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.
In light of the many recent shootings by law enforcement personnel, I’ve been thinking a lot about the issues addressed in this McSweeney’s column on de-escalation. Having done quite a bit of scenario training, I’m convinced that how, and how much, we practice for crisis situations is a huge factor in the level of force we end up using in those situations:
The key factor is experience. Cops need training and practice with de-escalation skills, or they won’t use them successfully, if at all. That fact that we’re seeing so much escalation in cops’ response to threats indicates they aren’t getting that training. That’s a failure of leadership, and it’s occurring both locally and nationally.
I’m working on a targeted project for local action on this front, and hope to share it shortly. There are ways we can all help to make our communities less violent, and police training is one of them.