'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.' –
1st Amendment of the United States Constitution.
In spite of the 1st Amendment, the police, aka, the State, often employ a variety of anti-democratic tactics to curtail the rights of protesters and demonstrators when civil and human rights are under attack, or whenever peaceful protesters gather as a way to express grievances over acts of injustice. Tear gas, pepper balls, rubber bullets, real bullets, sonic cannons, arrest and detention, etc., are but a few of the tactics police have utilized against the people protesting peacefully against white supremacy. For the State, violence is an option often used without restraint against Black, Brown and Indigenous demonstrators.
So it makes sense that activists and protesters develop tactics of their own in defense of the causes moving towards social justice and equality.
Legal Rights Center Investigator Garrett Fitzgerald spoke recently about the imperative for activists and protesters to learn what he refers to as 'Activist Solidarity Tactics (ASTs).
Fitzgerald is a veteran activist, and in 2008 was a member of the RNC Welcoming Committee, and subsequently a member of the historic RNC 8 group of activists targeted by police as 'terrorists' for organizing peaceful protests against the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, and the metro-wide repression that came with it. He knows something about protests, police and state repression tactics, and what protesters, activists and marginalized peoples can do about them.
1. Why is it important for citizen-activists -- no matter their cause(s) -- to be versed or trained in 'Activist Solidarity' tactics?
'Solidarity is the mutual responsibility and unity of purpose among a group. It is a mechanism by which those with less power can pool their effort to make gains for their collective betterment. Classically, the labor union; individual workers have little power over the boss, but when they unite in common cause that can shift the balance of power. For our purposes we are speaking of “Activist Solidarity” from the point of law enforcement intervention at an action (I use action to encompass protest, demonstration, direct action, civil disobedience or any other moment of challenge to the status quo) up to the point of completion of any criminal case and and its consequences.
'Law enforcement intervention and subsequent legal ensnarement is part of the reactionary political force I refer to as repression. Repression, in short, is the means the state uses to protect itself from change. If you are effective in working to make a change that is a challenge to the status quo – no matter the cause – than you will face repression. To win the day we must all maximize our repression resiliency. One of the ways we do that is by making sure that when we do face repression we squeeze out every drop of power building and change making that we can from the situation so that we win more than we lose.
'Often folks focus on the action and feel powerless in the legal system. Activist Solidarity is about identifying points of intervention and taking collective action to get demands met. This could be [by way of] demands to make sure everyone gets better treatment in custody, like chanting loudly until you are given water or an injured friend receives medical treatment. It could be to push back against the repressive force directly like a call-in campaign to get charges dropped, or it could be to continue to push the goals of the action like using the platform of the court case to speak in the media about why you took action.'
2. In your opinion, how has the state's resolve to selectively use repression evolved/changed over time, despite our constitution's alleged protections of our rights?
'Repression is constant. It is a continuing reaction to movements for change. The methods and degree depend on the context of the movement and it’s moment. Shakespeare wrote, “What’s past is prologue.” The 45th president’s Muslim ban sounds a lot like the Alien & Sedition Acts of the early 1800s. The FBI’s CoIntelPro operations against the Black Panther Party dubbed “Black Extremists” and “Black Nationalist Hate Groups” sounds a lot like the FBI’s BLM investigations of “Black Identity Extremists”. The fire hoses used against civil rights era marchers looked a lot like the fire hoses used against NoDAPL protesters in 2016.
'There are a few key ways the repression has evolved that I think it behooves us to keep track of. One is the further encroachment of private security contractors into law enforcement operations. This is troubling for many reasons, but foremost that private security agencies aren’t bound by the same laws and regulations as the police. Your rights exist to protect you from the state, so as long as private security, a non-state actor, is within the law it has no obligation to your rights. For example, TigerSwan Security ran intelligence gathering operations during the NoDAPL protests and those whose first amendment activity was chilled due to their investigation had less recourse.
'Another rising tendency is “counterinsurgency policing” or COIN. COIN is primarily about a battle for legitimacy. It is more like a “hearts and minds” occupation characterized by social mapping of communities and information management. For example, after the uprising last summer law enforcement didn’t try to identify “leaders” to hold accountable. Instead they tried to wedge off a group of “bad actors” that they could prosecute to both chill ever encroaching types of street action, and also paint themselves as necessary to “maintain order”. This continued throughout the past year with the constant drone about the need for more money for more officers to fight an increase in violent crime in the city. A narrative directly in conflict with the defund/dismantle/abolish conversations happening on the street.'
3. How do Activist Solidarity Tactics result in better court/jail outcomes (Or how do ASTs build the power of movements)?
'The tactics can lead to better legal outcomes, for example, by everyone being released from jail without bail because everyone refuses to post bail and the jails overflow. But, the greatest impact is in the movements, communities and individuals who successfully wield these tactics. Once you have seen that you have the power to force more powerful agents to do what you want, the realm of possibility expands. '
4. What similarities/differences do you see between the state's response to say, the Standing Rock and Line 3 protests; the uprisings and protests in the aftermath of George Floyd's murder, the 2008 RNC in St. Paul, vs the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. capitol?
'This is why I think the framework of repression is so helpful. It isn’t just because the January 6th actors were white that led to them being treated more gently, it was because they were/are a regressive force pushing to keep things the same. In that sense there is less need to repress them. Sure, the state wants them out of the capital building, but their white supremacist and culturally supremacist ideas are totally in line with the standard operating procedures of America.
'Throughout history forces resistant to change have always said “we are a nation of laws” up until following the law would create an existential threat to their power, social order, or world view. Then it is the “duty of every patriot to rebel against trinity.” It isn’t a double standard, it is a logic that prioritizes the maintaining of control by the white property owning class. It is consistent in this.'
5 Last thoughts?
'The key to solidarity is relationships, and some amount of vulnerability and trust. It can be hard to be open when you feel under attack. That is part of what the system counts on. Understand that being vulnerable with each other might feel risky sometimes, but it is also the source of our greatest collective strength. This is true throughout movements for change. I would note that knowing how to be strong through vulnerability is generally a “soft skill” or a skill that is “feminized” in our patriarchal society. In that way, choosing to walk a path of strength through vulnerability is an act against cis-heteropatriarchy. It is also a power that doesn’t fit the traditional patriarchal/military worldview, and is more likely to be invisible and unplanned for by repressive forces.
LRC staff include attorneys and advocates from a range of background and lived experiences.
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