I cannot say I have any particular activist focus. I usually been involved in other people's ideas rather than my own. I have learned a lot from other activists over the past twenty years or so. So I guess I will pass on a few rules for activists that I tucked away over these years. None of them are likely mine. They are the wisdom of others that I thought merited my remembrance and practice. It is by no means comprehensive nor absolutely the last word. And I am sure I have forgotten some. Just my thoughts.
1. If you are not a little uncomfortable with your position you are not going far enough. Corollary: Take the most extreme position you can on an issue, that way you don't have to fight for territory later. (ahhh, L. Neil Smith, probably badly quoted by me, but a great place to start)
What is the point of activism if it is not going to ruffle the feathers of the protectors of the status quo and get them to respond? How do you get people to join you, or pay attention to you unless there is controversy? Never compromise on the truth or your principles---you cannot win by half way measures or giving just a little bit.
2. If you are not having fun you are doing it wrong. (an Ernieism = standard saying of Ernest Hancock)
If you are going to do activism at least think of something fun to do. It is a lot easier to get others to join you if it sounds like fun to do it. It also looks better when you are enjoying yourself if for no other reason than it pisses the bad guys off even more.
3. Always know what they can charge you with and what the penalties are.
Not that this matters a whole lot. Cops can charge you with pretty much anything and worse when they know they have nothing to charge you with every state has a law the cops use and the judges (those bastards in black dresses sworn to uphold your Rights) uphold whatever they charge you with. In Arizona it is "disorderly conduct - fighting" (a potential felony if armed and a serious misdemeanor otherwise) in other states it is "disturbing the peace," etc....
4. Call the cops.
I still remember the first time I was with Ernie when he picked up the phone and speed dialed Sheriff Joe. 'Hey, Joe, how's it going? Some buddies and me thought we'd hang out over the freeway at _________, waving some signs to the cars below tomorrow afternoon. You don't have a problem with that do you?' Joe: 'Ah, ah, uh, not if they aren't doing anything illegal." Ernie: 'That's great Joe, just wanted to give you the heads up! Bye.'
But "Ernie," I said, "The Sheriff's dept. doesn't patrol the highway. The DPS does.' To which Ernie said, "That's OK, word will get out." And it did. ;-)
Why did he do that?
The most dangerous thing that can happen is a cop comes screeching up, bails out with his club and angrily confronts a bunch of protestors being on his turf without his permission. Doesn't matter that you don't need his permission, nor that it is not his to grant. It just matters that he is armed and pissed off.
Better to have the supervisors alerted and they send out some cops to observe because they will be on their best behavior (usually). Don't let cops be surprised and usually they won't react in a manner that is deleterious to your health, time and wallet.
Sometimes they will still behave badly as a forewarned group. The publicity is a good thing as they trample your Rights. So is the 42USC1983 lawsuit. Personally, I would recommend in that situation not pressing your point. Getting arrested is NEVER fun...though you should make it look like it is.
When the cops are assigned to show up to your protest it helps get the media out there. They find out about your event from the cops and cover it hoping someone will get arrested, clubbed, dragged off or at least provide some entertainment.
It is a lot more fun when the cops are there than if they ignore you (ignoring you would be a smart move for them).
The City of Phoenix has a unique program. They have a group of detectives who show up at protests to protect the protestors from problems. Now they are really there to keep the city from getting sued. But in reality, the most stress free protests I ever did are in the Phoenix city limits with these guys around. Every city if they were smart would do this. But of the more than dozen adjoining cities in the Phoenix metropolitan area, Phoenix is unique. Every other police agency including the Sheriff's Dept and the state police do not look upon activists with amusement.
5. Confronted by cops.
Not all cops are bad guys, or your enemies. It is just that a majority of them are. These are the guys who can beat you, pummel you, break bones, dislodged teeth, shoot you, kill you, gas you, electrocute you with impunity. So personally when the cops show up don't count on waving the piece of paper called the CONstitution to protect your Rights. It won't and you really don't want a demonstration of how it won't. So pay attention to what they say. Show respect or at least consideration. Don't answer questions. Ask questions. Don't be intimidated, but confrontation doesn't work in your favor. But questions do...delivered with a smile Remember you cannot legally lie to a cop, but they are encouraged to lie to you. Questions are never lies. Or silence is golden (but more likely to get you arrested in my opinion than asking the right questions). Anything else is dangerous.
who is friendly (as opposed to being perceive as laughing or disrespecting someone). Respect and friendliness don't really hurt to give even if you don't mean it. And t looks better for the cameras. Don't endanger others (block sidewalk, hang signs OVER the freeway where it can fall onto the freeway).
Got your protest sign on a stick so it is easier to hold up and wave?..."threatening with a deadly weapon"---I kid you not. Got your video camera on a tripod? "Arrest with a deadly weapon." If you get arrested do you have anything that can be construed as a weapon? It matters not that you have a Right to have that gun in your purse, that knife in your pocket, the pepper spray on your belt.... That would add 5 years onto any fairly minor sentence.
6. Getting arrested.
Gives you instant credibility and you become a news story. But it is no fun being handcuffed behind your back. If the guy wants to be a dick he can handcuff you brutally tight. Your choices are resist, cooperate or go limp. Resist will get you beat if you can't get away. You will be arrested and charged with multiple issues: resisting arrest, interfering with government operations, refusing to produce ID, assault on a cop(s). You WILL be pacified. Even with your hands handcuffed behind your back and placed inside the back of a cop car you may be tortured. There are plenty of youtube videos (well, until the cops order youtube to take them down) of helpless guys being pummeled, gases, electrocuted by cops in the back of a squad car.
Go limp, passive "resistance" by not resisting, complete non-cooperation. Often will get you charged with resisting arrest, interfering with lawful orders and government operations, and not infrequently gets you transported to the loony bin.
Cooperation especially if you look like you are enjoying yourself is probably the best approach. I have seen people call cops bluff when they threaten to arrest by turning around and placing their hands behind their back (awaiting the cuffs). I have also seen people get arrested doing this inviting move...but generally they didn't get roughed up...at least in front of witnesses and cameras.
When you get arrested cooperating you often are cited and released usually with the warning of don't go back. And they keep your sign (if any) as "evidence." This is a point. If you want the potential to get cited and released you need to have your government ID (driver's license) on you or you go to jail. Jail is no fun: fingerprinting, photographing, drug testing, strip searching, a fun crowd to hang out with, bail arranging (if you owe any government agency make sure whomever posts your bail does so stating it is their third party bail, not yours, or that money raised will be confiscated for your "debt" and you will continue to rot in jail. But some people really like to piss off the cops by not identifying themselves (or answering any questions) or having any ID on them or signing anything or filling out anything....gives you a heck of a story to tell, but it is no fun in jail.
Don't give them a reason to arrest you or pile on the charges. Having illegal substances on you is dumb. Having fake ID is dumb. Having a lot of intel on you is dumb (they will scan everything). Having a lot of unnecessary items or too much cash to explain (usually over $500) is dumb. [but it can help make bail.] They will clone your cell phone sim card too for intel on your contacts, who you called and when. Password protect (usually a weak system) or use a burn phone if you care.
Writing your criminal defense attorney's phone number written on your arm in ink is a good idea. As well as keeping it on speed dial. Ask to call your attorney before anything and repeatedly to any cop who will listen. Some states the charges can be dismissed if evidence is suppressed because you were asking to consult your attorney before they _____ did something.
Be prepared for an old cop or jailer's trick of coming up close to you and stepping on your foot. No one sees it. No camera records it. Your natural reaction (that they are counting on) is to shove them back in pain. You are then arrested for assaulting a police officer. Resisting arrest "STOP RESISTING!!!!" as they pummel your nearly lifeless corpse. These guys are ruthless bastards who now they will get away with it---be prepared. You need to fight the impulse and instead cry out in pain, try to back away, look at where they are stepping, point to it...you need attention and maybe a hard to see camera view will be more clear by your reaction. believe me if it shows up the cop coming into your space so he can deliberately bait you by stepping on your foot is obvious. Ask, "What are you crazy?!" Why did you step on my foot.?" It may hurt but have fun.
In the Phoenix area, Sheriff Joe loves to give you your money back when you get out in the form of a paper check. Nice..penniless, he also dumps you out onto the street in one of the worst parts of town (are county lockups located anywhere else?) at 5 min. before midnight because a judge specifies the day you are released not the time and they get money for every hour you are in their custody, so...best to have either a credit card or ATM withdrawal card (which they will scan) for the cab. But worse they may keep the cell phone as evidence because they haven't cloned it yet. Not just who ya gonna call, but how are you gonna call [homeless guys frequently let y0u use their phone].
7. Be Leaderless
Keep any events leaderless. The cops always want to know who is in charge. They always arrest anyone they deem leaders. They usually threaten to hold leaders responsible (both criminally and financially) liable for the actions of the mob. They have in the past mirthfully charged people with "possession of cell phone" who were anywhere near a march believing such people may be directing the mob. I do not know if they still do this practice considering everyone has a cell phone nowadays and young people are constantly texting and tweeting.
8. Got a government number? (another Ernieism)
Ernie noticed the news media won't cover events or people unless they get a government number which he interprets as permission from the government to report on the event/action. I don't know whether he is correct or not, but I have observed that when you do have any kind of government number associated with you that you do in fact get news coverage.
9. If you didn't film it, it never happened. (a recent Ernieism inspired by the Ron Paul r3VOLution 2008 and PhillyDave) Personal protection, news on youtube, credit and inspiration. [multiple cameras, audio recording]
Cops hate cameras that are not their own or the corporate compliant media's. Too often it captures that Rodney King moment that requires authorities to step forward and justify overt police criminal behavior. Judges are upset they have to take a position and bar such video being introduced as evidence because they have no intention of watching your Rights being trashed or that you in fact did not do anything the cop claimed in his arrest report. 'That is alright your honor. It is already on youtube with 83,000 hits so far. The whole planet can see it even if you don't want whatever shred of conscience might remain to be troubled by the truth.'
You don't need the media---you are the media. Cameras both still and video are cheap these days. Cell phones will do both and record audio while simulcasting to the web so police cannot confiscate the evidence. Be the signal.
Already have your zinger lines for the media. You can already guess what they will ask. Why are you here? What do you hope to accomplish? Preface your comment with its question and they can edit you asking and answering a question as if the reporter had asked it. Makes them look good and you get to answer the question you want answered.
10. Say it in four words or less. (sign)
Making a sign? The biggest mistake is people write a long message on their sign. Nobody can read fine print either speeding or passing by. Keep it to 3 to 4 large lettered short words. If you can't say it in 4 words or an image a sign is not appropriate and you look silly.
11. Say it in 15 seconds or less.
You should always be prepared to be asked by the media why you are there? What are you hoping to accomplish? Don't you think this is a waste of time? Or that nobody agrees with you? Or that your candidate is unelectable? Whatever.
Be prepared before hand with an answer. Remember whether they are writing or broadcasting your answer they will only give you 15 seconds of fame. Make it count. It needs to be catchy. To draw attention. Or it will never get out. First and foremost the media may be a corporate statist tool but they are in the entertainment business. Give them a zinger and no matter how much they disagree with you they will use it. Keep it short and pre-planned and there is less opportunity to twist your words.
The best way to ensure they ONLY get what you want to say is to say only what you want to say and conclude the interview politely. It will piss them off, but they either use it or not. Give them a bunch and they will use 15 seconds of whatever makes you look the worst guaranteed.
One way to control this is to ignore whatever they ask you and to prefix your answer by "re-stating" a question as if the reporter had just asked it. "Why yes, Jessica, (or whatever) that is most insightful, but I think the lack of any genuine investigation into where $4 million tax dollars disappeared is even more outrageous." "Did someone bribe Chief Justice Roberts? I don't know, but I find his vote switching just as troubling as his son starting work for Blue Cross next week."
12. Know your medium, know your audience. Don't be boring. Audience participation ("HONK = OUT OF IRAQ!)
13. Voting is immoral, it is part of the system you are fighting and never freed anyone. Don't wish for it. Don't protest for it. You may get it.
14. If they find your car they will search it (best to have minimal stuff inside and not one seed or paraphernalia or residue of non-approved substances). Tow it. Ticket it if they can.
15. If you claim to be a member of the media....remember you cannot be recorded as participating in the event. You must be covering it. Don't hold signs. Don't shout slogans or chants. Carrying a camera is no protection it is an invitation to assault by the cops. Just ask 4409 or Carlos Miller.
16. They will be videotaping and photographing you. Count on it. Wear a mask/disguise if this bothers you. They do target the ones they can't ID as much as the ones with the cameras. Be on best behavior. Stupid shots are preserved forever, but shots of you being adult and preserving your Right to protest look good...they don't want you looking good. And don't confront the people who may very well be working for the police with cameras. They have as much Right to be there photographing you as you have photographing them. Maybe less so in that they could intimidate you from exercising your Rights, but no judge will back you up and besides the more attention the merrier.
17. Keep your enemies close and your friends closer. This means keep a eye on your enemies as they plot against you, but be even more vigilant of your allies who are more likely to betray you at your hour of victory. Sad but true. Powell Gammill is the Senior Editor of Freedom’s Phoenix.Com, Micro/Molecular Biologist, and a libertarian activist.