On Dissent In 2018

Aldous Slack

Aldous Slack

Aldous Slack is a pseudonym for a paranoid, anxious, musician, occultist, and traveling part-time writer. He likes sufi poetry and most gardens of earthly delight.
Aldous Slack

The last few years in this country have been in so many ways years of dissent. While they may not have held the largest protests in our country’s short history, they are figuring to be important for determining the judicial and executive institutions’ response and attitude towards protesters in the future. Case in point J20. Sanely enough, less than a month ago a jury acquitted the first six protesters being tried for participation in the protests of Trump’s inauguration in Washington DC. I’m extremely grateful for this act of sanity on the part of the jurors. The protesters were all being charged with all the property damage, like when your grade school teacher couldn’t figure out who stole the test answers and so threatened to give everyone an F. A novel response to the problem of identifying people with bandanas over there faces in that we used to usually only charge people for crimes they themselves actually committed. If this is the precedence for judicial proceedings regarding protests with masked individuals then this is important for any would be protester to keep in mind. I say this not to dissuade people from participating in protest, but to point out that perhaps charging everyone with the same individual crimes could present unique and effective defense strategies in the court of law. In this case it seems at least the jurors recognized the absurdity of the charges and therefore acquitted six people.

Violation of people’s right to protest, and deterrence for dissent is the new norm. The issue is that non-violent non-destructive protesters can be charged without committing any crimes, simply for protesting. I myself marched in Austin on January 20th last year in an anti trump march. An older guy had asked me to help him carry his boxes of petitions to his car as the march started, and I was a bit annoyed but he was old so I helped him out. Because of his age it took a long time for me to help him get all the boxes to his car, as a result the march had already left and was maybe a quarter mile away when we finally got his paperwork loaded up. I hoped on my bike and took off to catch up and when I did, I realized it was all antifa bringing up the rear and I was surrounded by masked red and black. I happened to have a bandana in my back pack so I masked up and marched with them. The march stayed non-violent in Austin, but if it hadn’t I could be sitting in jail right now if the prosecutors strategy was the same as in DC and jurors here were a bit less sympathetic; a quality Texans are often known for. Oddly enough a few months after the march a kind stranger associated with an antifa group in Austin notified me that some more conservative minded fellow who ran an anti antifa group on Facebook had posted my info in his group and listed me as a member of antifa. The discordian in me was having a ball. I’m on some asshole’s list, simply for being there and it’s the same viewpoint of guilt by association that DC prosecutors held.

My personal experience was trivial, but it showed me how quickly these things can turn serious. Why is this strategy unique to political protesters? Why weren’t sports fans rounded up in mass after riots in LA after the Lakers won a championship? We’ve seen sports riots where cars are burned and windows are broken, why is the punitive measure any different? Does wearing a mask in public make you liable for crimes committed in your general vicinity? Obviously no, or we’d all be charged with smashing pumpkins and egging houses. It’s the duty of our courts to adapt fairly to new challenges to justice, not the people’s duty to adapt to new approaches to prosecution.

Halfway across the country the NODAPL trials are coming to a conclusion and in a similar fashion to J20, large groups of people including journalist were rounded up and charged. In a great piece about this from jacobinmag.com author Branko Marcetic writes,

“Before that, there was the arrest and charging of journalists covering last year’s #NoDAPL protests. The charges closely paralleled the current J20 trial, with at least one journalist facing up to forty-five years in prison if convicted of conspiracy and burglary. Although Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman saw her felony riot charges dropped, as did others, independent journalist Jenni Monet continues to face criminal charges.

And before that, there were the Ferguson protests, during which at least two dozen journalists were arrested and one was convicted of “failure to comply,” circumstances that were repeated this September when at least ten journalists were arrested, often using excessive force, while covering protests over the acquittal of a former St. Louis police officer who murdered a black man.”

Journalist were arrested in mass in protests the last few years, a sure sign of the rising tide of authoritarianism. Then there was a wave of anti protest legislation that swept through the country after many of these protests and luckily many of them didn’t pass, including the one in North Dakota that would remove criminal liability for any driver than ran over and killed a protester in a roadway. Whats great too is now with the proliferation of general propaganda filling social media we have masses of people supporting this authoritarian trash.

Precedence is being set, and fascist strategies are being tested. Protest and dissent in the US is under attack and even if you think protest is an ineffective strategy for political change, the right to protest is fundamental to freedom that when erased is a trademark of fascism. For the full piece by Branko Marcetic go here.