Originally published to North Shore Counter-Info and details a report back from anatifascist rally in so-called Toronto.
On Saturday July 21 folks showed up to counter a PEGIDA rally – something that’s been happening consistently in Toronto. PEGIDA is the name of a group in Germany which opposes immigration and spreads racist hate against Muslims. Local bigots have been trying to import the model.
When I showed up the number of racists were pretty small – maybe 7-10 people huddled inside a metal fence protected by about 40 cops. Antiracist crews numbered about 60. Not the worst turnout and odds I’ve seen. Enough to be comfy. As the demo progressed – them trying to make speeches, us exercising ‘no platform’ through noise and yelling with the occasional rotten egg tossed their way – numbers increased on both sides. We always outnumbered them by about 3:1. The proud boys – ever demanding underserved respect for getting their noses bloodied in cities everywhere – showed up in a group – a favourite tactic of theirs. Boredom grew until the PB’s just couldn’t behave anymore and emerged from behind their safety barricades to confront anti-racists.
Police lined up three-deep, backs to the racists, trying to keep the groups apart while also trying to grab anti-racists for arrest. But we don’t – and won’t ever – go quietly; some anti-racists pushed back, standing five-deep as experienced eyes found moments to grab friends & comrades back from police.
Proud Boys – the shameful fucks that they are – took that cowardly moment to try and land some punches from behind – but still got chased away. Those pieces of puffed rice just can’t win.
Perhaps unprepared for an actual confrontation, or maybe just because their lieutenant had just come down for some glad handing – police panicked. And then they did what they do when they panic – they started beating and arresting people.
Five of us were arrested and transported to 52 division. Then it got more complicated.
The legal number we’d been advised to use wasn’t working. Police didn’t tell arrestees this.
Outside the jail, demo organizers tried but failed to find substitute legal support to contact the station.
A debrief was called – a good reflex after a demo, but since it was to happen elsewhere it forced a split between those wanting to continue organizing jail support. The decision took emotional and logistical support away from those who were doing the work of filling gaps in legal support.
After the debrief organizers left the support demo altogether and went home, assuming that no one would be released without a bail hearing. This was done without having spoken to any lawyer who could confirm this – and still without having found a replacement for who they’d promoted as covering the demo. Organizers put out a statement on social media discouraging people from showing up at jail support; that people were okay and had either been released or would be held.
Luckily, there were experienced folks who could fill those gaps – and they did, on both sides of the walls. Arrestees with experience coached the others’ without – helping everyone stay calmer and memorize legal numbers, while talking about the process and reminding each other of their rights. One arrestee persistently pushed for OIC releases [An Officer in Charge release – without a bail hearing] as the small crew outside the station got in touch with a lawyer who encouraged the detective to do the same.
In the end, two were released without charges, and the rest of us were released overnight with future court dates and varying charges. All of us were grateful to be met by friendly faces and snacks as we left the station.
The demo was successful in its intended goal to shut down PEGIDA from marching and harassing marginalized people – really important– and as always we managed to do a bit of fighting for each other in the streets. But organizers failed at one of the most essential tenets of organizing – legal support – by leaving five people without the lawyers they’d been promised, and leaving the small crew working to fill those gaps on their own where they could have been vulnerable to arrest, or harassment and attack from the alt-right.
Cops & Klan Go Hand in Hand – But So what?
“You’re a fucking drain on the system, Ahmed.”
I perked up when I heard this echoing through the holding cells, wondering if a piece-of-shit proud boy was my neighbour in the bowels of 52 division. Maybe that’s why it took police an hour to get us out of a prisoner van so overheated the steel walls dripped with condensation; they had to get his ass processed before any of us could see him. They had to protect him.
It turned out my cellie neighbour was just a regular everyday racist piece of shit – not one that centres his life around memorizing cereals and the highs of stealing someone’s eyeglasses. I was annoyed, but not surprised. Time and time again police have protected those vile wads as they spew their racist hate bullshit, so of course they only arrest anti-racists. White supremacy is maintained at institutional levels – that means cops but also schools and social services and courts and jails. We shouldn’t be surprised that the police pick sides. When it’s societally enforced, who does it serve to feign surprise and cry foul? To demand more fairness and equality of arrests? I don’t want police doing more. Fuck the police. I want the police gone. I want all the harmful institutions gone; all their semblance of authority demeaned and destroyed. I want action and decisions without fear, repression and oppression; autonomy.
My cellie neighbour turning out to be an everyday racist piece of shit is the reality of what we’re facing; for every shithead out there under a Pegida banner or ugly ass matching polo shirt there are just regular everyday racist pieces of shit both in and outside of uniforms. What are we each doing – individually and collectively – about them? About the culture and institutions that reproduce them?
The Back ‘n’ Forth
It seems like more often than not that confrontations like this counter-demo against PEGIDA devolve into a yelling match. But does engaging with these snivelling cowardly wads actually do any good?
It might be – occasionally – liberating, but I’ve also been around when things have become outright embarrassing. Saturday was no exception when insults launched from around me were laced with ageism, ableism, sexism and fat phobia. To be clear; none of that bullshit is okay just because we’re using it against shitty people we don’t like. I don’t hate these pricks because they’re old or fat – I hate them because they’re ignorant fucks who see their settlement here as entitlement to ownership and control of the land, its resources, its people, and other living things. Fuck them – but fuck us for falling into their petty habit of trying to shame people based on appearances and abilities. We can do so much better.
Getting caught up in that reactive mode also open up opportunities for racists, police or media to record and selectively edit what we’re saying to demonize the left – or even to help prosecute us.
Are You Serious?
Are we taking ourselves seriously? Because the police are taking us seriously. Kind of. At least in the way where they think we present a risk of harm to racist hate-sacks. In the way that they never stand with their backs to us.
But I like to think that if we were taking ourselves seriously, we’d be striving to be proactive as well as reactive. We’d be building skills and preparing in other ways – all to create opportunities for action and ensure that if we’re taking risk our asses are covered.
At one point police moved into lines behind and to the side of us. It wasn’t – as some organizers feared – police trying to kettle us. Police straight up didn’t have the numbers or protective gear to try and kettle all of us – and a walk around the block would have told us there was no police staging area for backup. The police did it because they wanted to observe us – for egg-tossers; but also for indicators mood was shifting, for organizers or leaders, for networks, for notes.
Large reinforced banners providing cover, a line of solid protesters with waving flags or signs. Combine those things with lots of natural movement throughout the crowd [sound system, anyone?] and we could have a nice combination for solid cover to take more risk…should anyone decide to.
The proud boys also have a well-established pattern of showing up late, en-masse, to join the party. It probably makes those ass-hats feel special. Or maybe they just like to gather for some cereal beforehand. Either way – this is something that could be anticipated and planned for. On Saturday, the only reason police noticed those fuckers were approaching was our reaction to their approach. Being prepared and moving quicker could allow for different responses to their arrival.
But if we’re going to change shit up and take ourselves seriously and take risk – we need to address what was probably the biggest fuckup from Saturday;
Legal Prep and Jail Support
Legal prep starts with organizing and promoting In-case-of-arrest workshops and all of us taking initiative to attend or learn. It means that if you’re advertising a lawyer is on standby you’d better have a damn lawyer on standby. It means having a clear sense of who’s responsible for being in touch with lawyers and having them confirm dates, times, and that the phone is working day-of. It means providing opportunities for and encouraging attendees to write that number on their arm because it can be hard to remember shit when you’ve just been thrown around. It means very quickly arranging a backup – even out of pocket – if the original lawyer falls through because those arrested may not have a second opportunity to contact someone before landing in bail court. Alternatively, it means declaring that there is no legal coverage for a demo and encouraging people to prepare – but understanding that there’s still a collective commitment to finding lawyers if it becomes necessary.
It’s crucial to ensure that people who’ve been arrested have the support they need to get through. When we call people into the streets for a confrontational action, we are making a promise to follow through in dealing with consequences – it speaks to our solidarity practises and affects sustainability. Just as much as we’ve built a culture of fighting for each other in the streets we should be building a culture of jail solidarity. Aside from anyone acutely at risk of arrest for the event that just occurred, we should be gathering at police stations when people are arrested at demos and waiting until people are released, or there’s official word from a lawyer that every single person arrested will undoubtedly be held for a bail hearing. There is no room for assumptions here – our presence can make a real difference in how arrested people are treated. Likewise, there’s no room for fear. While alt-right trolls might try doxing supporters – and did try on Saturday – banners, signs and face coverings can prevent it from happening, and larger groups are by far safer than leaving just a few supporters to be rolled up on. Uncertainty and boredom are not sufficient excuses to dismiss and abandon jail solidarity – and neither is a demo debrief, which can happen in a modified way on-site or at a later time altogether when arrestees and supporters also have a fair chance to attend.
Stay the fuck off Social [or any] Media. Kind of.
Don’t speak to media on behalf of arrestees. Don’t talk publicly about what happened – unless you know what you’re doing, have at least a little media training, and there is some shared understanding among participants that the mobilization would engage with media. Don’t post pictures or video without consent of those facing charges; even well-intentioned posts have fucked people over before. Also don’t make update posts on social media if you don’t have first-hand information! Rumours and misinformation spread fast – and it’s not always clear in the first days what kinds of information can be harmful to people facing repression.
And Finally – A Thank You
While the failure in dealing with arrests at Saturday’s demo didn’t fuck anyone over – it wasn’t the organizers of the demo who saved the day. It was experience and the beauty of jail solidarity. It was the happenstance of shared experience which allowed arrestees to take a minute in the prisoner van and calm down enough to memorize phone numbers. To review the arrest process and review legal rights. To push for a recognizance [versus bail hearing] release early in the process, and to consistently inquire about our co-ees. What saved the day was the experience of the small dedicated and kickass crew of people outside who not only demanded release, but ensured it.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
A lot of us attend organized demos. Sometimes only in autonomous affinity groups – not always where we know or trust organizers. While responsible and informed organizing will always include preparing to offer legal support, we should all be prepared to pull ourselves out of a fucked up situation.
Find activist legal workshops near you, because the state is built to swallow us and spit us out isolated and defeated – and it’ll do that if we’re not careful.