Why the Jefferson Memorial Dancers can dance alone in their room. June 1, 2011Posted by caradox in Progressive Politics.
Tags: Activism, Code Pink, Jefferson Memorial, Protest
I spent most of the weekend talking myself out of writing this. After I got the 400th tweet and status about how wonderful these activists are, and how the awful horrible terrible no-good police brutalized them, I just can’t hold my tongue.
I don’t want to be the cranky old pragmatist drag bitching about about these meddling kids. But I’m going to. The more I think about it, the more I have concerns about allowing this kind of “activism” to go on without any reflection on how and why it is done, and why it is counterproductive to true methods of civil change.
Here are my specific issues with the action that these people took at the Jefferson Memorial on Saturday, May 28th and why I believe that those celebrating and promoting them need to take a big step back and reflect before turning them into heroes:
1 – The most important thing you should know is that this action was not, and does not comport with peaceful, non-violent civil disobedience. Those who have never experienced it first hand likely do not know this, but a civil disobedience event is (and pardon the pun given the circumstances) a dance. It is a carefully orchestrated and methodical set of moves in which a group of organized resistors plan ahead, aware going in that they are knowingly acting in violation of the law, what the likely consequences of their action will be, and exactly how they are expect themselves to behave during every step of the event in order to achieve the goal of peaceful non-violent and civil (civil as in polite) disobedience. In our modern political environment, that means that the actors (the protestors) and the police often have full awareness and communication of what each side will do. There are several very specific ways in which this event did not meet the rules:
- This event was publicized as a celebratory flash mob and a civil disobedience – at no time in the invite video does Adam Kokesh tell viewers that if they participate they can expect to be arrested. What he does indicate is that they intend to not “cause a disturbance” for those visiting the memorial. If any viewers were drawn to have some fun, they were doing so without a clear understanding of what they would likely encounter – a police presence, arrests, and legal consequences. That kind of setup, with a wide open public invitation is a setup for trouble.
- At the event, the participants proceed to take a set of actions that are not typical of well organized civil disobedience. If you watch the long version video, you will see the lead police officer do what is expected and normal, he approaches the group and calmly lays out for them that they will be arrested, and that if they live outside the 50 mile radius they will be held over for the weekend. What he gets from the group is not normal. They should be communicating with him to work the dance – yes, Officer, we understand that you will do your job, yes we understand that we will be arrested, we will not allow ourselves to be arrested willingly but we will peacefully resist arrest – we will do that by sitting together or laying down on the ground and you will have to physically remove us. Instead they pepper him with questions that they should already know the answer to, they argue with him, they yell, they snark, they scream, they wander individually across a wide public space – all actions that connote no peaceful coordination, no civil respect for the officers or the public around them. Here’s a tip: If you find yourself yelling at a civil disobedience action, “I don’t understand! I didn’t even hear you!” or “You didn’t give me a warning!” — you are doing it wrong. The police officer did his job up front – he tried to communicate what was going to happen, he was providing a clear warning, the dance takes both sides to know the steps, and you didn’t want to hear him.
- Here’s a big one – and it comes at 2:28 in on the video. When the police officer tells one man to put his hands behind his back for arrest, a second protestor (in brown shirt) physically interferes by grabbing the arm of his pal and bodily pulling him in the opposite direction. One cop, two protestors, both physically in motion – bad idea, not proper technique at all.
I think you’ve got my point here – the method of peaceful non-violent civil disobedience is a well-honed process and this group had no interest in doing it right. That would have defeated the purpose. Which brings me to…
2 – The motives of those participating are not what they seem. The invitation, video and online promotion of what happened, and promotion of the exciting follow-on events now planned feature the “Adam versus The Man” logo. Yep, the centerpiece of this event is Adam Kokesh, host of “Adam versus The Man” online video show. I hope the people who showed up at the event knew that they were being used to help a online personality get some headlines. As my wise friend @dvnix notes in his take on the event (and I love him for calling it “Martyr Porn” by the way!), Kokesh “is a serial provocateur and self-promoter.” he also notes that a second participant and arrestee is none other than Medea Benjamin of Code Pink (she of the “I didn’t heeeear you!” objections). Want to learn more about Adam Kokesh? (I’m sure he’d love the attention) go watch his show, you’ll get to see his nice long friendly discussion with Grover Norquist, including the fond memory of their meeting at a Ron Paul event. I’m sorry, were you under the impression that Adam Kokesh is a Democrat? A Progressive? A believer in peace? Oooookay, umm, he’s not.
3 – But but but, the police were BRUTAL! Yes, yes, I know, a thousand tweets telling you there was “SHOCKING POLICE BRUTALITY” can’t be wrong. Actually I believe that they are self-serving and wrong. I watched that video repeatedly, and while I don’t love cops having to put a knee onto the upper back of a person to hold them down for arrest, and I don’t love watching a cop essentially sweep Adam Kokesh down to the ground, there is actually nothing brutal about it. It’s done by the book, right down to the carefully trained hand-holds.
Again, remember – there was no coordination on how this would go, no communication between the protestors and the police, and the protestors broke a number of standard practices that keep things calm, peaceful, and safe for both sides and the public bystanders.
Now widen your focus and consider this: In the 11 minute video, as protestors are dancing around the statue of the guy they so much revere, as they yell “This is a POLICE STATE!” and argue with the police and grab someones arm and pull, you should notice something else — there are families all around them. Look for the small children, the grandma with the scarf around her head. This was an open tourist space with people all around. If you had a group of yelling, wandering, lets face it, angry people in what was supposed to be the calm, thoughtful, respectful shrine to Jefferson how would YOU handle them if you were those police officers? Take a quiet moment and put your kids in that space, your grandma on those marble stairs, and you tell me how you would want this handled when we are not looking at organized, respectful, civil protest?
Want to know how much Adam Kokesh respects and wants to work with the police? His Facebook status just after being released should make it obvious:
I’ve been released from jail. Tragically, the officers involved still have to go home and be disgusting despicable people.
4 – But but but, civil disobedience is necessary when the law prohibits the First Amendment! Its just too important!
I’m sorry, this was a protest against what again? A law that makes it illegal to dance inside the Jefferson Memorial. Inside. Not a law that makes dancing illegal anywhere, or anywhere on the DC Mall, or even down out in front of the memorial. Inside.
Fine, it sounds like a stupid law. To prove this, I am going to go to a public school tomorrow, walk right in and dance to show I have the right to expression in any public space. What? You think it might be against the law for me, a person who doesn’t work or have kids at a school to just walk right into one? And what the hell is with these id cards and having to check-in as a visitor? I don’t care if you want your kids safe, I want to dance!
Maybe instead I’ll just take my dancing to marble and fresh-air type public structures. Check me out doing the watusi at the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial! Woohoo! I can see my reflection in the wall! Oh, I’m sorry, did you want to leave a token to remember a friend you lost, a son? You wanted to do a rubbing of your uncle’s name? Step back! I’m doing the Dougie for freedom!
So let’s check ourselves a second here — this crisis of danceability is so severe, so restricting of the rights and health and the very lives of people that it calls for the ultimate step in protest, the civil disobedience step. This group is so concerned about the impact of not being able to DANCE in this very specific location that they skipped all of the necessary lead-up steps – they didn’t petition, make calls or visits to their officials, they went straight for public video capture? Please give me a break.
Ultimately, that’s what makes me most annoyed at having to even bother with this event. What a completely self-serving and insignificant agenda. I applaud people who want to get out there and be visible standing up for what they believe. They are the energy and motion that gets everyone else to care about issues that desperately need attention. I’ve done my share of dancing in protest, and holding signs, and marching for things like ending Apartheid, fighting AIDS, stopping death squads, protecting reproductive rights. It turns out we still have big things that need action, and we need really effective people out there doing something about them. So this noise just makes us look stupid, and misdirected, and disrespectful of police, the law, and our fellow citizens.
If you want to dance… dance on over to a food bank and help make sure that our unemployed families are getting the help they need. Dance over to a medical clinic and volunteer. Dance over to your Congressperson’s office and ask them why we are cutting services to our most needy instead of asking our most wealthy to chip in more.
You can make a difference today doing any one of those things, and it will have an immediate human effect. But it won’t get you advertisers for your website, get you bookings on MSNBC or fill your donations meter. If those are your priority – dance alone.