Thursday, February 2, 2017

On Protesting, Rioting, and Fighting Nazis

It has been a week of rage and action, as decent people have been astounded by the government's actions to oppress the vulnerable. The trauma of the inauguration was closely followed by a series of horrifying executive orders and a slew of appointments of unqualified billionaire bullies to important positions, where they will have the power to essentially obliterate the bottom rungs of the American socio-economic ladder.

Horrifying as all of this was, the worst from my perspective was the anti-Muslim travel ban, which has already derailed lives and broken families, with Jeff Sessions' looming appointment coming in as a close second. This was a strong reminder that all criminal justice scholars and practitioners need to also have at least basic proficiency in immigration law, and I'm planning on filling the gaps in my own education and taking some courses.

I have spent my week in street protests, starting with our epic takeover of the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) over the weekend. The protest made me fall in love with my city all over again. I saw all of San Francisco--old and new, techie and artist and construction worker, parents and grandparents and children, come together in a way that can move mountains. I saw people being firm and effective, and at the same time unfailingly kind and nonviolent, even in the face of some aggression from impatient passengers. I saw lawyers receive the respect and gratitude they deserve. I saw police officers, including the tactical team, taking on difficult jobs and opting for nonviolence when they could have opted for much worse. I saw strangers being kind and generous toward each other. I saw one of the busiest airports in the United States grind to a complete halt--and a statement from airport management supporting "the members of the public who have so bravely taken a stand against this action by speaking publicly in our facilities." I saw my friends and neighbors at their best, resisting the Neo-Nazi regime, coming together in solidarity for vulnerable and frightened people, and being both capable and reasonable in doing so. Mostly, I saw the light of basic goodness and dignity shine out of a thousand faces, and that gave me more than a modicum of hope about what lies ahead.

On Tuesday I was in Oakland, for the teddy bear protest against the appointment of Betsy DeVos. I am a product of public education, all the way through my Berkeley Ph.D., and am disheartened at the prospect of it being ruined and dismantled by a clueless billionaire. And yesterday, I was at UC Berkeley, protesting against the arrival of Milo Yiannopoulos, who was to address his Neo-Nazi supporters and, I presume, dehumanize women and people of color, as he tends to do. Later journalistic reports described "student violence" and "protesters throwing stuff and burning things."

As in the case of prior demonstrations I have attended, I may have been lucky in that I left shortly after we were told that the talk was canceled. While I was there I saw no violence on the part of the protesters. What I *did* see was a handful of Yiannopoulos fans--one of them particularly vocal, in a fuzzy green beanie and a phone he kept shoving in the protesters' faces--trying to goad the crowd into violence.

Since apparently things got a bit dicier after I left--though I think the reports in the media are fairly exaggerated--I feel I have to say something. What on earth would anyone expect with the combination of Nazi provocateurs and nineteen-year-olds, whose prefrontal cortex has yet to develop? Even the Supreme Court acknowledges that adolescents are less able to be restrained and controlled. Would anyone in their right mind expect a protest against Nazis at UC Berkeley to *not* get dicey?

To be clear: violence, at this stage, is not only unlawful: it is harmful and underproductive, not only because it taints us with the violence of the government but because it offers them the opportunity to act all offended. Case in point: last night's protest caught the attention of our fascist-in-chief, who tweeted that he will withhold federal funding if there's no "free speech." He doesn't know the meaning of the word, and has been hard at work dampening the free speech exercised by hundreds of thousands of people in the last week who rose up against him. But I think it is important to continue holding the moral high ground. When they go low... you know the rest.

And yet - my grandma's cousin, Yehoshua Gold, fought the Nazis in the woods as a partisan guerrilla warrior in WWII. I find myself thinking about him a lot these days. Things are deteriorating fast, but I wonder, if and when they become as terrible as they were in WWII, whether I'm made of the same stuff that Uncle Yehoshua. I hope we don't have to find out, and I hope that, if we do find out, we will all rise to the occasion.

We will prevail, and we will take our country back, and we will work hard and fix all the direct and collateral damage this administration has wrought.

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