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July 09, 2004

Garofalo and Flores Williams on RNC demo tactics

This is a response to an interview on Air America Radio's The Majority Report, with hosts Janeane Garofalo and Sam Seder. This interview with Jason Flores Williams aired in the second hour of the program on July 8, 2004.

First, let me say that I'm a big fan of the show, which airs weekdays from 8-11 pm.

That said, I think both Janeane and her guest Jason Flores Williams floated a lot of thoroughly wrongheaded suggestions about activist tactics for the upcoming RNC.

Here is the rant prompted by the interview:

Mass demonstrations are not the time to "do your own thing." Not everyone is comfortable joining a mass protest with its incumbent chanting, signs, and crowd control. If you are one of those people, please, don't go. Protest your way: send money, write a letter to the editor, register voters, blog...

If you plan to show up, please listen to the crowd marshals. They're not being "fascist" or authoritarian when they tell you where to stand or when to lock arms. They're trained activists whose goal is to orchestrate this performance as safely and effectively as possible.

If you insist on protesting the RNC "your way," you risk undermining the cause you're trying to support. Republican provocateurs have been setting up demonstrators since the Nixon era. Longer, if you ask Howard Zinn. You also risk getting seriously hurt, or hurting someone else--either by giving authorities an excuse to beat the shit out of you, or by promoting general panic and confusion. I grew up on stories about people who ended up permanently blind after being cracked on the head with nightsticks in 1960's Berkeley. If you know enough to protest the RNC, you ought to know enough to be scared.

Demonstrations are just that, demonstrations. They are supposed to demonstrate solidarity and project moral authority. They should not be geared towards threatening or intimidating the powers that be, as Flores Williams said repeatedly during the interview. The brute force of the authorities far greater than that of ordinary citizens. The only way to "threaten" them is to leverage support by appealing to a broader audience. The goal is not to intimidate anyone. The goal is to present a positive, sane, united face to the world. Otherwise, the Republicans will use the intimidating footage to market themselves to middle America. You don't want to end up in a GOP commercial, do you?

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