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Black Lives Matter and "Why don't they just..." [Nov. 27th, 2016|11:33 am]
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This is adapted from a letter I wrote at the end of September. It was more trouble than I wanted to go to, but I think that privilege makes it primarily the job of white allies to try to get through to other white folks, so I wrote it anyway. I have delayed posting it until now, in case the recipient had any counter-arguments to make. (He didn't; he merely changed the subject to try to impugn BLM in even less credible ways.) There are certain lessons in the letter that can be applied to more recent protests, and I won't insult you by editing it to point them out.

There were some things I had wanted to mention, pertaining to our earlier discussion of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The first thing that I should have brought up (if I had been more insightful at the time) is that all the criticism of Colin Kaepernick, whether it was for sitting, or for not donating money to the cause, or for whatever, has a single goal: To reframe the conversation away from the injustice that he was protesting. People are *still* getting murdered by police on a regular basis. Anybody who decries Kaepernick's protest, but does not decry the systemic racism and murder taking place in this country, is siding with, and aiding, the murderers.

Lots of people find ways to help. Almost nobody helps to the greatest extent that they possibly can. If a person criticizes Kaepernick for doing something but not doing more, shouldn't they first be criticizing everyone who *isn't* doing anything at all to help? And even before that, shouldn't they be criticizing the problem itself? Viewed in this light, one can (hopefully) see that these outspoken critics of Kaepernick don't *want* him to do more to help. They don't want anyone to help BLM. All they want is to find ways to silence and put down people who dare to bring attention to the issue. They seek to make an example of Kaepernick, so that others will think twice about pulling a stunt to bring public attention to systemic injustice.

The other thing I want to address is your problematic question, "Instead of rioting, why don't they just protest peacefully?"

If you follow media coverage long enough, you'll start to notice patterns. People said the exact same thing during the Baltimore riots following the murder of Freddie Gray by police. Except it turned out that there had in fact been two weeks of peaceful protests, which weren't getting media coverage. They protested peacefully, in huge gatherings, and few people outside of Baltimore even heard about it. It also turned out that the rioters weren't the protesters at all: They were a bunch of people trying to get home, whom the Baltimore police deliberately corralled and victimized with no provocation, to incite a riot. Please do let that sink in: The protests of Freddie Gray's death did not "turn violent". These were other people in other circumstances, with blame placed on the protestors.

Consider the Dakota Access Pipeline protest that you hail as a great example of nonviolent protest. Once security forces were brought in to attack them with dogs and pepper spray, the headline was, "Dakota Access Pipeline Protests In North Dakota Turn Violent". From the article: "Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said it 'was more like a riot than a protest.'" I'd expect that from the New York Post, but it's disappointing to see even NPR participating in this sort of defamation.

In 2009, Pittsburgh saw a massive, peaceful protest of the G20 summit. Protesters were subject to police brutality and sweeping false arrests. The media didn't mention that the protests were peaceful: Only that lots of protesters were being arrested.

There have been at least three (probably many more, but I'm only aware of three) different protests in which paid thugs vandalized cars and/or buildings from within or near the protest, both to enable media to paint the protests as violent and to give police an excuse to arrest and brutalize protestors. (If I recall correctly, this happened at Occupy Oakland and the G20 protest in Toronto. There was an earlier one where the corporations that had paid the thugs were found out, but I forget which protest that was. Other paid henchmen were pointing into the crowds, shouting, "Officer down!" to get the police to attack the protestors. It might have been the 1999 Seattle WTO protest, but I don't think it was quite that long ago.) You wouldn't expect this crap in Canada, but here's an account of the peaceful protest, the news coverage of the staged vandalism of police cars somewhere else (presumably nearby) and the police making mass arrests of protesters and bystanders, then keeping them in inhumane conditions without water.

Are you seeing a pattern yet? I am. So when someone asks, "Instead of rioting, why don't they just protest peacefully?" I hear, "The media spoon-fed me a libelous narrative which I didn't think to question, maligning good people working for a good cause, in order to discredit both the protestors and their cause."

In light of this, let me expand something I mentioned in person: Any time someone asks, "Why don't they just..." the answer will always be one of four things: "They can't," "It wouldn't work," "It would make things worse," or "They already do."

Here, let's try it out.

"Why don't those poor people just buy fresh produce and make healthy food for themselves and their kids, instead of wasting money on fast food?" Well, often, it turns out that they can't. Maybe there's no convenient supermarket nearby. Maybe, while working two or three jobs, they don't have time to cook. Maybe their refrigerator broke, and they can't afford a new one.

"Why doesn't she explain to the creeper on the bus why he needs to back off, instead of ignoring him or nodding politely?" That turns out to be a combination of "It wouldn't work; he doesn't respect her enough to learn from her" and "It would make things worse; experience shows that he might well turn violent."

And the answer to, "Instead of rioting, why don't they just protest peacefully?" is, "They already do."

Whenever you ask "Why don't they just," your implication that the solution is simple, combined with the fact that the solution hasn't happened yet, reveals that you lack a great deal of contextual knowledge of the situation. If you want to learn what it is that you're missing, change it from a suggestion to an honest question: "I'm missing something here. What is preventing [X] from happening and/or working?"

Link: How To Be A White Ally

(I also wanted to link to, but cannot find, the webcomic (maybe XKCD?) in which someone explains that they double the development time estimate every time someone asks, "Why don't you just...?")

This entry was originally posted at http://blimix.dreamwidth.org/44243.html. (comment count unavailable comments there.)

[User Picture]From: kita0610
2016-11-28 03:07 am (UTC)
This is a great resource, thank you.
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[User Picture]From: elenbarathi
2016-11-29 05:29 am (UTC)
This begs the question of whether street protest is effective in the first place, or whether it's mostly just 'revolution theatre' that causes a lot of polarization and drama, but does little to foster real change.

"There have been at least three (probably many more, but I'm only aware of three) different protests in which paid thugs vandalized cars and/or buildings from within or near the protest, both to enable media to paint the protests as violent and to give police an excuse to arrest and brutalize protestors."

Yes. This has been a frequent feature of protests since the 60's (probably before, but I wasn't around before.) Any peaceful march in Seattle immediately draws 'anarchists' who smash and spray-paint and provoke altercations with the police. It's very interesting to note how many of the Black Bloc wear 'cop shoes', though of course this is only circumstantial evidence.
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[User Picture]From: blimix
2016-11-29 04:42 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the link (I read a bunch of it), and for the corroboration.

I tend to think of protests as being like step 1 of Alcoholics Anonymous: Admit that you have a problem. If the country doesn't recognize it has a problem, it has very little chance to fix that problem. The protest itself doesn't solve anything, but it creates an atmosphere in which the need for change becomes widely understood: A necessary first step toward the solution.

However, this is mostly a hypothesis based on pattern recognition, and I intend to keep my mind open to the opinions of those who have more experience with social change.
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[User Picture]From: elenbarathi
2016-11-30 03:03 am (UTC)
You're welcome; glad you like! ^^

Two books from the late 60's that you might find interesting are The Glass Teat by Harlan Ellison, and The Strawberry Statement by James Simon Kunen: two very different perspectives on protest in the Age of Television.

It seems strange now, to remember the time when the only sources of information about current events were newspapers, magazines, radio, and three television networks, all of which strictly censored and controlled the news. Street protest was the only way to make the American populace aware of problems that the corporations and politicians didn't want to admit.

Unfortunately, as both Ellison and Kunen observed, the TV networks quickly learned that they could use protests against the protestors by selectively filming their worst elements, and by slanting the narrative to discredit their aims. And as Ellison and Kunen also observed, a great many of the protestors fell right into that trap.

Martin Luther King's marches were politically effective because they were not riots. King was smart enough to tell his cohorts to dress their best, mind their manners, and not stoop to take the bait of provocation - to always look and act like ladies and gentlemen before the cameras of the press.

Compare that to the Yippies, who did so much to embarrass and discredit the anti-war movement by always looking and acting like crazed assholes before the cameras. Then there was the SDS, that turned into a total train-wreck, and probably engendered more back-lash than it did progress.

Occupy, too. I was there for Occupy Seattle five years ago, and my take on it was this:
Sheesh, irrational anarchy. Y'know, I asked a whole bunch of young Occupados if they'd ever heard of the Yippies, and none of them had - which was my point. The 1% doesn't care if they block rush-hour traffic, establish a bum-camp on a community college campus, squat in abandoned buildings, war with the cops - they're watching all that on their wall-sized screens in their immense houses on their security-guarded fortress estates, pointing and laughing. They're not troubled, not even inconvenienced; on the contrary, the Occupation has provided such a wealth of ammunition for ad hominem attacks as to ensure that their real and valid issues will not be heard.
As much as TV changed everything, the Internet has changed it even more. "Can't stop the signal!" - the difficulty now is figuring out which signals to heed, especially when so many are deliberately distorted. One Black Bloc asshole spray-painting a bank discredits 5000 citizens peacefully protesting systemic inequality; one angry fool throwing a brick at a cop turns Black Lives Matter into Blue Lives Matter in the minds of the viewers.

It's time to stop all that, and go with other forms of activism. We're long past Step 1; anyone who doesn't recognize the problems we have is either oblivious or deep in denial, and not likely to understand the need for change. But many of those who do understand the need for change don't seem to understand that they're the ones who have to bring it about by direct political action: voting, donating, contacting their representatives, and attending all those excruciating meetings and hearings where things actually get decided.

Edited at 2016-11-30 03:05 am (UTC)
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