A Note on DNC Protesters…and Activists In General!

August 26, 2008

Today I came across this video report, from the American News Project, about police intimidation of protesters at the Democratic National Convention in Denver this week. This video, we’ve seen a million times since the infamous Seattle WTO protests of 1999, of mostly white protesters, exercising their “Constitutional right” to assembly and protest, and being righteously indignant if they’re impeded from that glorious goal. I stopped going to these kinds of anti-globalization/anti-war protests several years ago because of everything you’re going to witness when watching this video, but can ultimately be summed up in three words: WHITE LIBERAL ENTITLEMENT.

First of all the video opens with a quote from the First Amendment to the US Constitution which reads:

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.”

Note to protesters: Congress, in this case, did not make any law. You are dealing with the police. They kick ass and ask questions later. Your Constitutional rights can always be violated, and you can sue to get them back, only after the fact. But being white, you don’t often have to deal with the daily stop and frisks, arrests, detainments. So I guess thinking that you have rights in the first place that the police are supposed to respect ahead of time is a case of white entitlement. To the contrary, an older Black woman activist said to me in New Orleans years ago, “Why do we do these ‘know your rights’ trainings when we know you don’t have any?”

Everything else here flows from there.

Hordes of white people shrieking “Who’s streets? Our streets?” Well, we know. These same white hipsters/activists have priced Black and Latino people out of many neighborhoods across the US. I am well aware they are “your streets.” In a different context, say, Harlem, the policing increases ten-fold, to protect you from me. That protest slogan, which I have heard comes from the Gay Liberation Front (which was not without its race issues) post-Stonewall, has long outlived its usefulness, because of the dynamic witnessed in this video. White people do own the streets. The police getting in your face to protect the property/image of the State is not new or shocking.

Peep the woman in the red shirt shouting to the police THIS IS AMERICA!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING? My question is, What does she think America is? What does she think the police are for? This, to me, IS America. Period. This is not some aberration, or some recent (i.e. post 9-11) devolution of a once free state (the two terms are almost an oxymoron).

The two white men explaining that “they’re not protesters,” and yet they got hemmed in by the cops for two hours just the same. I wish the time I was nearly thrown to the ground by some kind of private security (I believe was Blackwater) goons in New Orleans I could have had that excuse. I was just Black and that was all they needed to know to assume I was trying to rob the mostly non-black friends I was trailing behind slowly on a bicycle. When you’re white, you assume that you have a personhood separate and distinct from your race. I’ve never made that assumption–or I’ve never been allowed to.

And to the point about racial profiling, peep the people with the scarves pulled above their faces. I know that is in part to protect one’s self against the use of tear-gas and mace, but it is also to protect one’s identity. Let me tell you, if my Black ass walked around any street in America with a scarf pulled above my face, I’d be assumed to be robbing some shit and be shot to the ground, no questions aked. Once again, the assumption that you have an “identity” to be protected from policing and surveillance, versus knowing that you are constantly policed and surveilled because of your racial/gendered body.

For all of this white liberal outrage about their right to protest being denied, they cut a 6 minute video piece (from what was probably several hours of footage), and got ALL UP IN the face of these police officers without an act of retaliation or violence.

I think that the protest hopping Left really gets off on these huge displays police intimidation and violence enacted because of protesting. They’re mostly content with other forms of police violence, and these displays seem to make them feel oppressed and gives them a relevance they seem to relish!

Oh yeah, watch this bullshit.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eoAVce-Rc2c]

15 Responses to A Note on DNC Protesters…and Activists In General!

  1. charlesdoes says:

    Ok so let me just take a breathe before I respond to this…
    I am by no means a scholar in terms of amendment rights and all that jazz, but isn’t it true that in many “inner cities” they made laws regarding “mob action”, i.e. more than 5 colored people gathered in one place could be called a mob and therefore dispersed by the police? I remember this from my teenage years and I just wonder where this amendment was for that. Oh yea I forgot we were “urban” and poor so who gives a fuck.

    Now on to the content of the video, one do they have the one sister’s speech, is that to show us that even Negroes don’t like Obama? Well point taken, you are correct, colored people have dissenting opinions as well.

    Another thing when the police said you are limited to protest in this area, and you began to march to where they told you not to go, what did you think would happen? It seems to me like you thought your entitlement would kick in.

    And finally just for a laugh, they should have tazzed(sp) that chick in the red shirt. Take that bitch!! Thats whose in charge and thats whose streets.

  2. Malcolm says:

    Hey Kenyon, I really enjoyed reading this piece and your incisive analysis here. Fierce! :)

  3. fran says:

    People have the right to protest, yes, but why why why must they be total jerk-offs to the cops? Ok, I’ve had my run-in with some AWFUL cops, real bigoted jerks. However, its simply their job to just stand there and make sure that no one breaks the assembly permit parameters, which the crowd, by showing up, really agreed not to do. And then the cops do their job and they act like it’s the COPS that aren’t letting them go down the street. Sheesh, they’re just peons. It’s like getting mad at a $6/hour starbucks barista because you think their lattes are too expensive.
    ugh

  4. frank says:

    well said. its a skit repeated over and over again serving no one but those who go to protest.

  5. hannah says:

    i’m pissed at/afraid of cops just as much as the next guy, but it feels like they just show up to claim they were harrased by an officer to show how “hardcore” they are. being obnoxious doesn’t help your cause, look at peta.

  6. Tyron says:

    I would like to hear more of what you have to say about the phrase “Who’s streets? Our streets!” and the Gay Liberation Front. As far as I know there is no street that is entirely gay in America. There is a long history of police harassment of gay people even up to the present moment.

  7. Tyron you raise an interesting question. Bob Kohler, an older white gay activist who recently passed was the one who told me that the “Who’s streets? Our Streets!” slogan came from the Post-Stonewall days when LGBTQ activists intentionally claimed Christopher Street in New York City as THE gay street, and as safe space for queers in Manhattan. The slogan was born out of that campaign to stop the kinds of police and community harrassment of queers, who were mostly poor/working class and/or Black and Latino.

  8. Billy Keefe says:

    You raise some excellent points, Kenyon. I went to college in Kansas, and while there I learned about the tactics pro slavery Missourians used to derail the democratic process in the Kansas territory and later during Kansas’ early statehood.

    ‘Mobs’ would ride into Kansas to vote in the polls, kidnap and publicly humiliate candidates, and eventually they actually disbanded the state government at gun point and appointed themselves leaders.

    There are reasons why the police are there to protect the convention.

    I think the argument could be made that there is merit in sometimes disrupting a system that perpetuates institutional violence with organized violence as an act of self defense. But these people are not saying that at all. They are clinging to some stupid notion that non-violent protest can be effective in a police state. And by protest they do not mean disrupting the incomes of white supremacists by refusing to ride a bus for over a year. No they mean acting like petulant children, throwing a tantrum in front of some police officer, who also has no real individual power, and then getting in their SUV and driving back, as you said, to their gentrified corner of America.

    The situation is rife with double standards and hypocracy and it is infused with a deep history of injustice and violence.

    That said, as much as I would love to see the two party system torn down, as much as I would prefer an end to the electoral college, I don’t think it should happen for the sake of anarchy and at the expense of the closest thing to a democracy we have going right now.

    I am looking for a better thought out solution than ‘let bygones be bygones, man’.

  9. Pingback: I love Kenyon Farrow. « Aid & Abet

  10. Thanks Billy for the thoughts. I wanna talk to you about your anti-homophobia work in Kansas. Hit me up via email…

  11. Brian D says:

    I can’t believe that not only does this stuff need to be said, but it seem not an inch of progress has been made on it since Seattle. Seems to me that one generation of white radicals either graduated from this silliness (got into real community organizing work, etc) or, for the majority of them, graduated to quiet lives of privilege and peace. And now a new generation of activists is trying to relive what that generation lived just 5-9 years ago. Where is the generation that will reject this bullshit? Thanks for the great post, Kenyon.

  12. kazembe says:

    I love your work Kenyon, but here I have to disagreed with you. The major contradiction (if I can use a Marxist term) is between the people and the state. While I agree with you much has to be done vis-vis white privilege within and outside the movement, the actions of the Denver police are indefensible. The fact is, Denver spent millions of dollars on armed personal carriers, rounds of ammo, not to mention hundreds of hours of police overtime to police a non-violent crowd.
    The actions of the Denver police is what needs to be condemned, not the protesters. I would also say that the Denver (and by extension the Twin Cities police) tactics are in line with the entire direction of the country, warrant less wiretaps, detention without trials, etc, etc.
    No to be harsh, but would the slain civil rights workers Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner be considered rabble rousing joy seekers or people seeking justice? What about those students in the sit-in movement who engaged in direct action?
    Like I said, I love you and your writing, but something very conservative and unsettling in this passage. .The question now, is, can we create a movement to push back the direction of this country, using both street marches and the ballot boxes? Or do we simply acquiesce to the given state of affairs? Whose gonna take the weight?

  13. Conservative? That’s interesting. In what way?

    I don’t think what I am saying is conservative, I of course don’t condone the actions of the police in Denver (or in St. Paul)–I think that goes without saying. What I am saying is that the presumptions about police and the state from which these activists start is dead wrong. For them, they don’t understand the fundamental role of the police, except for when they are confronted with its power, which is often only when they protest. And one could argue that these big protests have now become ways for police departments to justify spending all this money and resources on weapons, ammo, and other equipment and staff, and doesn’t actually undo the problem. It actually exacerbates it, which then leaves communities that are under attack by the police in these communties even more vulnerable to police violence, and less resources for other kinds of services. Get where I am going? These protests justify the buildup of the police state, not help undo it.

    I am really shocked that you dont see the actions of these kinds of (mostly) white anti-war protests as mostly self-serving and shortsighted in their analysis of the the state and the police–why else would you be screaming “What are you doing? This is America.”?? It presumes that this doesn’t happen in America, but in other far off places–a really racist assumption if you ask me, and a flat out denial of the role of the prison industrial complex that you seem to suggest I don’t understand or am somehow or have turned my gaze from.

    I guess your final question, Kazembe is presuming I think that street marches work. I don’t think they do anymore–not really. I think bringing up murderd civil rights activists is kinda, low, really. I think the time and conditions are different in terms of protest politics, and they were a part of a larger movement to, as Ruthie Gilmore once said, “undo the white racial state.”

    Is that what you think these activists are doing?

    I don’t think that’s a conservative position ( I am not saying I love the cops and hooray for them!).
    I think that we’ve come to equate public protest as synonymous with undoing the state and capitalism, and I think that’s why they Left is stuck and isn’t actually transforming or undoing the state at all. So if that’s what it means to be Left( rally and march with no other strategies in place), and not challenge the Left on what they’re doing that is actually perpetuating violence and white supremacy–with no accountability, then no wonder why we’re losing.

  14. Malcolm says:

    so this is really off the top of my head, but i think that its crucial to confront the state, but they must be transformative. any challenge to the state that does not simultaneously challenge racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, etc is rather narrow and its means do not meet its end. is this what the alternative to the state looks like? where is our liberation in this process? we are so often invisibilized by white protesters (anti racists in particular) who have little to no connection to the black community…the state is an obvious target an undeniably repressive force…white privilege seems much more latent and subconscious…the same issue occurred during the WTO protests in seattle which were overwhelmingly white. i agree with kazembe that the state must be dismantled and that the police violence is atrocious (over 300 locked up at the RNC, over 90 locked up at the DNC, including a reporter filming politicians with corporate funders)…but i also think that kenyon you are raising very important questions: why aren’t there many ppl of color, black folk in particular participating in these protests? why do whites react with such surprise and indignation when the police respond? what gives them faith in the legal system and doesnt that contradict their anti-state rhetoric? i think that our analysis of liberation as qpoc (black in this instance) needs to be comprehensive and that we need to condemn the police violence and the corporate electoral conventions that promote it, while also condemning the obvious underlying paternalism and racism within this largely white protest movement. we need to stand against state violence and interpersonal violence at the same time. (sorry for the stream of consciousness lol, im definitely open/vulnerable to critique lol)

  15. Kazembe says:

    Wow, I feel like I’m in the Great Debaters ;)

    Well, first I always enjoy the intersectionality of your writing and I think you bring up a lot of knotty issues that need to be untied. I appreciate Malcolm’s comments in terms of racism within the movement and for the time being want to concentrate on this central question: Should we protest? I would answer to the affirmative.

    Indeed, the millions of people who protested the war have a tremendous effect. Yes , the war is still going on, however the terms of the debate shifted and with it public opinion.

    At the start of the war close to 80% of the US population supported George Bush and the war effort, but the end of 2007 80% opposed the war and the thought the president was doing a bad job.
    This was primarily because there was an articulate, mass protest movement that gave voice to the discontent people felt. I would even go as far to say that Obama’s plan to withdraw the troops from Iraq and the very existence of his presidential campaign is a byproduct of protest. You yourself have stopped concerts by homophobic and racist artists by engaging in protest.
    I do, however, agree with you that it’s important that protests have a focus. I’m not for “protest for protest sake” (Though that is fun!) The reason I did bring up the civil right movement was not to score points, because before I read your entry I just so happen to read Dr.King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail (I know, pretty exciting for a Saturday night.) In this essay he outlines 4 basic steps in developing direct action 1) Collection of facts to determine whether injustices are alive 2) Negotiation 3) Self-purication and 4) Direct Action.. Did the protestors in Denver follow these steps. No, primarily because I think that we as a radical left have failed on parts 1 and 2. That is to say, the job of radical artists and public intellectuals is to name the system. In terms of negotiation we can’t because we have not developed organizations. When we do, protest can be used as a leveraging tool.
    In other words, the left is correct, but a correct position cannot move people if you are incoherent. Let me also state that I think protest is a means and not an ends. I believe that direct action also manifests itself in “poder” or people’s power. I think that protests are good at commencing a struggle but I also think that we have to build our collective strength in other ways to finally get over this racist, sexist, homophobic system.
    This brings me to the second point. You write “ And one could argue that these big protests have now become ways for police departments to justify spending all this money and resources on weapons, ammo and other equipment and staff. And doesn’t actually undo the problem.” Duly noted, however, I must ask, was there a protest just before Sean Bell was murdered? Was there a demo before the NJ 4 were jailed? The nature of the capitalist state isn’t just, it serves as a means of enforcing the class rule of a few over the many. What’s conservative in your argument is the notion that the people brought repression on their own, whereas I would argue that the state itself is repression. In other words, if all protests stopped today, the state as it exists would continue jailing colored folks and stockpile ammo, because of its very nature. A nature, that has changed in the past 20 years from a welfare state to a neoliberal state. We have gone from “New Deal” to “No Deal” and the only way to deal with the contradictions is through repression and fear. It is this very nature, that we need to organize and protest against.

Leave a Reply