Philadelphia: Analysis of September 9th Prison Strike Noise Demo
Filed under: Action, Incarceration, Northeast
Filed under: Action, Incarceration, Northeast
Word of the September 9th noise demonstration at the Juvenile Justice Center (JJC) was spread through social media, flyers handed out at bus stops to people going on prison visits, flyers handed out around the neighborhood where the demonstration took place, as well as to people visiting the youth inside.
The point of the demonstration was to make noise for the youth on the inside and to give them a change to let loose, even if only in a limited way inside their cages.
A meet-up was organized via facebook north of the center at 48th and Aspen St. It became known after the demo that some people had problems finding the meet-up location and that this may have lowered turnout. At this spot a group of people in masks started setting up banners and handing out whistles as well as fireworks.
There was an awkward division between the masked up peeps and those who were not in masks. Although some communication happened between the groups, I would like to see more exchanges between people at demonstrations for a better understanding of why some people choose to wear masks and some do not.
People waited around and some started to set off bottle rockets. About 15 minutes after 8pm, someone with a megaphone said it was time to move (as a cop car had rolled by just earlier). The group moved ahead behind a set of banners down 48th toward the JJC. We took the streets and got generally positive responses from people in cars (unlike most demonstrations in center city where angry yuppies try to run marches down). Flyers about the prison strike and just about hating prisons in general were tossed into the air like confetti all along the march.
Some had decided to meet up at the JJC ahead of time. There was some confusion between the marchers and the people set up at the JJC. The marchers walked past the front of the center near 48th and Haverford about halfway down the block to the side parking-lot. The reason was that the front building is an office building for social workers and on the side of the complex behind the parking lot was where the youth were being held in “dorms.”
There was also some confusion expressed as to who organized the demonstration, framed as concern that the demonstration was a ploy by cops. The reason for this was the fireworks. There was fear that this would agitate the cops into giving people gun charges (which is not unheard of) or take it as an excuse to come smash up the demo. A few people left the demonstration because they felt unsafe, which is a completely reasonable response that deserves support. It is important for everyone to be able to assess their own risk. The remaining people joined the demonstration near the parking-lot.
As the noise demonstration went on we saw some people waving on the inside, but it was hard to see much because of the way the center is built to isolate.
Outside there was a cop with a camera taking video of the whole scene, especially trying to film people’s faces. “Civil affairs” – or protest cops who wear plain clothes and orange armbands to almost every protest – especially use this information. This information also has the potential to be integrated into facial recognition software, as more departments request funds for “upgrades” (this is the flip side of body-cameras). Eventually some people in masks took exception to this and started putting flags in front of the camera, drumming on the camera, and throwing trash at the cop. Some people shot fireworks at cops and shouted at them to quit their jobs or kill themselves.
Eventually after an hour and a half people started marching back toward Aspen. There was concern expressed that the march was moving too fast for some people. At one point someone shouted to the front to slow down. Making people with needs have to shout to be seen creates an unwelcome dynamic and could potentially lead to the most vulnerable being snagged by the cops. Collectively taking the responsibility to be more mindful of who is around us in the future may address some of these concerns about accessibility.
At this point there was a cop van in front “leading” (more like kettling) the march, but eventually someone threw a flagpole at the back of the van and it moved farther ahead. When the march got back to Aspen St, some people loitered (fuck the police, amirite?) around for a bit longer shouting at cops but eventually everyone dispersed into the night with no arrests.
Some concluding observations:
1) People are gonna do what they’re gonna do at these kinds of rackets, like bring fireworks and get rowdy. That’s the point of autonomy. There are no leaders or organizers whose goal is to keep things orderly. Just the opposite — the goal is to get disorderly. That said, we must be aware that our actions may “turn off” others and split the demo or cause people to leave. Fireworks, flag throwing, and camera blocking are new tactics that are an escalation in the context of demos in the last few years, which has the potential to both expand what people think as well as to demobilize protest state repression or some people avoiding demos that are not specifically designated as “peaceful.”
2) Safety at demonstrations is an illusion, or at the very least relative, and it is not something that can be guaranteed. Ultimately the cops define what is illegal. However, there are steps we can take, like being aware of where people are in the group and trying to keep people together who want to be in the relative safety of a group.
3) There are practical steps we can all take to lessen the impact of surveillance. Wearing masks and refusing to claim actions with named organizations can avoid repression/surveillance down the line because there is less in the way of social ties that can be tracked and people may feel empowered to organize another demonstration completely apart from the initial group who comes together on one particular night.
So take this as an invitation to keep up these demonstrations and be free in the streets.
-a (seriously) sweaty bitch
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