"Stop! You're being too effective!"
This was how my buddy Paul mocked the Sierra Club more than three decades ago when they tried to stop everyone from entering the hall in Minnesota where then-Secretary of the Interior James Watt was speaking. Paul and I and friends had loaded into my VW bus and trundled south and west from northwestern Wisconsin to protest Ronald Reagan's anti-environmental point person.
We crashed the party. We shut down the speech. The Sierra Club wanted to behave like negotiating partners with a regime that wanted to dismantle the Department of Interior's mandate to caretake the environment. We understood the Reagan regime as a non-negotiating predatory corporate extraction project. Did we know what we were doing? Not really. Did the Sierra Club? Not exactly, but we only knew about the Watt appearance because of them, so we owed them a bit of courtesy. But we just needed to see this nut for ourselves.
James Watt was a grotesque anomaly to us, someone who was given a brief to use his agency to destroy the mission of his agency. He was a cardboard character to us, a patently opportunistic fundamentalist Christian who claimed that it was our duty to exploit, extract, and use up all the natural resources that God gave us. His cynical misuse of the Bible was so blatant that we were astonished anyone could be even remotely fooled by any of his justifications for extreme polluting profiteering.
It was a clear worldview clash. How do you negotiate with someone who represents a worldview so antithetical to your own? Really, you don't, not at first. You turn to the Deciders, to the public, to civil society, and you deliver your message, which is your invitation to the real party, the real event, the Big Tent of Public Opinion.
That day in Minneapolis we had several members of the Heart of the Beast Puppet Theater with us. I recall holding the door open so the Buffalo could enter the hall to confront Watt. The puppets were larger than life and had to bend to get through the doorway. They were well known and well loved in my home town, and not viewed as a violent threat to anyone, not even to James Watt. No police in Minneapolis would knock down such beloved characters. No one else wore anything to disguise identities, nor were we threatening anyone in any way except we needed to tell Watt to go back home to Wyoming and stop bringing his Earthwrecking policies to the rest of the country.
Nowadays, however, protesters routinely hide identities with face coverings. From bizarre and evil-looking Guy Fawkes masks in Venezuela to Teutonic buckethead coverings worn to the Maidan in Ukraine, reminiscent of Stalin's Soviet filmmaker, Sergei Eisenstein's depiction of invading Germans.
same sorts of images in Kiev. Erica Chenoweth commented correctly that this sort of protester appearance is exactly the opposite of effective, since it drives away recruits by making everything look highly risky and scary.
Find me the Civil Rights workers who wore masks. You'd have to go to the riots in the late 1960s, when frustrated African Americans finally used violence, were crushed, and all progress ceased. Find me the Serb kids who covered their faces when they took to the streets for 10 months to overthrow Milosevic--none did. The most effective movements are the most transparent. The most effective movements work to build connections to police and soldiers rather than battle them. This is what we see again and again. This needs to be reviewed constantly as we learn to make campaigns work and make movements successful for the sustainable long haul.
No one was arrested that day in Minneapolis and James Watt barely made it halfway through Reagan's first term before resigning in disgrace. We drew in Americans to our side, Americans who love forests and sparkling clean water. We see the results of a different way--yes, Yanukovich had to leave, but now Putin has the everlasting excuse to seize more and more of Ukraine to 'protect Russians.' Creating fear through violent appearance and violent tactics is certainly working out--not. Can we learn from this?