The far right is unquestionably escalating its violence against those who oppose their agenda of racism, sexism, and fascism. I’m not going to waste your time with cautions about the legal or ethical perils of physical violence. I’ll assume you are all adults and you wouldn’t be interested in damaging people’s bodies unless your own life and physical safety were under attack. Nor will I digress here with thoughts on the limits of nonviolence, or the propensity of privileged white people to demand wholly nonviolent activism, while ignoring the impact of structural violence on non-white, non-privileged people. Maybe in another post. My purpose is simply to alert people to the process by which the alt-right tends to escalate “protest” into mass assault, and provide a few basic ideas for reducing injury to oneself is such a situation.
I’m fortunate to live in Austin, Texas, with a rich history of activism and ready access to elected officials. Since the election of November 2016, I’ve protested racists and Neo-Nazis, Islamophobia, misogyny, tax fraud, racism, and climate change denial; I’ve helped with safety on marches, rallies, lobbying events, and townhalls; I’ve used tactical non-violence skills on campuses, at City Hall, the state Capitol, and the offices of Congressmen. I’ve learned a lot about crowd management, dealing with DPS troopers, and how to use a walkie-talkie. I’ve also learned a great deal about my own strengths and weaknesses in the high-energy, sometimes high-conflict setting of civic activism. I’ve learned that anyone can do this work, but it’s a lot easier if we pool our knowledge. So here, in no specific order, are some tips for others interested in, or already doing, work to keep civic protest as safe and free of violence as possible.
Jezebel featured another thing I wrote! This one is about the horrifying student manual for Rape Aggression Defense, the most popular women’s self defense program on college campuses. Take a RAD class and you will learn, among other things, that you shouldn’t try to run away from an attacker unless you get 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at least three times per week. Otherwise, running may make you too tired to fight. Yes, they really tell you that.
I have new column up at McSweeney’s as well–this one about those darling Do-It-Yourself “anti-rape gloves” featured recently on Instructables:
What I find fascinating, reading through these directions, is the way the glove-maker’s amorphous anxiety about his sister’s safety is transformed, through a laborious 15-step process, into a tangible object, a comforting piece of proof against the risks his sister faces: a weapon. You can almost see the therapeutic benefits accrue as the worried man applies his knowledge and skills to the problem. In his workshop, he has tools to help him create safety: clamps, vice grips, an angle grinder, a drill press, an automatic center punch, a vernier caliper. Every material he handles is measured, every step is planned. The process offers control. It requires precision. It lets the glove-maker think creatively, consider options, make choices—all things that help us feel we’re in command of our lives.
Are the gloves he produces going to help to his sister? It’s possible. Unfortunately they aren’t dressy enough to wear on dates, which is when women are most likely to be assaulted.
For those of you who signed our letter to APD, here’s the email I sent today to every member of the Austin City Council, plus the Mayor:
Dear [Council Member or Mayor X],
On January 2nd, I sent the attached letter, co-signed by 31 Austin community members, to Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo. The letter requests some information, and an open dialogue, on the type and amount of de-escalation training APD officers receive.
As of today, we have received no reply to this letter. As the letter states, we feel that the issue of police use of force is an important one for our community, and we believe that an open conversation on this topic will help us collaboratively reduce violence and build mutual trust among all Austinites. We are asking for your help in encouraging Chief Acevedo and the Austin Police Department to respond to our initial requests for information, and begin a conversation on a topic that is becoming increasingly important nationally as well as locally.
Thank you for all you do to help keep Austin a safe and just place to live.
The body and signatories of the original letter were appended.
I’ll keep people apprised of any response. Our next level of amplification will be contacting local media, which doesn’t strike me as a particularly soul-enriching activity, but we’ll do it if necessary.