I recently had a conversation with several Facebook friends about articles like this:
After the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, many people are asking themselves what they should do if Nazis rally in their city. Should they put their bodies on the line in counterdemonstrations? Some say yes. History says no. Take it from me: I study the original Nazis.
I’ve been getting similar advice from well-intentioned folks on Twitter. The more I hear these arguments warning against assertive counterprotest, the more they strike me as simplistic, judgmental, and unhelpful. Especially when they offer, as does this “History says no!” article, barely a gesture at alternatives.
In the first place: You know what it finally took to defeat the “original Nazis”? THREE FUCKING ALLIED ARMIES. Sure, non-violence works. Ask Neville Chamberlain.
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.
In light of the deadly racist terrorism in Charlottesville, and the police response that seems to have exacerbated it, I’m bumping up this post on law enforcement and the increasing violence from racist/alt-right/pro-Trump supporters at protests:
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.