Archive - Apr 2015

April 29th

Baltimore Or Less

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Memo to Everyone: YOU NEED TO KEEP THIS IN MIND.

Another police killing, this time in Baltimore. More anger, more protests, more eruptions of violence and looting, and the usual calls for calm, peaceful protest, and the assertion that violence will not help.

Which is fine, and clearly necessary, but as always, the reality is a bit more complicated than that. Because as much as I respect the people willing to march in the streets and chant that Black Lives Matter, the fact is, non-violent, peaceful protest doesn't do shit.

A lot of this, to be perfectly honest, can be laid at the feet of the George W. Bush administration, but they were just imposing a frame that America was all too willing to accept - that Americans have the right to protest, as long as they do it peacefully, quietly, and in a way that doesn't interfere in any way, shape, or form with the lives of everyday citizens. And I get it. If you're trying to get home, and peaceful protesters are blocking the highway, you want the police to move these stinky social justice warriors out of your way because The Voice is on in half an hour and you didn't set the DVR. It's a natural, if selfish impulse.

Remember the much lampooned "free speech zones"? The out of the way cages so that people protesting Dubya's war policies could exercise their rights without anyone seeing or hearing them? Well, with the rise of the Occupy movement and continuing through the Ferguson protests, the concept of the "free speech zone" is alive and well. Protest harmlessly, or your protest will be deemed harmful and illegal and will be shut down.

Behavior will not change in the absence of consequences. Consequences do not exist when protesters don't fuck up traffic, get in people's ways, and generally inconvenience those in power. So chant all you want, but chanting isn't consequences.

You know what the saddest thing about the incredibly fast, incredibly successful fight against Indiana's anti-gay "religious freedom" law was? It wasn't peaceful protests that turned the tide. And it wasn't setting shit on fire. It was corporations stepping up and telling Indiana they would lose money if they continued with their plans. You can raise the awareness of ten million people, and it won't mean shit next to the loss of one million dollars.

And since I don't see corporations stepping up and withholding business from states and cities that don't reform their police departments, all we have left is chanting, which does nothing, and burning shit, which actually does do a little bit. It'd do more if the right shit got burned. I'm not saying I want the right shit to get burned, because that would be condoning violence, but having your shit burned does qualify as consequences, and thus could be effective in changing behavior.

The myth of the Civil Rights movement, that all it took was some singing and some marching and suddenly black and white people could sing at the same water fountains, is not actually how that struggle went down. And even if it were, 2015 America is a very, very different place from 1965 America. The politics are different, the environment is different, the audience is different. Getting heard above the background noise is much harder, and entrenched interests are even more entrenched.

I don't know what will work. But I know those in power aren't swayed by "We Shall Overcome" anymore, if they ever were. So sure, let's keep condemning violence, like good citizens. But let's not fool ourselves in the process.