The events of the past few months have thrown the ruling class into a panic. A massive uprising that surpasses those of the 60s. Increased awareness of the racism and brutality of the police towards the poor, minorities and political dissidents have undercut the liberal establishment of major cities. At same time, large parts of the Left remain wedded to the tactics developed under the theories of non violence, passive resistance and civil disobedience.
These tactics were developed 60 years ago under very different conditions by African Americans struggling against a system of racial apartheid in South. They faced an enemy that couldn’t be fought head on. Their strategy was based on removing the consent of the oppressed for their oppression. This approach has stopped being a set of tactics for colonized people and has frozen into a strategy used by First World political groups. This strategy has had problems over the past few decades. The greatest of these has been the tendency of these actions to reduce turnout. Mobilizing large actions like the uprising usually rules out any civil disobedience.
Two demonstrations were held the night of November 4th in Minneapolis whose purpose was to support the right to free and fair elections and to warn the Right not to resort to a coup to keep Trump in power. They were organized by Socialist Alternative which held a rally at HCGC and ended prior to the second event, a march organized by the Justice for Jamar coalition, which had its event at May Day books. Several attendees from the SA rally joined up with the second gathering in Cedar Riverside. This action resulted in the mass arrest of 626 activists on I94.
It was dark as the march proceeded from HCGC. The efforts of the marshals to hold intersections was considered inadequate by many observers. Fortunately traffic was light but there were many moments when marchers spilled into traffic without direction. There was only one back up vehicle and no communications between marshalls.
Things got worse after the two groups met in C-R. No notice had been given that there would be an attempt to occupy I94. Before people could change their minds, they were being hustled onto the freeway by marshalls. First, they had to pass 20 cops on bikes who graciously stood back to allow them on and then closed in. At one point there were only 5 cops blocking the exit and over 500 protestors. Everyone was ordered to await arrest and a spontaneous dance party broke out among the group.
People were issued citations. BIPOCs were more likely to be searched and cuffed. This endeavor was criticised by many in the community for its centralized tactics and outdated approach. The kettling of protesters dates back at least to the J20 arrests at Trump’s inauguration. It appears to be a tactic that was developed to attack demonstrations practicing non violence and civil disobedience. People can be subjected to a tremendous degree of brutality with no escape and no way to negotiate the level of violence through compliance. In most cases they are not allowed to disperse. This action could have resulted in much greater violence.
In a period of greater revolutionary struggle than we’ve seen in decades, it is time to evaluate our approach. At a minimum, ruling class tactics have certainly evolved. The situation has developed too, although events like the murder of George Floyd remind us that the issues haven’t changed since they haven’t rectified in all this time. As a beginning, it’s necessary to view tactics as open to revision and not to fetishize an approach used under different conditions.
At a minimum there must be democracy and clarity. The large scale actions of the uprising were less “organized” in the conventional sense but were more responsive to the situation.They certainly didn’t accommodate the police by delivering 100s of peaceful protestors for processing.