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October 4

“Be Water”: Report from #ClimateStrike Actions in Atlanta

Report on recent #ClimateStrike actions in Atlanta, Georgia on September 27th.

Nineteen protesters were arrested. Their defense is being handled collectively. Support the arrestees by donating to the bail fund.

On September 27, 2019, the “Climate Strike” march in Atlanta, lacking the mass numbers of mobilizations in New York, Montreal, and London, marched in a determined fashion for several hours, managing to utilize its numbers in an efficient and ambitious way. Those who came were prepared for direct action, moving the demo across three different parts of the city, and clashing with police at every location. Despite early foils to the plans of the organizers, high schoolers and other young people were able to act spontaneously to the changing conditions throughout the day and continuously push the protest out of any preset model and into the streets.

The day began at 9:30 am in a financial center on the north side of the city, where 250 protesters met at the Buckhead MARTA Station and attempted to blockade a major intersection nearby. The meet-up location was publicly announced, and Atlanta Police were prepared with almost 100 officers on site. (This is at least the third time this year Atlanta-area police have deployed forces this great. This spring, two mobilizations [against conditions at the Dekalb County Jail] faced down inter-departmental repression by law enforcement.) As it began, a line of bicycle-mounted police blocked the march before moving in to kettle the crowd, pushing them back to the sidewalk. A number of arrests were made, including some under the Georgia Mask Law.

The Mask Law was put in place to deter the KKK, which reformed in Atlanta in 1915. The tolerance of liberalism means that the wording of laws like these does not discriminate between ideologies. This results in laws of this type becoming “neutral” tools of the State, used only to reinforce control and surveillance. Making arrests for wearing a mask or for being in the street functions like “broken windows” policing for demonstrations. By enforcing these petty crimes, the police attempt to deter any further, more conflictual action by the crowd.

When the police succeeded in keeping the demo from reaching it’s intended blockade site, it seemed as though the event would end. A decision to take the metro to Midtown allowed the crowd to outmaneuver the police, and to regroup. The atmosphere shifted dramatically on the subway. Away from the tense atmosphere of the massive police force, journalists, and paralyzing Buckhead infrastructure, participants were able to chant slogans, sing songs, and converse with one another in a less hostile environment.

When the crowd reemerged in Midtown, there was no officer in sight. Demonstrators rushed into the streets and set up a blockade, no longer divided by “individual risk level.” Protesters used banners and barricading materials they arrived with to block traffic; a boon, given the lack of loose objects in this part of the city. Some threw Bird scooters into the street. The aggressive drivers, who threatened to “nudge” protesters with their cars, were unlikely to risk damage to their vehicle by running over a scooter. One local police car arrived but was unwilling to engage the hostile crowd until back-up arrived more than 30 minutes later.

When anti-riot cops finally showed up to the new blockade, the demonstrators moved again. Police scrambled to corner the mobile demonstration. Their disorder led to moments of opportunity, such as when a rolling dumpster was used to block police cars trailing the demo. Snatch squads jumped out to grab the perpetrators. In their confusion, they mistook their target, and tackled a 60-year-old woman on the sidewalk, who had been simply watching the action. An angry crowd formed and a cop lost his radio in the ensuing skirmish. Knowing that a radio in the wrong hands could jeapordize their operations, the police began frantically to look for it. The remaining members of the demo marched to a park, where they regouped and continued with another smaller march later in the day.

#ClimateStrike march in Atlanta, Georgia

Go with the Flow

“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.” – Bruce Lee

The police function through a rigid bureaucratic system, slow to make decisions on big changes. While they can plan effectively with advanced notice, it is much harder for them to react to the unexpected—like turning a giant freight ship around. Demonstrators can take advantage of this weakness by being fluid in their actions, rather than constantly throwing themselves against the same wall of riot cops. Protestors in Hong Kong have been highly effective with this strategy, adopting the slogan “be water.” There, large crowds disperse and reconvene throughout the city, spreading disorder without losing the initiative to chess-piece battles with the police. This strategy pre-supposes that the crowd is willing to definitively disrupt social peace, provoking a gratuitous police response. When conflict can be assured, dispersal can be advantageous; when it is not assured, blocking things up and refusing to move can be just as prescient.

“Be water” not only represents an effective strategy for the streets, it can also refer to our mindset when it comes to our own practices. Some might be deterred by the predominantly liberal organizing and structure of protests such as the Climate Strike. Despite massive numbers, these movements may seem doomed, like the anti-war protests during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the 2014 People’s Climate March in New York, or the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, DC. However, the organizations that have put their brand on these movements do not usually represent the people in the streets, especially when those people are new to political action. It is worthwhile to engage these individuals and to develop a strategic perspective within the emerging movement. Be water, keep moving and adapting our strategies, or be left behind.

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