I have never been so proud to be a Californian as I was at Civic Center this weekend. I needed this catharsis. It was wonderful to see thousands of like-minded people standing up using nonviolence against hate and show the world that nazis, white supremacists, and fascists are not welcome here.
The Nonviolence of Many
At one of the protests we attended on Saturday, we met a little girl that must have been seven or eight at most. She handed us these colorful pins with a little index card attached to them.
She said that she thanks us for attending the protest and wants us to have these pins free of charge. If we feel the desire to give back, the card referred us to donate to any or all of the charities represented by the pin. I’ve donated to all of these charities, and would recommend anyone else that wants to do something to help does the same.
- The ACLU has worked to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States.
- The Southern Poverty Law Center works on behalf of marginalized communities across the U.S. and assists law enforcement in tracking hate groups.
- Planned Parenthood delivers vital reproductive health care, sex education, and information to millions of women, men, and young people worldwide.
- Human Rights Campaign represents a force of more than 1.5 million members and supporters nationwide. As the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer civil rights organization, HRC envisions a world where LGBTQ people are ensured of their basic equal rights, and can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community.
Saturday was relatively peaceful. Everywhere I went, I saw nonviolent counter-protesters and the occasional dejected, retreating nazi. It was beautiful.
Sadly, that wasn’t the case in Berkeley the following day.
The Destruction of the Few
I’ve been to several protests in my life. In every single one of them, a small group of bad actors have shown up just to stir things up. The same people show up when the local sports team wins a championship. Usually there are enough people in the larger group to stop them or report them to police. Sometimes that doesn’t happen soon enough.
Every protest (or anti-protest) group carries with it a non-zero number of bad actors. The news media loves these people. Nothing gets ratings like violence and destruction in the streets, especially if it’s being perpetrated by humans their audience disagrees with.
It is a constant struggle for any cause’s leadership to reign-in their most extreme members. In any cause, there will be some idiots with your logo on their shirts saying and doing things that are not at all part of the group’s mission.
What’s important is how that group reacts to these idiots. Keep that in mind while we explore each group.
Black Lives Matter
I’ve marched through Oakland with Black Lives Matter four times in the last three years. I’ve seen random people on the street walk up, destroy property, and run off laughing. These people weren’t wearing any BLM gear or carrying signs. They were just assholes out to destroy property using the protest as a cover. In response to this, the group has clarified repeatedly that they advocate nonviolence.
We are committed to embodying and practicing justice, liberation, and peace in our engagements with one another.
Black Lives Matter Guiding Principles Loving Engagement
Pundits have complained about this profusely. Some members of the movement consider blocking traffic fair game because it creates more visibility for the cause. As an ally of the Black Lives Matter cause, I’m in no position to criticize their tactics. I chose to take the opposite side of the fork in the road when my march started heading for the highway.
White supremacists like to claim that the Black Lives Matter movement wants “white genocide” and chants “kill whitey” at their rallies. I’ve never seen or heard anyone say these things at any of the protests I’ve been to, and the cherry-picked images and quotes I’ve been able to find online are obvious fakes (I won’t link any here because I don’t want them shared).
The statement “black lives matter” is not an anti-white proposition. Contained within the statement is an unspoken but implied “too,” as in “black lives matter, too,” which suggests that the statement is one of inclusion rather than exclusion.
Those white people who see the phrase “Black Lives Matter” and immediately feels like it means “White lives don’t matter” are severely lacking in reading comprehension skills. Even more upsetting is their inability to see the context.
In my view, of all the groups mentioned, Black Lives Matter is the least deserving of the negative labels placed on it by the media.
- ThinkProgress.org: There is No Comparison Between White Supremacists and Black Lives Matter
- Washington Post: A Black Man Went Undercover Online As a White Supremacist
Patriot Prayer, the organization that marched into our cities this weekend had a PR campaign that touted themselves as “free speech” protesters. I have engaged with several of them online and tried to pry out what their actual mission statement is, but none of them have ever told me much beyond “free speech”.
They are rallying for free speech so they can stand up on a stage and say “Woohoo! We did it! I’m speaking freely now and the government isn’t stopping me!” and then they’ll pack up and leave. When people show up to counter-protest them, they’ll celebrate that too! Because they only care about free speech. Everyone will get to speak without the government stopping them!
Obviously that didn’t happen. Patriot Prayer canceled their rally and their permit for Crissy Field. No one else stopped them from having their free speech.
Peace and Love
They claimed it was for public safety reasons, but then proceeded to move erratically around the peninsula to locations they had no right to use for their event. Areas that were not prepared to protect people from violence, no matter who started it. They even returned to Crissy Field after police rolled back safety measures due to their cancellation. Safety was obviously not their true concern.
Although [Joey Gibson’s] rhetoric is peaceful and he spouts messages of love, many argue his organizing has given a platform to others with malicious intent.
In that same article, Joey Gibson admitted that he doesn’t do a good enough job excluding white supremacists from his events.
I didn’t do a good enough job of speaking out against it
Is Gibson doing a better job now?
Patriot Prayer has denied its ties to white supremacists, but they have never taken serious action to stop those people from joining their online groups, commenting on their posts, or attending their rallies. When white supremacists speak, Patriot Prayer members are at the ready to “defend them from SJWs” that expose them.
He was even asked the question directly in an interview:
Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez (interviewer): “Your rallies have attracted such people in the past, news outlets have said. Will you keep out hateful people like white supremacists?”
Joey Gibson: “It depends.”
He didn’t clarify what it depended upon. Instead, he spoke in empty platitudes about love and not seeing color. He let an opportunity to speak out against white supremacists and clear his name slip through his fingers.
Joey’s choice to dodge direct questions about condemning white supremacy looks almost presidential. It reflects the politicians that use the “division and deception” his group claims to fight against.
His primary defense against bigotry accusations is that Patriot Prayer has a few token minorities in their group.
What Does Patriot Prayer Stand For?
Their own description is pretty broad.
Patriot prayer is about using the power of love and prayer to fight the corruption both in the government and citizen levels that seek to gain power through division and deception.
If Patriot Prayer are truly about what Gibson’s rhetoric says they are, they are woefully inept at showing that in their previous actions. That is the most generous interpretation I can fathom, and I don’t buy it. However…
In San Francisco, Patriot Prayer did succeed in sparking an enormous movement of free speech that blasted a message of love and inclusion that the entire world could see. So perhaps Joey Gibson is actually getting better at accomplishing the goals he states in his rhetoric… by accident.
- Hoodline covered the day in an excellent piece: Citing Security Concerns, Patriot Prayer Cancels Crissy Field Rally
- Fortune: Leaked Chats Show Charlottesville Marchers Were Planning for Violence
Law enforcement groups across the country have been infiltrated by white supremacists for a very long time. This is one of the primary reasons we have the Black Lives Matter movement today. This fact makes it difficult for non-white people to trust the police, especially at events like the protests that occurred last weekend.
So far in 2017, police in the United States have killed at least 657 people. White people make up 76.9% of our population but only 39% of these police killings. In Charlottesville we even saw a white supremacist (later confirmed to be a KKK Wizard) fire a handgun at some black counter-protesters, and the police in the area didn’t even flinch.
This is what terrifies marginalized people in our society. Police officers have a huge amount of unchecked power in our local communities, and their connections within the justice system (to Prosecutors, District Attorneys, Judges, and every other level of local governance) make it so even the worst of the bunch rarely see consequences.
If you ever wonder why protesters don’t trust police, or why some bring shields and put them between themselves and the police, remember these facts.
Not All Cops
That being said, the SFPD were on point on Saturday. They mobilized in an effective and impressive manner as the alt-right rally kept shifting locations to try to start trouble in areas of the city that weren’t prepared for it. Each interaction we had with police that day was calm and professional. Many of us made a point to thank every officer we saw on duty as the events winded down that evening.
It seems like the Berkeley Police were less professional. Perhaps they’re more on-edge than the SFPD considering how many protests have turned bad there in recent years. Perhaps they aren’t trained or prepared well enough to effectively de-escalate these demonstrations. Some witnesses I spoke with said the police were the ones escalating things in the first place, threatening to fire tear gas at peaceful protesters early in the day.
Where their failings lie is up to the people of Berkeley to sort out, but what transpired there on Sunday was certainly no indication of a successful operation. Berkeley officials and law enforcement failed to maintain the peace the way San Francisco and other parts of the Bay Area did.
The antifa, much like the other groups mentioned here, are a diverse group uniting for one cause: fighting fascism. As a whole, it does what it says on the tin. I support the antifa, using this definition.
Antifa have set up a line of shields, all of which say "No hate" pic.twitter.com/CSrZqAKX89
— Blake Montgomery (@blakersdozen) August 27, 2017
A subgroup among the antifa called the black bloc are highly controversial for reasons you can read about on their Wikipedia page. Alt-right protesters provoked them into violent behavior on Sunday, but resisting provocation is practically the definition of nonviolence. Protesters are always provoked. That doesn’t take away their agency in their actions.
I’d like to present a few opposing views on what occurred in Berkeley this Sunday. I recommend that you read them in their entirety, but here are some quotes.
Black Bloc Antifa: Community Service
I had friends participating in that same protest. One of whom believes that things wouldn’t have gotten so violent if the police hadn’t escalated the situation earlier.
When you are present to witness this stuff, instead of consuming what you’re told about them, you will see that the folks who do this black bloc engagement are extremely principled and quite precise about their targeted use of violence. They are there — at great personal risk — out of a spirit of community service. They do not attack people at random. They do specific things like move or break barricades to allow the mass demonstration to move. They seek out, expose, and confront fascists and fascist media operatives within the crowd. Those people get chased out or in some cases physically attacked. […] They VERIFY that someone is actually a fascist before they go in for a beat-down. They check each other. They discuss. This is not random violence. They are the security forces that make large mass demonstrations safe and effective for the rest of us.
I want to believe that this person is right; that the black bloc of antifa take a measured approach to… beating on people.
Violent, Hateful People
Those fascist dirt bags taking the beatings or being chased out in terror? They are violent, hateful people. Here’s what they do when they aren’t confronted and stopped in this way: they rove around in groups in our cities, shoot and smash-up Jewish and PoC businesses, they attack people and beat them, they shoot guns at and drive cars into protesters and murder them, and they run live streams and radio shows inciting and encouraging hundreds of other fascists to do all these things, and praising those who do. These aren’t just idiots “practicing free speech”. They are active agents of a violent terrorist movement that KILLS people. They were there yesterday *to do those things*. Knocking those people around a little and breaking their propaganda tools is a service to the community.
The people they’re beating up certainly are violent, hateful people. It’s good to chase them away and show them they aren’t welcome. It’s good to stop them from spreading their message. There are ways to accomplish that with nonviolence though.
If you’re still confused or think there is a moral equivalency, look at the body count. Nazis, fascists, and related violent white supremacists have murdered or attempted to murder multiple people, usually peaceful resistors, just in the last few months. Charlottesville. Portland. Seattle. Go look it up. There IS NO Antifa body count, because we don’t murder people.
Antifa haven’t killed anyone, whereas members of the alt-right have killed someone just in the past few weeks. They’ve even committed lethal acts of domestic terrorism. So I agree, there is no moral equivalency there. But just being less evil than nazis isn’t my goal. That’s an extremely low bar to aim for.
It sounds like the black bloc want to think of themselves as Batman. Vigilante heroes whose personal judgment is infallible and whose violence is justified as long as they don’t kill anyone.
I admit: it’s an attractive idea. I’m guilty of watching the GIF of Richard Spencer getting sucker-punched on repeat after the occasional frustrating internet argument with one of his ilk.
Most of my childhood heroes have punched nazis. I’ll be the first to admit that seeing this stuff gives me a warm feeling in my tummy. But after that moment, I feel guilt. And that guilt lasts longer than the moment of schadenfreude did.
Black Bloc Antifa: “The Ugly Side”
I watched groups of masked Antifa members in Black Bloc formation swarm individuals who were apparently antagonizing them, and pummel them with their fists, feet, and flagpoles. When the victims tried to escape, they were run down, and in at least one case, cut off by the Antifa mob and beaten down some more.
This quote directly contradicts the telling from above. Chasing fascists away is one thing — we did that peacefully in San Francisco the day before — but chasing them down so the black bloc could attack them more is horrifying.
In one case, as a crowd of non-Black Bloc protesters yelled at the assailants to let their victim go, an Antifa activist yelled, “He’s a Nazi!” over and over again, justifying the assault. Then, abruptly, maybe after realizing that the victim was not, in fact, a white nationalist, he changed his mantra. “He doesn’t have to be a Nazi!” he now shouted. The suggestion was that even if the victim wasn’t a fascist, he still deserved to be beaten.
Which side are we to believe here? Because, again, this directly contradicts the picture of the black bloc we were given by the previous writer. Is the selection process really as just as they proclaim?
A Fair Trial
[…] parsing out the nuances of moral justifications for violence in a quiet room somewhere is an entirely different thing than standing in a park with a mask on and a flag in your hand, with hundreds of your comrades, and making snap decisions about whose ass to beat and whose not to.
I saw this in the coverage that day too. It was hard to tell who was on which side in many cases. The Mayor of Berkeley later suggested that the antifa should be labeled a gang based on what he saw there — and you better believe the alt-right media machine ate that tidbit right up.
Protectors of the Nonviolent
Black Bloc antifascists prevented the police in Berkeley from gassing hundreds of peaceful protesters, many of whom were elderly and disabled.
Regardless of which side you’re on, you must acknowledge that the violence at Berkeley was exactly what the fascists wanted: another piece of footage to sell their “both sides” narrative. They came here so they could paint themselves as victims, and the black bloc gave them the paint.
Is Now “The Time”?
Participants in movements often say “There comes a time when nonviolence no longer works.”
Several people I agree with on many things seem to believe that now is that time. We have people marching down American streets with loaded guns, openly wearing the symbols of some of America’s greatest foes resurrected from the past. ICE is profiling, detaining, abusing, and deporting people by the thousands. Our president encourages all of this behavior, protects the people perpetrating it, punishes the people exposing it,and even goes out of his way to pardon the most horrific perpetrators of it.
People like Joe Arpaio have been putting people in concentration camps for years now. We had the most incarcerated populace on the planet before Trump even took office. His administration is allowing police departments to arm themselves like military units.
It’s fucking terrifying.
So I can see why many people believe that now is the time to go out and start punching nazis in the street. I can see why those of us that stand against fascism and white supremacy want to be like Batman and dish out our own flavor of vigilante justice.
Are we at that breaking point now? If not now, when will we be?
I’m still conflicted about it. When I was debating about whether or not I needed to start losing weight a few years ago, I had a similar debate about my body. “Continuing the way things are going will eventually kill me. How long should I wait to turn it around?” I’m happy that I took action before I permanently damaged my joints or got diagnosed with diabetes.
This weekend I chose nonviolence.
I saw it work in San Francisco. We chased nazis out of town peacefully. Right wing news feeds couldn’t run pictures of my friends and I wearing cute outfits and dancing in Civic Center to sell their narrative.
I know what happened in Berkeley was much different, but I can’t help but hope that it didn’t have to be.
I’m left wondering: How will history judge me? Will this photo be laughed at someday by police as they go through my data after throwing me in jail for participation in a future protest? Will I be mocked as a coward for not throwing punches like the black bloc do?
Or will my photo be laughed at the same way my generation laughed at photos like this:
I truly hope it’s the latter.