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Thoughts on the masses and marching

When any groups assembles in mass, it should be considered that civil disobedience as a successful tactic depends at least in part on the quantity of individuals assembled.
When any groups assembles in mass, it should be considered that civil disobedience as a successful tactic depends at least in part on the quantity of individuals assembled. It is believed that if groups assemble in a large enough number, that "they can't arrest us all". This is demonstrably a fallacy, as proven when over 700 were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge during an Occupy Wall Street protest in October 2011. The police in Portland have the same capability and capacity to arrest several hundred individuals at once, even if it were to take hours or even days to process every detainee. Still, this theory of "they can't arrest us all" has proven correct in certain circumstances. There is some unquantified number of people that may assemble together and it becomes either inconvenient or impossible for the police to enforce certain laws. For example, we have seen that several hundred individuals may march on the streets without a permit and not experience any major police backlash, the Portland Mercury published in July 2012, "cops wrote they would cede the streets if at least 200 people showed up." Activists should explore other policies that may be exploitable to the advantage of society and rights.

On May first I witnessed the "unpermitted" march attacked by police on several different occasions, this was under the pretext of clearing the streets for vehicular and mass transit. The protesters were gravely outnumbered and had very limited options to maneuver in the city. Participants in the march may not have been aware, but they were only allowed to move where the police forces permitted them to move. I want to discuss tactics that can be applied in these circumstances to undermine the ability of forceful control. If applied successfully by a variety of autonomous actors, peaceful marches through the streets (whether "permitted" or not) become possible regardless of the numbers assembled.

This all hinges upon strategy: if the strategy is to communicate to the general population your sentiments and concerns regarding your understanding of a political situation (which I hope this is your genuine strategy) and you need to minimalize violence, these are tactics worth considering. You must believe that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that, without free speech and assembly, discussion would be futile; that, with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty, and that this should be a fundamental principle of our government.

If it is your strategy to simply introduce general chaos into the streets through law breaking, chaos, or fear, then perhaps you should consider an alternative lifestyle other than political activism: consider preforming self-immolation on Youtube. I hear that's very popular these days, and it's a surefire way to get you laid over a dozen times, for sure.

There is another strategy secretly considered by some: to provoke a violent response of the police by breaking the law, in hopes of showcasing police violence to galvanize the public and by this, provoke a revolution. I'm not going to explore this concept with a lot of depth, but suffice to say that a few scuffs on the face will hardly galvanize the public in an extraordinary way. The action by the state must be unquestionably atrocious: extremely cruel, brutal, and unprovoked. Dramatic and bloody examples of police violence being used unnecessarily against *non-violent* protesters is what galvanizes people. If a masked protester is beaten by police in the street, it has a very limited effect on the populace. Yet, if a young person, peacefully keeping to their business is attacked, it provokes a strong emotional response in a wider amount of people.

When considering these tactics, keep foremost in your mind the strategy: it is not your strategy to outwit the police in tactical victories, but to spread your message to the people.

"Sun Tzu said: The control of a large force is the same principle as the control of a few men: it is merely a question of dividing up their numbers." Police divide themselves into multiple squadrons ready to react to the situation, that can be deployed by commanders on an as-needed basis. Essentially, protesters must do the same but without the need of a central command. This has been called "affinity groups", and it is a point of discussion, but there is not a point to organize them ad hoc. Within existing affinity groups, delegates should seek out individuals who are alone or unaffiliated and invite them to participate in the consensus-based decision process of that group. Alternatively, ad hoc affinity groups should be organized during the lull before or during a march. This should be highly considered, as the first step towards utilizing any tactic within a group is the unification of ideas, decisions, and actions. Importantly, this allows those in-the-know to identify unaffiliated saboteurs or a passersby who would like to take part in the action. Further, this allows for one group to respond to the need of another group quickly. Obviously an affinity group who is prepared for clandestine actions should not invite strangers or outsiders. Everyone within a protest does not need to be affiliated to a group, though it is beneficial for newcomers to believe they have "friends" (even if only "new-friends") when facing potential or real police violence.

Affinity groups should take the lead of issuing direction in times of duress. People will follow voluntarily, no one is bound to listen to their advice. This happens naturally as it is, for when someone shouts "retreat" or "lock arms" some people do and others do not, but with deliberate forethought, this can be our key to using tactics to avoid police violence. In very large groups, a small affinity group can still direct the mass of people voluntarily or passively simply by being in the front.

It is the universal strategy of police to confront protesters with a line of police, and to allow a place for protesters to withdraw, or alternatively the police may encircle and contain. This tactic should be examined. It assumed to be defeated by pushing en mass against this line, or by other blunt force. Attacking their line leads to arrest, injury and ultimately failure. But, the line is defeated when out maneuvered. Police have a grave fear that they will become encircled by protesters and harmed, and so, upon being out-maneuvered they withdraw. It requires no force against the police to out maneuver, you must simply be aware of your surroundings and the situation. If confronted with an impenetrable line of police, do not confront it, retreat if necessary and move around it. An opportunity will present itself. If a march is moving in a long straight line, when the front is stopped, the center must move to both sides, and the rear must move far to one side and come around to be the front. Do not confront the line or allow the greater body to come to a standstill because the front is stopped. The great mass should move like water: immediately overflow the cup containing it, and move between any cracks. Affinity groups have a purpose here to direct the great mass and inform people of where they can move, and to keep the mass moving.

Police command and communication is also exploitable in many non-violent ways. The police utilize on-the-ground commanders for tactical decisions. Placing distractors or people from the march between commanders and squadrons creates a communication hurdle. One could mimic the commands used by the commanders to disorient tactical squadrons. You will notice that commanders do their best to stay behind lines for the purpose of communication. Commanders are typically unguarded, they may falsely believe they are in danger if protesters come too close, so one could manipulate the police line simply by coming near commanders; this will cause a panic in at least some police members. Police also utilize radio communication, this is vulnerable in many ways.

Another possibility to consider is the difficulties of containing multiple groups. Police train to confront and deal with a single large mob, to contain it, tire it, and break it apart. A fraction of the group going in different directions to the same location can be burdensome for command and communication who are tracking every event at every turn. It might be considered to simply plan rallying points and approximate times, or to have an ad hoc group break from the larger and assemble at another point. This has the disadvantage of making numbers seem smaller, but it has the great advantage of getting more people to see the message without being contained. It must be careful that groups that break away must come back together. A separate group can create a much needed distraction.

Organizers should consider the weakness of autonomous people moving together. A group becomes a mob without a leader, and as such a single individual can move a whole mass if one person follows, as then everyone will follow through habit. Mobs can easily be led into bad positions unintentionally or accidently just by the nature of people following others. In this, every group has some level of leadership, as that leader is anyone who is followed. This is a weakness that will be exploited. It should be considered to have a more deliberate plan. Groups do not need leaders, per se, but to have a general consensus, as a forethought, of places the group intends to go. For security purposes, the route taken is often kept secret, but one might provide a list of street intersections or parks to be used as rally points at given times - this allows the targets and route between rally points to remain concealed, and for the mass of people to be more dynamic in route. This also easily allows individuals to break from the main body and rejoin later.

If an urgent situation presents itself (for example if the protest is encircled suddenly), one should also consider how police departments prioritize their responsibilities. One would assume that property damage is a higher priority than traffic laws. A distraction of higher urgency, where the police incorrectly believe lives are at stake, may be introduced into a situation with only a phone call or other simple actions. An individual may introduce many more people into an area by causing nearby buildings to be vacated. Street theater may be utilized to put bystanders in situations where they falsely believe something that can be leveraged by the protesters.

One must also consider the use of the Black Bloc in small groups. The theory of the Black Bloc tactic is that everyone blends together while everyone is dressed in black, and thus they evade identification and accountability for their actions. The reality is easily observable that police informants or officers identify and track individuals even though Black Bloc participants seemingly look similar. Covering bodies does not make them indistinguishable, it actually makes them stand out. Most actions over the past few years only draw a few thousand individuals at best, and among them, at most one hundred or so "black bloc." If one needs to conceal their identity for the purpose of carrying out political speech, it is much easier to conceal their identity in clothing that makes them similar in appearance to other people on the street. Plain clothed individuals should plan their actions around population centers (like food carts, shopping malls, universities, restaurants) that allow for quick escape. Many political movements have used colors to identify support for a movement, calling on marchers to wear a specific color is very powerful. Occupy Portland took on this tactic a while ago using Yellow umbrellas to make an interesting visual.

There is one very overlooked tactic (or perhaps under regarded): to purposefully keep individuals outside of the main rallying mass to manipulate the situation. To have a small reserve of individuals beyond the main body, who are devising plans of escape or distraction for the greater whole, is a crucial element. Police utilize officers in this role, which could also be considered a Scout. It is these people who are free to come and go without scrutiny, and without the police monitoring their behaviors closely. These actors should be in plain clothing and remain at such a distance that they are able to avoid scrutiny by police. These separate individuals or groups should have extra supplies.

Organizers should also examine what specific actions provoke a police response. We have seen that marching on the street in insufficient numbers causes a response, but is it just that simple? It seems that certain streets and targets have a higher concern to the police. Certainly the roads that move mass-transit, and the highways, are of the highest priority. Bridges seem to be a high concern too. A group could avoid these high-priority areas, or they could utilize them as a distraction.

The most important thing to remember is the need police have for protestors to be arrested and cause havoc or emergency. There is no badge of honor, and nobody gets laid because they were arrested (though, seriously, wouldn't that be rad? If everyone got laid who got arrested, more people would be arrested - spend a few minutes thinking about a naked body against yours when you get out of the cell). The unjust laws censoring our speech and assembly only exist because the public has been fooled into believing that we will create an emergency by marching in the streets. Therefore, the best way to challenge a law abridging our free speech and assembly is by showing that there was no emergency justifying it. Consider how often even the most trivial property damage is displayed by the media as justification for the brutality by the police. Consider how Occupy encampments across the nation were broken up because of "health emergencies". If we are looking to spread our ideas, we should provide no justification for police brutality against us, for when they do use violence against us, it will show the true injustice of their actions and people will support us. Therefore, activists must always maintain the moral higher ground or else society will always applaud violence being used against them.