portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article commentary portland metro

actions & protests | police / legal

activism vs. organizing on police brutality

One distinction that some people have identified is between "activism" vs. "organizing." "Activism" tends to be more dramatic and episodic. It's also more superficial. "Organizing" is more long-term, low-key, and often tedious, even boring. But "activism" in an organizational vacuum tends to be ineffective.
A criticism that people who self-identify as "activists" might benefit from taking to heart is the one sometimes made between "activism" and "organizing." "Activism" tends to be more dramatic and episodic. It's also more superficial. "Organizing" is more long-term, low-key, and often tedious, even boring. But "activism" in an organizational vacuum tends to be ineffective.

Taking the recent police violence episodes as an example, for instance, an "organizer" would ask questions like, "Who are these people who are being targeted for violent treatment? Why are these scenarios occurring in which police are able to justify their use of excessive force against these people to the public? And therefore, what are roots of these injustices? And how can we attack those roots?" This would involve people then organizing long-term strategies to address homelessness as well as mental health problems, including putting the spotlight on "poverty pimping" type agencies that take in money that is supposed to help homeless people, but produce little or no housing. It would involve asking why we don't have good mental health crisis intervention programs? Why are police becoming the crisis intervention teams of first and last resort?

We shouldn't let police off the hook for killing people senselessly, when they could be de-escalating, or even sometimes reaching for these "less-lethal" weapons that they seem to mainly use against nonviolent civil disobedience protesters, instead of safely immobilizing actual assailants with them in the danger scenarios in which they originally claimed these weapons were supposed to be a safe alternative. However, it is NOT the fault of police in the first place that our society is abandoning mentally troubled people to fester and die on the streets. That is a disgrace that our whole society has to shoulder the blame for.

I know that a lot of people go out on the streets to protest against this madness out of a genuine sense of outrage at these injustices. At the same time, though, they have to come to terms with the fact that most of the public looks at this kind of scenario and naively asks, "Well, what the hell is a cop supposed to do when he's getting backed into a corner by a guy with a knife?" They start thinking things like, "oh well, these people on the streets are just drama queens, they don't have real solutions to the problem." If the work of the "activist" were joined together with the work of the "organizer," then these kinds of misconceptions could be easily dispelled. Because the organizer could say, "See, we told you what happens when you don't adopt social programs to care for all people, including those who through no fault of their own are homeless, or mentally ill." And the activists could likewise say, "We are out here protesting because this is the last straw! Our society has refused to address these problems with the proposals that concerned organizers have proposed, and look where we are now. People are literally being shot dead in the streets as a result!"