Outside the Circle

Cindy Milstein

For Those Who Should Know Better: Shine the Light of Solidarity; Don’t Help Build the Walls of Separation


The street art pictured here is from Montreal, taken during protests last summer against the massive uptick in bombing, brutalizing, and murdering those trapped inside Gaza. It was, indeed, a dark moment, and for those in Gaza, still is. Yet as Palestinians tweeting out their own dignity, self-organization, and social solidarity while facing their own deaths should illuminate for us, “Let’s hold hands in the dark,” because that is how we struggle and aspire together to hold hands in the light.

Over the past two weeks on the streets, and particularly when the nightly ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ ‪#‎BrownLivesMatter‬ ‪#‎IndigenousLivesMatter‬ moved to Berkeley, I’ve alternated between patience and losing my temper at too many people new to social struggle, within what’s become a social uprising. The crux of this has been the threadbare trope of “good” versus “bad protesters,” and its equally threadbare trope of “good” versus “bad” tactics. I really am trying to be patient, but I’m threadbare from seeing us have to get mired in small muddy circles instead of moving forward, while the power is increasingly in our collective hands, to do our best to end the police state and white supremacy.

Yes, I am trying to exert patience when speaking with and listening to those new to fighting the powers that be.

But today there’s a new twist, and I’m not sure I have any patience for it: longtime, “seasoned” organizers who have long engaged in street protests, social movements, and direct actions are “stepping up” to call-out protesters, tactics, and strategies they don’t like!

Sometimes it’s in the form of a private message, such as one from an old friend who I thought knew far better, who I thought understood that the power of social movements (and indeed, what makes them social movements) is the blossoming of widespread, varied resistance and prefigurative experiments from all sorts of people, in all sorts of places, using all sorts of tactics that complement and strengthen each other. And that such flowering captivates more and more folks, breaking the spell that keeps them from participating in their own ways, increasingly strong too. None of our tactics or strategies work alone; none of us have the right answer to what it will take to stop killer cops and white supremacy. We need to stitch together a patchwork of resistance, which in turn can become the social fabric of a resistance, uprising, social movement.

My friend’s lack of solidarity in messaging me that putting the “FTP Speakout & March Against CHP,” which I’m not even organizing but merely sharing on social media, at 5 pm on Oscar Grant Plaza tomorrow an hour or 1.5 hours AFTER another march ends (the Millions March, which I urge everyone to go to, whether in San Francisco or Oakland, starting at 2 pm tomorrow) is perplexing. He labeled the FTP Speakout as a case of not having respect for “a diversity of spaces.”

It seems to me that whoever organized the 5 pm march is precisely being respectful by setting the time not in competition with but instead after the earlier one, with enough time for folks to leave, or leave to get a bite to eat and return, or stay and build new friendships in between — all on what has been transformed, thanks to Occupy Oakland, into “home base” for a myriad of political events, especially due to its renaming as Oscar Grant Plaza.

My friend also contended, in so many words — and this really challenges my patience — that the 2 pm march was going to be “peaceful” and the 5 pm one was going to be “smashy.” He has no idea what will happen at either march, and absolutely should know from past organizing, such as during the WTO protests in Seattle 1999, that locking down on the street and breaking windows both are not peaceful, both ‪#‎ShutItDown‬, both helped turn protest into social movement, and both made “anticapitalism” a household word. It was exactly the “turtles and teamsters” along with anarchists of many tendencies, and so many other folks and tactics that put Seattle on the map, just to name one instance among many.

Shame, my friend, and other friends like him who, yes, should know better from firsthand experience of riot cops, teargas, and arrests, not to mention state violence.

Yelling “shame” at police, or state or capitalist sites, never makes sense to me. They aren’t ashamed; they know precisely what they are doing. Ethical arguments can’t sway systemically unethical institutions; the inherent logic of, say, institutional racism or capitalism or patriarchy holds to a vastly different, vastly hierarchical and exploitative logic, even if there are a few good “eggs” or “apples” within them. Shame moves these entities not one bit.

Social power from below — self-determination, self-organization, and self-governance, pushes them, making them worried for their own self-preservation as holders of power from above, with violence to back that up — whether as individual cops or the “whole damn system” of policing.

But I do long to scream “shame shame shame” to my friend, and others like him — to many others, posting such tropes on Facebook events pages for the Millions March and FTP Speakout/March. Shame if your own guilt or comfort/discomfort is causing you to do the work of policing: divide and separate, and thus crush the spirit that is animating this dynamic and growing uprising, sparked by rage, sorrow, and flames — and mostly, killer cops — in Ferguson.

Thankfully, as Jon Jackson noted on the FTP Speakout Facebook event page, in response to such contentions by others: “[I] cannot believe people are getting upset over MORE demonstrations against police violence because THEY didn’t call them. Come on, folks.”

I am going to say it until I am blue in the face, though hopefully with compassion, and hopefully others will chant it loud and proud on the streets when, say, the cops next try to kettle some of us:
Solidarity! Solidarity! Solidarity! Solidarity!

The police are the enemy.

And as protesters, in the tens of thousands, are chanting in Mexico following the disappearance/murder of 43 students in Aytozinapa, “It’s the state,” another enemy.

The rest of us have hearts, empathy, and love, and we should be embracing each other precisely in our “diversity of humanity.”

So I’d like to thank my friend Ben Trovato for the following words today on Facebook, in line with extending solidarity:

“Increasingly I’ve begun to encounter a lot of old normative arguments about recent events in the Bay. About what the movement “should” be doing, about how the important questions ‘lie elsewhere.’ About what content ‘needs to be included.’ Everyone wants to chant ‘Black Lives Matter,’ but it seems like no one really wants to follow the lead of black and brown youth in the streets, those kids who have the most likelihood of being the next Mike Brown or Eric Garner or Alex Nieto.

“We might heed the words of that old bearded German dude who once wrote, ‘We develop new principles for the world out of the world’s own principles. We do not say to the world: Cease your struggles, they are foolish; we will give you the true slogan of struggle. We merely show the world what it is really fighting for, and consciousness is something that it has to acquire, even if it does not want to.’

“How do we act in solidarity and confluence with what’s already being played out in the streets? What would it mean to put aside our particular ideological and theoretical hang-ups and just be out there, with and for these kids? How do we extend the logic and intelligence of what the movement has already developed and really explore present dynamics rather than smugly judge and analyze from afar?”

I’ll add a bit to Ben’s words:

It’s not just the black and brown youths, although it absolutely is them too. I’ve had the honor of listening to the stories, in person here in the Bay, of the too-many black and brown adult sisters and brothers, moms and dads, uncles and aunts, and grandparents who have lost their relatives, their loved ones who are specific human beings with names, to killer cops. Check out, for starters, the Facebook pages Justice 4 Alex Nieto and Justice for O’Shaine Evans.

I’ve also seen many of these same multigenerational family members organizing events of many types, from vigils to protests to speakouts and beyond, and on the streets in the day and night, marching along with thousands of others. I keep thinking that everyone on the streets who hasn’t lost a loved one to a killer cop needs to listen to and really hear those voices — strong and grieving and fighting back, as their not-chosen but now lifelong struggle.

As Ben highlighted, too many folks seem to be forgetting that police here in the Bay Area (whether the OPD, BPD, or SFPD, whether in Half Moon Bay or Vallejo, etc.) don’t think black or brown lives matter, nor indigenous ones or those of other people of color, nor the poor, homeless, or folks with mental health/wellness issues. Certain lives are highly targeted as worthless, unless millions of us struggle ever harder, in ever-more diverse and imaginative ways, collectively and individually, to make white supremacy a thing of the past.

For now, painfully, cops hand in hand with a state and “justice” system as collaborators are murdering black, brown, and indigenous folks right here in the Bay Area — and unfortunately, this is nothing new.

So alongside being in the streets day after day, which is crucial to solidify our collective social power from below, go to the “solidarity rally” this Monday, December 15 at 4 pm, to hear Mike Brown’s dad and Oscar Grant’s uncle speak at Mission High School in San Francisco (https://www.facebook.com/events/342895405897089/) or the “vigil to honor black lives” this Monday, too, at 5 pm by Oakland’s Lake Merritt (https://www.facebook.com/events/324178874449665/). And/or learn more about all the too-many people, mostly black and brown, who have been murdered right here in our own backyard, on “our” streets.

And please, especially those of you who should know far better from personal experience:

The police divide us, pushing us back into the darkness of death and loss, isolation and powerlessness.

Our solidarity, brightly shining forth, as beacon for others too, is our best weapon.

(For those of you newer to street protest and social movements, you might want to take a gander at my piece yesterday, “Solidarity, as Weapon & Practice, versus Killer Cops & White Supremacy” at https://cbmilstein.wordpress.com/2014/12/11/solidarity-as-weapon-and-practice-versus-killer-cops-and-white-supremacy/.)

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Please sign up to receive notices when I post to my blog, Outside the Circle, cbmilstein.wordpress.com. You can also follow me on Twitter at @CindyMilstein. Enjoy, share, reprint, post, tweet any of my writings . . . as long as it’s free as in “free water” and “freedom.”

(Photograph by Cindy Milstein, during a Montreal visit, during a Gaza solidarity demonstration, summer 2014.)

2 comments on “For Those Who Should Know Better: Shine the Light of Solidarity; Don’t Help Build the Walls of Separation

  1. bob roberts
    December 12, 2014

    All lives matter ! We must hold hands and march forward together . If we don’t the system will crush us all one by one. Solidarity is the power of many voices united as one.

  2. Pingback: New kids on the blockade: thoughts on the new anti-racist, anti-police revolt | Cautiously pessimistic

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