Monday, August 30, 2004

Protesting the GOP 

Yesterday a friend of mine and I went to Wheeling to see the movie Farhenheit 9/11 at the Towngate Theatre. We arrived just before 4:00 just as the Bush rally at the Wesbanco Arena was letting out. We were completely surrounded by Bush supporters on the streets in cars and on foot. They were carrying their giant Ms (or were they Ws?) and glumly holding their Bush/Cheney '04 posters as we wormed our way through the traffic jam they had caused. I swear, they all looked like Republicans. They were mostly fat and had no joy on their faces. The older ones had over-hairsprayed hair, and the younger ones had their lips pulled smugly into their faces.

Then we arrived at the theater and a different world. People were smiling and friendly. I saw pony tails on men and tee-shirts on women. And eeryone seemed to be there to have fun.

Anyway, it all reminded me of the last time I had had a run in with Bush. It was in Pittsburgh. Both this time and last, I just happened to be there on the same day as him. I didn't plan it that way either time. The last time, I also ran into some anti-Bush people engaged in protest. One of those people was Nina Trimbath, who saw my post and we began an exchange.

On May 11, I received a reply from Ms trimbath to my last note to her. I held off on replying to her until it was relevent again. Well, thanks to the GOP convention, it is finally a relevent topic once more. Following is her reply and my response:

Ms Trimbath's Email to Me

Dear Mister,

Hello again. Thanks for the speedy response, and thank you for the apologies. :) I would be dishonest if I didn't admit that there were certain points that I also made presuppositions about during, and immediately after the event, only to be surprised after I talked to the other women who were arrested. This is why I say that, although I feel that "resisting arrest" is a poor tactic, I would like to discuss it with the ones who did it further before I say it is altogether "wrong."

I understand the comment you made about leaving protest to the professionals. I have only been to one protest in Pittsburgh, and can't really say if the others have been as haphazard and disorganized. I do feel that the only way you become a "professional" at anything is through experience, trial and error, and instruction. It is difficult to find this instruction and support when you are young and have a different vision than the older generation. I am not sure if the Pittsburgh Organization Group (POG, the ones dressed in black) have any experienced person to advise them. I know that I personally, look for it, and am grateful to find it when I rarely do.

I think that having a spokesperson would be a good idea, I wonder if the media would respect a spokesperson by speaking to them exclusively. After reading the "protest any president" comment, I doubt it.I know that there was a well-spoken man there, who helps out POG. He may even be their representative. When we were in the paddy wagon, awaiting transport, I over heard him speaking into a megaphone about our rights and how he was going to help us. I am sure he had a lot of comments to make, and probably did, but his comments were not printed. I tend to think that the PG took some relish in posting the naive "protest any president" comment. Like I said, it made us look a bit ridiculous.

I understand that condemnation is inevitable and perhaps my skin will thicken with experience. I think this is what upsets me most in the political world, and in life; that is that, I have to disengage myself. I cannot, as of now, see any person as a walking ideology. I take everything personally because I cannot stop seeing anyone as a person, if this makes any sense. The day of the protest, when I first saw the commotion going on with the protesters, the police, and the bikes (before the arrests) I grabbed the microphone and said "Everyone, the police are not our enemies, they are people too." I got a lot of flack for saying that, and didn't understand what was happening; that the police were using their bikes to coerce the protesters. I'd like to think that it will always grieve my heart, and should always grieve my heart, when a person opposes another person over some kind of abstract loyalty to a state, an idea, or a stance. I see how the pressure of such a confrontation can make us see those who oppose us as appendages of an institution instead of a individual person who, for personal and real reasons, has taken this particular role. So, I will try to gain thicker skin in a caring way, if I can. I do think that if you treat someone like a "role", they will react in that way. I also understand that this is awfully hard not to do, when you are being so opposed.

I do consider myself an anarchist in some way, I do not know if it is in the same way that POG, or other young anarchist regard them selves and I am, of course, open to other opinions and wisdom on the subject.

I am an anarchist in that I agree with Ward Churchill when he says that "it has been commented that only a people who are fundamentally lawless need an ever expanding and more elaborate code of legality. People have a basis for relating to one another in a respectful manner without it being codified and set down in black letter law, unless you have a context that is diametrically opposed to their natural understanding of their interests, then you have to make these black letter rules."

I do not think it is "authority" that I oppose, as I observe that there are fundamental rules and authority in nature. That is that we are subject to dynamic co operation with the earth and each other. I am in no way an expert on this subject and so I wouldn't even begin to school anyone about what these laws are. There is definitely something to be said for the countless cultures who live, and have lived, without third party, "state" authority and the moral lessons you learn about relationships and yourself when your allegiance to rules and regulations begins to pale away. I think this may be an entirely different post-subject all together. :) I am open to this going wherever, if you are. Again, thank you for the apologies and thank you for caring about this situation at all.

If you want to see the video link from KDKA, you can go to this link,
and then click on the first video coverage link to the right.


My Email Reply

Ms Trimbath,

I apologize for taking so long to reply.

Getting right to the gist of the conversation, in my opinion, the problem with the label anarchist is that it has become a misnomer. Anarchy seems to have two separate meanings depending on who is hearing the word. It is either synonymous with rebellion or it is synonymous with lawlessness. There is nothing inherently wrong with rebellion when rebellion is called for. Lawlessness, however, is never acceptable.

Yesterday, there was a huge and organized demonstration in NYC. The only incident was when a couple of self-proclaimed anarchists set a fire. Otherwise, the demonstration went smoothly and beautifully. Even the media coverage made our point.

The problem with doing irresponsible things like this is that it allows the opposition to marginalize the protest because they marginalize the protesters. Consider a pro-life rally where they berate pregnant women as they enter the clinic. I suspect that you would be able to rationalize a dismissal of their whole issue. Well, since the purpose of a protest rally is to influence people to acknowledge the validity of your argument, inviting marginalization at any level is folly.

I know that you agree with me on this, but I just wanted to illustrate the point in a way that the casual reader could appreciate. Hopefully, the demonstrations in New York will accomplish their goal. The sheer numbers of people standing against the president must make an impact. It will -with luck -counter the impression given by the conventioneers and our lackluster pundits that all of America stands in support of this administration. It will remind undecided voters that there are reasons to oppose this incompetent presidency.




Monday, May 10, 2004

Postcards From the Edge of the Fringe 

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a protest that I'd stumbled upon the day that Bush appeared with Arlen Spector at the Convention Center. In that post I said in part:
Then suddenly, right in front of me, it was 1969 all over again. I saw a policeman grab a protester by the arm, and another protester jumped in and grabbed the first protester’s free arm and engaged in a human tug-of-war.

Now here’s the thing. When protesting, and agitating, at least have the strength of conviction to go to jail. It’s fine to lay down and be dead-weight so that you are not participating in your arrest. But resisting arrest and struggling is an actual crime separate and independent from free expression. It’s the stuff of bad Cops episodes.
I then quoted the article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette describing the protest. The article said that the protesters were a group that protests all authority, and that one protester said that her friend Nina Trimbath had been arrested simply for asking why one of her friends had been arrested. To this, I said:
If these were the Ninjas I saw playing push-me-pull-you; no, she didn’t just ask why.

Kids, do us all a favor. Leave the protesting to the professionals.
As it happens, Miss Trimbath saw my comments and she wrote me about it. What follows is our correspondence to date.
Comments on the Blog:

Hi. This is Nina Trimbath, one of the women arrested at the protest in Pittsburgh. I stumbled on your page after I was looking for the news link to my arrest and I saw some things on your page and curiously set upon reading it.
My feelings were extremely hurt by your presumptuous language and lack of support for what had happened. You really have no idea about why we were there and who we are and why I was arrested. I am so hurt to see the things that you wrote. If you would like to know who I am, what had happened, and the amazing aftermath of the story.. I would be very open to an e-mail dialog.


My reply in the Comments:

Ms Trimbath,

I would be glad to have a dialog with you on this topic. I am interested to know what your side is. However, having just re-read my words, I don't see it as especially presumptive. Unless I am wrong to presume that the PG quoted your friends accurately. If you were not the young protester I witnessed pulling on an associate's free arm, then you weren't the one resisting arrest. However, since I used the word "if" in my essay, my observation was sufficiently couched.

The fact is that somebody was resisting arrest. And it is also a fact that it was reported that your group protests authority. Perhaps you can convince me that either of those is a worthwhile enterprise, but I doubt it.

Protest Bush to your heart's content, you'll get no criticism from me. But I cannot be supportive of a protest of authority for its own sake.

Anarchy is not a philosophy. It's a result of failed philosophy.


Email from Ms Trimbath:

This is Nina Trimbath. I was one of the women arrested at the Pittsburgh protest that you witnessed.... I recently posted a comment about what you wrote and just wanted to let you know it was there to read, because I know it wasn't a recent post on your page..
Thank you,


My first Email Reply:

Ms Trimbath,

Sorry it has taken me so long to respond. My new Gmail acount is misbehaving.

I would be glad to dialog with you on the reasons for your protest and
the resulting arrest. And, with your permission, I will chronicle our
exchanges on my blog.



Ms. Trimbath Replies (sic):

Dear Mister,
Thank you for your reply. Do not worry about taking your time, I am usually the one to delay, and am just grateful that you replied at all. I give my permission to have this dialog posted on your blog and want to thank you for asking. Let me preface it all by saying that my responses will probably contain some typos and grammatical errors and I apologize a head of time.

I guess I should start out by explaining why my feelings were hurt after I read your initial post. The group that the Post Gazette talked about was a group called "The Black Bloc". I was not then, nor am I now a member of this group. Until I was arrested and had the opportunity to spend time with two female members of this group, I only knew one person who considers themselves a member. I only know this person because he grew up in the same area as I did and we became friends when I was in high school. I didn't really understand what this group did until this protest and was actually surprised to see my friend there amongst them. My sister had attended a protest with them in Miami and she told me a little bit about them, but the April 19th protest was the first that I had taken part in since I was about 15 and it wasn't until then that it made sense to me. I do not live in Pittsburgh anymore and only wore a black t-shirt that day because when I read about this protest on the Internet it had something briefly displayed about everyone wearing black. I had no idea that it was exclusively a "black bloc" suggestion; a humorous coincidence that the Pittsburgh City paper article noted. I do not know if you read their article.

The point is that I am not a part of this group, and although I would not partake in the same tactics as wearing all black and disguises, and can actually see why this dress is counter productive, I would never pigeon hole any group by assuming a collective intention or motive based on one comment made by one person. Let alone a comment that was received and printed by a mainstream newspaper.

This article was printed before any of the arrested protesters were asked for comment. I didn’t read it until the friend that I spoke of earlier and I were on our way home, after being released. As soon as I read the whole "protest any president" comment I looked at him and said ?Oh God, they are making us sound like idiots." The "us" I was referring to were all of the young protesters at large, as there were many present who were not a part of the "black bloc." I know that members of my family and the area I live in have a horrible tendency of grouping all young people together and dismissing their opinions as collective naivety. So when I read this I was aggravated and embarrassed because I knew that it sounded ridiculous and that it would be an easy way for people who read it to dismiss this group and their drive.

When I was in the cell I had time to talk to and discuss many things with the two other girls, from the black bloc, who were arrested as well. I can tell you that they were in no way there just because they wanted to "protest authority." They were both very sweet and caring young women who, from my perspective, genuinely care about global justice and were well informed about the war in Iraq. They were also very supportive and selfless in taking time to comfort me and make sure I was ok, although they themselves were distressed. It was the first time I had been arrested, and I was very shook up and scared. We talked about many things and certainly did not agree with everything. These two women accepted and considered my opinions with patience and care, and I was very touched.

We should both know that context is everything. That one comment made in one situation might sound ridiculous while making perfect sense in another. I know that KDKA interviewed me the next morning. When I watched myself on the Internet, after someone sent me the link, I thought it was a bit unnerving on how they displayed certain comments I made while leaving out others. For example, the first thing they show me saying is "It was all a problem." They did not show why I said this, or what I meant by it, leaving it up to the viewer to assume God only knows what. The reporter was showing me a video of the whole protest. The first minutes were the cops pushing and pulling and choking certain protesters. While we watched this the man interviewing me remained silent. The video captured one police officer asking us if we "wanted to be martyrs" and telling one young man he was going to bust his skull open. This is when I bent down and told him if he was going to bust anyone's skull open, let it be mine. (I will discuss this later) As soon as the video showed this, the reporter turned to me and said "Now that is a problem!" I was frustrated and said "It was all a problem." The reporter left this out. I do not think it was intentional as he only had a few minutes to show the story, but it was unnerving all the same. It was a personal glimpse into how one sided and one dimensional a story can appear when broad casted for the public eye in disregard to how complex a situation actually is.

The young man who made the "protest any president" comment was one person. It was a frightening situation and no doubt everyone was emotionally charged after we were taken away. One friend of mine told me that a reporter threw a camera in her face and started asking her questions. She wanted to be polite but at the same time did not know all the details and felt pressed for a comment. She later regretted doing so. If the Post Gazette was really interested in what the group represented thought, they would have asked several people for comments, and especially the ones who were actually arrested. Who knows what preceded and followed this one comment. I do know that it made the group, as a whole, seem inept and naive which was probably exactly what the Post Gazette wanted to do.

My feelings were hurt that your reaction to this article followed suit with this dismissive tendency and lack of support. We grow up in a culture where power and authority is abused on every level, whether it be domestic or institutional and so, of course any young person who can read between the lines will feel resentment towards authority at some point. I think it is unfair to assume that this is the one and only defining motive of a person and even a group based on one comment and one article. Even if many of this group's members would say the same thing, I would think that as an older person who has experience in protest and this type of Resistance, that you would see through the "rebellion for rebellions sake" and understand that somewhere underneath is a genuine care for something more and bigger. That you would want to support and help young people see for themselves what can only seen through time and experience. You learn by trial and error and criticism is actually helpful, but I felt that your criticisms were not made in care but that they seemed pretentious and impatient. I am sorry if you did not mean to sound this way, but this is how I took it.

You also commented, "These people didn’t have a message, and I don’t think they were particularly honest." You followed this by quoting my friend Tiffany in the paper saying that I was arrested merely for asking why. This comment was inaccurate but it was not because Tiffany was intentionally being dishonest. I was all over the place during the upset. My friends kept trying to get me to stay with them but I wouldn't and the last time Tiffany was with me, before I was arrested, was when I was asking the officers why the others had been. A short while after this, barely seconds, after they arrested several others and wouldn't tell us why, but responded with threats and rudeness, I walked up and said "If you are going to arrest them , you must arrest me too." I then knelt on the ground and extended my wrist, and was arrested. This whole scene was very chaotic and confusing and because Tiffany is very short she couldn't have seen what had taken place in the front. :) It happened so quickly and before she even had a chance to make sense of anything a camera was in her face. As I said before, she was the friend who felt pressured to comment. She felt horribly after I told her the real story and worried about her inaccuracy.

I was also confused when the two other women were resisting arrest and do not know what I feel about it yet. I would like to talk to them about it more before I form an opinion. I only see this as a tactic that would cause more trouble and make it seem as though you were wrong, but when we all met with the lawyer recently I was very surprised to hear them speak of some of their reasons for doing certain things that I would never do. Again, even if I do not agree with them on certain techniques, I would first try and understand then before I supportively objected. You did not do this. I know that several of the people arrested do not have very many supportive figures in their lives and that we give up a lot to take the stand that we do now. We certainly do not have the backing of a generation as was the case in the 60s and I know that for me personally, it hurts the most when someone of a like mind and cause is so unsupportive and unkind.

There are many other things that I know will come up in this dialog but I hope that this was a good way of starting out. You made the comment that, "Anarchy is not a philosophy. It's a result of failed philosophy." I am not sure what you meant about this but if you will elaborate on it further we can talk about it and hopefully learn something from each other. Thanks for listening, and I await your reply. To you.


My Reply:

Ms Trimbath,

I accept everything that you have said on it’s face as the unadulterated truth as you know it. It actually meshes pretty well with my observations of the event. I think we actually agree on more points than not. You said (as I read it) that you too feel that protest for its own sake is pointless. And you said that the costumes were self-defeating. And you said that resisting arrest was the wrong tack for those who chose it. If you will disassociate yourself from my comments, I think you will see that we concur on all of these points.

As I see it, the main objection that you have to my observations is that I made assumptions based on what the PG reported. For this my only defense is to defer to Will Rogers. All I know is what I read in the papers. This is why I am glad to give you this forum - for what it’s worth.

Your other objection is that based on my observation and your friend’s assertion that all you had done to be arrested was ask why, I said that I thought this might be dishonest. You have now clarified that you were not party to the resisting arrest. Therefore your friend’s comment was not technically dishonest, so I apologize for making that erroneous connection.

However, you acknowledge that somebody did resist arrest. My comments were not meant to be read as personal. It is a fact that seen as a mob, there was physical resistance to the police, and there was a statement made which suggested that the police had made arrests with no provocation. I understand that your friend may not have seen the resistance, and that the reporter may have been trying to color the protest in a certain way to embellish the story. But from my point of view, I saw resistance and I saw a denial that there was resistance. I can hardly be blamed for considering that dishonest. Although I now know the apparent dishonesty to have been inadvertent.

But my comment that protests are best left to the professionals (which was made tongue-in-cheek) is still valid. Protests are only effective if there is strong leadership and a unified voice. If the protest is seen as disorganized, it will be dismissed by the very people that you want supporting it. In my opinion, and from everything you have told me, the protest was disorganized and un-unified.

By contrast, read anything you can find on the recent pro-choice march in Washington. Now THAT was a protest. A million or more men and women marching peacefully and meeting at some points with strong opposition, but there were zero problems.

Here is how I think this problem could have been avoided. Before the protest began, you should all have met at one location and selected a spokesperson. All press inquiries should have been directed to that person. Also, the disguise idea should have been simply discarded. Further, a primer on arrest etiquette should have been conducted. You handled it exactly correctly. Others did not, and they cast a pall on all of you.

Now, to address some of your specific questions and comments. I did not read the City Paper article. Is there a link you can provide?

I agree that it is unfortunate that quotes in newspapers tend to represent the whole group, but that is the nature of such reporting. That is why I suggested appointing a spokesperson. Even that person might be misquoted, but he/she would at least have talking-points.

As for your feelings having been hurt, politics is a tough game. What you did was something you are rightfully proud of, and you don’t want anybody condemning it unfairly; but such condemnation is inevitable. I’m sure that you have seen young republicans and other groups who you disagree with ideologically in their own demonstrations, and you may have seen others shouting them down calling them Nazis or fascists or some such name. My feeling toward them is that if their skin is not thick enough to expect and accept this dissent, they should not be demonstrating. Similarly, even if I agree with an ideology (as I probably do with yours,) the demonstration itself is still subject to critique.

That said, I did make an unfortunate assumption, and I do apologize for it. But as I said in my comment to the blog-post, "…since I used the word ‘if’ in my essay, my observation was sufficiently couched."

Lastly, as to this comment by me:
Anarchy is not a philosophy. It's a result of failed philosophy.

That was in reference to the comment in the PG that the group would have protested any president; that they oppose authority. I am aware that there is an active anarchy movement in this country. I find it distressing. I am glad to hear that you are not a proponent of this philosophy. Anarchy is a philosophy that has a certain appeal to young people. It always has had. This is not a recent phenomenon. But as we mature, we find it less and less appealing. However, this is not to say that when the mob mentality takes over, it doesn’t occasionally rear it’s ugly head. That’s why I called it the result of failed philosophy.

Well, I hope that covers the basics. I’ll sign off for now, and I place the ball in your court.




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