"For me, the most important lesson
[of the Freedom Movement] is that by respecting the fact that fellow activists could passionately disagree over strategy and tactics—yet remain allies—they strengthened SNCC and the Movement as a whole."
From Bruce Hartford's article in the current issue of Urban Habitat.
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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Need for a Variety of Roles in Protests - Chile, for example

Movements must MOVE.  In other words, organizers and activists must consciously design their strategy and tactics in order to gain the sympathy and participation of ever increasing numbers of people.  James Lawson, in fact, is arguing these days that the next social movement will only happen if it is "comprehensive" and "intergenerational."  For example, he argued at the 50th Anniversary of the Founding of SNCC conference in his keynote address that today's environmental movement cannot succeed unless it figures out how not to be a primarily white movement.

Lawson knows what he is talking about.  He trained the leaders of the Nashville Movement (Diane Nash, John Lewis, James Bevel and Bernard Layfayette among others) from 1959-1960 and directed the most powerful and successful sit ins of the 1960s.  He made sure that there were a VARIETY of ROLES that people could play as the joined the movement to desegregate all of downtown Nashville.  Not every student was ready to get beaten and arrested.  Some were observers, some had a bunch of coins in their pockets standing near phone booths ready to call the ambulances when needed.  Some worked with lawyers to bail out those eventually arrested.  Most important of all, the direct action of the sit ins was DESIGNED to get the sympathy of the black middle class adults in order to inspire them to boycott downtown stores.  It was the boycott, the bombing of Looby's house and the opportunistic silent march to city hall that finally wrested an agreement by the Mayor to begin the process of desegregation.

So when I read the following article in the NY Times two days ago, I thought that those adults who were not prepared to occupy buildings and be attached and arrested by the police had still found a role for themselves -- a crucial role! -- I was excited because it represented an expansion of the student movement in Chile.  Now.....if the Quebec students can figure out how to expand their movement?!

The importance of observers is that they not only inhibit the police from excessive force but provide the stories of the brutal beatings to a wider audience....thereby generating even more sympathy and exposing who the real savages are...where the real souce of the violence comes from.

Helmeted Volunteers Monitor Students

They appear at the student demonstrations that are once again filling the streets and occupying the schools of Santiago, and at the hospitals and police stations where the fallout lands afterward: small troops of observers in blue or white helmets, armed with notebooks, cameras, voice recorders and gas masks.

They are not there to join the protests or interfere, only to monitor and record what happens when the police crack down on the protests — as they have done with increased violence this year — and to help anyone who is injured or abused. This month, they are busier than ever.

The volunteer observers, known as “helmets,” are ordinary citizens of all ages and walks of life, professionals and blue-collar workers, university students and retirees, some well into their 70s, who see their work as crucial.

“We have to register the evidence of what we’re seeing,” said Marta Cisterna, 45, the spokeswoman for one of the helmet groups, Human Rights Observers. “No one else is monitoring police actions.”

When students mobilized last year to demand an overhaul of the country’s higher education system and a commitment to free, equal and high-quality public education, the official response was more restrained. This year the government has declared zero tolerance for school occupations, and has called in special police forces to clear the buildings. Hours or days later, the same schools are taken over again, and the police return, a cat-and-mouse pattern that often leads to violent clashes and hundreds of arrests. Meanwhile, small groups of radicalized students set up barricades, throw rocks and damage public and private property.

Protest marches usually erupt in street battles with the police, who use tear gas and chemical-laced water cannons to disperse the crowds and wield their batons to arrest demonstrators. Some students have suffered head injuries, broken noses, convulsions and breathing problems; some have been trampled by police officers on horseback. Increasingly, the observer groups say, detainees are reporting acts of sexual humiliation by the police.

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