Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Death of the Protest

            It was a terrible plan, trying to push through the police line.  At the end of the march, while everyone was told to leave, told to walk west down Cermak, away from McCormick Place, away from the line of riot cops in their straight-out-of-68 blue helmets who stood in front of a line of white shirt officers, who stood in front of a line of officers on horseback, who stood in front of a giant metal fence which loomed under the visible sniper, under the trying to be hidden spotter on the building opposite, the Black Bloc anarchists and other dissidents decided that they would march east, into the fray, in an attempt to shut down the NATO summit.  I pulled out my camera, like everyone did, journalists, citizens, trying to document the moment where things would “get interesting.”  This was the moment we had all been warned about.  This was where those pesky anarchists would start rioting.  The pepper spray, the rubber bullets, the arrests and broken windows, the anarchy signs and burning dumpsters.  This was it.

            This is what the protest had boiled down to.  It was a long day filled with passionate speakers, with nearly ten thousand people marching with an amalgamated message that said no to war and no to austerity, with veterans pulling their medals from their chests and throwing them back to the NATO generals inside the summit.  A peaceful day that meant so much to so many people, that showed, as Kundera called it, “the euphoria of solidarity,” meant nothing to the media, corporate or independent.  Everyone wanted the visceral.  Everyone wanted to see rocks and blood and the shiny new weapons the CPD got, and to see a charge by the police and running street battles.  And this, this attraction to violence, this collection of cameramen and women, of onlookers putting themselves in harm’s way just to see something “exciting” happen is exactly why the protest, the marching, sign carrying protest is dead.
            This isn’t directed at any one particular movement, although it can be more or less directed towards the left.  Still, headline whores in the corporate media, directing their attacks towards OWS, only see the small picture.  Occupy groups themselves only see it too.  The left in general seems to think that marches and demonstrations are effective or useful or interesting or pertinent, and that is where they are wrong. The Tea Party had their moment in the sun, and that was the tipping point. 
            The Tea Party faced public scorn for being racist, rightwing extremist bigots.  However, even while showing up to rallies with loaded weapons, not a single one was beaten by the police, pepper sprayed, or told to get a job. They just made their noise, and got politicians to back them.  They made people think that even the everyman could actually have a stake in their government, or that with enough noise, change would be brought about.  In some ways, their extremism is what made Occupy such a strong voice for the left.  But that is where the differences lie. 
            The Tea Party played the game.  They wanted their political party to be even more like their political party used to be.  They were sick of people deviating away from their trenches and coming closer to a centrist compromise, and wanted it to be business as usual back in congress.  They didn’t have a problem with the system; they had a problem with other people using their system.  They didn’t care about lobbyists or corruption.  They cared about someone they disagreed with having too much power and passing laws that didn’t agree with their implicit or explicit racism and bigotry.  They were able to get what they wanted, because they didn’t really want anything.  They didn’t ask for change.  They asked for things not to change. 
            Leftist groups, forever, have been trying to fight against the system.  This is why there are always arrests; this is why there are always violent flare ups between extreme leftists and police.  The anarchists and the anti-police protesters fight unfair fights, suffer injuries, persecution, and prosecution, trying to demonstrate the sheer force of the police state, but without having real victories.  The more moderate protesters celebrate perceived victories, thinking that changing the national dialogue, getting their cause mentioned on the media that they despise.  But it’s all for naught.  The dialogue changes as soon as the next celebrity is caught in public without underwear, or a sports star goes down for the season. 
            It’s not that the populous should simply roll over.  It’s that we as a people need to understand what is going through the minds of those with power.  A source from inside the summit heard Georgian President Saakashvili belittling the NATO protesters, particularly the occupy movement.  When offered a chance to ask him a question, she asked if his current economic status had changed his mind on popular movements, seeing as he came to power after the Rose Revolution.  He elected not to answer her question.  This is how the powers that be behave behind closed doors.  President Obama was elected through a popular, albeit tame, uprising in America where people were tired of the way things were going.  Now, it’s back to business as usual (even though the Tea Party still isn’t happy). 
            When the anarchists tried to break through the police line, and things started getting hectic, one of the main points that a WGN newscaster was making is that it was “no longer a peaceful protest.”  This was true.  Peace was no longer at the forefront.  People had started throwing bottles, the anchor pointed out, as well as sticks and debris.  Everything erupted because of the anarchists. 
            This is both true and a blatant lie.  The anarchists did provoke the police, very intentionally and with no plan.  However, their form of action was walking in a line.  They tried to walk through the police. They didn’t draw first blood, they didn’t start throwing things, they just tried to walk west.  It was the police, thick wooden batons at the ready, that started swinging.  The passive direct action sparked a police blowback that was greater than necessary and opened many protesters heads.  The bloody were dragged away from the front line, disoriented, onlookers calling for medics.  The police then got reinforcements, and surged forwards, pushing the crowd into metal barricades, the only way for them to go since more riot cops lined the streets to the north and south.  The barricades collapsed, and down went part of the crowd.  I had turned around just in time to watch the crowd fall on top of me, spending the next few minutes as a human bridge while scared and bloody protesters climbed over me.  According to a friend at the protest, the surge stopped when all of the anarchists gave a hand signal, then sat down on the ground peacefully, the cops still swinging, then stopping confused, finally seeing the collateral damage and letting those who didn’t want to be there escape the fray. 
            This was seen as “great restraint” on behalf of the police, and a great success by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.  The protesters called it police brutality.  I call it the sign that the end has come.
            Today, the end of protest riots are expected, planned, and even wished for (secretly).  The “news” was choked with fear of looting, destruction, and spray painted symbols of an ideology for months.  This is more important to the collection populous than what those anarchists were there for.  The rally as a whole gave people little to latch onto viscerally.  The march was a sharing of ideas and a show of strength in numbers, like all protests are.  But America doesn’t care about that.  They care about finding the next explosion.  They care about seeing the next fractured skull.  They care about following people who terrify them because they dress in all black, even on a 90 degree day, then sensationalize anything they do.  Occupy as a whole was a mundane attempt at getting a popular movement to change things.  The municipal governments managed to suppress them long enough, managed to avoid them long enough that the steam was lost.  There people aren’t there to keep it rolling, because they are waiting in line to see Battleship in 3D while eating McDonald’s and listening to their iPods. 
            Protesting is useless.  But then what is to be done?  The corporate whore media suggests leftists try to work inside the system.  Very close, dear people to me agree and are trying to do just that.  Everyone seems to agree that some change is needed, but no one seems to know how to bring it about.  The anarchists want to smash the state, and let people govern themselves, and honestly, I think they might be half right.  If the state continues to suppress protesters, continues to devalue the first amendment and try to spark outrage or violence in order to justify further crackdowns, then how else do the people defend themselves but by getting rid of the state?  Not in a violent overthrow of the government, no.  That would never work and only cause the government to be able to come back twice as hard against its citizens. What would be needed are peaceful protests, people standing united in the streets, rallying around a cause. 

Too bad that never works.  The cycle starts again.


  1. Ask The British Parliament of 1765 if the colonial Protesting is useless?
    Ask Gandhi if protests are useless.
    Ask Martin Luther King if protests are useless.
    Ask Rosa Parks if protests are useless.

    I was there for NATO
    I faced down columns of gestapo-like Illinois State troopers with baseball bats
    I was threatened with an LRAD.
    I was forced to move by Chicago Police in full riot gear for exercising my 1st Amendment rights.

    I was there for May Day.
    I was there in the rain at Lasalle & Jackson with 3 people getting dirty looks from Chicago Board of Trade 1%ers.
    I will be there until we create a fair and just society.
    I will occupy for my brothers and sisters who can't.
    I will do what ever I can to move our society forward...

  2. My parents didn't even know what "NATO" stood for, let alone what the meeting was about or why anyone was protesting it. Yet they were waiting for a riot to happen while watching WGN.