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Meanwhile, on the subject of protesters…

September 11, 2009, 7:52 PM

While I’m on the subject of protesters today, this is something I’ve been thinking about for a bit, and it relates to how my regular protest buddies handle their protests in the District of Columbia. I’m specifically referring to the radical crowd.

First of all, I believe that black blocs certainly have a place in the protest landscape. I believe that these people are far more dedicated to the various movements than most people that show up for large rallies, and that these people do a pretty good job in spreading the message that the system is rotten, and that all the bums need to be thrown out on their butts and the system rebuilt from the ground up.

However, I’ve observed that when engaging in demonstrations, the interactions with the police seem to become counterproductive more often than not. Specifically, the whole idea of keeping the police in the dark and not dealing with them directly. In my six(!) years of DC activism, the cops have started to get harsher with their tactics when it comes to anarchist blocs. They will forcibly shove protesters out of the street, and not being in the street and marching on the sidewalk instead tends to diminish the impact of a demonstration, since you’re kind of wedged into a narrow space between parked cars and the buildings. Likewise, if the police believe they’re forced to use force against demonstrators, they have demonstrated that they will gladly do so.

In many of these demonstrations, the police are often a physical representation of the state and its attempts to control its citizens. However, the police are sworn to uphold the law, and this can constrain them in many interesting ways. This brings me to my point – rather than a policy of non-engagement with the police, these anarchist blocs need to make the police work for them rather than against them.

Of course, it’s not like John Q. Anarchist can go right up to the police and say that. I believe that the cops would probably tell them “go screw yourself” in their own special way if told that directly. You have to trick them into working for you. It’s all a matter of playing the game. Give an inch one way, and then take a mile the other way. The cops are constrained by laws, but protesters, particularly anarchist ones, have no such constraints.

First thing’s first, however – if you want to take the street, you might as well be up-front about it. While I do see a valid philosophical argument against filing for a permit with the state authorities, that is your inch – give the inch. I’ve filled out countless protest permit applications for Anonymous raids, and it’s pretty straightforward, and only requires a brief description of what you’re going to do. That leaves a lot of leeway for you. You really only have to give a brief description. My description for Anonymous raids is usually one sentence along the lines of, “Protest the practices of the Church of Scientology.” That’s it. And once you have a permit, the cops will gladly clear as many streets as you want in order for you to march. Once you’ve got the streets, it can be no-holds-barred from there. But from a general safety concern, demonstrators marching right into traffic is probably ill-advised. It doesn’t do much for your cause, and creates the potential for serious injuries. Make the cops do that work for you, and stop traffic for you. Make them do your bidding. You have more important things to attend to, like getting people on board with your cause. Let the cops do the grunt work. Imagine how much more effective Funk the War 7 might have been had demonstrators been allowed to take the streets. Or the anarchist feeder march during the March on Crystal City. To have the cops bring Georgetown to a standstill for the demonstrators would have been an awesome sight.

A permit also opens up all the circles and squares in DC up to assembly. The March on Crystal City anarchist bloc got kicked out of both Farragut Square and Murrow Park for being over 25 people. That was a gimme, really. Sign away their ability to kick you out. Stay a while. Own it.

Also, let’s admit – the relationship between the demonstrators and the cops is kind of a wolf-and-sheepdog style relationship, as exemplified in the Warner Brothers cartoon A Sheep in the Deep. As much as we hate to admit it, the cops do know us. It’s often the same group of cops, with Captain Jeff Herold as the most visible figure, that handle these demonstrations, and, mask or not, the cops likely do recognize the demonstrators, since it’s often the same groups that participate in many of the demonstrations. So we definitely know them, and they definitely know us. It’s okay to disagree, and we certainly do, but a little civility does go a long way. I know that Jeff Herold for one knows me, and I often say hello to Herold on the way into these demonstrations, even though I know that our different sides will clash once everything gets going. It’s okay to acknowledge and afford at least that much courtesy. After all, the wolf and the sheepdog in the aforementioned cartoon said good morning to each other before they started fighting with each other for control of the sheep. And that little bit of courtesy might even work to your advantage if it makes them more willing to work for you. Giving the cops the cold shoulder does no one any favors, and makes the cops less likely to play your game.

Now I’m not saying that any of this would prevent the way October Rebellion ended in Georgetown, since that was just wild, but these suggestions might have certainly made the March on Crystal City or Funk the War 7 more effective, even though I would consider both fairly successful nonetheless. But the police are something to be handled, and not just pushed against, and put to work to your advantage. Really, why give them the privilege of pushing a bunch of anarchists around? One of the chants when things get ugly is “Who do you protect? Who do you serve?” Make them serve you, and make them protect your interests.

Web site: Lady Liberty's Lamp

Song: Sinkers.org video of a small demonstration outside the Embassy of Greece.

Quote: Yes, you've got to be smart when handling the cops. Give an inch one way, and then take a mile the other way. And remember - the government should fear its citizens, not the other way around. Make them work for you, and let them fear what will happen if they don't.

Categories: Black bloc