Home / General / Histories for the Trump Era, Part 1

Histories for the Trump Era, Part 1



Since the election, my daily historical reading has taken on a different tone. Not in the sense of what I am reading, which hasn’t changed. But rather, my reactions to it are quite different. The repeal of Reconstruction makes me even angrier than before, the failures of the civil rights movement to go further moved from hopeful that we can revisit it in the future to extremely tragic, the labor history more hopeless, the naked and ugly white supremacy of the 19th century newly relevant, the history of capitalism largely a capitulation to the system that often doesn’t challenge it, and the environmental history less relevant. Maybe this will change over time. But it’s all framed by what is happening right now. Given all of this, I figured that it might be useful to write up thoughts about the past that could address what is happening now. This could be an occasional series.

In the last few days, I have been wondering what is the next step in the protests against Trump. That’s especially true in the context of the continued Muslim ban that has affected the lives of tens of thousands of people in this country, not to mention those outside the country. We have made our anger and outrage well-known. It’s received a lot of attention. It also hasn’t made one difference to Trump and Bannon. That’s hardly surprising. Protest doesn’t make presidents change their policies. Rather, it builds momentum for larger movements that will elect people that will change those policies and influences politicians to move slightly toward what you want.

But I have to wonder where we go from here. Continued protests, less large but often in random places around the nation have kept some pressure on. If we hold another giant protest on Sunday, it would be great but it wouldn’t make America less fascist either. And this is an issue where we can’t necessarily intervene very easily. These are issues that happen behind security in airports. That’s hard to move upon directly.

However, I do think we need to be figuring out how to up the ante in these protests because that is going to be necessary. If the next airport protests ended up with the storming of the gates and the mass arrests that would create, that’s actually not the worst thing in the world, if the people doing are trained to do so. And I suspect but don’t know that some of that training is beginning to happen. Moreover, given the likelihood of increased deportations, we can think about how to resist that deportation directly. Eventually, physical intervention is going to be necessary to save our friends, family, and allies. And that’s something I want to encourage because it may well be the only way forward.

That brings me to the Fugitive Slave Act and the inability to implement it in Boston. The passage of that law in 1850 led to tremendous anger in the North. For most northern whites, they didn’t really care about the fate of slaves, but many more were outraged by the idea of someone being kidnapped off the streets and returned to bondage. In Boston, that anger led to massive physical resistance. And that’s worth remembering as a model on how to resist Trump’s deportations today, especially in light of security forces that may well be openly aligned with fascism.

As a slave owned by Charles Suttle of Alexandria, Virginia, Anthony Burns had many privileges. He was allowed to hire himself out. He supervised the hiring out of four other slaves owned by Suttle. He had the freedom to take on additional jobs, as long as he paid his master a fee. He joined a church, where he became a preacher. He learned to read and write. Still, Anthony Burns was not content. At an early age he had learned that “there [was] a Christ who came to make us free” and felt “the necessity for freedom of soul and body.” In 1854, he took steps to find freedom. While working in Richmond, Burns boarded a ship heading north, to the city of Boston.

Burns arrived in Boston in March — a fugitive, but free. This new-found freedom, however, would be short-lived. Soon after his arrival he sent a letter to his brother, who was also a slave of Charles Suttle. Even though the letter was sent by way of Canada, it found its way into the hands of their master.

A few years earlier, Suttle could have expected little help from a northern state in recovering a fugitive slave. Nine states had personal liberty laws declaring that they would not cooperate with the federal government in the recapturing of slaves. But with the recent passing of the Fugitive Slave Act, a component of the Compromise of 1850, the law was on Suttle’s side.

Suttle travelled to Boston to claim his “property,” and on May 24, under the pretext of being charged for robbery, Burns was arrested. Boston abolitionists, vehemently opposed to the Slave Act, rallied to aid Burns, who was being held on the third floor of the federal courthouse. Two separate groups met at the same time to discuss Burn’s recapture: a large group, consisting mainly of white abolitionists, met at Fanueil Hall; a smaller group, mostly blacks, met in the basement of the Tremont Temple.

The meeting at the Tremont Temple was quickly over. Those present decided to march to the courthouse and release Burns, using force if necessary. The meeting at Fanueil Hall lasted much longer. The group there debated the course of action. When the intentions of the Tremont Temple gathering were announced, however, the meeting abruptly ended. About two hundred citizens left Fanueil Hall and headed to the courthouse.

The crowd outside the courthouse quickly grew from several hundred to about two thousand. A small group of blacks, led by white minister Thomas Wentworth Higginson, charged the building with a beam they used as a battering ram. They succeeded in creating a small opening, but only for a moment. A shot was fired. A deputy shouted out that he had been stabbed, then died several minutes later. Higginson and a black man gained entry, but were beaten back outside by six to eight deputies.

Boston inhabitants had successfully aided re-captured slaves in the past. In 1851, a group of black men snatched a fugitive slave from a courtroom and sent her to Canada. Anthony Burns would not share the same fate. Determined to see the Fugitive Slave Act enforced, President Franklin Pierce ordered marines and artillery to assist the guards watching over Burns. Pierce also ordered a federal ship to return Burns to Virginia after the trial.

Burns was convicted of being a fugitive slave on June 2, 1854. That same day, an estimated 50,000 lined the streets of Boston, watching Anthony Burns walk in shackles toward the waterfront and the waiting ship.

A black church soon raised $1300 to purchase Burns’ freedom. In less than a year Anthony Burns was back in Boston.

I don’t want to trivialize what physical resistance to Trump will look like. It’s not fun. There are real consequences for those involved. People doing this need discipline and training, not Black Bloc tactics that don’t help except when they are actually punching Nazis. But we are going to have to raise the stakes of protest if we are to match the forces that are coming. Learning how past protest movements have done that is important. And the physical resistance to the capture of Anthony Burns and the aftermath that effectively made the Fugitive Slave Act void in Boston is a good place to start.

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  • BobOso

    Every single Republican gets a general election opponent for state and federal offices. Not a single one gets to run unopposed.

    • Brett

      This. Even if they lose overwhelmingly, the challenge must be there – and who knows? If Democrats have a good wave year in counter-reaction to Trump, we might pick up a lot of surprise victories.

  • Hermph

    Always proud to read about the doings of early Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists, especially in my native New England. They got it right, early. Still doing good things, too.

    • delazeur

      I am a member of the United Church of Christ. To this day, the UCC brags about the fact that it was a group of Congregationalists who gave aid to the slaves that had revolted on La Amistad.

      Honestly, I think it’s a bit gross. White people today (myself included) do not deserve a pat on the back just because a member of their church did something decent 150 years ago.

      What have you done recently to live up to that legacy?

      • Joe_JP

        The U-U Church has done various things up to today in the promotion of social justice.


      • Hermph

        Sorry, “Current Events for the Trump Era, Part 1” is in another post. Or http://www.uuworld.org/articles/media-roundup-2017-02-03

        • delazeur

          Don’t pretend like you weren’t giving yourself a pat on the back for something that someone else did before you were even born.

          It’s not a huge deal — we all do it sometimes — but it’s still worth pointing out and avoiding as much as possible. Call it a friendly reminder and move on with your day.

      • PhoenixRising

        That’s not an unfair question, except that the answer from an individual doesn’t tell you that much.

        I was raised in a UCC church. In fact, the Congregationalist church that hosted one of the children who survived the Amistad revolt; she was educated and, at her request, returned to Africa to educate her home village in the 1850s. That is a continued source of local pride, along with the rescue of a captured fugitive by a racially integrated militia in 1858 which was, in some senses, the first armed clash of the Civil War.

        However, what are we doing today for the least among us? is always food for reflection. That church, which I am not a member of, has been a major sponsor of peace and reconciliation in Central America for the past decades and has sponsored refugee families and this weekend formally rededicated the sanctuary for the purpose John Brown’s family cut the timber to provide: A shelter against unjust law for the pursued vulnerable that are not citizens.

        I’m not a Christian, but I’m not embarrassed to have gone to Brownie meetings and youth group at that church.

        It shaped my commitment to others and models the moral reply to the fights we are facing.

        • delazeur

          It’s very true that using history as a source of inspiration like that has a lot of value. I would expect that the membership of that particular church is motivated to go out and do good in a way that they would not be if they belonged to a different church.

        • DocAmazing

          In a better world, the Brownies would have been named for John Brown.

  • I think this is correct. I also think that more states and cities are going to have to declare themselves sanctuary cities and find out a way to actually affirm that, and churches need to step up the same type of sanctuary movement that existed in the 80s.

    During the immigration battles of 10 years ago, the Catholic Church was fond of saying that if the government makes what we call ministry illegal then the Church will engage in civil disobedience. Especially if the other draft executive orders against immigrants come out, we’ll have to test this and have all faiths do everything possible to directly assist and protect refugees and immigrants. I do not mean to suggest that secular orgs don’t have a place in this as well, just that faith groups do have an explicit calling here, and a unique position in the country that makes it particularly important they stand up.

  • El Guapo

    Man, I hope we are brave enough. I’ve always wondered what I’d do in a similar situation, and maybe I will find out. Can’t say I’m not scared.

    Also, typo:

    And the physical resistance to the capture of Robert Burns and the aftermath that effectively made the Fugitive Slave Act void in Boston is a good place to start.

    Scots Wha Hae!

    • Asteroid_Strike_Brexit

      Not so fun fact: the scots Robert Burns once planned to go to the Caribbean to work as a slave driver.

  • Murc

    I’m genuinely unsure about stuff like this.

    Protests are political actions aimed at building support for your policies, and in the context of the US the balance of political power has historically, and still does, lie in the mushy middle of the white electorate.

    And those guys don’t like riots. They don’t like’em at all. There are some kinds of physical resistance they’re okay with, or at least CAN be okay with, but they tend to be passive-aggressive, things like forming human body shields or occupying places of business, education, and government. The entire reason the Civil Rights Era protests were so effective is that despite his contempt for white moderates and respectability politics, King and his fellow organizers were actually masters of the craft of appealing to sufficient numbers of white moderates using respectability politics.

    I mean, Erik says it himself:

    People doing this need discipline and training, not Black Bloc tactics

    Lots of folks in the political center don’t like seeing people in masks break windows, throw firebombs, or try and assault the pigs even if the pigs have it coming. Mass storming of airport security checkpoints is the kind of thing that could go either way; if the protesters do something like pin a TSA agent making minimum wage to the ground and kick them to death, we look like terrorists, whereas if security panics and opens fire into a crowd of unarmed protestors, they look like fascist goons.

    Speaking on an individual level… I’ve always made a deliberate effort to not be that One White Guy at protests. You know who I’m talking about; the guy in steel-toed boots with a Che t-shirt who is really eager to escalate things and has a balaclava and a baseball bat or asp in his rucksack. He probably also has a well-off daddy and access to really good lawyers.

    I also have a sneaking suspicion that Trump and Bannon really want us to escalate. That they want an excuse to leave a lot of bodies on the ground and start the race war Bannon dreams of. Not sure myself if we should oblige them; I have the ability to become just another harmless white dude if I want to if that happens, other people do not have that option, which means I think I need to be more careful than others.

    • Joe_JP

      So protests, including in certain cases those that involve breaking the law and resisting authority, might work if done the right way? The Burns precedent isn’t the only way to go here. And, “sanctity cities” where tyrannical immigration policies are largely dead letters are somewhat akin to even that fugitive slave scenario.

      • Murc

        So protests, including in certain cases those that involve breaking the law and resisting authority, might work if done the right way?

        Yes. Absolutely. I mean, that’s what civil disobedience is; breaking the law and resisting authority.

        But “done the right way” is putting in a lot of overtime in that sentence. This stuff is legitimately hard, and there’s a genuine tension between “this is utterly and completely morally justified” and “this may not be a good political tactic, we should do this other thing that will work better.”

        There’s a tendency to dismiss people saying “maybe this will backfire” as concern trolls, but it’s a real concern.

        • Joe_JP

          Sure. The bigger the problem, the harder addressing it will be. Any hardball tactic, as seen by pushback to Martin Luther King Jr., will result in concern. Even that basically involved inviting violence — it was clearly expected the state or private parties would attack protestors. It was playing with fire at times.

          Like Ann Romney said, this stuff is hard.

    • NewishLawyer

      The problem is that the Black Bloc doesn’t speak for the majority of protestors. I am not sure they speak for anyone except the desire to cause violence. Notice how they hang out on the edges of any protest they are involved in, far away from anyone who would say “Cut that out.”

      I’m not an anarchist. I am a liberal who believes in civil rights and civil law. Anarchy is misery to me, not utopia.

      Bannon certainly would love to see a Watts Riot unfold on TV.

      • BiloSagdiyev

        Because he believes it could be stopped in ten minutes. You know how…

    • Roberta

      I don’t actually see any evidence that people are less likely to disapprove of what you call passive-aggressive tactics than the more aggressive ones, like storming an airport. There is Great Concern in either case. Passive-aggressive tactics can also lead to death, and those deaths would be exploited in the same way as a hypothetical TSA agent killed by airport stormers.

      Aside from which, there will be times when we need to brave the disapproval of the mushy white centrists in order to accomplish an important goal, like saving someone from deportation, and also to rally our side. What did the mushy white centrists think about the battle for Anthony Burns’ freedom? They probably disapproved, if anything, but it created enough furor that there were funds raised to buy his freedom. (Similarly, if Milo was going to out undocumented immigrants, I am okay with militant protests shutting down his speech. Even if that provokes some degree of backlash). We have to be prepared to fight some backlash, not constantly avoid it.

      • Murc

        I don’t actually see any evidence that people are less likely to disapprove of what you call passive-aggressive tactics than the more aggressive ones, like storming an airport.

        The entire Civil Rights Era is strong but not absolute proof of that, I think. I mean, maybe the same political coalition, which, again, hinged on and absolutely required centrist white folks (as ours still does), gets assembled if King decides to storm police stations to free unjustly imprisoned black men and burn down all segregated businesses and conduct an extensive campaign of destruction and violence? But that seems deeply unlikely.

        • Roberta

          My sense is that the centrist white folks who would have been so freaked out by storming police stations (no one is talking about an “extensive campaign of destruction and violence” here) that they would have declined to support the civil rights movement were also freaked out by what King actually did, and did in fact decline to support the civil rights movement. If your support for a cause like civil rights can be shaken by some militancy by a minority of members of that cause–and they will nearly always be a minority, the majority of protesters will nearly always be peaceful and probably also non-disruptive, just because that’s easier–then it’s going to find something to be shaken by.

          I will definitely be doing more reading about that era, in any case. And Reconstruction and post-Reconstruction.

          • Murc

            My sense is that the centrist white folks who would have been so freaked out by storming police stations (no one is talking about an “extensive campaign of destruction and violence” here) that they would have declined to support the civil rights movement were also freaked out by what King actually did, and did in fact decline to support the civil rights movement.

            This is 100% untrue, as evidenced by the fact that the Civil Rights movement did, in fact, secure the enormous white support it needed in order to get its agenda passed. This would seem to indicate that its tactics were successful in not alienating necessary political support and in fact very successful in increasing and securing it.

            It might be the case that different tactics would also have yielded the same results, of course. I can’t disprove or prove a negative.

            • Roberta

              The point is that talking about “necessary” political support is begging the question here. Obviously whatever white support the CR movement lost wasn’t “necessary.” Which means it does come down to your second paragraph.

            • PhoenixRising

              I’d like to strongly recommend that, if you are thinking about the pragmatic aspect of the question ‘what kinds of protest will the middle majority accept?’ and perhaps the question ‘And how do we who want to rescue the republic make that kind of protest happen?’, read this:

              This is An Uprising

    • Snarki, child of Loki

      It’s not TSA that’s the issue, it’s ICE.

      And if they ignore court orders at a particular point of entry, perhaps they should be doxxed.

  • Mike in DC

    Well, back in the days of the civil rights movement , there were parallel channels of struggle: in the courts; in the legislature; peaceful protests; civil disobedience; statements and displays of militancy (Malcolm X, the Black Panthers); sporadic acts of violence; and rioting.

    I’m not for the last two. I do think we need to start planning for massive and persistent civil disobedience. Pushing our representatives to stiffen their spines is necessary as well. The legal fights are just beginning. The only thing missing is any organized militancy. Not violence or terrorism, but the implication of violent resistance in the act of self defense. Also, a more pointed or strident critique of the nationalist movement. I could be wrong, but I think there was some political value to such militancy in the 60s. It helped focus the minds of those dealing with the demands of peaceful protesters, that less pleasant alternatives to compromise and conciliation could be put on the table.

    • I don’t want to address the displays by the Black Panthers because that gets complicated, but I would welcome people following the example of Malcolm, exhibiting well reasoned arguments for violent resistance, if necessary, and presenting well-disciplined displays of strength so that it wouldn’t become necessary.

      • Murc

        It’s worth noting that the Black Panthers displays were usually just that… displays. And they were highly effective at that.

        Like, the Black Panthers didn’t actually tool up and go after the cops on a regular basis, because the people running that movement weren’t idiots. But they managed to give the impression, which I’ve always thought was about 75% legit and 25% bluff, “Hey, all y’all feel like big men clubbing down unarmed black folks, but maybe if you try it against a bunch of us who are armed to the teeth things won’t go the way you’re used to, hmm? And maybe you don’t know if we’re around the corner at any given time.”

        • Mike in DC

          Hmm. Maybe I should apply for an FFL and open that gun store catering to prog/libs I’ve daydreamed about. I’ll sell artisanal small batch hollow point ammo and certified organic cruelty free full metal jacket rounds.

          • Murc

            You’re joking, but there might be an actual market for that in some parts of the country.

            There are actually an enormous number of liberals who enjoy guns and shooting. I’m friends with a guy who basically bleeds blue who as a Curios and Relics collectors license and whose idea of a fun weekend is examining barrel shanks with a jewelers loupe to determine the import and export history of rifles.

            And a lot of those guys really fucking hate that usually their local gun store options involve a giant Confederate Flag on the black wall and a proprietor and clientele who think that “Muslim Hunting License” bumper stickers are hi-larious. So there could be a niche here.

            • so-in-so

              Yes, MAJOR sucks that to get a license to buy ammo, I have to take a course sponsored by – the NRA. Why not just require I donate to the GOP for the privilege? And I live in a “blue” state (yeah holdover from when the NRA was sane and worked for gun safety, but couldn’t the legislature pretend to notice that something changed?).

            • Mike in DC

              Actually I’m half serious. There probably is a niche, and the thought was inspired by visiting a few gun stores and getting a wing nut vibe from them. I’d have to figure out how to make sure that the store embodied progressive values (community service/charity?) But it would be fun to give it a shot (pun intended).

              • Michael Masinter

                Just make clear that all the firearms you sell are produced by or intended for locabores.

            • Davis X. Machina

              Another lefty cruffler? Who knew?

            • The Lorax

              That’s not a thing, is it? Tell me that sticker isn’t a thing. I can’t google it. Ugg.

              • BiloSagdiyev

                Geez, don’t you read pickup truck window stickers?

                At least ten years ago, it was “Terrorist Hunting License”, fashioned after a normal game license, but made bigger, and put on the back of a truck. It sure raises the question, in an era of the all-volunteer military, what you’re doing stateside driving to the Dairy Queen.

                If it has morphed into a Muskim hunting license, I am saddened but unsurprised.

                I’ve just recently learned that out west, another sticker is, “Save 100 elk – kill a wolf.”

        • so-in-so

          Of course, the police then were also less well armed – the hand outs of military style equipment hadn’t really begun (except to National Guard) and “SWAT” was not yet an acronym for militarized police trained to clear buildings.

          Which is to say it is tougher to make the police back down now than it was then.

          • Hogan

            Fred Hampton is not here to tell you they didn’t really back down. They sneaked up.

            • BiloSagdiyev

              After they were sure the drugging of him had taken effect.

  • I agree that the left hasn’t figured out how to effectively advance political goals outside of elections.

    During Occupy, perhaps my biggest disappointment was seeing a mythical “Black Bloc” for the first time, and realizing they didn’t know what they were doing any better than I was. I wanted to see protesting ninjas, and instead it was a bunch of angry, unhelpful people I already knew shaking fences and knocking over newspaper dispensers. And I was open to militant resistance, so long as it was more than personal catharsis masquerading as revolution.

    • Murc

      I was Black Bloc curious for a long time, but they just don’t seem to have very well-developed political philosophy or goals. It’s like “Do you hate capitalism? Do you like breaking shit? If yes, come help us destroy capitalism by breaking shit! Doesn’t matter what shit, all sources of capital are equally worthy of being smashed!”

      • In my experience, they want to be perceived as anarchists green berets but they are more of a color coded angry mob.

        Someone followed the guy who punched Richard Spencer. He was yelling at the puncher and calling him a criminal, but I wish the puncher had a better comeback. A snappy punch-Nazis bon mot would be best, but I would’ve taken anything besides the angry “fuck you’s”. They have no chill, and they need some.

      • DocAmazing

        Black Bloc is also extremely loaded with provocateurs. The number of Black Bloc-sters who go home from the demo and call up their handlers is surprising.

        • Barry_D

          Supposedly the FBI had so many agents in the CPUSA that Hoover was considering putting his own guy in charge, because he could win a majority of votes.

    • NewishLawyer

      I think the problem is that the left often is way overbroad as a group. OWS never came up with goals because there were too many groups involved. You had everyone from cops and teachers who probably would have been happy with some serious regulation of Wall Street and getting their houses back to people who wanted to upend the entire financial system and start again.

      I got criticized during the early days of OWS for asking “What are their goals? What do they want to accomplish?”

      • Murc

        I think the problem is that the left often is way overbroad as a group.

        This is our great strength and also our great weakness.

        It also doesn’t combine well with… a lot of us are anti-hierarchical and anti-authoritarian, especially those of us who came up and were radicalized during the Bush years. (There’s also a small group of leftists who turned super authoritarian during the same time period, who are fortunately a minority within the movement but they do exist.)

        But the problem is that if you have a huge group of people who are anti-hierarchical and anti-authoritarian, and really into consensus decision-making, it becomes very, very hard to make decisions. Because there does come a point where you have to bluntly tell people “No. We’re not doing that. If that’s a dealbreaker, leave.” It’s an organizational necessity and something we’re just… bad at. Especially since taking that line often exposes you to moral opprobrium depending on whose ox you are goring.

        • NewishLawyer

          The anti-hierarchy stuff is not so bad. It makes our protests a bit hard to organize.

          The big issue is that “No enemies on the left” ends up becoming “So I am going to put you on the right.”

          I experience this a lot when Republicans and Libertarians treat me like I am farther to the left than your average Democrat (almost like the second coming of Trotsky) but people on the left will more or less accuse me of being a “Secret Corporate Republican” or some such because I am a mainstream center-left liberal interested in working within the Democratic Party and institutions.

          Plus I believe that the profit motive is important, capitalism is not horrible, and I can roll my eyes when I see vague sentiments passing themselves off as profound wisdom whether left or right.

          • Murc

            The anti-hierarchy stuff is not so bad. It makes our protests a bit hard to organize.

            The problem with it is that someone needs to be able to make a decision when there’s no consensus, and the second that happens people flip their shit.

            The big issue is that “No enemies on the left” ends up becoming “So I am going to put you on the right.”

            I’m starting to wonder if we just need to abandon the idea that we can’t have intra-coalition fights. You can’t suppress or avoid those. They’re always going to happen. Trying to keep a tight lid on them just seems to lead to them coming out in unhealthy ways, and one of those ways is “if we declare you not an ally, then we can say and do whatever the fuck we want and not violate the principle of No Enemies.”

            So it’s like… fuck it. Let’s have the fights. Someone’ll win, then we’ll move on.

            • DocAmazing

              I’m sorry, I must have missed something. Were we not having the fights?

          • There’s a good reason for this.

      • I agree to some extent, but the fact that there’s always a 10:1 demands committee to logistics committee ratio is not a problem that’s in any way confined to the anarchist left.

      • Barry_D

        “OWS never came up with goals because there were too many groups involved. ”

        IMHO, they did succeed. Remember that the topic of the Serious People before OWS was just how much the rest of us needed to be screwed over more to help the 1%.

        OWS changed the argument. They were brutally crushed, but that is likely the fate of the majority of leftist movements who are strong enough to accomplish anything.

    • Hob

      That’s what leads to me so often biting my tongue and backing out of conversations on things like whether the recent Berkeley protest was all good or not. I saw so many people arguing “It wasn’t violent – property damage isn’t violence! The university can repair all those things!” And I was like… okay, so it’s not violence… so what is it? What is it for? And the only answer I see is “to make noise, to express how upset we are – if we just make noise with our voices and don’t smash shit, it’s not serious in the same way.” Which to me sounds more like personal catharsis.

      (I’m aware that there’s disagreement over the facts of whether there was really any significant amount of shit-smashing in Berkeley or not. I’m talking about folks who believed that there was, and that it was great.)

      • I dunno, I feel like the Berkeley protests are a good example of achieving something by breaking windows. They canceled Milo’s talk and nobody got shot (or arrested? I’m not sure about that one). If the same thing happens every time he is scheduled to speak at a university, that would be a good thing IMO.

        • McAllen

          Yes. Reminder that during past Milo appearances:

          1) An anti-milo protester was shot by a Milo fan.
          2) Milo targeted a trans woman on the campus he was speaking at, and she had to drop out due to the threats she received afterwards.

          Those alone are reason enough to shut his appearances down aggressively.

          • JL

            3) At UNM, only a few days ago, Milo outed undocumented students and encouraged his audience to “purge” their community of “illegals” by getting them deported.

        • Hob

          Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that the Berkeley protest overall didn’t achieve a good goal. I’m saying that I’m not seeing evidence as to why the specific tactic of smashing shit is necessary toward achieving that goal. That’s what I meant by “what is it for”– not “what was the protest for”, but rather “OK, you don’t think property damage is violence, but even so, why do you like it?”

          Again, I know it arguably wasn’t a thing that happened to any significant degree in this case, and if it did, I’m not saying it ruined everything. But I’m responding to specific claims (like the one you seem to be making right now) that it definitely should have happened and was necessary and, by implication, we should do more of it. The rationale I’m seeing is either “we did X and Y, and things worked out, so Y was effective”, or “Y is more extreme than X, so if X is effective, then Y must be even better.”

          Maybe it’s nitpicking to point out the not very rigorous logic there, but I think nitpicking can be important when you’re dealing with an emotionally loaded thing where it’s so tempting to rationalize an impulse– I mean, smashing shit is cathartic, that’s not in doubt, and therefore I don’t necessarily want to just trust my gut on that.

          • JL

            I’d say that smashing windows at the student center likely contributed to the decision to cancel the event.

            The stuff afterwards…for some reason that I don’t understand, the Pacific Northwest, which I’m defining to extend south to the Bay Area here, is reflexively smashy in a way that other parts of the country just aren’t. I think it’s not a huge deal, but also kind of pointless, like you’re saying. But it’s a regional cultural tic. It happens semi-frequently there. Other regions also have anarchists, black blocs, angry overenergized 20-year-olds, people who hate big banks or big corporations, police provocateurs, and so on, all the factors that people usually blame, and do the smashy thing far, far less often. *shrug* Maybe someone has written a dissertation on it. I find some kind of irony in the fact that protesters in the urban northeast, the region famous for its abrasive assholes, tend to be very polite protesters comparatively speaking, while the ones in a mellow region like to break shit. Maybe the Pacific Northwest and Bay Area need more opportunities for day-to-day catharsis.

            • Sophia

              for some reason that I don’t understand, the Pacific Northwest, which I’m defining to extend south to the Bay Area here, is reflexively smashy in a way that other parts of the country just aren’t.

              The reason is whiteness. “Reflexively smashy” is also a good description of Trump voters.

  • McAllen

    But by using force against the slave owners, aren't the abolitionists really no better than the slave owners themselves?

  • I’m going to a No Ban/No Wall rally in San Francisco tomorrow. I don’t fear that the rally itself will turn violent or that the police monitoring it will get out of hand (they were great, actually, at the Women’s March). My fear is that Black Bloc will show up and things will get ugly for no constructive reason.

    • Chetsky

      oh, got a pointer/link?

  • NewishLawyer

    Erik, what did the Civil Rights movement do to train protestors against the physical violence and harassment they were dealing with. We have all seen the films of Bull Connor’s dogs and firehouses being let go on protestors or Southerners attacking a bus filled with Freedom Riders. I have also seen people (white and black) at lunch counters get what look likes the entire contents of the restaurant poured on them.

    How were the protestors trained to keep their cool and not strike back?

    • Joe_JP

      Good question. I recall reading about training sessions. Erik can provide some details given his expertise.

    • The short answer is that there was a lot of training that really shaped the movement through about 1963. The longer answer is that I should write another post in this series about it.

    • PhoenixRising

      The book you want is a history by the late David Halberstam, called ‘The Children’. He was a reporter at the Nashville newspaper in 1959-62, and used his notes and articles from that era to…answer that question.

      In fact, on further thought, that book might be useful for anyone who is reading this thread.

  • Roberta

    I think you’re correct, but the cheap shot at the Black Bloc (some of whose tactics I don’t particularly like) is both unnecessary and untrue. They do help, even when they’re not punching Nazis. See JL’s post here:


    And for what it’s worth, I’ve heard similar stories from legal observers.

    • witlesschum

      Thanks for sharing that. I’d advise everyone like me who doesn’t really go to protests and such to read it.

    • Hob

      That’s a thoughtful article that points out a lot of true things that many people are probably unaware of. And yet I’m really unimpressed with it, because I think it’s one of those people SHOULD understand what we’re doing and if they don’t, it’s their problem things.

      That is: if it’s the case that there are lots of people who put on the outfit for reasons other than smashing shit, but there are also people who just want to smash shit, and the latter are also happy to proudly tell everyone that that’s what the Black Bloc is all about… that’s a problem. Simply declaring that it shouldn’t be a problem, and that anyone who gets the wrong impression from this situation is just being unfair, is naive.

      It verges on the same kind of “no true Scotsman” situation where, say, people who identify as libertarians are always pissed off that other people stereotype libertarians as Peter Thiel types. It may not be fair that this happens if the latter group is a smaller faction, but it still doesn’t make sense to just dismiss people who have seen a ton of idiotic shit in our political landscape that gave them the impression that there’s something about libertarianism that largely appeals to rich raging assholes. And if someone thinks there’s still a “good” version of libertarianism worth salvaging, at some point they might have to think about biting the bullet and calling it something else; it’s just a fucking name.

      It’s frustrating that the author of that piece acknowledges some things that are directly connected to all of the above, but never really makes the connection. For instance:

      “They enjoy the solidarity of being in an easily demarcated group” – well, solidarity cuts both ways. If you want people to identify your affiliation entirely by what you’re wearing, then how do you not own the actions of those other guys who are wearing it too?

      “They are organizers at something where police have been stalking and harassing organizers in between actions and thus want to keep their identities as secure as they can for as long as they can” – I mean, okay, but isn’t this kind of a massive failure of collective/social thinking, where if you define “they” as the good guys, it doesn’t matter at all what other effects this has? Specifically: it’s common knowledge that there are police provocateurs out there, probably lots of them. I think it’s safe to say that they’re delighted to be assigned to a group that wears face masks; what better tool could you possibly give them for destroying you? If you think it’s worth the risk anyway, okay, but can we at least acknowledge this incredibly obvious problem?

      • Roberta

        I think you’re reading an argument into the post that it’s not making. It does not say that the helpful Black Bloc people who got a medic and their patient to safety don’t, in some way, ‘own’ the window-smashing ones. It does not say there are no costs to wearing face masks, it says there are reasons why they do. The point is pretty simple: the simplistically demonizing discourse about the Black Bloc is harmful, and not just for the Black Bloc people themselves, but also for the people they help.

        If your sole answer to that is “well uh they’re asking for it by wearing masks and associating with bad people and if they try to argue otherwise it’s a No True Scotsman,” then I’m unimpressed.

        • Hob

          I don’t think that’s a good summary of what I said. I wrote more than a single sentence because I wanted to be clearer, and not come across as the idiotic caricature you proposed; I guess I failed. I’ll try again, with even less conciseness.

          1. It doesn’t say there are no costs to wearing face masks, but it doesn’t acknowledge what those might be. At all! An argument like this that doesn’t even glancingly acknowledge the provocateur problem is… not necessarily devoid of value, but definitely frustrating and incomplete.

          2. It doesn’t make sense to say, on the one hand, “I (in some way) own the behavior of the window-smashing guys”, but on the other hand, “If other people focus on the window-smashing guys, they are simplistically demonizing me… and the way to stop them from doing that is to tell them that they shouldn’t.”

          2a. If you think someone’s view of you is unfair, even if it is unfair, and yet it is a very predictable consequence of the way you’re doing things, then it is naive to think that the answer is “tell them to stop being unfair.”

          Fair warning, I’m about to use a deliberately absurd and extreme example just to clarify the general principle I’m talking about: if I walk around with swastikas on, but they’re Buddhist swastikas, I will get a lot of undeserved shit. I may be able to use some of these shit-getting occasions as teaching moments for explaining the history of the swastika, etc.; maybe that’s the whole idea and it’s worth it for me. But it is incredibly obvious why I’m getting shit, and that is not going to change by me getting mad at everyone else’s historical ignorance.

          3. The aspect of the author’s argument that relies on insider knowledge (e.g. if you participated in these specific actions that I was part of, you would know that we’re really like such-and-such… and that is the only way to know that) is the kind of thing that almost never impresses anyone, regardless of how true it may be. It comes across as just a declaration of subculture loyalty, especially if you’re talking to people in other activist traditions who think of their job as figuring out how to talk to other people on those other people’s terms.

          4. “Don’t stereotype people who happen to like Insane Clown Posse” is one thing. “Don’t stereotype people who have chosen to dress identically and be anonymous for the specific purpose of making it impossible to tell them apart” is a lot more to ask. I’m fine with positive statements about the unrecognized good things various people are doing; I’m less fine with this “You’re demonizing us for no reason, and if you’d just accept what I’m saying then we wouldn’t have this problem!” thing, because it totally ignores the common-sense reasons that are going to lead the other 99,000 people who don’t happen to be reading that blog post to develop the same “demonizing” impressions.

          • Hob

            3a. “You have to understand, this thing I’m doing that arguably has harmful side effects– it’s worth it because of [specific social benefit to the world]” is a better argument than “it’s worth it because of [benefit to me, the activist]”. Here I’m talking about the “I can’t let police identify me” thing. Even if that benefit is personal safety— and even if you’re emphasizing that your safety only matters inasmuch as you need to be able to go on doing good work— it is unreasonable for radicals to expect the general public (by which I mean, even the most well-intentioned among the general public) to give that much of a shit about how difficult it is to be a radical. Those are real concerns, but they can’t be your most important argument for why you have to do things this particular way. That is, if you are indeed acknowledging that there are unfortunate side effects of doing it that way (which, again, I don’t think this piece really does acknowledge).

          • JL

            Okay, as the author of the post being discussed here, I want to point out, first of all, that I wasn’t talking about me at all, as I’m not a black blocker, I’m a medic, which I thought was pretty clear in the post. I wrote the post after I came back from medicking the DC protests, frustrated and angry about the way people were talking about them. You might have been frustrated and angry too in my place. I wanted people to get a different view than the one being presented by various media (who half the time don’t even seem to understand that there is no organization called “Black Bloc”), to see what I saw.

            The point of the post was to try to get some “insider” knowledge to be not insider knowledge anymore. Because I am aware that a lot of people don’t know this stuff.

            Yes, it is possible for police provocateurs to hide in black blocs (and other anonymized groups). This is a correct point on your part. It (somewhat surprisingly, I guess) wasn’t one I saw being made in the anti-black-bloc arguments that prompted me to write the post, so I didn’t mention it. Since you brought it up, I will say that IMO it’s the single biggest weakness of black blocs.

            You’re implying that it’s just common sense that people associate black blocs with window-smashing and nothing else. But why? I’ve seen way more neutral or protective behavior from black blocs since I started medicking than I have window-smashing (it’s true that if I lived in that stretch from the Bay Area through Seattle where smashy tactics are more of a thing culturally, and thus had medicked there more often, I would probably have seen more smashing).

            I’m not trying to make people uncritically endorse black blocs. Just to complicate the picture in their minds, to get them to see things from my point of view.

            • Hob

              Thanks for responding! And also, thank you for doing medic work, which is super important and way more useful than anything I’m doing. (I did understand that point in your piece, and I should’ve made it clearer that I didn’t think you were being defensive on your own behalf, but rather trying to defend a group you’re sympathetic to.)

              First, as I said at the start but I’ll say again, I think what you wrote was thoughtful and it’s a solid piece in many ways. If your goal was to “complicate the picture”, you did that.

              What I had a problem with was more in terms of emphasis, I guess (the provocateur issue was the big one there; I really was baffled to not see that, since it’s like the number one thing that anyone would ever bring up, except I guess for whoever you were responding to in this case)… as well as what seemed to me like the general attitude of “Everybody, stop talking about the wrong things!!” And if I haven’t yet made it clear why I think the latter isn’t a good approach, I don’t think I can explain it any better, sorry.

              But I should be clearer on what I meant by “common sense.” As you say, you’re an insider. It would be great if more people were involved enough to see what you see up close; but that’s just not the case. If things get smashed and burned, it is kind of ridiculous to expect people to pay more attention to “neutral or protective behavior” (that they haven’t personally witnessed up close) than to the smashing and burning. What they see is that the asshole rioters are people who are visually indistinguishable from the good guys, and who (when they talk about themselves – or at least they say it’s about themselves, of course there’s no way to know) claim to be part of the same faction. And “people disguise themselves in order to avoid taking responsibility for destructive acts” is an easily understood concept, whereas “people have to disguise themselves to avoid being identified as activists… even though the vast majority of activists, including every famous radical I admire, didn’t do that” isn’t so much.

              I think ultimately even the best blog post, or 100 blog posts, won’t change that. You are asking people to make a leap of faith that ultimately they have no reason to make. Asshole hangers-on who burn shit for fun, and undercover cops starting riots that get everyone else hurt, are real problems, and the use of masks facilitates both. Unless there are much better explanations for why it’s so damn important for the good guys to have masks, people are going to hold them responsible for the whole mess even if they are fully aware that the good guys aren’t the same as the bad guys. It’s a little like the gun control debate in that way.

              • JL

                I appreciate you engaging in good faith.

                The thing is, occasionally it’s true that the “good guys” and the “bad guys” are the same people. Not always, by any means. But the person who evacuates a wounded person may be the person who breaks a bank window (not, if they have any sense of ethics about it, at an action that wasn’t meant to be confrontational – that’s a pretty common ethical principle that came out of the Battle of Seattle aftermath, keeping that kind of shit to your own actions). I like the first behavior, I don’t like the second. But I’m not going to look only at the second in evaluating that person (I’m not even going to look primarily at the second, because I value protecting people more than I value the window, or even the avoidance of minor PR problem that breaking the window might produce).

                Of course, like I’ve said in various places here, I’ve seen a lot more protective behavior than window-smashing. I’ve actually seen very little window-smashing in my time doing this (and again, there’s a regional aspect to that, though I’ve traveled). The one Inauguration Day protest (where I didn’t actually see the windows get broken) that had a few broken windows was only the second or third time in dozens, possibly hundreds, of protests that I’ve medicked.

                I am, however, aware that a lot of people who don’t like the second behavior are going to feel more strongly about it than I do (I used to feel more strongly about it than I do). And that they aren’t aware of the first behavior at all, whether occurring on its own in a purely protective black bloc, or in conjunction with the second behavior, not only because they aren’t close enough to see it, but because protests are rarely covered in a way that would show it to them.

                So it’s true that I do want people to prioritize things differently. I actually think this has been gradually happening, thanks particularly to Black Lives Matter. I know large numbers of people who five years ago would have felt that a broken window put a protest beyond the pale, but who reconsidered those views because of Ferguson and Baltimore, and now take a view of “I’m not happy about it but eh, the protest is still Good and I can see where people were coming from, and god, I just don’t care that much when I see what the police are doing.” I want to encourage a perspective that sees the true problems as police violence and whatever the protest is protesting, because I think it’s the correct perspective. It’s the anti-purity-troll perspective, which seems like it should fit with LGM. :) Except in this case the purity trolls aren’t Stein voters or whatever, but people who take a similar approach to tactical purity. To that end, I talk and write a lot about my experiences with police violence, and with protests in general. I could have written that post about the Inauguration protests, one that wasn’t about black blocs at all but compared the bad things that happened to protesters to the far-less-than-what-you’d-get-after-a-sports-championship vandalism, but didn’t because the one I wrote felt more urgent.

                The one I actually wrote is trying to shift both people’s perceptions and priorities by giving them information that they didn’t have. It’s gotten a level of interest that has surprised me, but I’m aware that even a hundred such posts would only do so much. Any writing I do would only do so much, regardless of what it was on. There are journalists who follow me on social media, I know at least a couple have read it…if I get a few journalists to see things differently, that would matter, because journalists shape how the public sees these things.

                “people have to disguise themselves to avoid being identified as activists… even though the vast majority of activists, including every famous radical I admire, didn’t do that”

                The Boston Tea Party was a 1770s-version black bloc. :) And surely they’ve seen images of masked pro-democracy protesters in other countries.

                Asshole hangers-on who burn shit for fun, and undercover cops starting riots that get everyone else hurt, are real problems, and the use of masks facilitates both.

                Both true. Maybe I’ll elaborate on other reasons why protesters would want to anonymize themselves, with masks or otherwise, in a future post. And perhaps connect it to Internet pseudonymity, which has similar problems where there are a lot of vulnerable people for whom it is deeply important, and also some assholes who hide behind it to be assholes, and also some vulnerable people for whom it is deeply important who sometimes engage in behaviors with it that I wish they didn’t. It’s a little tricky because there’s a few stories that I know that are compelling but really, really not mine to tell. I think a lot of people get it with the black blocker who punched Richard Spencer, at least, since there’s now a bounty out for the puncher. The point of the post was never meant to be “masking is awesome and unproblematic,” though, it was meant to be “here are some things you should understand about what those masked people do that you may never have realized.”

                Oh god this comment is all over the place, isn’t it. I’m trying to address a lot of different things at once, I hope something coherent got through.

      • Hob

        And I think part of the problem may be (I mean in general… I don’t mean to be mind-reading this particular author) that if you’re super involved in a particular activist subculture, it is easy to start thinking about the world in terms of the people you work with, and expecting everyone else to as well. Like, “surely anyone who really cared about the cause would be in our group already, or at least be receptive to the kinds of arguments that I hear in my discussion group.” From that point of view, it makes sense to say that it’s cool for organizers to all hide their identities because the most important thing is protecting their ability to keep being organizers, and that that can’t possibly be a problem for getting the message out to other people; after all, we all know who they are. Whereas from most other people’s point of view, trusting someone who won’t show you their face, because they say it’s in a good cause, is not really something that you do. Unless it’s Batman.

        • JL

          if you’re super involved in a particular activist subculture, it is easy to start thinking about the world in terms of the people you work with, and expecting everyone else to as well.

          Speaking as the author, this is not entirely an unfair point, though I’m not as bubbled as all that. My primary social group is not activists – well, I guess they’re slowly becoming so now, but they weren’t before – but a bunch of scientists/engineers/fandom nerds/etc, and a lot of the way that I talk about activism has been honed by discussing with it with them. But the people that I work around in activism, and their motives and experiences, do become extremely concrete for me, rather than semi-abstract concepts. I’ve sat in a pizza joint with a black blocker spilling melted cheese on our laps and listening to her talk about the police cornering her in an elevator and threatening her parents while we were both acting like we were having a normal conversation and suddenly realized how surreal it was that this felt normal, like I was watching someone else do it in a movie. There’s a familiarity aspect, and also a solidarity aspect (it’s very hard to have people put themselves in danger to help you carry a wounded person to safety, or protect your friend from fascists, and then go on the Internet and see how those people are being talked about, and not want to tear the talkers a new asshole).

          I would not, however, have the black bloc be the media/PR team of a protest or movement, because I DO understand that many people won’t react well to that (unless maybe things get a lot worse than now), and because, um, how shall I say this, most of the black blockers I’ve met, their skillsets are not in the area of media/PR. I just want the fact that their role is far more complicated than generally portrayed in the press, to be more widely recognized, and for people to not knee-jerk throw them under the bus.

          • Hob

            Thanks again for the follow-up. Hearing this from a more personal angle makes it easier for me to see where you’re coming from.

            I also think, now that I’ve written fifty billion words of comments here on this, that I wish I had just thought of the gun control analogy at the start (see last sentence of my last comment) and led with that, because that goes right back to the tension between personal experience/loyalty and social consequences. I have friends who have guns either because they just like them, and wouldn’t hurt a fly, or for self-defense reasons which they’ve given a lot of ethical thought to. So I do cringe when, inevitably in debates about gun control, someone talks as if only crazed wingnuts have guns. On the other hand… crazed wingnuts do have guns and are very dangerous, and the NRA as it exists now is an engine of the right wing… so I tend to be very skeptical of arguments, even from my friends, that it’s super important for everyone to be able to have a bunch of guns. Or, in this case, masks. I realize that that’s a completely different issue than “people shouldn’t demonize this group”, except it kind of isn’t, because the argument over “demonizing” can so easily become a distraction from the main concerns, or a way to deny them.

    • That’s the black bloc I’ve always wanted to see. Maybe Boston’s black bloc is better organized than the ones I’ve encountered, I dunno.

      And I definitely agree that in person the black bloc are more of an annoyance than anything else, and that the overreaction to them is an excuse for people to indulge their anti-leftist biases. Police conduct should almost always be the focus of reporting, not window smashing.

      My only quibble is saying white people are merely “overrepresented” in black blocs. I’ve seen them in Atlanta and DC and to say white men are overrepresented is like saying white men are overrepresented in the Republican party. It’s technically true, but it doesn’t capture the reality.

      • JL

        I’m not speaking just from Boston experience in that post, though there’s certainly some Boston experience (Boston hasn’t had large black blocs since Occupy, but there were some then, and the small ones that I’ve been seeing at local anti-Trump protests are mixed-gender, well-organized, and play by the norms of the action that they’re in, though I desperately want to teach them how to dress better in winter weather). The big rescue anecdotes were from DC, from the DisruptJ20 protests there. There’s an anecdote from Chicago. Never medicked in Atlanta, a little surprisingly. I’ve seen NYC ones be just another group in a big march a number of times, and do protective things other times. The 2016 Cleveland RNC black bloc was benign but clearly inexperienced, like puppies, overexcited at the idea of having their own march and being able to switch directions as a group and turn down a new street before the police could figure out what was going on. The 2012 Tampa RNC one had little to do, they didn’t break anything and there was nothing to protect (and not a lot of protesters, really) so they started doing stuff like making out with each other while waiting for the cops to stop blocking their way.

        I mentioned having encountered a few I’ve wanted to drop-kick over the years, in that post – the main pair I had in mind when I wrote that, incidentally, I came across in Ferguson, though I don’t think they were from there. They got, um, a tongue-lashing from me for being little shits. They had the grace to be a little embarrassed about it, at least. After that I spent several minutes texting my frustrations with a medic friend in NY who used to be a black blocker long ago before he was a medic (he’s been a medic for ages, so this was back in the ’90s). He agreed with me that they were being little shits.

        I would say, regarding demographics, that white people are more overrepresented than men are in the black blocs that I’ve seen (i.e. women are closer to being well-represented than people of color), and also that there are very few black people, but more non-black people of color.

        • Hob

          Regarding your second-to-last paragraph above: this is kind of embarrassing to admit, but I have given thought over the years to getting street medic training and the single biggest qualm I still have about it is, I’m not sure I have the temperament to not overwhelmingly lose my shit if I had to engage in a supportive role with the kinds of people you’re talking about. I don’t mean I would yell at them too much, I mean it would be really hard for me not to just throw my shoes at their head and then fall down in the street crying, because my brain just explodes in a not at all helpful way when people are being childish destructive dicks in a serious situation. This was a problem for me even in my days as a nurse in a relatively controlled environment (let’s just say that trying to talk down a petulant tweaker is not my strong point). It’s possible that one learns such patience over time, but…

    • Being from Eugene and seeing a lot of this stuff in the environmental movement, I have very, very little patience for these people and that’s on a nice day.

      • JL

        I wrote the linked post. I’m not from the time and place that you are, and things change and things are regionally different and protest culture from the Bay Area through the Pacific Northwest is kind of weird. I also know that there were a lot of heart-to-hearts after the Battle of Seattle, that may have led to some cultural change, and that all predates my involvement by quite a bit. But the people who protected my friends from being kicked by Trumpist assholes while they treated someone in DC, who helped me carry people to safety, who help get wounded people to me when I can’t get to the front line in places like Chicago, who did their best to guard the Occupy Boston camp from attacks from addicts and fraternity bros when that was going on, are going to continue to get some level of patience from me.

        I don’t mean this to be as hostile as it probably sounds. You’re probably my favorite blogger here, I recommend your book to people all the time, yadda yadda yadda, I respect you, I’m not trying to be a jerk. But I’m speaking from experience as much as you are. Some of it very fresh experience.

        • PhoenixRising

          Non-violent resistance can work.

          Smashing stuff doesn’t work.

          This isn’t a philosophical question, or a debate about whose emotions are more valid, or a critique of whether it’s thrilling to play soldier.

          Non-violent resistance that reaches across all social groups may let us save the republic; adolescent males of all ages smashing things are a drag on building momentum.

          If you are involved in something that rationalizes said drag, I’d recommend re-evaluating how you are investing your time.

          Sorry if this hurts your feelings, but the results matter. The tactics of those who have nothing to lose have to be excluded from the movement, because they will prevent collaboration from the majority.

          This prissy ‘we can’t tell anyone what to do because it makes them feel bad after all the drama’ crap is…not effective, and the time for it is behind us.

          What effective movements do is make consensus decisions about tactics, then set goals that are opt-in. Movements that fail make consensus decisions about shared goals, and let individuals opt in or out on tactics. And we do not have the luxury of rediscovering that fact in the coming months.

          In the words of Diane Nash: ‘You’re on the bus, or you’re off the bus.’

          • DocAmazing

            Smashing stuff works wonders. Ask your favorite narcotics squad member or the white citizens of Tulsa in 1921.

            It’s a question of controlling the narrative. Unfortunately, the major media are corporate and therefore lean right, so they are never going to characterize a broken Bank of America window as a blow against an oppressor, and they will go to some lengths to suppress reporting of police violence against peaceful protestors (something I’ve seen more than once in San Francisco). If protestors can seize control of the narrative–viral videos of violent riot cops are a good start, for example–the question of smashing things will be put into its proper perspective.

            • PhoenixRising

              Works to what? Both are examples of mobs destroying something they don’t respect.

              In reality, since shifting the narrative describing ‘protestor’ violence (smashing things) isn’t in our control, the responsible approach is to stop smashing things.

              It’s astonishing how easy it is to get sympathetic coverage from even our corporate media when violence comes from police and mobs they facilitate.

              • DocAmazing

                It’s astonishing how easy it is to get sympathetic coverage from even our corporate media when violence comes from police and mobs they facilitate.

                That certainly hasn’t been my experience. Much more frequently, the corporate media simply fails to acknowledge that police and police-mob violence has occurred. Not only was there not sympathetic coverage, there was no coverage at all. This, by the way, wasn’t something that happened once; I’ve seen this at least four times during Reagantime,and twice in the run-up to the Iraq War.

          • JL

            Smashing stuff doesn’t work.

            Tell it to a bunch of people in the labor movement, the Stonewall protesters, the King assassination rioters (who helped get the Fair Housing Act, as the HUD website still acknowledges, for now), the Ferguson protesters who were being ignored until the smashing happened…I could go on. I don’t even like smashing, and neither my blog post nor my comment to Erik were about smashing, but your analysis is counterhistorical.

            If you are involved in something that rationalizes said drag, I’d recommend re-evaluating how you are investing your time.

            I don’t want to make assumptions about what you do or have done, and the paragraph that I wrote here and erased sounded too braggy, so I’m just going to say, screw you. I’ve commented here for a long time and I think people here know what I do.

            It’s pretty fucking ludicrous to tell an experienced protest medic that they’re investing their time wrong as the need for protest medicking increases and will presumably increase further.

            What effective movements do is make consensus decisions about tactics, then set goals that are opt-in. Movements that fail make consensus decisions about shared goals, and let individuals opt in or out on tactics. And we do not have the luxury of rediscovering that fact in the coming months.

            The labor movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the LGBTQ movement, women’s suffrage, they’ve all been composed of a bunch of different groups using a bunch of different tactics. Individual groups within those movements had set tactics, but that doesn’t mean the movements did.

            In the words of Diane Nash: ‘You’re on the bus, or you’re off the bus.’

            I’ve been on the bus for some years now.

            • PhoenixRising

              I’ve recommended 3 books in this very thread that address who’s ahistorical.

              To win back political power from this crisis point, we will need a movement that is disciplined, non-violent and sets expectations for activism that engage participation from all kinds of people. We’re going to need lawyers, teachers, nurses, software designers and traveling salesmen to feel welcome to protest.

              If you want to reveal the untold story of how boys playing dress up are misunderstood superheroes, that’s not harming anything.

              If you rationalize and accept the presence of people who lack discipline in protest at this critical moment, that is harmful. You know which one you are; I didn’t say I did.

              • JL

                This Is An Uprising is good (and I work with a group, If Not Now, that borrows a ton of stuff from it, like the whole moments of the whirlwind thing and the polarization through disruption concept), but selective in what it looks at (and some important protests like the Black Lives Matter ones in Ferguson and Baltimore hadn’t happened yet when they wrote it), and Chenoweth, whose research is important to their thesis, didn’t define nonviolent resistance to mean that nobody ever committed vandalism. Specifically, Chenoweth defined resistance as nonviolent “if participants are mostly unarmed civilians who have not directly threatened or injured the physical welfare of their political opponents.

                Mind you, that’s not saying I think vandalism is good, just a comment on one of the histories that you suggested.

                I haven’t read The Children, sounds worth checking out.

                • Ronan

                  I haven’t read Chenoweths book yet, though have a few of her articles. My impression is her research tends to underplay the “radical flank effect”, ie the explicit or implicit threat of violence that often exists from radicals within the broader movement. By this argument, it’s very difficult to separate the moderates from radicals, non violence from violence, and the successes for the moderates are often partly a result of the fear of the radicals.
                  (Also, afaik , one of the major criticisms of her work Is it might get the causal story wrong. Non violence doesn’t necessarily lead to better outcomes, it might just be that non violent opposition is more effective in situations that are more amenable to change. Reverting to violence might be more common in more intractable contexts,so the negative outcomes are a result of the context, rather than the violent opposition, if you get me.)

            • Ronan

              Right, “smashing things never works” is just a convenient myth for those of us (myself included ) who are turned off by such tactics. Unfortunately , smashing things can often work.

  • Whatever we do, it will need to be for the long haul. You can’t fix decades of Republican destruction overnight. And that means that if we succeed in ousting Trump in four years, people can’t pack up and say mission accomplished.

  • CP

    Since the election, my daily historical reading has taken on a different tone. Not in the sense of what I am reading, which hasn’t changed. But rather, my reactions to it are quite different. The repeal of Reconstruction makes me even angrier than before, the failures of the civil rights movement to go further moved from hopeful that we can revisit it in the future to extremely tragic, the labor history more hopeless, the naked and ugly white supremacy of the 19th century newly relevant, the history of capitalism largely a capitulation to the system that often doesn’t challenge it, and the environmental history less relevant. Maybe this will change over time. But it’s all framed by what is happening right now. Given all of this, I figured that it might be useful to write up thoughts about the past that could address what is happening now. This could be an occasional series.

    I felt exactly the same way a few weeks ago when I visited the Museum of the American Indian (despite years of living in this city, I’d never gotten to that one before), and sitting and listening to the whole story on the takeover of Hawaii.

    Everything about it is just so depressingly familiar. A rigged system that already privileged the white settlers over the natives; demands for a constitution that recognized everyone that were deferred by the queen in order to avoid provoking the white settlers and their U.S. allies (and various measures meant to curb any public displays that might be construed as hostility); all while the white settlers continued to work themselves up in hysterics about the restless natives, sending more and more urgent cables to Washington portraying themselves as in mortal peril and on the brink of being wiped out by the savages. The composition of the white settlers, namely wealthy planters with religious pretensions based in their families’ origins as missionaries. The fact that Washington (of course) simply believed whatever they were saying and came in on their side.

  • witlesschum

    People in Battle Creek, Michigan, in 1847 first refused to hand over runaway slaves and chased a gang of Kentuckians out of town. When the Kentuckians came back more organized and started kicking in doors, about 40 people surrounded them and locked them in the city jail. The local authorities then kept them busy with a long trial on breaking and entering charges, while the former slaves were taken east to Canada.

    This will all be easier if local civic leaders get on board for not only for sanctuary, but more active obstruction of the feds.

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