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Resist: Blessed be the instigators

by by Christina A. DiEdoardo

Refuse Fascism activist Xochitl Johnson, center, with bullhorn, leads a chant as demonstrators block one of the driveways used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in San Francisco on January 29. Photo: Christina A. DiEdoardo
Refuse Fascism activist Xochitl Johnson, center, with bullhorn, leads a chant as demonstrators block one of the driveways used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in San Francisco on January 29. Photo: Christina A. DiEdoardo  

"Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." - Mike Tyson

There seems to be two general schools of thought when it comes to handling the opposition when they show up at actions. Those who follow the first - I'll call them the "Engagers" for brevity - generally believe that hecklers or opposing demonstrators should either be ignored or engaged with in a "positive" way, such as by trying to find common ground with them.

The second - whom I'll refer to as the "Instigators" - conclude that the most meaningful communication that can occur with the enemy at an action is that which drowns them out and the best "engagement" with them is that which persuades the opposing force to leave.

What's often not discussed, however, is why those of us in the second group make the tactical decisions we do. For example, it's a safe bet that any fascists at demonstrations who have their phone cameras out are either livestreaming the event to one of their channels or gathering raw footage for propaganda videos to be made later. Both objectives are frustrated if their cameras are blocked or their sound recordings are interfered with, which is why those of us who are instigators try to do just that.

Because the enemy wants to present an image of a coordinated body of fascist inevitability, they tend to be more rigid in their planning and to be more dependent on unit cohesion than those of us who oppose them. By directly confronting the fascists, instigators exploit this weakness, force the fash off their game plan, and require the fash to improvise quickly, which most aren't good at.

That's not to say there aren't individual fascists who are capable of creative leadership on the fly - such as the crew from Identity Europa who thought it would be cute to hang an anti-immigrant banner above the westbound Bay Bridge tunnel sometime between January 27-28 - but those opposing them can usually improvise a rapid countermeasure (as the members of Bay Area Antifascists, a local antifa collective, demonstrated by both capturing IE's banner and consigning it to flames shortly thereafter) before the fash can respond again.

Successful confrontation doesn't always require literally following Tyson's advice in the quote cited at the start of this piece. Indeed, some of my best counters have never involved physical contact between me and my opponent. The goal is to get the fash in question to leave - or, failing that, to piss them off enough so that they react instead of respond, since angry people tend to do foolish things.

In the final analysis, instigation works because it changes the shape and rules of the game and knocks the fascists off their plan. The best part is that it works admirably as a general principle whether one is going up against the private sector fash or their more organized government colleagues, as two recent actions in San Francisco demonstrated.

'ICE out of Cali'
On Thursday, January 25, and Monday, January 29, Refuse Fascism led a coalition of other groups, including Occupy SF and Code Pink, in protest in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's headquarters in San Francisco at 630 Sansome Street. As chants of "ICE out of Cali!" and "If you come for the immigrants, you have to get through us!" filled the air at both actions, participants used their bodies to block the driveway ICE vehicles use to deploy.

This was an act both of civil disobedience and of instigation, because it forced ICE to respond in a way that a simple protest in front of their building wouldn't have. Toward the end of the first action, one worker got out of his car, angrily gesticulated with his hands and demanded (through a private security guard) that the demonstrators get out of his way because he claimed not to work for ICE. Those blocking the driveway responded in the best way possible - by loudly demanding that he "show us your papers" and prove he didn't work for ICE. After the worker refused to do that, the collective suggested he use the other exit, which hadn't been blocked due to lack of personnel. Predictably, the guy ended up going back to his car, kept the engine running and his headlights intentionally trained on those blocking his way for about 15 minutes before ultimately giving up and using the other exit.

At the next action, Refuse Fascism and the other members of the coalition had enough people to block both exits - and, in apparent response to the prior blockade - two Department of Homeland Security police officers in body armor showed up for the first time and tried to get demonstrators to let an (allegedly) non-ICE employee through. As on January 25, the collective demanded that the employee "show us your papers." In contrast to the prior action, however, this time the worker presented her ID badge and since it showed she was employed by the Social Security Administration, the collective decided to let her pass, showing that they were able to adapt to a new situation far better than the DHS officers were.

Because of those who instigated by literally putting their bodies in the way of ICE's vehicles, the agency was forced onto the defensive and into a parley with the unarmed and non-violent demonstrators blockading its HQ. Indeed, despite having guns and body armor and the ability to terrorize immigrants across the Bay Area, ICE couldn't even regain control of its own driveways over the protesters' objection, a lesson that is likely to be remembered by both sides for some time.

That's the kind of victory one can only get through instigating.

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