Sunday, February 22, 2004

The Anti-fascist Demonstration

Ok, as I promised (threatened?) yesterday, I'm going to give a thorough narrative of the anti-fascist protest in Raleigh. I'm really just doing it "for the record," because I don't think a 5-paragraph AP story really covers it for an event that I take a little more seriously. I know a lot of people think that the best thing to do is ignore the fascists, but then a lot of people thought that in Germany during the 1920s, and come 1933 it was a bit late to "nip it in the bud," as Barney Fife would say. A fascist rally is not an exercise of "free speech," it is a direct threat of violence to blacks, immigrants, gays, jews, trade unionists and anyone who stands alongside them. Fascism isn't just about people saying bad things or being "prejudiced," (the kinds of things that "sensitivity" training is supposed to overcome). Fascism is about genocide, y'all.

I was actually a bit surprised to hear about the planned Nazi rally because in the three and a half years I've lived in NC I hadn't caught wind of much overt fascist activity. Shortly before we moved here David Duke had held an anti-immigrant rally in Siler City, a town not far from here that's had a large influx of Mexican and Central Americans to work in the poultry processing plants. But I hadn't heard of much else (I must admit that I've also not been really "plugged in" to sources of such news either). But when we lived in the Midwest, sometimes it seemed not a weekend went by without some Klan group holding a rally someplace in Indiana or downstate Illinois (or even in Chicago, where the cops had to be on full mobe to protect the scumbags in that very black, gay, jewish, immigrant and unionized city).

Come to find out, the Nazis who showed up in Raleigh were from Minnesota (I'm guessing the small Klan contingent that joined them were home-grown, though). Apparently they chose Raleigh for their rally because of a recent documentary called Welcome to Durham about gang violence here. Which raises the question: Why didn't they come here to Durham? I know why: to quote a bit in The Utne Reader:

"There are few other U.S. cities where African Americans wield as much political clout. The population is roughly half black and half white; the majority of city council members are black. An organization called the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People has been influencing community affairs since the 1930s, when a large black middle class grew up around North Carolina Central, a black university, and Pear Street, which was known as the black Wall Street. Whites aren't allowed to attend meetings, but the committee has a long history of working closely with a progressive white organization called the People's Alliance. Don't even think of running for public office in Durham unless you have an endorsement from this powerful committee. "

The fascists are really a cowardly lot--they wouldn't come out and rally anywhere if the cops didn't mobilize to protect them and keep counter-demonstrators far from them. And they certainly don't want to test the waters in a place like Durham, where they're not likely to get the same kind of official welcome they got in Raleigh. And make no mistake--the cops in Raleigh were out in full-force (probably with lots of overtime pay involved) to make sure that not a hair on a hooded fascist head got mussed by rightly outraged people.

News reports said there were about 300 anti-fascist demonstrators there, but it looked like closer to 1,000 to me (Mark estimated 1,500). When we arrived yesterday, the entire sidewalk along Martin Street between Salisbury and Wilmington streets (south of the Capitol--the "legal" site of the anti-fascist demo--if you're not familiar with downtown Raleigh, here's a map) was crammed with people, mostly dressed in black (it was actually a pretty impressive sight. I would have loved to have gotten a photo of the whole block but the cops had the place so blocked up there was no way I could have gotten a good angle).

We parked on New Bern Place and walked up to Wilmington Street, where the half-block to the corner of Wilmington and Edenton streets was thronged with more people, mostly in black as well, many with bandannas on their faces (looked like a very anarchist crowd to me). The fascists were supposed to assemble in state lot 18, across the street, and the people assembled here were hoping to "greet" them. We caught a few glimpses of confederate & Nazi flags, but it became clear that the cops weren't going to allow the fascists to march across the street to the capitol out in the open (instead I think they put them in vans and shuttled them over).

At any rate, after about 20 minutes the cops all got out their sticks and told the crowd to leave the corner. They marched everyone down to the corner of Wilmington and Martin, hoping to pen everyone into the "legal" demonstration area, which effectively trapped the crowd in between the cop barricade and a couple of buildings. Mark and I chose to stay out of there--we weren't interested in the possibility of being clubbed, gassed, trampled or arrested if the cops decided it was time to bust heads.

I can't remember what time exactly the fascists showed up, but it was way after 2 pm, their appointed time. There looked to be about 30 from where I was standing, which was half a block away--as close as anyone but cops and journalists got. They had a PA system and made speeches which were barely intelligible, and all the anti-fascist forces could do was chant, bang their drums and wave their placards. It's a really pathetic and demoralizing feeling to stand a watch a group of fascist scum spew their filth while you're powerless to shut them up. In fact, I wavered a bit when deciding whether or not to attend, because the real goal is to keep them from coming out in the first place, which isn't easy when the cops are working overtime to protect them. The cowards wouldn't even have gotten out of their cars without the cops to protect them. Hell, they probably wouldn't even have parked--they'd have just driven right by and headed straight back to the interstate.

There was a barricade around the entire Capitol grounds, reinforced by what looked like 50 state troopers in black storm-trooper gear. They kept forming and re-forming their lines--I'm sure they were all on a big cop adrenaline rush. In fact all the cops looked like they were either on a high or nervous as hell. Unlike in Chicago, where the cops have perfected the art of busting heads to "keep the peace," this kind of demonstration doesn't happen much around here. It was pretty clear that the cops weren't always sure what to do. (But true to the southern tradition, when I heard cops issuing orders, they usually said "thank you" after people followed an order, which was usually phrased more like a request: "I need you to stay on the sidewalk please. Thank you.")

At one point a contingent of anti-fascists (the ones with bandannas) all left the cop pen en masse and went back to the corner opposite Lot 18. The cops got a little confused and the the order was given that every other cop in line was to get out and fortify that corner. Militarily speaking, the demonstrators had just effectively split the cops' forces. Then at one point a bunch of demonstrators started east on Edenton Street, away from the capitol (I have no idea what their objective was--maybe they just wanted to fuck with the cops), and the cops got really nervous and started giving chase, spreading their ranks further. It was interesting but tense and, Mark and I decided we didn't want to be in such a volatile situation (especially if they were just messing with the cops), so we moved back down to the opposite corner.

I heard a lot of people expressing surprise that the cops were there to protect the fascists from the demonstrators and not the other way around. After all, they reasoned, aren't they the dangerous ones? What about all the worries about terrorism--aren't the fascists really terrorists? I almost wanted to start my favorite anti-fascist chant: "Cops and Klan go hand in hand" but the last thing I wanted to do in a demo with such dodgy leadership was bait the cops. It already seemed that some of the protesters, unable to get close to the fascists, were itching to take on the cops instead, which is a futile and downright stupid thing to do. What do you prove by getting yourself clubbed, gassed and/or arrested? It only proves what you can learn by looking at history, here as well as in Europe: fascists come in handy when the state needs a hand breaking strikes, enforcing Jim Crow laws, silencing leftists, etc.

Anyway, before I get stuck up on my soapbox, I'll wrap things up. Once we saw the fascists finally shut up and leave, Mark and I decided it was best to get gone before the cops decided to clear the area. Mark heard that two or three people got arrested, but we don't know what for. Whenever I manage to ftp all of my photos, they will be posted here (if you get the "page not found" error, it means my ftp connection won't go and I'll have to post them Monday).