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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Populist Protests From The Left

by digby

People keep asking where "the left" is and why they don't take to the streets in light of these neo-liberal policies wreaking havoc on working people everywhere. Where is the populist uprising from the left and why there isn't more direct confrontation of the corporatist mindset. It's a good question, but you have to wonder why we never cite these regular protests and why we don't bother to comment on the tactics that are used against them. Are we on the American left really not part of this? Do we philosophically disagree with the critique, even now, after everything that's been revealed during this economic crisis? Are these people wrong?

Now, I understand that these folks have gotten the reputation for being thuggish and destructive, largely based on the Seattle protests over a decade ago. But it's quite clear by now that this is a phony image, conjured up by the authorities to justify their police state tactics against the protesters:

They call it the Miami Model.

But it could be called the Genoa model, the Pittsburgh model and, after this weekend, the Toronto model.

It refers to police tactics used in Miami seven years ago, during the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit, and, more importantly, the protests erupting on the streets outside.

Manny Diaz, Miami’s then-mayor, called the police methods exemplary — a model to be followed by homeland security when confronting protesters.

Human rights groups including Amnesty International called it a model of police brutality and intimidation.

Protesters were beaten with tear gas, sticks, rubber bullets . . . You can watch police stun cowering protesters with Tasers on YouTube. Last year, the city agreed it had trampled citizens’ right to free speech by forcing marchers back from planned protests and settled out of court with Amnesty International.

What is the Miami Model?

I called Naomi Archer to find out. She is an indigenous rights worker from North Carolina who happened to be giving a lecture on the Miami Model yesterday at the U.S. Social Forum — the G20 for community activists.

Archer, who was in Miami as a liaison between protesters and police, has a 40-box checklist to identify the Model. Here are the main themes.

• Information warfare. This starts weeks before the event. Protesters are criminalized and dehumanized, and described as dangerous “anarchists” and “terrorists” the city needs to defend against.

“Often, a faux cache is found,” says Archer. “They are usually ordinary objects, like bike inner tubes, camping equipment, but the police make them out to look threatening. It lays the groundwork for police to be violent and it means there’s a reduced accountability of law enforcement.”

• Intimidation. Police start random searches of perceived protesters before any large rallies. They are asked where they are staying, why they are walking around. Police raid organizer’s homes or meeting places, “usually just before the summit, so there’s maximum chaos organizers have to deal with,” says Archer.

“All this is meant to dissuade participants. The best way to make sure you don’t have a critical mass of people taking over the streets like in Seattle is to reduce the numbers at the outset.”

This is usually made possible by last-minute city regulations, curtailing the right to protest. In Miami, the city commission passed a temporary ordinance forbidding groups of more than seven to congregate for more than 30 minutes without a permit.

• “They threw rocks.” That’s the line police use after tear-gassing or beating protesters most times, Archer says. Urine and human feces are variations on the theme. But it’s always the protesters who triggered the violence. A popular police tactic is called “kettling.” Officers on bike or horses herd protesters into an enclosed space, so they can’t leave without trying to break through the police line. Take the bait; you provoke a beating or arrest. And of course, there are the famous agent provocateurs, outted publicly two years ago in Montebello. Police officers dressed up like militant protesters to protect the peaceful crowd, they say; Archer says it’s to instigate trouble.

In Montebello, one of the three cops dressed in black was holding a rock.

I suppose you could say that this is all self-justifying bs, until you consider this important fact:

More than 270 people were arrested in Miami during the summit seven years ago . How many were convicted, in the end? I called the American Civil Liberties Union to find out.

“None,” said lawyer Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, who was the president of the Miami chapter back then.

Odd, don't you think?

So, are these G20 protesters part of the left, or not? And, if not, why not? With the G20 this week-end pretty much guaranteeing us a lost decade as a best case scenario, we all now have an obvious personal, direct stake in opposing these global elites and the policies they are imposing. You'd think that mainstream American liberals would at least take an interest in what these people are doing.

Unfortunately, it appears the protest impulse is actually fading rather than growing so the inattention of the liberal left and the strongarm tactics of the police may have succeeded in taming this leftist movement already. They're now talking about "e-protests" which is pretty much waving a white flag.

BTW, for those of you who follow the modern police state "non-lethal" technology story, you'll be glad to know that the G8 and G20 protesters continue to serve as lab rats:

A judge said controversial sound cannons can be used by police during the G20 summit, but with restrictions.

The ruling today means the voice function of the devices is OK to use, but only at lower decibels; protesters say the devices can damage hearing permanently.

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair said his officers will abide by the court's ruling.

Before today's ruling police had said they would only use them as megaphones to broadcast pre-recorded voice messages to crowded demonstrations.

Also this morning Blair defended a law passed by the Ontario government to give police special detention powers during the G-8 and G-20 summits.

The regulation gives police the power to arrest anyone coming within five yards of the security fences erected around the summit site in Toronto if they refuse to identify themselves.

Blair said the regulation was passed under the Ontario Public Works Protection Act that dates back to 1939, and was simply extended to the G-20 security perimeter for one week.

Update: Ian Welsh on the G20