Keystone Cops at the RNC: Street Theater in the Midst of Protest
For protests, use old broken cell phones and cameras to put heat on violent cops. Pretend you are pregnant to get out of containment areas. Come dressed as Superman or Santa and let mommy explain cops beating the shit out of Superman on the nightly news...
Keystone Cops at the RNC: Street Theater in the Midst of Protest
By Kirsten Anderberg (www.kirstenanderberg.com)
There is no need for protests to be boring. With a little imagination, you can make your journey into protest zones safer and more fun. Everyone likes street theater. People like imaginative scenery to look at. Especially the media. So, think about fun ways to monkeywrench the usual, and bring about some laughs at the same time. And if you are participating in the RNC protests, and are of draft age, document your protest activities in a conscientious objector file (www.objector.org).
Why not come dressed as Santa Claus to protests? Santa Claus has padding and it is bad for police to be seen on the news beating and arresting Santa. Nuns and priests being arrested attract press attention also, even if you are just in costume. The public is tied when it comes to allegiance between police and nuns and priests. Reverend Billy and the Stop Bombing/Stop Shopping Gospel Choir, (www.revbilly.com), has perfected this art. Rev. Billy is most notorious for his preaching at Starbuck's, which prompted a memo sent out to Starbuck's employees instructing them on what to do if Rev. Billy comes to their store. Billy sits at a table in Starbuck's, in a dinner jacket and priest's collar, with devotees, and starts talking to customers. He eventually leads the customers into a litany of sins committed by Starbuck's. By the end, he is shouting, maybe standing on a table, waving his arms, his devotees hand out pamphlets, etc. When you incorporate religious authority into protest, things get confusing. And religious authority is easily feigned. Police do not like to be seen on TV roughing up nuns. You are inherently assumed innocent in religious frocks, sort of the opposite of the reaction to black bloc clothing. Even suits can play into this, as M.L.King illustrated. Just dressing like "The Man" can confuse the issues considerably.
Try some nontraditional face coverings. Don exotic Hawaiian print bandanas, instead of the traditional black. That would make cops uncomfortable, simply due to the absurdity. Taking a lead from comedy, imagine, for instance, the police force's confusion at a group of 500 anarchists wearing Groucho Marx noses and glasses! And rubber clown noses predate bandanas by centuries, masking outlaw vaudevillians. Someone has suggested hundreds of people wear Lone Ranger masks. I can just see the police rounding the corner, to find 1,000 masked Lone Rangers, with black capes flowing in the wind behind them. How surreal would that be, mixed with the police riot gear?
What if protesters came dressed as Keystone Cops, wearing hats with big stars, big clown shoes, whistles, etc.? And we stood between the protesters and cops and acted like fumbling idiot police clowns? "Go that way!" "No, this way!" Someone suggested we learn police commands/codes for certain things like "Put weapons down" and yell those commands into bullhorns while sergeants yell commands at their riot police to "produce weapons." Police would be confused as to the commands was the theory. Or we could learn our own codes. Someone yells "52" and we all know to "quickly, sharply, everyone turn to the left." Someone yells "98" and we all "sit down immediately." Although tactics I have heard of recently, such as spray painting the face shields of police riot gear, have an immediate impact, they also involve possible jail time. Being a Keystone Cop will be a harder crime to pin on someone. Organize your Anarchist Bird Watchers Associations, Anarchist Fly Fishing Clubs, Anarchist Pacific Golf Associations, and Anarchist Curling Teams into street theater troupes for protests, and you can have fun as well as entertain others.
What about showing up in good ole American football uniforms, straight from practice, with helmets and padding? The Rant Collective (www.rantcollective.org), teaches street tactic exercises and you could practice them all at your next party, in football uniforms. For example, they get a group to divide up. One part of the group rolls newspapers into fake batons, and gets into a line, pretending to be police. The rest of the group mills around as protesters. The mock police line approaches and moves the crowd, with batons in both hands, step by step, with a solid line formation. Now the same exercise is repeated. But *this* time, when the police line approaches and tries to make the group move, *everyone sits down*. It becomes immediately apparent to everyone at these workshops that moving groups of people that are sitting is much harder than moving groups of standing people. Having group moves could be worthy of time invested, much as the Panthers rehearsed their moves like military. Imagine the fret of the police state seeing anarchist groups rehearsing military-like movements in public spaces like parks.
One of my favorite protest gags is to protest the protesters as part of the protest. So you would go to the RNC protests, for instance, protesting the protesters, exaggerating the statements used by the right wing, talking *for* Republicans to the press every chance you get, etc. This throws in confusing elements. If the police cannot readily identify the enemy, they *may* not charge so indiscriminately. Police definitely treat pro-war demonstrators differently than the anti-war protesters. When protesters come dressed as the people they are demonstrating against, for instance, things can get wild. "Billionaires for Bush" are doing a mild form of this. Ladies Against Women, or LAW, based in San Francisco, Ca., went to the Republican Convention years ago dressed up in bouffant hair-dos, fake fur, and horn-rimmed glasses. They sold Frosted Pork Puff Rinds for Star Wars, held bake sales for the national deficit, and facilitated "prayer-pep rallies for the truly wealthy." They picketed with signs such as "Ban the Poor," and "I'd Rather Be Ironing." LAW's "Ladyfesto" demands the repeal of the ladies' vote, the abolition of the environment ("it is almost impossible to clean"), and the immediate formation of the HULA Committee: the House Committee on Un-Ladylike Activities. LAW showed up in Santa Cruz, Ca. during one of our Miss California pageant protests. They looked like conservative Republican women, and cursed us, the demonstrators, saying we should all want to look like Barbie, and if God didn't want women to wear make-up, He would not have made make-up! They even had fliers they were handing out, making fun of the pageant, by making fun of the protesters. It was brilliant. Mock protests of protesters are a very effective way to confuse things a bit at protests. If police beat the (fake) counterprotesters, they end up looking like they are beating BOTH sides of the conflict! At that point, go with it, and speak out against police violence, to the press present, while dressed like a Republican! Stay in character!
Through the use of humor and creative street performance, it is possible to shift the power to the people, and away from the police, during political protests. This has been shown an effective tactic throughout history. Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies were legendary for their talents in this area. Riot police count on chaos and fear as a large part of their power over people. Without the fear and chaos, Robocops just look like violent idiots. If the crowd is able to move with the police, like Akido, you can actually use their own weight against them. If you are going to perform political theater at street protests, you need to write in the part the riot police play. If you don't, they will upstage your production quickly and easily, causing chaos. By preparing to include the police in your street theater productions, the police have a much harder time manipulating the scene to their violent advantage. People, including police, get confused when the police seem to be playing parts written for them. Guerilla scenes should be media friendly; characters in the play need to rehearse their sound bites for the media interviews that will follow.
The idea of creating a carnival atmosphere for protests is essential when we are trying to reach past preaching to the choir. More festive protests will gain the attention of the media and the innocent bystander in public quicker than long-winded speeches, tired and predictable chants, etc. Let's make protests fun! A group called "Absurd Response to an Absurd War" ( http://www.absurdresponse.com/) preaches buffoonery, dressing up in colorful costumes, with absurd signs, twisting our communal chants and amusing protesters and the public alike. They come to protest as anarchist clowns in face paint and suits and ties. As fairies in frilly white wings, with crowns and wands, and signs that say "All Hail the Idiot-Boy King!" They come in suits, and hats, pipes in mouth, holding signs that say "Tell Us What To Think," and "OBEY" over a picture of G.W.Bush, or "Another War is Possible." They have their own rendition of the Hokey Pokey, "You put the money in, you take the money out, you put the sanctions in, and you shake it all about... " They lead chants such as "All we are saying is give war a chance," "What do we want? War. When do we want it? Primetime" and "War is here, if you want it."
Twisting traditional chants is a good place to breathe life into a rally. The folks at Absurd Response twisted the standard, "Whose streets? Our streets!" into "Whose Street? Wall Street?" ACT UP Philly twisted it into "Whose Fucking Cops? Our Fucking Cops!" The standard "Hey Bush, you can't hide, we charge you with genocide" was met with "We need oil, we need gas, watch out world, we'll kick your ass!" by the Absurd Response crew. They even targeted the old lefty slogan, "The people united will never be defeated," with "The people who chant this will never be creative. The people, bad slogans, will always be defeated."
At one protest, I took off a large scarf I was wearing and put it in my vest pocket. A cop grabbed me, and said to the other cops, "Let her out, she is pregnant." And I was out of the containment area all of a sudden! So women, roll up a sweater under your coat and feign pregnancy to get out of containment areas. Abbie Hoffman confused guards who tried to keep him out of a high security area by going off loudly about how it must be due to anti-Semitism, and he was let in via that confusion.
Create a circus. For illegal police searches, why not put those clown props that are endless scarves in your pockets? That way when police search you, scarves will keep coming out of your pockets, endlessly. Or maybe keep a large rubber chicken in your pocket. Or how about something sticky or gooey in your pocket? Also, buy every dead cell phone in thrift stores you can find and give them to protesters and tell them to talk loudly on them, as if calling police to report violence, when police are abusing people. Another good tactic is to buy broken cameras from thrift stores. It doesn't matter if they work or not. And those cameras should be given to every protester possible. Then when police misconduct happens, a lot of clicking should be going on. A symphony of clicks, perhaps, could occur. Even if the cameras had no film, the mindset of the police would be rattled by that many cameras present and clicking. And think of the picture in the paper the next day: 100 anarchists in Groucho Marx masks, ALL with cameras, up and clicking in front of the police violence! Street theater is one of the safest and easiest ways to make powerful statements without words.
For those still wishing to participate in a black bloc, a nice quick traditional black face cover can be made by cutting off the sleeve of a short sleeve t-shirt. Wear it as a bracelet or hairtie, then pull it like tube over head later. But let's also make sure to dance around in high-definition Technicolor! Let's dance around the Robocops like clowns. Let's make them arrest Santa. Let's coordinate ourselves into football teams in the streets. Rise to the occasion. Be creative and make it a good show and fun for all!
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