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
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,
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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