Submitted to It’s Going Down
This account and the reflections that follow are only a glimpse of the events that took place in Harrisburg on November 5th. I’m not interested in or able to cover the whole of what took place; instead I’m putting forward how I experienced the day (plus a few rumors I heard), what I learned, and some thoughts that came out of conversations following the mobilization. The reflections and critiques apply to myself and those I was with as much as they do to anyone else who was in attendance.
November 5th in Harrisburg, PA
Before I got to the meetup spot, a friend told me that a fascist livestreamer or photographer was present and was filming people. When he was pointed out and confronted, he punched an antifascist, got jumped right away, and left.
By the time I got to the spot, people were just about to march. A few blocks of walking and chanting brought us to a police line behind some wooden barricades. The fascists weren’t scheduled to arrive for another hour. People milled about and a few announcements were made on the bullhorn. More and more police arrived in riot gear and on horseback, strengthening the “thin blue line” between us and the steps of the capital building where the white power rally was set to take place. Slow moments passed uneventfully.
Eventually a man in a confederate flag t-shirt appeared on the steps and with the help of the cops set up a PA for a bit less than an hour. People were becoming more agitated, screaming at the fascist and the police. As the anger in the crowd was rising and more fascists arrived, including klansmen, members of the National Socialist Movement, Keystone United, and the Traditionalist Worker’s Party, I saw people losing patience. Although never in a coordinated or unified way, eggs, rocks, full soda cans, and vegetables flew at the police line, bottle rockets exploded in the air, and police barricades were dismantled. This continued on and off for hours as tensions rose and fell, responding both to our own energy as a crowd and to the actions of fascists and police in front of us. At one point some masked ones began breaking up the cobble stones to make smaller rocks to launch at white supremacy, but were dissuaded by local pacifists.
A lone fascist near the demo was punched and beaten by masked people; police quickly stormed the fight and arrested an antifascist. This again roused anger against the police but no concerted response came from us as a whole.
As the fascists packed up and filed off the capital stairs, everyone could be heard cursing the neo-nazis and cheering their departure. Some people began proclaiming a victory, others grumbled and started to mill around. Some bloc’d up people chanted their intention to find and fight the fascists and began marching. Moving slowly at first, the march blocked streets with trash and newspaper boxes; after turning onto a large street, those at the front of the march saw the fascists in the distance and picked up the pace. Those behind them called for the march to stay tight, unaware that there was an opportunity to finally bang on the neo-nazis. The mix of fast and slow marching led to riot police moving into the street fast enough, stopping the head of the march. From there, those at the front decided it was best to cut losses, leave downtown and disperse. The march changed direction, rushing down smaller streets and throwing trashcans into the street as cops closed in, eventually dispersing. I don’t think anyone from this short march was caught, although I heard one or more people who stayed behind at the steps of the capital were arrested.
Thoughts and Reflections
While talking after the demonstration, some points came up about things that could have been done differently, ideas for how to be more effective in similar settings in the future, and criticisms of both ourselves and the crowd in general. Two themes came out of our discussion: communication and cover; neither was completely separate from the other.
On the 5th, communication between each other and with passersby who might be interested in fighting against white power and white nationalist groups could have been better. There was little in the way of chants, speeches, fliers, or graffiti that communicated to people outside the demonstration why we were there. Even though they told people not to throw stuff at the cops, the crew of clowns did more to send a message (whether I agree with it or not) than many others there. I’m not saying that the demonstration was completely silent and inscrutable though; there were some banners, signs and at least one instance of anti-fascist graffiti. It’d be great to see more communication directed at potential accomplices and supporters. Often this kind of communication can add to the kind of “cover” that I’ll talk about a little later.
Internal dialogue also fell short in my opinion. As masked people, we didn’t come together to coordinate or try to do things that can’t be accomplished by individuals or small groups. If communication during the march at the end had been better, it’s possible that we might have been able to actually lay hands on the fascists as they were leaving. It’s true that beyond the friends I arrived with I didn’t know many people present, but even if we are unknown to each other, it doesn’t mean we can’t propose plans, let each other know what cops and fascists are doing, or just talk in general.
Cover was another topic that came up as something we would like to see more of. By cover I mean the amount of activity, energy, sound, and anonymity that make a crowd feel safe and exciting to take direct action from within. The cover waxed and waned throughout the day. Something that seemed to make the energy intensify was sound. Drummers, chants, fireworks, and the person banging on that stop sign with a flag really added to the feeling of power we felt in the crowd. When the police barricade was broken, people moved banners to line the whole front of the demo, which made those of us behind them feel both more protected and anonymous; it seemed that more throwing took place then too. Holding even taller, reinforced banners, and/or having banners both in front of and right behind us, would give even more cover to protect the people throwing stuff from the many high-grade police cameras that were watching us. Bringing more things to throw, talking more to people who happened to walk by the demo, making fiery speeches (that also communicate our ideas), filling the area with antifascist posters and tags, surrounding ourselves with banners, and having sound and music all contribute to a feeling that we’re powerful and builds our capacity up to do even more.
See you in the streets
PS: I also feel that it is worth mentioning the tension between wanting to attack police and focusing only on self-described white supremacists was still present. Comrades on the west coast have interesting reflections on this that can be worth reading here.