The protests that erupted over the last week in response to George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police officers have sparked many conversations and arguments on police violence, racial justice and protest. While these conversations aren’t new, there are people joining the struggle who can learn from past insights. For those looking for inspiration, tools and other resources on how to navigate these conversations — and make movements stronger — we offer this collection of stories and quotes from the Waging Nonviolence archive.
When riots and looting accompany protests, they become the focus of most media coverage and police use them as an excuse to crackdown on protests. These articles offer a way of understanding riots and pushing past the common narratives that often make the situation more dangerous for oppressed communities.
The problem with wanting ‘peace’ in Baltimore | By Kazu Haga
- “The calls for ‘peace’ that act as a euphemism for ‘stop protesting’ sicken me. When law enforcement and politicians tell people to protest ‘peacefully’ as a way of saying ‘stop being so mad,’ it repulses me.”
- “People too often associate ‘peace’ with quiet, with calm, with candles and kumbaya. People too often understand ‘peace’ simply as the absence of tension. And that is a problem.”
- “Peace is a messy process. Justice is loud. If people think that building ‘peace’ in a society as violent as the United States is a neat, calm and pretty process, they are in for a surprise.”
Having faith in Baltimore’s ‘criminals’ | By Lucas Johnson
- “To my brothers and sisters … standing up against the irrevocable violence of police forces across the United States … you’ve been castigated because in our society, private property has incredible value. It represents the accumulation of wealth; it embodies generations of labor and toil, a livelihood and security. It is with this vantage point that a well-intentioned public respond with horror to the vandalism and destruction that some have unleashed. Yet, in a system of economic exploitation as pronounced as ours, no reasonable person should expect you to have that vantage point.”
- “I don’t seek an end to the rioting in order to appease the majority — who regularly ignores your existence, and would rather you demonstrate your discontent in a manner more palatable to their tastes — but because destruction is easy, and what we really need to do is much harder.”
- “We need to develop a strategy to ensure that this ends, forever. Destruction is what those whose interests are tragically represented by the police forces occupying your neighborhoods and terrorizing your communities have been doing to us for generations. If we must succeed at anything, we must succeed in not becoming them. We must not succeed in mimicking their capacity to destroy.”
While instances of left-wing violence have been magnified in further attempts to discredit the protests, it’s important to understand how the use of more militant tactics affects movements.
- “While social movements often need rebellious direct action campaigns to win, their success can also be compromised by negative rebels riddled with such personal limitations as despair, powerlessness, vanguardism, disdain for ordinary people, extreme radicalism, and quickness to denounce others based on ideology — or an unwillingness to cooperate well with others who may disagree with them. Some negative rebels also focus on individual/small sect expressions of violent protest rather than on an effective approach to building multicultural, multi-class majority support for meaningful reforms and victories.”
- “Today, the best available evidence strongly suggests that civil resistance movements with a high degree of popular participation and nonviolent discipline will have significantly higher success rates than movements either focused on armed struggle, or mixed campaigns with spotty nonviolent discipline and/or organized violent flanks.”
- “Yet, some movements still succeed in spite of some violence… If you think a movement can only be successful if it is ‘totally nonviolent,’ you are likely to give up whenever there is a riot, or angry protesters engage in street fights with police, or a small sector of the movement organizes an ongoing violent flank.”
Don’t feed the trolls — how to combat the alt-right | By Kazu Haga
- “When the levels of hatred are as extreme as they are, our responses to it — nonviolent or otherwise — has to match its intensity, and antifa has done that. But as these battles rage on, it’s critical that we not get dogmatic and are able to evaluate our strategies.”
- “Rather than meeting violence with violence, we need to expose [white supremacist] violence. Trump is finding himself more and more isolated as he continues to expose his violence. We need to do the same with the alt-right, and fighting them with sticks makes that harder.”
- “Violence limits the number of people who are willing to come out to these types of events. We can’t let the alt-right feel like this is anything close to an equal fight.”
- “While the actions of antifa are getting support on my social media feed, we know that social media can be an echo chamber of limited political views. The masses do not support violence, and that needs to be part of our calculations.”
- “For those of us committed to nonviolence, it is easy to criticize people who have played a role in escalating violence. But if we are not at least in the streets with them, then our criticisms ring hollow. If we believe that we can defeat hate by building a popular movement, then we need to get into the streets and create one.”
Defending against right-wing violence
With right-wing extremists ramping up threats and showing up with guns at police violence protests, there’s a grave concern for violent attacks on black protesters. These articles explain how movements can defend against such attacks.
- “When many people hear about violent attacks on their friends and fellow protesters, they react with numbness, shock and rage. Some are caught like deer in the headlights, unable to move because it seems beyond comprehension. Some simply want to fight back with violence, and others want to withdraw. Sometimes, though, we can see other options that strengthen our inner resilience — the ability to acknowledge events, feel their effect and seek to heal by expressing the power we have in that moment. That’s precisely what the Black Lives Matter organizers did…”
- “When white supremacists attack you with violence, increase the pressure of your nonviolent action. The reward the racists were hoping for — to intimidate you into submission or to evoke counter-violence — is not the reward you’ll give them. Instead, you come back with stronger action, legitimate leaders applaud your nonviolence, and additional allies come forward. That’s the way to win local struggles…”
5 ways movements can handle threats and attacks | By George Lakey
- “In the ‘60s and ‘70s American social movements forced the greatest progressive changes in my lifetime, despite sometimes violent resistance. Activists developed ways of increasing our safety and — when we did get hurt — maximizing the change potential of those incidents.”
- “In the ‘60s, we routinely had medics with us at our demonstrations, as well as trained marshals to head off trouble when possible. Marshals in the midst of a larger crowd often found it possible to isolate a fight between attackers and demonstrators. Sometimes the marshals encircled the fight and kept the fight from spreading, then de-escalated. Groups expecting trouble routinely trained marshals/peacekeepers for each action and trained the demonstrators as well.”
- “In situations more polarized than ours, black people and their white allies faced terror and won victories. Today’s activists will add creative new movement tools for handling threat.”
The need for vision
Dwelling only on what we’re against is hard to maintain and leads to burnout. Positive vision helps to sustain the long-term fight, as this article about the Movement for Black Lives’ policy platform explains.
‘A Vision for Black Lives’ is a vision for everyone | By George Lakey
- “Thoughtful visionaries know that stopping historic injustice requires creating alternatives.”
- “We choose more effective everyday tactics when we know where we’re headed. Strategy’s job is to put tactics together over time to increase the movement’s growth and power, so it’s even more important to know our destination when we choose a strategy.”
- “I’ve known plenty of people who burned out while working against something. A negative posture doesn’t protect against the inevitable hurts and disappointments that go along with justice work. The initiators of the Movement for Black Lives’ vision clearly know that this struggle will go on for a while.”
- “Vision also helps by supporting unity. Activists may disagree about this or that tactic, or an organization’s style, but if we agree on our aims, we have reason to “agree to disagree” and accept a diversity that’s uncomfortable. Shared, big-picture goals encourage us to work together.”
When movements have a clear vision of what they want to attain, they can create actions and campaigns designed to move society in that direction. These articles show the many ways — from awareness-raising to electoral organizing — activists have been working toward prison reform, if not outright abolition.
Meet the new group that wants to disarm and displace the NYPD | By Ashoka Jegroo
- “Disarm NYPD is a new collective seeking to immediately stop the New York Police Department from killing anyone ever again. The group seeks to monitor and pressure police, with the help of local communities and Copwatch groups, until they retreat from over-policed neighborhoods and then maintain these cop-free zones with alternative, community-based forms of conflict resolution. Along with that, the group also seeks the total disarmament of the police.”
- “Disarm NYPD originally got the idea for ‘no-cop zones’ from the group Take Back The Bronx. After Take Back The Bronx formed in 2011, members would, for a day, take a corner and put up signs on heavily-policed blocks throughout the Bronx to let police know that they were not welcome, encourage residents to roam their streets unafraid of police harassment by creating a block party-like atmosphere, and raise consciousness amongst neighbors on how they could resolve conflicts without involving the police.”
- “Residents were often very receptive to the no-cop zones and used the opportunity to rant openly against cops, as well as connect with their neighbors. Despite the lack of police during these events, the no-cops zones managed to maintain a jovial atmosphere and always happened without any incidents.”
- “Anti-police brutality activists in New York City took a trip to a gentrified neighborhood to catch white people freely committing the type of crimes that get black and brown people regularly harassed by cops.”
- “Blocking the sidewalk, jaywalking — those are the two main activities where we found white people were violating some aspect of the municipal code,” said Police Reform Organizing Project Founder Robert Gangi. “The point of [the action] is to put into sharp relief how starkly discriminatory police practices are. White people in Park Slope virtually never get ticketed for these kind of activities whereas African-American and Latino people in different neighborhoods in this city will get sanctioned — ticketed and sometimes arrested — for these kind of activities on a regular basis.”
Policing isn’t working for cops either | By Kazu Haga
- “The system of policing is one that relies on violence, fear, repression and a colonizer mentality. But the individuals who are employed to enforce that mentality are human beings with a human psyche, just like any other. It’s silly to assume that these men and women aren’t impacted by the violence they witness and participate in every day. No human being can participate in the levels of heightened violence that police are engaged in without being affected by it.”
- “This is not about being an apologist for the individuals responsible for the killing of black life. It is not about comparing the suffering of black communities to that of law enforcement. But in nonviolence, we know that if you don’t understand the perspective of those who you are in conflict with, you do not understand the conflict. You do not need to agree with, excuse or justify the other’s perspective, you simply need to understand it so you can see the complete picture.”
- “When the system comes together to defend cops, their defense of him is a smokescreen. The system doesn’t care about any individuals — the individuals are dispensable. But for us, the more we focus our anger on the individual who pulled the trigger, the more we are letting the system off the hook. And the more the system defends the individual, the more we want to see him or her locked up, as if they are the problem.”
How prisoners organized to elect a just DA in Philly | By Kerry “Shakaboona” Marshall and John Bergen
- “The November 2017 general election in Philadelphia saw a former civil rights attorney running on an anti-incarceration platform elected district attorney to the country’s fifth largest city.”
- “In order to shift the race to the left and hold Krasner accountable as he prepares to take office, a broad coalition of progressive groups put aside their differences to focus on winning. The leaders of this alliance are the people most impacted by the city’s justice system, including prisoners in Pennsylvania state prisons. Their efforts, which helped create the conditions for Krasner’s victory, are part of a long history of Pennsylvania’s incarcerated citizens changing public discourse.”
- “When it comes to policies around mass incarceration and policing, movements for justice and equality cannot be afraid to use our capacity to shift the conversation.”
With thousands arrested over the weekend, bail funds began popping up all around the country. Prison abolition activists working to end racist and unjust pre-trial bail requirements have been organizing such efforts for years. Learn more about them from these articles.
#FreeBlackMamas bails black mothers from jail for Mother’s Day | By Victoria Law
- “On any given day, 462,000 people (of all genders and races) are held in jail pretrial, meaning that they are currently awaiting their day in court. The majority are jailed simply because they cannot afford to post bail.”
- “In 2017, #FreeBlackMamas organizers raised over $1 million in two months, enough to post bail for 106 mothers nationwide. Not only did they bail these mothers out of jail, but they also connected them with support services — such as housing and counseling — while also providing transportation to their follow-up court dates. Their efforts sparked other bailouts, including a Father’s Day bailout and a Black August bailout, which freed 71 other people.”
- “Bailouts aren’t limited to Mother’s Day or holidays. In some states, organizations [such as The Massachusetts Bail Fund] have arisen to bail people out all year round.”
- “In the United States, black mothers who had been freed through #FreeBlackMamas in previous years traveled to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to participate in a convening of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls… Some had never been involved in political advocacy before being bailed out. Now, every one of the women on the stage was deeply involved in anti-prison work, including participating in and organizing this year’s bailouts.”
- “Bail fund organizers are not only working to free people from jail, but also fighting to end cash bail altogether. In some places, they are beginning to see results. Organizers with the Chicago Community Bond Fund have pushed for court interventions and worked with legislators on bills to change bail laws. In July 2017, in response to a lawsuit, a judge issued a rule requiring that all bails in Chicago’s Cook County must be affordable.”
How white people can confront racism
White people have a duty to step up and take action for racial justice. These articles highlight the efforts they can take to speak out against and work to dismantle white supremacy.
- “White folk are longing for some white models for racial justice and solidarity, and so we need those of us more practiced at it and/or are willing to “be public” to continue to do that, and encourage more folks to try it. And here I don’t mean posting your selfie at the latest action, but more importantly being public about our questions and wrestlings, being public about our mistakes, being public about the resources we find helpful, being public about our horror at what is continuing to be done in our name.”
When working-class white people close the road to Trump — a conversation with Ben Laughlin | By Caitlin Breedlove
- “People in power in the United States have been scapegoating poor people and people of color from the moment Europeans set foot on this land. For me, it is really important that I am trying to meet my people where they’re at and have real conversations about that frustration and anger. We have to dig into the misplaced hate and misguided, destructive solutions Trump is putting forward together. Trump speaks in a way that resonates with us, but you can best believe that when push comes to shove he doesn’t care about white working-class people at all. I want to validate my family’s real anger, while also exposing the scapegoating, misplaced hate and fear mongering.”
- “I wholeheartedly believe working-class and poor white people have a real stake in dismantling white supremacy and racial capitalism. The allure of aligning with whiteness is powerful; as working-class white people we need to expose this force for the deadly lie that it is and be organizing our people against it with everything we have.”
- “Where is the safe place for someone who is second-guessing their membership [in a white supremacist group]? What are we doing in our community to create a space for those people? Right now, Life After Hate is the only place to go, which is a shame because we can’t be everywhere all the time. But if the community took that stance, they might actually win some of those people right there on the spot, who say, “You know what, I want more of what you have.” When they look out their window beyond their group, they see a raging, angry crowd with nowhere to exit.”