Protesting protesting

I attended a rally and march Wednesday night (01/14) in downtown Oakland demanding:

  • A BART community oversight committee
  • a murder conviction for officer Mehserle
  • the release of names and an investigation of all other officers present at the time of shooting
  • the creation of healing centers in communities most affected by police violence
  • the resignation/recall of Alameda county’s DA Tom Orloff

First of all I should say thank you to folks who organized this protest. I appreciate the time and energy that was put into it, and the obviously good intentions behind it. I know I haven’t contributed nearly as much as they have, and don’t mean to diminish their contributions. I do want to raise some critical questions & observations though, in the spirit of movement self-evaluation. The first one is specifically about this rally, but the rest of it is about this type of protest in general.

After the opening rally at Oakland city hall, the march kicked off with a prayer to “God the father” and “Christ our Lord”. We were asked to hold hands and pray along with the reverend. I can sort of appreciate the desire to bring a spiritual element in when you’re asking people to remain peaceful. But the invocation of a Christian god, in whose name bloody oppression and conquest have been carried out for millennia, was very disturbing to me. While leaders from other faiths were included as speakers (a Muslim leader whose name I don’t recall spoke eloquently about all the $ poured into the CA penal system while our state goes deeper into debt and our poor communities remain underserved), the only actual prayer I heard while I was there was this one. Personally I’d prefer no praying at all, but if it’s included, shouldn’t it be a little more… er… inclusive? While I don’t subscribe to any theistic belief system and my objections tend to be more political, I wonder if those of other faiths might have been offended to have to march under the “blessing” of a Christian god. I don’t understand why organizers felt this was a good call.

The organizers’ intent to keep the protest peaceful was abundantly clear. Speakers repeated it over and over, and as with any legally permitted march, “dissident” volunteers worked alongside police to monitor the crowd and keep the peace. Yet during the march, unsurprisingly, this well-used protest slogan was repeatedly invoked for us to chant: “No justice, no peace!”. Does anyone else find this maddening? Nothing like watering down the intent of what should be revolutionary words by using them completely out of context where they become meaningless. Okay yeah, “We are peaceful now, but if you don’t meet our demands we might reevaluate our strategy and bring the noise” isn’t exactly a catchy slogan. But can’t we at least refrain from using language that lulls us into believing we are acting in a threatening manner towards the state when in fact we are clearly working with the state to ensure that our peaceful protest doesn’t get out of hand? Maybe I’m just being a nitpicky vocabulary geek, but I do believe in the power of words and I believe it’s a problem that we kill our own power phrases.

This is the main reason I stopped going to marches and rallies many years ago. They just make me feel incredibly stupid, to be honest. There’s surprisingly little critical evaluation of tactics and I feel the opposite of powerful when I’m following a crowd that’s adhering to state-sanctioned forms of expression. Like a little sheep, marching where I’m supposed to march and yelling what everyone else is yelling, and going home at the end of it to resume normal life. None of it really makes sense to me. I don’t think the powers we are supposedly yelling at during these protests simply don’t know that we wish the cops would stop shooting people for no reason. That they don’t realize people want justice and aren’t getting it. That if they only realized how unhappy we are with the way they run things, they’d stop making policies based on greed and power and start making policies that reflect the desires of the people. I think they know exactly what they are doing and they choose to do it anyway, either because they have a twisted belief that it is necessary for people to have no rights in order to save us from ourselves, or because they really couldn’t give a shit whether or not people are happy. If they were sitting up there scratching their pus-filled heads, waiting only for an indication that folks were dissatisfied with their leadership to mend their ways, we would’ve launched blissfully into utopia ages ago. Ages.

I believe that peaceful marches and rallies¬† serve two purposes only – to educate others about what’s going on and increase community ties between dissenters.¬† IMO, these tactics are a means but they tend to be used as an end, which creates a feeling of accomplishment amongst participants that I don’t feel is realistic.

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January 15, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.