Thursday, February 11, 2010

Rage and recruitment

Alexa makes her statement about civil liberties under a patriotic clampdown, and about who gets to talk to millions with their feartalk, hatespeech, and wartalk.

"I personally think the shouting and especially the obscenities were counterproductive. The demonstrators who did that may have discharged a lot of anger. However, instead of shaming the attendees, they pushed them to harden their position."
--Activist who was part of protesting Karl Rove speaking to the World Affairs Council in Portland, Oregon 10 February 2010, for which Rove received a $25,000 honorarium

Mom Terri and I stood with the great folks who stood in the damp chill outside the Arlene Schnitzer Hall on Broadway in downtown Portland last night. Five-year-old Alexa was on my shoulders--it's hard to be half the height of a close-pressed crowd, so she alternated from Mom to Tom. Karl Rove was inside. Hundreds had paid various sums to hear him 'debate' Howard Dean.

Suddenly someone 10-15 yards up the crowded sidewalk bellowed, "War criminal!" I felt little Alexa's entire body tense in fear. This was a learning moment. I suggested we take a little walk around the block and we did.

As we rounded the corner, we met several police standing with their horses--was there a riot scheduled? Five big horses for 50 protesters?

"What a beautiful horsie," I said about the first one and walked closer to the barricade. I looked at Terri and could practically see Alexa's smile reflected in her relaxing, smiling face. The cop said, "This is Ian." We all admired Ian. I asked the cop, "So, are you here to arrest Karl Rove?" He smiled and said I was not the first to suggest that.

I love the folks protesting Rove and was proud to join them. They are a self-selecting, self-limiting group, rightfully enraged, with hearts hurt badly by their compassion for war criminal Rove's millions of victims--it's hard to describe one of the architects and promoters of the illegal invasion of Iraq in any other way. But they will never grow their numbers by bellowing obscenities and part of the entire purpose of each movement event is recruitment. By now, only the hard core show up, shout, and go home in anger and disgust that more didn't show up.

Some of them smoke. That precipitated another walk around the block. Who could smoke next to a five-year-old and not expect the Mom to start getting nervous and want to leave?

Again, these are my people. I love them all. But if I could wave my wand and institute some changes in how these events are organized and conducted, I'd make these changes:

1. At the organizing meetings we would establish quite specifically the expected tone, spirit and image of the event and of each participant.

2. We would form and train a Vibeswatcher crew who would be identifiable and who would be our own reminder monitors. They would work in pairs and try to make sure that each protester was given a small handout explaining behavior expectations for all. They would be there to help, to greet, to watch, to de-escalate any situations, and to help preserve and enhance the image of the protest as sincere, intelligent, thoughtful, and assertive but not aggressive.

3. We would find some musicians who like to lead others in songs that uplift, celebrate nonviolent resistance to militarism and injustice, and give us a sense of projecting nonviolent power, the kind of power that can transform and convert, not crush and smash. We would allot some funds to make some songsheets so everyone could sing along.

4. We would have a media team to work with media to make sure they understood our concerns, our anger, our determination to call attention to this issue, and our determination to do so in ways that are both powerful and gentle.

5. We would be sure to have a police liaison team to stay in relationship to the police so that cops would tend to be less involved and not eager to thump someone. While it was nice to meet Ian, it would have been more logical to have just 2-3 cops on hand, not 20-30 with horses--unless they really were planning to arrest Rove and parade him on horseback in a downtown Portland perpwalk.

Yes, this all sounds like a lot of organizing.

It is. It's only worth doing if we want our numbers to grow and are serious about achieving that. Yes, there are many other strategies and tactics that would also help. This is just a little start--prompted by the start I felt when little Alexa was gripped suddenly in fear of my friends. I'd sure like to change that.


Terri said...

Good points all. When Michigan Peace Team did a day of training with a group of pro-life activists that wanted to learn techniques to increase their effectiveness, the MPT trainers had them do a role play where half the group played the roles of various women attempting access to the family planning center (including a woman that wanted to conceive but was having problems), while the rest did their "regular" protest routine. When the group did the post role play debrief they realized just how counter effective their weekly protests at the center were. Most commented on feeling "hated" and not understanding why. They certainly felt intimidation by the yelling of bible verses, or being called murderers. They quit doing their weekly protest and went to a softer tactic of outreach and education. It was educational for all involved, including the long time peace activists that provide the trainings.
As we walked around the block and began our approach to the crowd I couldn't help but wonder what feelings someone attending the debate to hear Dean might be experiencing. More importantly, how could we change the image to better recruit from those attending.
On my drive to work today I took notice of all the cars with peace or peace related bumper stickers. If only half had shown up last night we could have circled that entire block with love. We need to be more inviting, more welcoming and grow our numbers. And more kids - Alexa wants more kids!
Good ideas and good blog.

Helena Hessle said...

Thanks, Tom, for a good blog describing last nights event, especially since I couldn't be there myself.

Tom H. Hastings said...

We can all learn so much every day, eh? I love the description of the MPT training--something I have dreamed of doing for a long time and am so glad they have pioneered that. The best prolife people are seamless in their philosophy (they approve of Plowshares and are opposed to corporal and capital punishment, etc.), so I can see how that worked so well. And I have to say that, in the past when I've held little children at demonstrations, they were northern Wisconsin or Michigan events, where everyone was pretty darn sweet. Alexa taught me a new sensitivity last night that will alter and strengthen my analysis.

Sorry you couldn't be there, Helena--you would have led the Alexa Documentation Team! We got no photos, unbelievably!

TAD said...

Thanks Tom! I'm very grateful for your comments and ideas for protests that are assertive yet also inviting and welcoming to those who pass by. Yes! Yes!