New Orleans In the United States all states are now opened with different levels of restrictions and rules. While businesses try to lead people back into malls and restaurants, many of us, listening to our members and their concerns, know that it is also time for us to lead our people back into the streets. Protest is always timely against injustice, but for many around the world it took a holiday during stay-at-home orders, and politicians and autocrats tried to fill the void with new rules and expanded powers to keep it that way.
Certainly, there have been tactical adaptations. Many organizations have organized car caravans, encircling targets and their buildings, if anyone was still in them, with hundreds of vehicles. Online protests have proliferated. Business and governments were already disrupted, so many of these actions were more like a dab of icing on a cake already pretty baked.
The far right engaged in direct actions to demand that government reopen states for business in many states to huge publicity. The fact that a fair number of protestors were armed in Michigan, including when they stormed into the state capital in Lansing, has now led the governor to declare that protests with guns and rifles in such situations are now illegal, open carry be damned. There was a lot of finger wagging and tongue clicking about the protestors lack of social distancing and the absences of masks, but tactically the actions were effective and a number of state legislatures and even the Wisconsin Supreme Court took up their banner.
I’m an organizer, not an ideologue, so I give the devil his due. They had the right to protest. Freedom of speech in public spaces is a basic constitutional right and central to our ability to express both our aspirations and resolve our grievances. Some politicians from the president on down to governors and mayors went across the line in using the police and emergency powers to restrain such protests. These are precedents we have to oppose, before they are turned against all of us, as surely, they will be.
There are creative opportunities right now. Talking to ACORN’s head organizer in France about this, he shared a picture of an action by CGT, the huge French labor federation. Workers were protesting and doing so with masks and six feet apart. The picture was impressive. The action was effective.
For organizers working with mass organizations, this is a gift. Two hundred people spaced out on the streets looks like one-thousand. For members worried about neighbors or bosses seeing them at an action or in the media, masks are the definitive disguise. Masks with the ACORN insignia are even better than buttons and almost as good as flags and banners. Speaking of banners, having six-foot banners held by protestors both underlines the distancing and raises the profile of the protest. We can also string people together with paper tape with ACORN’s logo all over it.
Whatever? Come up with your own thing. My point is simple: it is now time to take back the streets, let our voices roar, and let our bodies stand up for the anger in our hearts.