My #1 recommendation for people who are skeptical of protesters and SJWs and everything is, go to some protests about global issues or social justice issues. Go to several of them. Not to stand back and judge all the “weirdos” who seem so different from you. Go undercover, and pretend to be “one of them.” March beside the teenagers passing around joints. And the even greater number who aren’t. The white chick in dreads. And the greater number who aren’t. The Black Lives Matter folks. The vegans. The nerdy-white-dudes who strive to be good ‘allies.’ The feminists. The tree-huggers. The grandparents. The kids. The students. Sing with them. Dance in the streets. Tell people you like their signs!
Just as an experiment, go and openly observe EVERYTHING that you see, not just the most emotional and extreme examples. You’ll see some whacked shit, eventually, I’m sure. But…far less than you’ll see in the average sports bar on the average busy night at 2:00 am.
Look at the love, shyness, courage, compassion in people’s faces. Talk to people about why they are there, and listen to their sincerity when they talk to you about prisons, or pigs and cows and chickens, or reproductive rights, or food security, or biodiversity, or leaving a planet for their grandchildren, or their sadness for Palestinians, or peace on earth, or WHATEVER THEIR CAUSE IS. Most of the people — I would stake practically anything on this claim — most of the people, if you truly are open to them, you’ll find they are peaceful, sincere, deeply caring. You will see FAR more open-hearted Heroes, than Tarantulas. I have talked to hundreds and hundreds of strangers at protests, and as a result, met hundreds and hundreds of truly lovely human beings.
And when things do get heated, when confrontations and clashes happen on the protest lines, you will see all sorts of things, no doubt. But what I have seen? The amount of self-restraint, the sheer love and beauty-of-the-human-spirit, that I have seen on the protest lines, is — breath-taking. It’s stunning. I’ve seen FAR more of the best of human nature, than the worst. But only the worst gets on the news screen. If it bleeds, it leads, right? So, when you sit at home and watch TV, scroll the FB-news-feed, etc., you see police cars burning and people smashing windows.
And the odd violent action? Sure, shit happens. Ever watched a hockey game? They throw punches for….a game. And we cheer them on. Think about that for a second.
Judging protest as useless and protesters as idiots because someone threw some rocks at windows is kinda like an alien, zooming over the earth, sampling only the murderers and rapists and serial killers, watching a war or two, and then leaving. Conclusion: Humanity is terrible. Planet should be obliterated for the hyperspace super-highway we planned to put through this area of space. No great loss.
And when protests DO get violent? Where does it start, anyway? Well, I can’t speak statistically on this, but here’s my personal experience.
I have never, yet, seen protesters initiate attacks on police, although I have seen people shove and push back in what it self-defense. I have seen Police initiate attacks on protesters, and use FAR MORE FORCE than is necessary for a bevy of armoured, club-wielding people to be able to “subdue” passive, non-resisting individuals. I’ve been to a police conference on violent protests, and interviewed a police officer trained in protest-control tactics. And what they told me is that the Police (the epitome of Jordan’s dominance-hierarchy, it would seem), are trained to subdue and intimidate and divide and dominate a crowd. Sure, there are elements of policing strategy that involve de-escalation through genuine human-to-human connection. The whole idea of ‘community policing’ and building trust and all that, is very real. But not on the protest lines. On the protest lines, the police are there for war, and they bring the hammer down as soon as the orders are given.
This is what I’ve seen. And this is what I’ve been told. By police officers.
Have you ever seen a parent with an anger-management problem? They play with their kids, they’re super-nice and jokey and all that. Until they believe the kids steps one inch out of line, doesn’t listen to them, “talks back”, etc. Then, holy fuck, they are scary. Ever seen parents scream at their kids? Berate them? “What is WRONG with you?” Give them ‘a good smack?’ Lose their shit? So, imagine this situation, but the parent has a big club, body armour, a shield, military combat training, AND 100 other armoured angry parents with clubs backing them up. This is the reality of violence on the protest line.
But waaaaait a minute — the Police are just doing their jobs, right? They HAVE TO maintain law and order. They HAVE TO get control of the situation, “before somebody gets hurt!”
Sometimes, that may be true. Or it may be the perception that the powers-that-be who give the orders, who control the police, want you to think.
I don’t think cops are bad people. I have several members of my family who have served for decades with the police. And I know them to be good people. Serving the public. Protecting the vulnerable.
So, who ARE the “good guys” and who ARE the “bad guys” here?
Too often, violent confrontations between the protest communities, writ large, and the police, are interpreted and amplified into a highly polarizing narrative. Protesters are the heroic Rebel Alliance, and the Police are the evil, heartless, drone-warriors of the Empire.
The Police are the heroic Paladins of Good, and Protesters are the evil, mindless mob.
Far more important than casting aspersions one way or the other, is to step above this simplistic, ‘essentializing’ framing and instead, recognize the dynamics that very quickly create situations of violence out of the basic circumstances of The People confronting the Power. The way we have set up that situation in society, is inherently vulnerable to destabilization and escalation into violence. This is what we need to shed light on, I think, to illuminate the darkness of the machinations of control and dominance, the initial ‘framings’ of opposition and conflicting interests which create the very circumstances that give rise to violence. I will discuss this more fully in Parts 7 & 8: Psychology at the Ending of the World.)
Protesters Should March, if they have to, but Don’t Make Me Late for Work! Shut down highways? Airports? What the fuck are they trying to accomplish anyway? Idiots….
Now, back to protests for a moment. What you see on the ground, is that the Government, and therefore the Police, are super-cool with protesting, as long as you’re basically having a parade, down the pre-approved route, people singing and drumming and dancing, carrying art on sticks. Happy happy, everybody’s happy, and the protesters get on the news if there’s enough of them, a few of them get interviewed and some of their best sound-bites get posted on social media channels, they give some speeches, sign some petitions, and everybody goes home feeling like they made a difference.
As long as THAT is how you are speaking truth to power, then cool man; on those “front lines,” everybody is typically friendly. I usually have no problems chatting with police, and often do in public marches and protest situations. (Yes, I recognize my privilege here; white dudes have an easier time approaching the police than most other demographics, I would guess….) But I figure, it’s important. It’s one small way of humanizing what so quickly and easily gets turned into something far uglier and de-humanized. I had some of my best convos with police the day AFTER the police cars were burning in Toronto’s G20 debacle of a decade ago. Well, the morning after.
Before I happened to get arrested with about 900 other people at Queen and Spadina later that afternoon, I had spent most of that day walking around, taking pictures, and talking to police officers standing around, sometimes on bikes. A couple of them standing down by ‘the fence’ watched me cross the street, cross the supposed No Go Zone or whatever it was called, and place my hands on the fence, and push.
It was a powerful moment for me. A visceral moment of realizing the sheer futility of my mere human body. My strength was nothing, my warm, soft flesh pushing against immovable cold steel, to absolutely zero effect. I felt a tiny taste of just how irrefutably the citizens of the world were isolated from the Powers That Be, the political overlords who collectively protect the Curtain that prevents us from seeing the Wizards behind the scenes who determine our fates. I felt that, right in my core. No matter how hard I pushed — and I pushed hard, tried to shake it, pounded on it with both fists (it hurt) — I can’t tear down a fence. I couldn’t even move it a single millimeter.
I did find myself wondering what those police officers were thinking. This 30-something guy in a t-shirt and shorts, with a camera, standing on an empty street and pushing against a giant steel fence, just….cuz?
After pushing, I stood there for quite a while, ‘doing nothing’. So many thoughts —
— there used to be a forest underneath that concrete.
— the buildings in downtown Toronto are incredibly huge compared to me.
— but then even they are just a thin fuzz on the surface of the planet, past which The Void careens out in all directionless space, forever.
— none of the Big People In There, in the buildings behind the fence, probably know what the Little People feel like Out Here.
I looked up and down the entirely lifeless street, fence running along one side. Silence. I thought about tumbleweed. Then suddenly there was an old couple with a little beige dog, going for a walk. They looked around and walked slowly.
I wondered what they were thinking, how much war they had lived through, those old people. For surely, they had known war in their lives. As they walked their little beige dog past the vested police officers standing silently, the armoured guards protecting the Castles of the Unseen Kings, I wondered, how much better did these old people understand what was really going on, than any of the rest of us?
I guess….the only way to find out would be……to talk to each other? (Parts 7 & 8: Psychology at the Ending of the World).