I showed up to People’s Park a day after UC Berkeley had erected their 17-foot wall of shipping containers and deployed what must have been over 100 fully armed cops to stand guard on all of the perimeters. I was with some friends, all of whom happen to be skaters. Some were there for the amassing protest, while others were just stopping by 510 (a skate shop on telegraph) on their way home from work. As the cops stood blankly in rows, tightly clutching their batons, a growing group of protesters began chanting, sharing food, and delivering speeches. I felt uncomfortable, caught spiritually between the mass of kindly activists shouting “whose streets? our streets!” and my friends, who were hanging back and debating snatching juice boxes from the protester’s snack tables and throwing them at the rows of cops.
As keown announced he was going to go talk to a cute girl he saw standing alone in the crowd, I began to wonder about the distinct awkwardness i felt, and why it was so tied to the presence of my friends who, despite their seemingly apolitical behavior, hate cops and love people’s park just as much as anyone else present at the protest that night. What is this cringeyness, or embarrassment, that I so often feel when engaging in certain forms of activism?
I thought about it for the whole drive back to our house in oakland, staring out the window from the freeway overpass, heading back in the direction of our well-rehearsed routines: drinking beer, and doing graffiti, and lighting christmas tree fires in the street, or watching dvds on our old tv from the living room floor. With every cell in my body, I despise the “united states.” The intensity of my burning hatred frequently brings me to tears, or makes me laugh, or fills me up with a kind of warming fire that I think is necessary for my survival. In my heart I’m an anarchist, and i try to be one in my daily life, too. So why can’t i be an anarchist when i’m at the protest? Why can’t the skater boys of the world, who are so ready to steal groceries and start trash can fires and flip off cops in the street, embrace a political identity?
I’m making generalizations here, but I do think this phenomenon —the depoliticization of punk/alt/skater antics (or in other words, the chaos that ensues when people hang out on the streets) — highlights a crucial flaw in our current protest methods. The flaw, put plainly, is that these protest methods are boring. And predictable. If you don’t feel called to chant “whose streets? our streets!” then nothing is going to come from your chant. If you don’t feel called to march down the street holding a cardboard sign, then no good will come from your cardboard sign. On the other hand, what if instead of using protest as a means-to-an-end, you seized the means themselves, acting in accordance with what brings you pleasure, excitement, and peace?
If activists were encouraged to act on impulse, act on rage, I think the benefits would be multifaceted. Not only would we be able to arm the skater boys of the world—by which I mean any and all people who are anarchists at heart, but feel turned off by politics—but we would also see far more successful protests. While I don’t think we should ever measure the success of a protest by what it achieves on paper (the real marker of success, after all, is whether or not you felt liberated) i do think that if we were to disperse, act more chaotically and in tune with our unique desires, the cops would have a much harder time shutting us down.
Of course, there’s a lot of work to do, and not all of it is going to be fun or easy. Fighting against the state requires more than the relatively simple act of confrontational combat — there’s also all the internalized messages we have to work through and help our loved ones work through, painfully, slowly. With an abundance of thought and care. And yet, with that said, I don’t think we should ever get to a place where we view protest as a chore, or an embarrassment, or something you don’t want your friends to catch you doing. Protest should be an extension of yourself in the same way your artwork is an extension of yourself. Beauty that we can’t help but create in the face of all the worst the world has to offer us.
And it goes without saying that dismantling the state is going to take more than throwing juice boxes. But as my favorite anarchist, Pat the Bunny, once put it: “i know there’s not enough windows on this planet to break us free…but maybe one will be just enough for some dignity.”