Politicians and protests are rarely a harmonious match. Politicians are often the focus of protests and are rarely in a position to speak in concert and share a camera with organizers. Politicians and police, with help from all-too-willing media, often portray protests as violent and focus on vandalism and property damage frequently caused by agent provocateurs separate from the original protests. Politicians and police rarely if ever mention outside agents as responsible, though, always focusing on organizers of the initial protest in an effort to discredit them. Donald Trump’s election as president has opened a door for Democratic politicians to enter the protest arena and they are taking full advantage by smearing the efforts of established Black and Latinx community activists/organizers, centering themselves and surrogates and seizing control of the narrative around individual protests/actions to advance their own agenda.
Libby Schaaf and city officials were quick to scold protestors after property damage from protests immediately following the election; they even convinced Representative Barbara Lee to join one such scolding that was cancelled soon after word leaked. The organizers of these initial protests also organize protests against police terror and city/state corruption, so Libby and her cronies have no interest in seeing otherwise adversaries uplifted in any way. Better to denounce their efforts as violent and destructive and then swoop in to lead the way after they’re thoroughly discredited as dangerous. These community organizers, mostly women of color, are erased through such state propaganda, and replaced with “concerned citizens” who are usually white, affluent and more than willing to front “peaceful protest” propaganda in exchange for personal advancement/enrichment. If they play the game well enough, these budding white activists can rise through the ranks of the NPIC or even local/state government, while Black and Latinx organizers in Oakland continue to be their stepping stones.
The organizing and media coverage of The Hands Across Lake Merritt event yesterday in Oakland was a textbook example of this. Promotion for the event repeatedly referenced it as “peaceful” in advance, pointedly distancing it from earlier protests roundly portrayed as violent and dangerous. The event’s creation is credited to Alison White, a somatic therapist in Oakland who organized the event to make herself feel better:
She regularly walks around Oakland’s three-mile Lake Merritt, considered a “jewel of the city,” and talked to a handful of like-minded liberal friends about putting together a peaceful, therapeutic event for the community to join and heal. On Wednesday, she posted a public Facebook invitation for anyone to show up at the lake to join hands on Sunday afternoon.
“We all need to be accepting of each other,” White said of wanting to bring people together to heal, not to fight or protest or break windows of shops, which has been a recurring theme in some recent anti-Donald Trump protests in Oakland.
Note how White specifies the event is not a protest, going so far as to lump protests, fights and breaking windows together as acts of violence. This is to further smear existing community organizers and slander their work. Sharing the idea with her “like-minded liberal friends” through her somatic-therapy Facebook page all but guaranteed a largely white crowd the day of the event. Though media is usually very critical and conservative when estimating crowds at protests such as those organized by Black Lives Matter, a Lake Merritt organizer was allowed to include a highball estimate of 10,000 people with no scrutiny or followup from the reporter. This “peaceful, family-friendly and non-violent” environment was also due to the lack of armed/armored police, attack dogs, military vehicles and the threat of tear gas or worse. They were able to enjoy a peaceful afternoon of friendly protest simply because the state was allowing it. And if the state was allowing it, be certain it was in service to the state.
It was only September of last year when newly arrived white gentrifying Lake Merritt residents began calling the police on Black and Latinx drummers who regularly played in the park. Where were Alison White and her like-minded liberal friends then? Like the work of community organizers, drum circles had to be slandered and violently removed by police because they were existing in space desired by white supremacy and its settler colonialism. At a time when so many people and orgs are joining forces to resist the Trump presidency, Democrats see their best chance in years to seize the protest narrative from the left and use it to further strengthen themselves and their cronies. The “peaceful protest” narrative is currently one of their most ubiquitous propaganda tools and should be immediately recognized for what it is: an attempt to derail and usurp grassroots community organizing and protest, and replace it with NPIC-directed performances of reform.