Refuse and

There's No Such Thing as a "Bad" Protester

by David Becker and Nicole Raucana

As the American political climate shifts to the right, with an entire agenda of punishment, poverty, racism and cruelty, an unforeseen obstacle has risen up: A generation that refuses to go along. In the great political and cultural battles now heating up throughout society youth have taken responsibility for the future in new and determined ways. Since the "Battle in Seattle," where thousands of protesters shut down the World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings, this new generation has stepped onto the political scene with great force and potential, creating fresh debates on issues like globalization, the death penalty, environmental justice, reproductive freedom and police brutality.

Unable to outright ignore our growing movement, the authorities, including their mouthpieces in the media, are playing the age-old game of "divide and conquer." They claim that there is a movement mostly full of "good" protesters whose efforts are being undermined by the existence of "bad" protesters who break off from permitted marches and damage property, block streets, defend themselves against police assault or do anything else deemed unacceptable.

Today, as the movement prepares for four years of battle with George W. Bush, his right wing cronies and the growing politics of cruelty, we must ask ourselves: Is there such a thing as a "bad" protester?

There are many who say that this youth movement, just now gaining strength in numbers, has already gone too far. Politicians often take a stand that both condones social justice in theory and condemns it in practice. As the streets of Seattle filled with tear gas in December 1999, Bill Clinton said to the WTO, "I condemn the small number [of protesters] who were violent and who tried to prevent you from meeting. But I'm glad the others showed up."

Who are these people trying to tell us our actions are good or bad? Aren't they the very same authorities and institutions that we are protesting? Aren't they the ones who have put 3,600 people on death row, 2 million in prison, executed our brother Shaka Sankofa and would love to execute Mumia next? Aren't the police who are firing rubber bullets at us, taking our pictures, and trying to disrupt our meetings the same ones who killed more than 2,000 mostly Black and Latino men and women in the 90's? Aren't they protecting those whose "structural adjustment" programs turn whole countries into sweatshops, where children go to sleep at night under the same machine they slave at all day? How dare these international criminals tell us that we're the ones going to far?

In massive protests over the past two years, in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Cincinnati, and Seattle, local and federal police forces have repressed and assaulted protesters and even random bystanders and the media.

Many people-particularly the determined youth who have taken the frontlines-have been trampled by horses, shot at and tear-gassed, intentionally struck by police vehicles, dragged through the streets, arrested in pre-dawn raids, detained, harassed and charged with crimes for daring to stand up against America's repressive agenda.

Protesters never know what to expect when planning a major protest-police infiltration, denial of permits, surveillance, and outright brutality from the police. The idea of "bad" protesters is arbitrary and often changes. It's all up to the cops.

During the Battle in Seattle, police, shooting rubber bullets and arresting hundreds of peaceful protesters, maintained a 46-block "no protest zone" in the heart of the city. If the politicians and police had their way, the entire country would be a "no protest zone" so that they could continue their crimes unhindered by the people.

Standing in complete opposition to that agenda, with a determination to create a future far different than the one that's been arranged for us, this rising youth movement is set to win crucial battles throughout society. Throughout our generation, from housing projects to small-town high schools, youth are beginning to resist. Among them you'll find some who strongly believe in the principles to which this country has historically aspired and others who find oppression and injustice rooted in those same principles.

Many are still figuring out what future they think is right-all are united by what they know is wrong. We are strong and bold in our beautiful diversity. Go to a protest or rally and you'll find as many reasons people have come out for it as there are people. You will find militant young women fed up with traditional family values being shoved down our throats, youth from the suburbs who are inspired by death row inmate and social justice activist Mumia Abu-Jamal, youth who are disgusted at how the earth is being destroyed by pollution and deforestation, Black and Latino youth sick and tired of being walking targets in the eyes of the police.

Contrary to those who have demanded some kind of political purity of purpose, our diversity gives us strength.

In speaking about the movement to save the life of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a revolutionary journalist on death row, political activist and Refuse & Resist! initiator C. Clark Kissinger, who is currently serving a 90-day sentence as a result of his work around Mumia's case, said, "We must create a movement broad enough to reach millions, diverse enough to include all, and determined enough to strike fear in the hearts of the mighty."

There is no way we can do this for Mumia's case or any other of these historic battles if we let the very forces we are fighting set the terms of our struggle.

Anyone and everyone who refuses to go along with the politics of cruelty is doing a "good" thing.

Young people will express their disgust with the world they've inherited in all kinds of ways. Yes, there will be differences that come up, and at times these might become sharp differences. But there's a fundamentally bigger difference between us and the forces we are up against. . We must build a movement within which there's room for debate and struggle over the road forward while uniting against a common enemy. Whatever ways people choose to express their opposition to the politics of cruelty, we must cherish that resistance, and amplify every act.

As Clark sits in a jail cell, imprisoned for being a "bad" protester by defying restrictive court orders, a movement is surging forward. We are finding unity with all those who want to stand up and resist, determined to stop the entire national agenda of repression and cruelty. And the other side should be very, very nervous.

Refuse & Resist! is the organization for those who refuse to go along with today's national agenda of repression and cruelty, poverty and punishment. Refuse & Resist! nurtures resistance and resistors who inspire us to know that a different future is possible. For information, contact 212-713-5657; e-mail or visit

[posted 4/5/01]

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