First off: headlines screaming “PROTESTS TURN VIOLENT” are distortions that follow the same warped narrative that got us here. Without any clear evidence that the thousands of peaceful protesters from all over Boston had anything to do with localized and sporadic violence after dark, we need to question the assumption that there was a continuum or connection between the protests and whatever followed. The assumption that they are connected by anything except the presumption on the part of those engaging in violence after a day of peaceful protest that that connection would be drawn is specious.
Like most people I know, I’ve had some experience with protests, mostly when I was in college. We’re talking first Gulf War. Like, back in ‘91. Ancient times, but I suspect much of the story and the characters remain strikingly the same. That summer I lived in a tent city set up by war protesters in Dunn Meadow on the Indiana University campus in Bloomington. I had long curly hair, wore flannel, and looked like Eddie Vedder. I will not be providing photographic proof, but here is a reasonable facsimile:
There were a series of protests that summer, over the whole agonizing build-up to military action, and over time a group of preppy kids took to antagonizing the grunge kids camping out in the meadow. This antagonism had more or less nothing to do with the war or the substance of the protests. It likely had more to do with dirty hippies taking up the meadow, which was a favorite spot among Chad, Brock and the ultimate frisbee set.
One night a group of twenty or so of the latter, dressed to the teeth in pink oxfords and boat shoes, ambushed our little tent city, raised a ruckus, overturning our tents, and chasing us — there were probably twenty or so of us as well — down past the Student Union to Showalter Fountain, where, probably owing to burning off the adrenaline rush in the sprint to the fountain (which was, frankly, exhilarating), it turned into one of those shouting debates that always seem to erupt among protesters and “counter-protesters” on college campuses. I would rather it had ended in some sort of ‘60s lovefest, but this was the ‘90s, and in the ’90s you had to pay for that shit.
After we’d all blown off some steam, we went back to our tents, they went back to Frat Row, and a few days later Operation Desert Shield went off as planned.
Later in the mid-aughts I did some organizing, and what I can tell you about any protest is that there will always be that group of shitty white kids from the suburbs who call themselves “anarchists” and want to hijack whatever it is you’re protesting (in my case it was public transit fare hikes) to quell the screaming maw of boredom of their meaningless existence. In the case of last night, we know suburban Nazis are stirring shit up, with the President’s encouragement, because they really want their race war, and he really wants them to have it. They know they’re not going to be held accountable. They know if anything goes down it will be: “PROTESTS TURN VIOLENT.”
This is not new information, is what I’m saying. Protests like these have been happening since the dawn of modernity. If you’re just now tuning in, that’s your problem. Point being: unless the media can verify who was responsible, making assumptions about “protesters” turned rabble-rousers is irresponsible. It also plays into a relentless and false narrative that associates protest with violence and justifies more militarization and brutality. And the band plays on.
I took a ride downtown this morning, by the way, to see what I could see of the aftermath, and, yeah, there were some smash-n-grabs last night, for sure. It sucks, because we’re heading into an economic depression — I lived through ‘70s stagflation, too — and those boarded-up shops: they’re gonna stay boarded up for years. I know just yesterday I was saying we can’t be for “Back to Normal.” At this point, I don’t think we have to worry too much about that happening.