on Tuesday, a day when over 800
      people were arrested. "Things have pretty much happened as

      At the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia,
      420 people were arrested -- more than 75 of whom were locked
      up for sleeping in a large space used for making puppets. It
      wasn't until April 2004, almost four years later, that the
      final arrestees stood trial and were acquitted on all
      charges. The arrests and protesters' subsequent treatment in
      jail brought heavy criticism from the ACLU, Human Rights
      Watch, the National Lawyers Guild, Amnesty International and
      other civil rights organizations, but so far there hasn't
      been either acknowledgement or compensation to people who
      experienced the excessive arrests.

      So the arrests in New York were not a surprise. There were a
      number of comparisons made, pre- and post-Convention, to the
      Chicago '68 demonstrations, in which the police were much
      more violent but arrested half as many people. The main
      difference between New York and Chicago, however, is the
      media savvy of both the police and the protesters. There
      were no pictures in New York of protesters being violently
      beaten by police. There were too many cameras around for
      that. Instead, protesters were just peacefully and
      unconstitutionally arrested. Similarly, there were no
      pictures of protesters being violent, and not because they
      didn't get the chance, but because -- as protest organizers
      made clear -- it was never in their plans.

      The protests and arrests in New York raise two interrelated
      questions. First, how do we hold police and other agencies
      accountable in blatant examples of "preemptive arrests?" The
      second, and the one asked less often, is: what constitutes a
      strategically effective protest in a time of mass media
      conglomeration and constitutional disregard?

      The first question is an easier one to answer. Christopher
      Dunn, associate director of the New York Civil Liberties
      Union, told a Boston Phoenix reporter that "the common
      denominator" in alleged civil rights violations in
      Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Miami was the presence of the
      Secret Service. In a pending lawsuit, the ACLU accuses the
      agency of discriminating against President Bush's critics,
      confining them to protest areas where the president and
      media will not see them. Gross and others arrested said they
      are also considering civil suits against the New York Police
      Department for unlawful arrest and chemical burns that
      occurred while staying in the toxic and uncleaned pier.

      Answering the second question is more difficult. Does it
      make sense to focus on large peaceful marches that get
      positive media attention but don't show the range,
      intensity, or directness of the marches and protests that
      occurred the rest of the week? Or does it make sense to
      continue to protest in a myriad of ways: large general
      marches like Sunday's United for Peace and Justice
      procession; fierce and focused marches like that of the poor
      people's campaign marching for their lives; outbreaks of
      theatre, kiss-ins, satire, shut-up-athons; and blockades
      designed to disrupt and bring home people's deep
      dissatisfaction with the government's international and
      domestic policies? Part of the strength of the
      left/liberal/progressive/radical movement is their diversity
      and breadth of tactics. And activists will continue to do it
      all. In doing so, however, it is wise to neither
      underestimate the possibility for suppression and arrest,
      and to continue to strategically refine the message. The
      question for activists is not just what are you for or
      against, but who are you speaking to and who is really

      Delegates and bystanders appeared genuinely unsure of what
      the protests were specifically opposing and what they were
      offering as an alternative. There is a greater communication
      gap and divide between people in America than perhaps most
      people realize, and this emphasizes the need for protests to
      have a clear and articulate message. During the protest
      organized by the War Resisters League and the School of the
      America's Watch, for example, the only sign visible among
      the approximately 400 people while the press cameras were
      snapping was "Nader for President." If a march the size of
      Sunday's could have the discipline and unity of the poor
      people's campaign, based in community and specific in its
      message, it could articulate a progressive vision in a way
      that would be more difficult for the mainstream media to
      ignore. Watch "Amandla!" or any video of the South African
      people's struggle against apartheid for a look at a mass
      protest with a unified message.

      As it was, on the final day of the convention, with over a
      thousand protesters still arrested and sitting in detention,
      the New York Times was quick to declare "victory" to the
      forces of suppression and order:

      "It appears that the New York Police Department may have
      successfully redefined the post-Seattle era by showing that
      protest tactics designed to create chaos and attract the
      world's attention can be effectively countered with intense
      planning and a well-disciplined use of force."

      While the paper of record might have been a little too
      eager, it does point to the need for activists, protesters,
      and other potential dissidents to consider their tactics
      more carefully. Many of the protesters -- including the ones
      who are still protesting, and the ones who were detained at
      the pier -- saw this as a week of victorious dissent. "We
      have made our voices heard, both directly to the delegates,
      throughout the country, and around the world," said David
      S., who had been planning and helping organize some of the
      protests. The goal of many on the streets of New York was
      not to speak up for John Kerry but to make visible the vast
      and deep running opposition to the President, the war on
      Iraq, and what Kensington Welfare Rights Union Director
      Cherrie Honkala and others called an "aggressive and
      unrelenting war on the poor" at home. They achieved this
      with limited success as most major media mentioned the size
      of the crowds and the number of arrests, but very little of
      the protesters' concrete concerns, including the vast
      increase in numbers of people in poverty or the consequences
      of the war in Iraq.

      The final night of the convention, as George W. Bush
      proclaimed, "we are the path to the future," protesters
      inside and outside the convention fought hard to hold up a
      vision of an alternative future. Two separate protesters
      disrupted the speech, forcing the president to stop speaking
      momentarily. A carnival of resistance at Union Square had
      hundreds of people dancing, singing, chanting, and imagining
      their own kinds of freedom. It may not have changed the
      outcome of the election, but the week in New York made it
      impossible for delegates and protesters to continue as
      planned. Delegates, RNC officials, and media watchers around
      the country could not help but be aware of the vast dissent
      rumbling outside their windows. And protesters, faced with
      the effective shut-down of much of their plans, are left
      with the need to rethink the idea of simple disruption as a
      protest strategy in what promises to be an ongoing battle.
      Nearing midnight, as the balloons fell in Madison Square
      Garden, thousands outside chanted: "No More Bush!" their
      voices hoarse from a week of protests, but still, for now,

      Dan Clore

      Now available: _The Unspeakable and Others_
      Lord We├┐rdgliffe & Necronomicon Page:
      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:

      "It's a political statement -- or, rather, an
      *anti*-political statement. The symbol for *anarchy*!"
      -- Batman, explaining the circle-A graffiti, in
      _Detective Comics_ #608
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