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Ask Auntie Pinko
August 15, 2002

Dear Auntie Pinko,

President Bush is scheduled to tour California this month with Bill Simon. If the tour swings by close enough I'll protest.

Thing is, I'm not the kind of guy to be pushed around or not be heard. Paradoxically, I'm very defiant, yet almost revere cops. I've never been in any trouble or been arrested.

If they try to keep me 2 miles away from the President so I'm unseen, say, I could see me being arrested. I wouldn't stand for that.

I don't want to go to jail. I also want to stand up and protect my country. If somehow I get cuffed, is there any set procedure? Any critical principles to keep in mind if I regrettably have to go through the process?

San Jose, CA

Dear Joe,

Auntie Pinko applauds you and wishes you the best in your determination to exercise your First Amendment rights to protest, but your letter troubles me for a couple of reasons.

The first one actually has little to do with your question, but I'll use your bringing it to my attention to express a more general concern.

Auntie Pinko has been wondering lately as I see many references to protests on the Democratic Underground discussion boards and elsewhere. These are usually accompanied by a complaint that the media generally "ignores" these protests. Sometimes it is even postulated that the media have been subverted or pressured into ignoring them, in complicity with the administration itself, or its financial backers.

On behalf of the many upstanding people in journalism with whom I'm acquainted, permit me to say "poppycock!" The reason why most of these protests are ignored is because they are not news. A certain segment of the population dislikes Mr. Bush and his policies? Not news. Nor is the comparatively small number of people who pop up wherever he goes to remind him that they're keeping an eye on him and they still don't accept his appointment-by-judicial-fiat, in fact, news.

News is one of two things: A large number of people (in the thousands at least) spontaneously (or at least, relatively spontaneously) protesting some specific action or event. Or large numbers of people repeatedly protesting on a clearly-focused issue or policy, organized in a way to facilitate and invite media coverage - which involves a good deal of planning and preparation. The small spontaneous protests do serve a valuable function - but it's not something the media will report or care about.

By all means, keep Mr. Bush and his administration on notice that you are unreconciled to his appointment, and to his actions since. By all means keep them aware that the First Amendment still means something! But don't expect anyone except yourself and your fellow-travelers to appreciate it, and don't expect anyone except yourself, the local law enforcement, spectators, and Mr. Bush's security detail to actually notice it. Those are worthy enough goals, and believe me, these steady small increments of pressure do add up to a meaningful action in the long run.

Now, Joe, on to your specific question about looking after yourself in the event of an arrest. Your first concern should, in fact, be to avoid being arrested by remaining at all times polite, non-threatening, and non-hostile. If your protest has an organizing group or leader, be sure you are familiar with their stated goals and recommended guidelines, and follow them as far as possible. Now, assuming that someone (not you, obviously, Joe) has decided to behave in a nasty, provocative fashion and things have gotten ugly, here is Auntie's Survival Manual for Protesters:

1. No matter how ugly the verbal provocation, do not, repeat, NOT return it. No matter who hurls abusive language at you, remain calm and as polite as possible. Do NOT lose your temper. If there is danger of you losing your temper, leave at once.

2. If you do not wish to get arrested, be certain that your actions do not violate local ordinances regarding obstruction of traffic, obscenity, etc. Even if you wish to be arrested, do not engage in violence. Non-violent non-compliance will serve you better.

3. If physical violence breaks out, do NOT engage in it. If counter-protestors engage in it, leave the protest at once. Let the police and/or media show them, not you, hitting people, etc.

4. If law enforcement personnel are engaging in violent tactics, protect yourself but do not return the violence. A dampened handkerchief or bandanna over your nose and mouth will help against tear gas. Protect your head and neck from assault and keep moving slowly but steadily (do not run, it focuses attention on you) away from the violence.

5. If you are arrested, immediately stop saying anything other than "yes, sir/ma'am" and "no, sir/ma'am," and providing polite answers to basic requests for information such your name, and place of residence. If a law enforcement official asks for more information than basic identification, say pleasantly that you would prefer to consult a legal representative before engaging in further discussion. Be polite, smile, and (unless this is a planned civil disobedience action to obstruct) comply quietly with instructions as to where you are to move, sit, etc.

6. Before you leave for the protest, have a contingency plan in place. Know whom you want as your legal representative and how to reach them. Be certain that you can reach them - that they have an answering service or voice messager that will allow you to leave all the necessary information about where you are, what time you are calling, what you were arrested for (if you know,) etc. If you are uncertain that you will be able to reach your legal representative, be certain that a spouse, parent, close friend, etc., is standing by at a phone number you know, and that they know how to reach your legal representative.

I hope you don't need Auntie's Survival Manual, Joe, but thanks for asking!

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