Whitemantranslation: A Primer on Protest
Matt Clifford • February 5, 2017 • Progression •
I Promised Myself I Wouldn’t Get in a Fight on Facebook Today
The scary world got scarier recently. The bad team took official reign over the government. Protests righteously abound and haters, predictably, hated. The masses signed on. Yes, social media can provide a venue for connection and civic dialogue to express and explore our differences. MAGA OMG GOP WTF. Unfortunately, with all the fake news, alternative facts (really?), sponsored content, biased media, ego, heated emotions, distracted attention spans and anonymity inherent to cyberspace, these interactions have potential for quick and fateful detraction.
This dialogue, though, is one that must happen. We still mostly gotta live with one another. What is within our control is the qualities of the conversation. Too much of the conflict I witness in both physical and digital reality stems from participants speaking from essentially different contexts, leaving it wholly unsurprising when discussion descends into a frustrating exchange of capitalized confirmation biases and dismissive namecalling. This pattern is especially on display in the reaction to protests. And since there is going to be a lot of protesting going on while America is made great again, I thought perhaps I could attempt to clarify some of those misconceptions for my brethren and anyone else freaking out about some extra traffic like their land is being stolen. Let’s all get equal, then maybe after we actually talk. Or more importantly, we shut up for a minute and listen.
Before I proceed, disclaimers. I am not advocating hugging Trump supporters or validating their opinions as worthy of respect. The “alt-right” must be destroyed. I don’t want to sing kumbaya with a neonazi, and I will not give this illegitimate boypresident or any ilk which follows “a chance.” The anti-antifa (dafuq?!) on 4chan can piss their beds in night terrors and bug off. Their presence is an intrusion on our realities and having to live with them is a burden. Call me arrogant. Also, read topical literature written by POC and women and queers, not me. Seek more experienced organizers. I am aware of the tremendous amount of blindspots in my worldview and welcome being called out on them.
This exercise may be but a space for me to gather responses to the incessant frustrations hyperinformation offers so that I don’t spend hours typing it over and over again to the friend of a friend of a distant cousin who has never been more than a hundred miles from where they were born. It is a fluid document prone to growth. An incomplete reference.
Protest is at its core an individual’s expression of free speech. Any attempt to silence or criticize it solely because it is occurring and you don’t get it is no less than lazy censorship and failure to engage underlying issues. Free speech does cost consequences. Many regular protesters undergo extended surveillance, cop harassment, and undue arrest. Those who engage in alt-lawful tactics face that-plus. Police departments have Homeland Security tanks and geofenced monitors. Please fear not for the justice of Starbucks windows, their suffering still has insurance.
A purpose of protest is disruption for the sake of forcing societal observation onto unheard communities. It is not to demand immediate agreement (though that’d be nice). Blue Lives Matter’s mere linguistic existence is proof that people who otherwise wouldn’t are being forced to confront police brutality and systemic racial prejudice, even if they are clinging, and perhaps doubling down, on preconceived notions. Ego tends to be defended before it is dissolved. Exposure to ideas unentranced through school and media is necessary and sympathetic. Protest is a nascent step in that process, not a culmination. And it is historically effective in peaceful and alt-peaceful contexts. Boston Tea Party. Criticizing methodology over ideology only furthers the silence of those who had to disrupt to be heard initially by controlling the context dialogue is allowed to exist in. Make it fit. Violence fighting violence responding to violence with violence violently. Who started it? Can you hear me now?
Contemporary protest, however, differs from protest of yore in particular key areas that are not fully appreciated and illuminate much of the misperception impeding progress. The concept of a leaderless movement, while not new, became more lexiconed during Occupy in 2011. Leaders get surveilled, arrested, and assassinated. Leaders also naturally have their own agenda and cults of personality. A dehierarchized movement allows for a safe, sustainable bigger tent approach, gathering various causes under one banner in solidarity. Coalitions can form and pool resources to fight this huge machine. Autonomy is possible. Think Anonymous. There is a set ethic with different applications. When the brand shows up, it doesn’t need to re-establish itself, it can focus on its actions, like exposing rapists and corrupt hypocrisies, though its adherents may have varying motives.
Thus, when someone asks “what’s the point” they may hear as many answers as there are protestors. Contradictions do not a movement negate. It is not so hard to consider that while the anti-capitalists want to abolish private property, there may be others alongside them fighting for higher minimum wages or government-run single-payer universal health care. They both agree the system is not working for them. How many sects of Christianity are there that ultimately believe in the same God? Does the method one takes Christ in their mouth with disavow the possibility of salvation? If anything, attaching a movement to a single cause is like gambling all your chips on black. If it comes up red, game over. Not a wise strategy when the goal is to have a fist at the table.
Within every protest, then, there will be competing narratives of “peaceful” vs. “nonpeaceful.” ProtestPorn (and certain attention-seeking protestors) will show you the burning cars and smashed windows because that is the sensationalized clickbait that drives viewership. They will not show you the rescued food table, the volunteer street medic, the free schools, the yoga groups, etc. because those engaged in such solidarity put their phones down and their bodies on the line and are no longer potential media consumers. Protests can be peaceful and nonpeaceful. many marches have escalated from a peaceful gathering into mob mentality only after the arrival of excessive police presence. Violence may even be the last resort of someone with peaceful intentions. The efficacy lies in the targeting. (Also, if you still insist, consider millions of people marched Inauguration weekend and how much was attributed to one burned limo and two corporate store windows. The statistics don’t spell riot even when providing a shallow context. Micro-ad-hominem much?)
Furthermore, it is key to note that progress does not happen in a straight line. Fuck this Guardian headline: “Without a Path from Protest to power, the Women’s March will end up like Occupy.” While the actual article contains salient, albeit bitter, information; and there were indeed an annoying amount of liberal pinkhat photo-ops at the Women’s March equating the vagina with being a woman and who won’t be at another demonstration for four years; it is injurious thinking to equate change as so unambiguous and planned. Occupy didn’t fail, it dissolved, the tactics adapted, the dialectic moved on. (Let go, Micah White.) It got cold, legal funds were stretched, tents and blankets were being repeatedly stolen and destroyed by the police, urban camping bans were being enacted disproportionately affecting the homeless, etc. By this juncture, though, visibility had been achieved. Alliances had formed on the ground and it was time to go inside and do the work. There was a moment for confronting the system, showing up, being seen, and then another to build new ones in the sunrise of what had transpired. A potent witness, paradise now in the mind indestructible. Five years later, Bernie nearly broke the Clintons, neoliberalism is dying, and a (false prophet) populist won the presidency despite the establishment. Citizens are questioning the wealthy rather than desperately endeavoring to emulate them. Batman became a bad guy! LGBTQIA2P+ rights, while still awfully lacking and under active attack, are more pronounced than ever. Black Lives Matter. There are goals inside and out of electoral politics, and the achievement of both ends is benefitted by big tent movements that can accommodate all of them. Contradictions are part of the language of progress, a closer reflection to living in accordance with our actual nature. Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large and contain multitudes.
Protests aren’t perfect and don’t claim to be. There is a surface level of divide and conquer. Us into we and them. It is a surface we didn’t ask for. Protest can be mistaken as the totality of activism rather than the beginning, guilt assuaging. They can be easily co-opted by outside interests, nefariously infiltrated. Yet protests are held to a standard of perfection. When the first act of alt-peace commences, or major legislation isn’t rapidly passed, the entire movement is dismissed forthright. Conversely, dissenters are told they can’t have a perfect candidate (and Bernie was far, far from perfect) and to act like adults and vote for Hillary and cut Obama some slack cause he’s trying real, real hard. Protest has to be an impossible perfect to even be considered while HRC` has only to be slightly better than a spoiled xenophobic television rapist with shoddy business skills and no political experience or credibility. This double standard has long been the plight of the unconventional thinker: be twice as good to receive half the attention of those who have accepted the status of their zeitgeist assignment.
This is basic information, a primer on the circumstance and theory in which protest is operating today. There is deeper reading to do on this and other concepts of intersectionality, history, anarchy, radicalism, and the like, written by eminently more qualified and relevant sources. But they need the proper space to be presented and received in. What use is a good poem in a world ill-suited for poetry? I’m exhausted by wasted words screaming going nowhere. You don’t condone violence, got it. Racism is systemic and so are you for existing in it, checked. Your hate speech is protected by the first amendment, you have spoken. Use the proper radicool terminology or gtfo. Defriend, block. I ask this seriously who doesn’t want their identity validated in a safe space? How is that not human? I see you and you are warm.
For whatever, and there is much, wisdom I have acquired from social media and fellow beings, it took a rocky mountain of noisy shit to find it. I can’t seem to give up on connection and this discord is heartbreaking. We are closer to each other than we are to any government. Longing for kindred touch, only sure of ourselves and nothing. I have never been so simultaneously confused and certain. Please let this end without a hero.
And if this should destroy you,
the Donald is pissfitting his crowd sizes lost the weekend ratings.