Mediocrity on the Left

Perhaps the only thing more disappointing than watching liberals sell themselves short and shoot themselves in the proverbial feet is watching self-proclaimed leftists do the same thing. The once-promising United for Peace and Justice organization, headed by an organizer I have admired for the past 10 years but whose decision on recent matters I just cannot understand, UFPJ has proven itself a massive waste of energy and resources.

True to its short-lived reputation, UFPJ seems determined to cave in to the city of New York once again, just like they shamefully did a year and a half ago.

When NYC turned down the group’s march permit for the February 15, 2003 antiwar demonstrations in NYC, and offered a protest pen in exchange, UFPJ rolled over and took it like good collaborators — with an obedient grin. The group’s leadership discouraged wildcat actions and basically relegated the 400,000-strong crowd — the largest to assemble at a peace demonstration in the US since the Vietnam War, and the largest ever assembled in a pre-war action — to filing up and down the avenues of the Manhattan’s East Side like a bunch of mice (I was one of them — I vividly recall the feeling).

The action would have been the most disempowering, humiliating experience of many people’s lives (those who haven’t been lucky enough to grow up in any of the world’s various ghettos, where such experiences are commonplace), were it not for a few inspiring moments that some people may have caught glimpses of: everyday people (not always hardened activists) spontaneously resisting police control. Anywhere you saw police, you saw them outnumbered at least 50 to one, often 500 to one. Yet the UFPJ leadership decided that even such an easy victory, well within the reach of the throngs present at the demonstration, should be abandoned to the jaws of defeat. Whenever people called on the crowds to take the streets, the streets were taken with remarkable ease (at least from what I saw and heard from others who were present). The police were not only overwhelmed, but, except for one or two hardened cavalry units, they retreated effortlessly.

In case you are sitting there thinking I’m crazy for advocating massive civil disobedience on August 29, the eve of the RNC. What about the majority of people attending who will be less seasoned activists, or families, or people who cannot afford to get arrested? Believe me, those constituencies are always foremost in my mind, as I’ve demonstrated over and over again in my various writings on the subject of protest tactics.

But if an organization calls tens of thousands of people to a protest, and promises a march (as in the 2003 example) that never happens or a rally (this year) that never happens, many thousands of those who remain are going to be amped to the gills and very understandably looking to take their frustrations out on something or somebody. By not acknowledging that eventuality, UFPJ is condemning itself and all demo participants to the potentially chaotic progression of events. That is, if UFPJ doesn’t coordinate with direct action activists and give room for experienced black bloc types and disgruntled rookie activists alike to express and channel their outrage, they’re really asking for it.

And, not unlike 2003, UFPJ will be wasting yet another chance to use overwhelming people presence to demonstrate that no security force can (or probably would even bother trying to) stop a determined mass of people who wish to peacably assemble on a fucking lawn. Would they really dare risk the scenes that would ensue in Central Park if they tried to prevent that many people from peacefully gathering there? I wonder if UFPJ leaders really have a concept of how terrified the NYC police force and the federal agencies — even the NY Nat’l Guard — would be to mess with a crowd one or two hundred thousand in strength, including many, many, many ordinary folks who aren’t pink-haired radicals. What a pity it will be if UFPJ does what it did in 2003 and squanders the potential of such a massive body of energized people.

And make no mistake about it, they’ll be trading a potentially amazing event for a total disaster. That is all but guaranteed — though surely they will wash their hands of any melee that breaks out after the “official” march disbands.

As a veteran street medic organizer/instructor, I know police and protesters pretty well. I know each side’s weaknesses and strengths and tendencies and capacities quite thoroughly. I also know that nothing could be more hazardous to the Bush campaign than for the police to go hog wild on a unified body of protestors on August 29, and I suspect even they know it, dumb as they may be — it doesn’t exactly take “actionable” intelligence to figure out.

But if the protest body is split up and segmented, small defenseless groups can be beaten to a bloody pulp or corralled and arrested (or both) without the media even finding out.

The ball is in UFPJ’s court, and the choice is between victory and debacle. Let’s see which they choose.

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