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What Solidarity Looks Like: Embodying Trust (Part II)

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We are not provoking the police; they provoke daily, which is why we are on the streets, where as should be self-evident, they will continue to provoke.

Given this, we need to stay extra powerful in our resolve to keep up daily pressure, on the streets and elsewhere, to craft an ever-more imaginative diversity of tactics, to encourage many forms of resistance in many cities at the same time, complementing and sometimes contradicting each other but in concert, and we need to reflect on more savvy strategies.

But most crucial, we need empathy and solidarity among all of us.

Here’s some pithy thoughts on street solidarity by Shareef Ali, who gave me permission to quote and share:

“Let’s say you disapprove of property destruction as a form of protest or resistance, whether because you think it morally wrong, you think it hurts the movement, or something else. I don’t agree with you, but set that aside for a moment.

“If you are at a protest and you choose to take pictures or record video of people doing illegal things, you may end up putting that person in jail.

“That is, because you disapproved of someone’s behavior, because you thought it was ‘violent’ towards inanimate objects, or because you thought it might hurt the movement, you are choosing to assist the state in sending that living, breathing person to one of the most violent places in the world, for the *expressed purpose* of destroying the movement.

“Even if you’re right about the ethics or efficacy of property destruction — and I don’t think you are — that is totally, utterly unconscionable, and it is far more violent and counter to the cause of justice than smashing a window ever could be.”

There are as many ways to lend solidarity (as opposed to charity or self-preservation) as there are people on the streets. So let’s renew our efforts to practice, as the chant goes, “sol-sol-solidarity.”

Let’s not promote our own sectarian group and its ideology at the expense of cohesiveness, so that one tendency, say, sets all the march times and places, and races at top speed for hours, leaving many behind. We need to stick together, the better not to be picked off by police, the better to actually have the power to push police back so that we can, for one, get on to freeways night after night, or better yet, invent all sorts of new disruptions of the status quo.

Here’s one example, among many, of how solidarity ends when one group is more concerned about promoting itself.

Last night, at the start of the march, protesters in Berkeley decided to disrupt — and did! — a talk by an uber-wealthy venture capitalist being held in Wheeler Hall, to a packed audience of would-be uber-wealthy capitalists. Many protesters stood on the stage in that auditorium, as the student audience yelled angrily and simultaneously tweeted out insults that were PowerPoint illuminated on a giant screen above the protesters’ heads. Folks from one nonlibertarian left tendency (or less politely, authoritarian anticapitalists) who had the bullhorn in hand departed from the auditorium quickly and began to march away, leaving others inside to face potential arrest by police or attack by overheated young capitalist-students. When confronted on not staying outside Wheeler to lend solidarity until all were out of the building, the self-appointed leaders said, “But we said we’d march; they choose to stay inside.” (That same group, sadly, also has been putting out its own legal number, rather than using the one that everyone of various political perspectives does — the National Lawyers Guild at 415-285-1011 — and also not providing the same accountable, ongoing legal aid for folks in jail and once out. Again, problematic solidarity at best.)

Let’s conspire together to bring more and more folks out each night, in more and more places, for new and inspiring direct actions — to shut it down while at once prefiguring other social relations and forms of social organization. Indeed, solidarity looks like organizing collectively and cooperatively with others, time and time.

Let’s not create internal, self-appointed police who cry “peaceful protest” while pointing out comrades to riot cops, or try to initiate vigilante “justice” toward those they disagree with. Let’s not be those “peace police.”

Let’s not take pictures of other protesters who are engaging in illegal activities. Remember: even walking in the street or doing a sit-in on a freeway is illegal! Indeed, the entirety of the night protests are illegal. And let’s not post such images online, making it easier work for policing agencies to surveil, catalog, and catch us.

Let’s not fall for and then parrot mainstream media propaganda, likely seeded by the police forces, that try to divide us into “good” vs “bad” protesters. All of us who are out there care (save for the police). Let’s all be subversive and rebellious protesters, fully dedicated to constructing a new society.

Let’s not verbally and physically try to assault other protesters who push mainstream media cameras out of their own faces. It’s their choice not to be filmed. Such film gets found, saved, and later used by police to bring charges, often months or years later, against protesters. And when the mainstream media doesn’t stop filming, despite being asked again and again, let’s not intervene when a protester tries to block a camera lens. That, too, is their choice. It is neither hurting anyone nor “provoking the police” (again, we are on the streets because it’s become vastly self-evident that police do not need any provocative to murder black and brown people on an everyday basis).

Such interventions often seem like parodies in light of the overwhelming proof positive of police violence and policing as violent. For instance, last night, after several unheard requests to a TV camera, a protester tossed some water from a water bottle toward the camera. Several people self-identifying as “peaceful” ran to verbally and physically go after the protesters and others nearby defending them. These peace folks claimed that the water — a small amount, too — was “violent” even as, a few minutes later, we were yet again faced with a line of police in full riot gear, with weapons in tow, and most people felt uncomfortable even chanting “fuck you” at them.

Let’s not hinder those creating barricades with their bodies, dumpsters, fires, or plastic garbage bins (even if some litter gets on the ground!). They are, in fact, usually building them so as to protect everyone else on the streets from the police violence that we are all (allegedly) contesting: state violence in the form of killer cops, prisons, a legal system that doesn’t indict, and other barbarism. Things in the streets slow police down when they are trying to stop, contain, arrest, beat, or teargas people. The greatest act of kindness and solidarity, in fact, is putting oneself at risk to create such barriers so that many others might feel safer and get away.

Those who are most willing to do such acts are extending a hand of solidarity, and by and large not serving as cops, paid or voluntary. As someone remarked to me today, “solidarity is love.” I couldn’t agree more.

I am not sure of this, of course, but if social movement history in the United States is any guide, undercover cops who look super mainstream can easily be planted as “peaceful protesters” to whip crowds into fighting among themselves — a far more likely scenario than putting masked-up people into the mix. Those who mask up by and large, if you take time to discover for yourself, are the ones most looking out for others on the streets and not initiating the call-out of others’ tactics. They are simply trying to shield their identity from police so as to avoid arrest and prosecution — something we would all be well to avoid!

Plus many in masks, when the masks aren’t in place, are the ones making and sharing food, doing indie media and acting as street medics, organizing in their neighborhoods against all sorts of injustices, raising bail money and doing court support, setting up social centers and other autonomous spaces, deschooling and free schooling, regularly targeted by police because of their race or class or gender, doing Copwatch, and on and on. They are most often the ones who most believe in and practice a do-it-ourselves sensibility as prefigurative experiments to replace hierarchical structures of domination and death.

We are tired too, like those “freaked-out” cops, undercover and in their riot attire, but not of the streets. We are not tired of fighting for a free society of free individuals. Instead, we are weary beyond words and slogans about all the violence of state, capital and white supremacy.

Solidarity should look like us not chanting anymore “this is what democracy looks like,” because US-style democracy is murdering people at home and elsewhere. Any sort of self-governance will have to look far different, engaging in practices of solidarity that’s about self-determination too.

Solidarity should not look like chanting “whose streets, our streets,” because the police state, colonialist and/or capitalist, has already stolen those streets, and the land below time and again, and owns them yet as private property, increasingly gentrified into enclaves for the super-rich. Those streets are killing fields, whether for those made homeless who now have to make those streets their homes, or for those who lives are stolen repeatedly on the streets, like Mike Brown’s.

There are so many other ways that solidarity can tangibly be practiced. I’ve named only a few, and I’m learning — by watching and being on the receiving end of acts of solidarity — some forms every day while on our illegal night demos. Let’s bring bold imagination to bear on the project of implementing solidarity among us, as our weapon par excellence.

Let’s get some rest during this storm that has come, but not get so comfy that we forget why we are on the streets to begin with.

I want to walk in the streets nightly, exhausted and exhilarated, forging trusting social relations, becoming new people in a new culture that we are trying to create with each mile, opening up possibility and holding strong, together, against those forces that would destroy all that is life affirming.

I want to be part of what scholar James C. Scott calls an “anarchist calisthenics” while we walk the miles, in which whether one is an anarchist or not, we practice together what it means to feel more and more comfortable in breaking the laws that aren’t just, the very structural logic that’s never going to be just by definition, so that we can build up rebel muscles for the harder and harder fight ahead — the fight for freedom.

I want to love and rage and grieve and fight, with millions of others, against this killing machine, until we shut it down for good — replacing it with a social goodness that we can barely yet envision, and armed with do-it-ourselves steel-hard solidarity as shield, aid, humanity, ethics.

*This is the second in a two-part article on security culture and solidarity as weapon. See Part I here.

Originally published on Cindy Milstein's blog.

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