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Semiformalishmaybe

Aiming the Cannon

More thoughts about the protest, which I again attended today:

There was a speaker from a local university doing a grand analysis of economic and political and organisational trends in American society. His analysis was reasonably basic, but strong and suggesting points of reform and practical goals. Unfortunately, partway through it was interrupted several times by central organisers of the rally trying to get everyone to go march to a police station to protest police brutality. They kept doing the "crowd-mic" thing about 30 feet away and drowning out the speaker. A few times I politely went over and asked them to buzz off (as everyone interested in going to protest the police had already gone), and everyone remaining in our area was interested in the discussion with the professor, but eventually they got the member of the organising committee who was mediating the event to declare it over so everyone could go march with the police. Very few of us actually did, and I was pretty unhappy at how heavy-handed it was.

Part of this is that I think antagonising the police is a bad idea. There are bad eggs in any police department, but unless there is systemic abuse, protesting police brutality is wrongheaded (just as wrongheaded and injust as protesting against all men for rapes, or all disadvantaged minorities in inner cities for crime). The fundamental job of police is a positive, productive one, and involves considerable risk in the service of providing a basic societal good: reasonable security. There are times when we will conflict with police (direct action, possibly in revolution), but they are not generally an enemy. Antagonising them tells them they have no place in our movement (their potential role even as individuals might have to be highly nuanced, but they should be welcome), and it introduces a cultural and philosophical divide against concepts and practices that are generally worthwhile: rule of law, security, guards against broken individuals, and organisation.

Part of this is that I think antagonising the police is a waste of time. Provided no systemic police brutality, that kind of rally disrupts one of the more important goals of the protest: making lasting change. Eventually, this protest will end. People will go home and return to their regular lives. It is a protest that is 80% anger and activism and 20% ideas. If we want to make the most of this time of mobilisation, we must do two things:

  • Find ways to pull people who are not protesting out of their ordinary habits of life, forcing them to as much awareness/awakeness as we can so they're thinking about the real problems we face, as a society
  • Have a lively flow of ideas that provides direction to that anger and activism. We need to discuss the problems of society and find solutions we can rally behind. I have spoken about the campaign finance reform ideas of Lawrence Lessig and the productivity of heavy investment in infrastructure (ending cars in america, public works projects), and listened to the ideas of many others.
This is what the protest should be about; the discussion led by the professor and the smaller discussions surrounding it were the best kind of activity this protest can do. The private discussions I've had with other academes (I've come to see this as being a big part of my social identity; I am an academe) need to mingle with the ideas and passions of the people. I need to learn more, they need to learn more, and to do that we need to talk. If we just have gathered to express disgruntlement, and go home and everything's the same (except for the end of the idea that the tea party is America's activism), we will have wasted our time.

I have no doubt that occasionally the police and the justice system "gets it wrong". I am sure sometimes this is or has been racially linked. I'm not going to assume the guilt or innocence of particular cases (I don't know and really don't find it that relevant whether Mumia Abu-Jamal, Rubin Carter, or the other celebrated "innocents" actually got a fair trial and/or were innocent), but we need to focus on whether we can build movements and institutions out of this Occupy thing.

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"There are bad eggs in any police department, but unless there is systemic abuse, protesting police brutality is wrongheaded (just as wrongheaded and injust as protesting against all men for rapes, or all disadvantaged minorities in inner cities for crime)."

I disagree. Protesting *brutality* is not the same as protesting police, just as protesting *rape* is not the same as protesting men. I think there is room in the conversation for people saying "this action shall not stand." Protesting the brutality part can mean encouraging the good eggs to make sure there is no room for the bad eggs to be given shelter and, more broadly, to add a voice of social disapproval so that any other borderline bad eggs (who don't have conscience alone to keep them in line) will at least have that external pressure against outbursts.


Anyway, yes, it's bothersome that the talk was disrupted.