Protest Problems

Christopher Hayes

The "protests might backfire" meme has really been gaining ground; here's the latest from Michelle Goldberg at Salon. (Readers should know Goldberg has been fearlessly reporting about the Bush Administration's outrageous restrictions on peaceful protest for the last several years, and the criminal violence and brutality of the Miami police during the FTAA protests). Here's the lede: John Passacantando, the executive director of Greenpeace USA, believes in confrontation. A protégé of Mike Roselle, co-founder of the radical environmentalist group Earth First, he's led Greenpeace to push the limits of civil disobedience. On his watch, the group has boarded ships involved in illegal logging. He and other activists have chained themselves to the entrance of the Environmental Protection Agency and dumped barrels of contaminated waste at Dow Chemical's headquarters. Last year, he told a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "I want Greenpeace first and foremost to be a credible threat … To paraphrase Thoreau, I regret only our good behavior." So one might expect Passacantando to be thrilled by the prospect of bad behavior, and a lot of it, at the Republican National Convention late this month. Tens if not hundreds of thousands are planning to take to Manhattan's streets in protest, and plans are being hatched for widespread disruption, from shutting down city streets to throwing pies to assaults on the offices of "war profiteers." But Passacantando isn't happy about what's about to happen in New York. In fact, he's terrified. Like a host of intellectuals, '60s veterans and activists desperate for a John Kerry victory in November, Passacantando worries that the delicious, so-close prospect of defeating George Bush in November will be swept away in the citywide chaos that anarchists have promised to bring to New York. I want to reaffirm that I think the only solution to the possible problem of the protests "getting out of hand," is for conscientious people to go to the protests and try to do everything in their power to make sure they won't. As yet, I've seen nothing to suggest these protests will be anything but peaceful and humane, and the worse possible outcome would be for people to stay home only to have the protests be attended by a small group of reckless anarchists. (Do I sound like a fogey? Maybe, but I make no apologies. I believe in politics.) Here's one tip I can offer, and it comes from a veteran organizer who told me that he's always trained his people to starting chanting "THE POLICE NEED A RAISE!" in unison whenever cops would show up to arrest them. It's an amazingly effective tactic. I've done it at protests and the cops can't help but break a smile. The beauty of it is that it helps to bridge the inevitable divide between the police and protesters, a divide that doesn't make a ton of sense politically. The police, as a group, are not the enemy. The corporate oligarchs and dogmatic imperialists running the White House are. Everybody at the protests should keep that in mind.

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Christopher Hayes is the host of MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes. He is an editor at large at the Nation and a former senior editor of In These Times.
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