WHOSE POLICE? OUR POLICE!
By Kirsten Anderberg 2003
These days, American anarchists and anti-war activists are being thrown into the “terrorist” pile, along with growing cross-sections of the global population, mimicking the McCarthy-era with astonishing accuracy. The New York Times on November 23, 2003, reported “the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has collected extensive information on the tactics, training and organization of antiwar demonstrators and has advised local law enforcement officials to report any suspicious activity at protests to its counterterrorism squads, according to interviews and a confidential bureau memorandum.” The Times reported that law enforcement agencies in several states were sent a memo from the FBI, in October 2003, detailing how protesters sometimes rehearse demonstration tactics with “training camps.” The Times reported FBI officials saying the goal of this intelligence-gathering was “identifying anarchists, and “extremist elements” plotting violence, not at monitoring the political speech of law-abiding protesters.”
Indeed, much of the money earmarked for “Homeland Security” has shown up on the streets of America, used against American citizens trying to exercise their free speech rights to protest Bush’s policies, the Iraq war, and global free trade versus worker rights issues. In recent anti-war protests in London, out of 400,000 protesters, two were arrested. In Wa., D.C., around the same time, an anti-war protest drew 5,000 people, and 650 were arrested. In 2003, cities such as Seattle, Wa., and Miami, Fl., have experienced mobs of riot police, paid for by Homeland Security, fully decked out in chemical/urban warfare gear, waving AR-15’s and guns marked “less lethal,” indiscriminately at crowds of children, mothers, draft-age students, clergy, ”anarchists,” ACLU attorneys, National Lawyers’ Guild Legal Observers, the media, etc. Basic non-violent anti-war protest in America has become very dangerous. Not only does one risk violence from roving mobs of faceless Robocops with big sticks, but one risks being labeled a terrorist by Homeland Security, for openly questioning American policies and trying to use the free speech America is so famous for. Knowing this is the background for political protest in America nowadays, it is very important that we learn new, effective ways to protest without engaging police violence.
Through the use of humor and creative street performance, it is possible to shift the power to the people, and away from the police, during political protests. This has been shown an effective tactic throughout history. Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies were legendary for their talents in this area. Riot police count on chaos and fear as a large part of their power over people. Without the fear and chaos, Robocops just look like violent idiots. If the crowd is able to move with the police, like Akido, you can actually use their own weight against them. If you are going to perform political theater at street protests, you need to write in the part the riot police play. If you don’t, they will upstage your production quickly and easily, causing chaos. By preparing to include the police in your theater productions, the police have a much harder time manipulating the scene to their violent advantage. People, including police, get confused when the police seem to be playing parts written for them. Guerilla scenes should be media friendly; characters in the play need to rehearse their sound bites for the media interviews that will follow.
Another way to take back some power in a police presence is to throw in confusing elements. If the police cannot readily identify the enemy, they **may** not charge so indiscriminately. Police definitely treat pro-war demonstrators differently than the anti-war protesters. When protesters come dressed as the people they are demonstrating against, for instance, things can get wild. When Bush came to Seattle in 2003, protesters rented big limos, and held signs up that said “Billionaires for Bush,” as they waved at traffic, dressed in rhinestones, evening gowns, suits, etc. Ladies Against Women, or LAW, based in San Francisco, Ca., went to the Republican Convention years ago dressed up in bouffant hair-dos, fake fur, and horn-rimmed glasses. They sold Frosted Pork Puff Rinds for Star Wars, held bake sales for the national deficit, and facilitated “prayer-pep rallies for the truly wealthy.” They picketed with signs such as “Ban the Poor,” and “I’d Rather Be Ironing.” LAW’s “Ladyfesto” demands the repeal of the ladies’ vote, the abolition of the environment (“it is almost impossible to clean”), and the immediate formation of the HULA Committee: the House Committee on Un-Ladylike Activities. LAW showed up in Santa Cruz, Ca. during one of our Miss California pageant protests. They looked like conservative Republican women, and cursed us, the demonstrators, saying we should all want to look like Barbie, and if God didn’t want women to wear make-up, He would not have made make-up! They even had little fliers they were handing out, making fun of the pageant, by making fun of the protesters. It was brilliant. Mock protests of the protests are a very effective way to confuse things a bit at protests. If police beat the mock counterprotesters, they end up looking like they are beating BOTH sides of the conflict! At that point, go with it, and speak out against police violence, to the press present, while dressed like a Republican! Stay in character!
The idea of creating a carnival atmosphere for protests is essential when we are trying to reach past preaching to the choir. More festive protests will gain the attention of the media and the innocent bystander in public quicker than long-winded speeches, tired and predictable chants, etc. And as the saying goes, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be in your revolution.” Let’s make protests fun! A group called “Absurd Response to an Absurd War” (http://www.absurdresponse.com/
) preaches buffoonery, dressing up in colorful costumes, with absurd signs, twisting our communal chants and amusing protesters and the public alike. They come to protest as anarchist clowns in face paint and suits and ties. As fairies in frilly white wings, with crowns and wands, and signs that say “All Hail the Idiot-Boy King!” They come in suits, and hats, pipes in mouth, holding signs that say “Tell Us What To Think,” and “OBEY” over a picture of G.W.Bush, or “Another War is Possible.” They have their own rendition of the Hokey Pokey, “You put the money in, you take the money out, you put the sanctions in, and you shake it all about…” They lead chants such as “All we are saying is give war a chance,” “What do we want? War. When do we want it? Primetime” and “War is here, if you want it.”
Twisting traditional chants is a good place to breathe life into a rally. Groups such as the Radical Cheerleaders can be helpful examples of how to facilitate these peppy one-liners. The folks at Absurd Response twisted the standard, “Whose streets? Our streets!” into “Whose Street? Wall Street?” ACT UP Philly twisted it into “Whose Fucking Cops? Our Fucking Cops!” The standard “Hey Bush, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide” was met with "We need oil, we need gas, watch out world we'll kick your ass!" by the Absurd Response crew. They even targeted the old lefty slogan, “The people united will never be defeated,” with “The people who chant this will never be creative. The people, bad slogans, will always be defeated.”
And lastly, imitating clergy of any type is effective against the power of police. The public is tied when it comes to allegiance between police and nuns and priests, for example. Reverend Billy and the Stop Bombing/Stop Shopping Gospel Choir, (www.revbilly.com), has perfected this art. Rev. Billy is most notorious for his preaching at Starbuck’s, which prompted a memo sent out to Starbuck’s employees instructing them on what to do if Rev. Billy comes to their store. Billy sits at a table in Starbuck’s, in a dinner jacket and priest’s collar, with devotees, and starts talking to customers. He eventually leads the customers into a litany of sins committed by Starbuck’s. By the end, he is shouting, maybe standing on a table, waving his arms, his devotees hand out pamphlets, etc. When you incorporate religious authority into protest, things get confusing. And religious authority is easily feigned. Police do not like to be seen on TV roughing up nuns. You are inherently assumed innocent in religious frocks, sort of the opposite of their reaction to black bloc clothing. Even suits can play into this, as M.L.King illustrated. Just dressing like The Man can confuse the issues considerably.
Whether you pretend to be protesting against the demonstrators in satire, or you are imitating the enemy in suit and tie, or you are simply learning how to improvise the police into guerilla street theater, the need for increased creativity is upon us, and we can meet the need if we think about it. And as the FBI says, we are detailing how protesters can rehearse demonstration tactics for better results. Why would we NOT do that? We have lost our rights to free speech, our rights to protest nonviolently in permitted zones are severely decayed, we are shoved violently into free speech “zones,” placed far away from those we are protesting, often the Robocops outnumber the peaceful protesters present. Is it illegal to rehearse demonstration tactics for our own safety? No. Is it illegal for the FBI to spy and collect records on those doing that? Apparently not. Is it illegal for mobs of Robocops to line Seattle streets without proper identification? Yes. Do Seattle police break the law, Muni code 3.28, in Seattle, routinely? Yes. In Seattle, police break the law at protests. Thus, we have to protect ourselves from these rogue police. I am just doing what Tom Ridge has told the country to do, “Don’t be afraid, Be ready.”