Kirsten Anderberg | 01.11.2003 17:14 | Anti-militarism
By Kirsten Anderberg Copyright 2003
A funny thing happened in Seattle after Bush declared war on Iraq. Martial law was begun in Seattle streets. Even though peaceful protesters had obtained a permit to protest the war at the Federal Building, and these protesters have a good track record for peace, police flanked the crowd with snipers, riot police, machine guns, and billy clubs the size of baseball bats. Riot police followed the protesters' every move downtown, standing in rows, pounding their billy clubs anxiously in their palms, badges and nametags hidden. These Robocops refused to talk or interact with peaceful protesters, and instead enjoyed intimidating them for their political views for days on end, relentlessly. I personally made it through five solid days in this police state immersion before I cracked. I have nightmares now where I am standing downtown, and four Robocops start walking behind me. I get nervous. Then they start coming from the sides and front. They won't talk to me. They won't tell me what they want. I stand captive, horrified, and then wake up. It is a rerun of Saturday's police riot.
After Saturday, when police purposefully incited a riot, in my observation and opinion, I have started rethinking my peace protest tactics. My first reaction, out of anger, was to IMITATE Robocop. I went online to Ranger Joe's and Quarter Master Uniforms to start buying tactical riot gear for myself as PROTECTION from violent, prowar riot police in Seattle. I found the same helmets and shin/feet guards the Seattle riot police wear. And bullet-proof vests, etc. But it bothered me that riot gear would incite more violence from Seattle's Robocops. Talking to a friend from the Vietnam War protest era, he said "Why don't you all wear football uniforms, with padding and helmets?" That really got me thinking.
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 are not easy for police to beat either. Anything that emphasizes the extreme police overkill is good. The more innocent you can look, the worse Robocop looks. I fully understand the desire to wear black and bandannas. But it looks more incriminating on the news if police are beating and arresting Santa, nuns, men in suits, etc. That is why the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wore suits to peaceful marches and protests. To not give the police the upper hand for even a moment.
On March 22, I watched our smart and angry antiwar teens be violated at Westlake Park. They were unconstitutionally searched. What if kids bought those clown props that are endless scarves? So police search them and endless scarves keep coming out of their pockets. Or maybe keep a pair of gigantic underwear or a rubber chicken from Archie McPhee's in your pocket. Or how about something sticky or gooey in your pocket? We must get creative now, and make street theater out of scary police psychodrama for our own sanity.
What if protesters came dressed as Keystone Cops, with the hats, big shoes, whistles, etc.? And we stood between the protesters and cops and acted like fumbling idiot police clowns? "Go that way!" "No, this way!" Or what if we learned the police commands/codes for certain things like "Put weapons down" and yelled those commands into bullhorns while sergeants yelled commands at their riot police to "produce weapons?" Police would be confused as to the commands. 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."
After days of police harassment, intimidation and downright illegal theft of my Constitutional rights, I have decided this is a battle worth fighting. I challenge the peace community to find creative yet responsive street theater alternatives to put the spotlight on what the police are doing to peaceful protesters. Let's dance around them like clowns. Let's make them arrest Santa. Let's coordinate ourselves into football teams in the streets. If Seattle police want to be complete robots, as they were the week after war was declared, I say we rise to the occasion. Don't give up. Don't give up your free speech that easily. Instead be more creative. Let's make it a good show and fun for all!