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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: San Francisco | Police State and Prisons
First as Tragedy, Then as Farce: OpBART Sliding Toward Silly Memes Over Effectual Activism
First as Tragedy, Then as Farce
There are difficult lessons to be learned from last Monday's operation. OpBART 3 was planned specifically to avoid offending the delicate citizenry of San Francisco, and to remain within the boundaries of what protesters themselves seemed comfortable with. Internal criticism and loss of support around previous events had focused on the perceived “violent” conduct of protesters, in accordance with the shared belief of how nonviolent protest “works”: that said protests are supposed to be “polite”, and avoid “causing trouble”. This ignores the historical context and conduct of other nonviolent movements, whose myths we are taught in primary school--those of MLK and Gandhi see particular focus, using arguments so ahistorical as to make their actual tactics and accomplishments almost entirely meaningless.
“Gray hoodie", a man who stood up at the end of the second event in a plea to get protesters to DO SOMETHING, was widely vilified by fellow protesters for his "violence": this is indicative of willful misinterpretation on the part of the public and of the movement. His repeated insistence that "it's not a protest unless you're causing a disruption; people won't care unless you're causing a disruption" was ignored or shouted down by all but a few, and he was paraded around social networks as "the violent guy" or "the agent provocateur" despite his only action being to peaceably stand in the street. The fact is--and ideally, last Monday's low-energy, low-impact turnout should have illustrated this clearly to those who had doubts--he was entirely correct. Now unburdened and free to go about their day normally, the people and media--with the exception of poorly-written op-eds with a bone to pick--of San Francisco have almost entirely failed to take notice of Monday’s event. Unless people are forced to listen, forced to care, they will continue to be as complacent as they are allowed.
The citizens of San Francisco, far from the paragons of leftist thought they are imagined to be, are both reactionary and authoritarian. They will support societal change if it means dropping coins in a box or buying a coffee in a biodegradable cup, but when civil action (even against a massive, easy-to-understand injustice such as police brutality) threatens to inconvenience them personally, they will lose any pretense of social consciousness. Any minor delay or inconvenience, like having to walk two extra blocks to the next open station, is treated as a barbaric and unjustifiable personal assault--completely ignoring any larger meaning.
The philosopher Slavoj Žižek, in his essay (available in lecture form on YouTube) "First as Tragedy, Then as Farce", illustrates this perfectly: having been presented with so many "tame" ways to assuage both their guilty consciences and partially-formed senses of social justice, people--particularly self-identified liberals--find themselves increasingly able to eschew criticism of a widely abusive system in favor of personal convenience. "I don't need to protest or care about this," the people say. "I buy Free Trade coffee."
Let it be made abundantly clear: The people of San Francisco are more concerned with selfish personal convenience than they are about social injustice. Until the day that they are personally beaten by the police, they are morally and ideologically comfortable with the dismissal and marginalization of a social movement against police murder in favor of not having their commute disrupted. They must be MADE to care, and dragged into consciousness kicking and screaming.
The police are another matter entirely. Now completely secure in their belief that there is a line (both physical and ideological) that the protesters will never comfortably cross, they realize that there is no real threat to the status quo. Remember: police brutality is the status quo. Police brutality is normal, accepted, even defended by American citizens--you can read hundreds of San Francisco residents defending the actions of the police who murdered Charles Hill and Oscar Grant in every single article about the protests. Challenging police brutality means challenging the system itself, everyone who supports it, and the social structures that keep it in place.
Responding with massive force, and confident that no one will truly challenge them past ineffectual sign-waving, the police know it is merely a matter of time before they grind down the spirit of the protest and return to a state of unquestioned hegemony. Backed by a public inclined to automatically believe anything they say (this being America, "if you are killed by the police you must have deserved it" is the majority sentiment), they see that this movement, as it stands, presents no real challenge to their power.
What is to be done? Clearly strong leadership toward a major change is needed, since the plan as it stands is neither effective nor sustainable. We would caution activists to avoid being taken in by unproductive plans floated by those who may or may not have the movement’s best interests at heart-- With Anonymous as decentralized as it is, it is never guaranteed that a given participant is actually on our side.
To illustrate, the proposal to dress protesters as "Darth Vader" would be the nail in the coffin of OpBART, both through the conduct of the protest itself and the poisonous precedent it would set.
The "Vader Plan", if it can even be called that, is
1. Insulting to Oscar Grant and Charles Hill,
2. Insulting to the No Justice No BART organization, Anonymous' allies in the fight against BART brutality and unaccountability,
3. Intellectually lazy,
4. Spectacularly boring and completely opaque to public understanding,
5. Most damning of all, extremely old meme.
The “Vader” plan is so bad, in fact, that we propose it is a piece of counterpropaganda being floated by anti-anonymous cells, working from within, in order to discredit and declaw Anonymous further. Should these protests turn into a giggly, incomprehensible, ring-around-the-rosy in the middle of Market Street, any respect or acclaim Anonymous earned by organizing or participating in OpBART and OpFullerton will be lost instantly: respect from actual concerned citizens, yes, but more importantly, other activists. OpBART will collapse inward, a rotted derelict, as cockroaches scuttle over the remains, scavenging for stale lulz at the expense of BART's victims.
Finally, an ultimatum: if Anon Medics arrive at OpBART this Monday and see the protests trending this way, we must respectfully withdraw our support. We cannot risk our safety and livelihood to stand by or administer to a group more capable of silly memes than effectual activism.
Think it over.
As ever, we are;
anonmedic [at] hushmail.com