Saturday, August 28, 2004

Protesting in NYC

There are a lot of protests being planned for the next week. For those who will be participating, I recommend to you these words from Norman Mailer;

Do the activists really know what they’re going into? That’s my concern. Or do they assume that expressing their rage is equal to getting Kerry elected? It could have exactly the opposite effect. The better mode may be to frustrate the Republicans by coming up with orderly demonstrations. Now, when I was young, the suggestion to be moderate was like a stink bomb to me. An orderly demonstration? What were we, cattle? You have to speak out with your rage. Well, I’m trying to say, we would do well to realize that on this occasion, there are more important things than a good outburst. I wish we could remind everybody who goes out to march of the old Italian saying: “Revenge is a dish that people of taste eat cold.” Instead of expressing yourself at the end of August, think of how nicely you will be able to keep expressing yourself over the four years to come if we win. Just keep thinking how much the Republicans want anarchy on the street. I say, don’t march right into their trap.
Although it's been over 30 years since I was involved in anti-war protests (just writing that makes me feel old...has it really been that long?), I did want to offer just a few words of advice from my experience.

1. Expect the police to be out in force. Don't provoke them. We met lines wearing helmets and face shields, holding body shields and large riot clubs. They will win in a confrontation. For the most part, they will form a line and just stand there and not intervene, unless provoked.

2. If they use pepper gas (popular 30 years ago...came out of some big ray gun looking thing), don't panic; it won't kill you. We wore bandanas. Some soaked them in vinegar. I couldn't stand the smell, so I just soaked mine in water. Worn over the nose and mouth, it's a pretty good filter.

3. If you move to get away from the gas, or an advancing line of police, don't disperse in every direction. Listen to the instructions from the bull horn. Look for the rallying banners (we used Vietnamese flags; banner bearers retreated half a block, and started waving like crazy). This way the crowd reassembles quickly, and the rally continues.

4. If you don't want your picture taken, or your identity known, don't go. I was stopped by the police the morning after a rally, handcuffed and dragged down to the station, where my juvenile probation officer was waiting with a black and white glossy of me waving a Vietnamese flag the night before! And that was 30 years ago. Imagine what they can do now.

5. If you are arrested, don't actively resist. Do it passively. Go limp. It will take two to drag you away. Eventually you'll get a phone call. Decide before hand who you'll call (make sure it's someone who is home).

6. Look clean cut. The world will be watching. Don't give the Republicans any reason to dismiss you as a member of the "far left." One of the reasons the convention in Chicago in 1968 began to turn the public against Vietnam were the images of college kids being beaten by the police.

7. And finally, and most importantly, be non-violent, regardless of what happens. At one rally I participated in when I was 16, the police shot pepper gas right in the face of one college student. We had to carry him away screaming. I started filling my pockets with rocks, as did my friend. Two young women saw what we were doing, and rushed over to literally take the rocks out of our hands. "That's what they do," they said. "That's not what we do." That day I finally understood what the anti-war movement was all about; not just marching, singing, and listening to speeches, but showing the world another way, a better way, to stand up against violence.

A year later, during the moratorium marches, it wasn't just the college students marching in the streets. Families, merchants, grandmothers and grandfathers marched with us. We won their hearts, primarily by refusing to meet violence with violence. And the troops were brought home.

The people spoke, and the government responded; at least that's how I perceived it at my young, and possibly naive, age. In 1973, at age 19, I enlisted, confident that the American people would never again allow our young men and women to become cannon fodder in a pointless war far away. Now, 30 years later, it appears I was wrong. We have forgotten the lessons learned during that tumultuous time in our nation's history.

If you go to New York, remember that the world is watching. Remember that you are an American, representing to the world the values that have made us a great nation. Speak the truth with dignity. Hold your head up, and, if necessary, be prepared to turn the other cheek.


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