National Day of Protest 2011: New Connections and New Possibilites for Deepening Resistance

The 16th annual National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation (NDP) stepped out on October 22, 2011 into a whole new climate of rebellious anger and mass resistance of the kind not seen in this country in many years, brought about by the Occupy Wall Street movement, a national upsurge of mass protest against growing economic inequality. The October 22nd Coalition (O22), building on 16 years of experience in resisting unjust authority in the hands of law enforcement, encountered whole new sections of society that were open to the message and mission of O22.

Also this year, two very promising upsurges of resistance to structural racism and racially-targeted mass incarceration arose in the months prior to NDP 2011: first were the widespread hunger strikes of prisoners in Georgia, followed by those in supermax prisons in California, Ohio, and elsewhere. These strikes were challenging the conditions of torture that prisoners are experiencing in long-term isolation units and forced labor. Second were the nationwide demonstrations against the legal lynching of death row inmate Troy Davis by the state of Georgia on September 21, 2011. All of these advances in mass protest and mobilization were happening in the global context of, and were to varying degrees inspired by, waves of protest across the Middle East and North Africa, and mass protests in Europe. Both the Troy Davis protests and the prison strikes were supported by diverse sections of society, and O22 organizers and affiliates played an active role in building the movements that sprung up around them in several cities.

Meanwhile, NDP 2011 persevered in the tradition of years past of building and strengthening organized resistancewithin communities that have traditionally been the targets of the most severe police brutality, repression, and criminalization: poor and working-class communities and communities of color. Families of victims of police murder continued to play leading roles in reaching out to and giving voice to communities that are under the crushing heel of the police, while new forms of resistance to racist police harassment and brutality were brought forward around the country.

The climate of discontent that has given way in these instances to open protest and an interruption of business-as-usual are all very promising and welcome developments. However, they are all taking place within conditions of increased official repression in the form of fascistic anti-immigrant laws and disenfranchising voter ID laws that were passed in several states, the widespread adoption of local and state ordinances prohibiting the videotaping of police, raids on progressive and anti-war activists resulting in unjust serious federal charges, and the vast and sweeping powers claimed by the US government to seize and detain citizens indefinitely and without trial under the National Defense Authorization Act. We are in a new period of official repression that is very different from the time when the October 22nd Coalition was founded. However, these same conditions have contributed to the rise of new forms of resistance which we have an opportunity—and a responsibility—to join, support, and build.

 

Some History of the October 22nd Coalition

The October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation was founded in 1996 by a group of organizations and individuals out of the understanding that police brutality and murder was a national epidemic, and that while it must be resisted on a local level, there needed to be a national response that connected all of these local struggles in a way that recognized the scope of the problem. On October 22nd of that year, the first National Day of Protest was held in over 40 cities, bringing forward people of all races and nationalities in powerful demonstrations nationwide. From the very beginning, families of Stolen Lives—people killed by law enforcement—formed the backbone of O22. NDP gave them a platform to speak to the reality of police violence and murder that was almost never seen in news coverage of incidents of police brutality. As the idea of a National Day of Protest against these outrages took hold and the movement grew over the following years, prominent artists, musicians, and public figures stepped forward and added their voices. Public service announcements featuring celebrities, musicians, and families of people killed by police were filmed and aired on MTV and BET.

O22’s strength has always been bringing together people and communities who are directly under the gun of police brutality with people from all other sections of society into a broad, diverse, and creative movement to oppose the epidemic of police brutality nationwide. In cities and towns where there are organized O22 affiliates, the connections built between families of Stolen Lives and the broader community have become a powerful force and have had and continue to have a significant effect on the public understanding of the epidemic of police brutality and murder.

In the context of O22 reaching out to Occupy movements around the country, the connections made between people often under the gun of the police and people who before may have been more socially disconnected from police brutality by relative racial and class privileges—but who were getting a quick, brutal lesson in what the police do every day in poor communities and communities of color—were an example of O22 doing what it does best. The importance of what O22 achieved here should not be underestimated, nor should the potential power of deepening those connections fail to be acted upon. NDP 2011 owes a lot of its success to building those connections, and O22’s rich history of connecting diverse communities under a strong commitment to standing firmly against systemic oppression gives our Coalition a special role and responsibility for strengthening the movement as a whole.

 

Two Broad Social Forces Building toward NDP 2011: Occupy and Those “Under the Gun”

The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement came on to the scene in late September, when at first several hundred, and soon thousands of people camped out in Zuccotti Park in the heart of New York City’s financial district. Despite being all but ignored by the mainstream press and, therefore, not widely publicized, the protests quickly gathered significant momentum, denouncing the growing divide between the haves and the have-nots, or as it has been popularized by the Occupy movement, between the 1% super-rich and the 99% majority. By mid-October, Occupations of public spaces were launched in scores of cities across the US. From almost the very beginning, this new movement was met with violent police repression, knowledge of which spread quickly via the internet, whereupon it was picked up and broadcast by more responsible journalists in the mainstream news organizations.

Early on in the Occupy movement, there were promising signs of multi-racial/multi-national and cross-class alliances being built. A demonstration and “Day of Outrage” of a thousand people in NYC marking the execution of Troy Davis marched from Union Square in Manhattan to Zuccotti Park, where they were met with loud cheers of support from hundreds of people of the Occupy Wall Street movement, who at that point had been there only a few days.

As time went on and the movement grew, Occupations in places like NYC, Oakland, Portland, LA, and Seattle found themselves under increasingly violent police attack. Grassroots video recordings of the use of violent crowd-control tactics such as sound cannons, tear-gas canisters, and charging phalanxes of riot armor-clad cops hit both internet sites like YouTube and the nightly news. For many Occupiers, especially the large numbers of white and middle-class youth who were driven to protest by an increasingly bleak economic future, this was the first time they had experienced or even seen police violence up close. In these cities, NDP was taken up eagerly, leading to the beginnings of a meaningful joining of a movement largely rooted in the middle classes with a movement rooted in the reality of oppressed communities. In cities like Seattle and NYC, the brutal police crackdown on OWS had a profound effect in moving people toward taking up the cause of NDP as their own, not just as individuals, but in the organized collective form of the General Assemblies, the consensus-based decision-making assemblies of Occupations. This organizational support led to large turnouts in Seattle and NYC, and in the case of Seattle, led to the largest NDP in its history, more than doubling the size of last year’s previous record attendance of around 500 people.

In other cities, Occupations assumed a more accommodating stance. For example, in Greensboro and Minneapolis, there was some support for NDP among the Occupy movement, but the General Assemblies strove to “maintain good relations with the police” and local officials, which presented serious obstacles to building solidarity with communities that are under the gun daily at the hands of law enforcement. However, strong connections were built between O22/NDP and Occupy in all areas where O22 has a year-round presence. A statement on the Occupy Boston website supporting NDP captured the potential power of this connection: “Not only will we be rallying against the police repression of our movement, both in Boston and nationally; more importantly, we’ll be rallying against the police violence experienced by poor folk and communities of color every day in this country.”

 

Taking NDP to Communities Under the Gun

As Occupy began facing increasing harassment and often savage attacks by police, the brutality against and lockdown of oppressed communities across the US continued without pause. O22 organizers were able, as in all years past, to bring people forward from the communities that were catching hell from the police, including families of the victims of police murder. In NYC, an NYPD campaign called “Stop and Frisk,” which has been the ongoing policy for three years of racist harassment of hundreds of thousands of Blacks and Latinos, sparked a movement of resistance called “STOP Stop and Frisk,” which was launched on October 21st, with significant support from the month-old Occupy Wall Street movement, as well as support from the neighborhoods being targeted by these policies. “STOP Stop and Frisk” organizers have described the racist harassment policies of the NYPD (and other cities where such policies have been enacted) as a “key feeder” into the national practice of racially-targeted mass incarceration of Black and Brown people, and in the course of building for NDP 2011, successfully brought this issue to OWS and NDP.

The Call put out by O22 for NDP 2011 highlighted the California prison strikes as an example of resistance that people working to stop police brutality, repression, and criminalization should uphold, and indeed, the fact that this was a movement started by prisoners against not only the conditions they themselves were facing, but the conditions of people locked down nationwide, is an inspiring example of exactly the kind of phenomenon that O22 has always supported. Reports came from inside of the prisons and were quickly spread via social media throughout society. Support demonstrations grew in cities and towns across the US, including outside of the prisons where these abuses were occurring. Here, as with the Troy Davis protests, there was a multi-national/cross-class character to these protests. All of this contributed to the climate of outrage that informed NDP 2011. Given the particular history of O22 in standing with those under the gun to build a broad-based movement, the October 22nd Coalition has a special responsibility to build support for such actions and help organize resistance to these unjust and inhumane practices, and not just during the National Day of Protest.

The nationwide rollout of police state laws targeting immigrants also resulted in numerous mass demonstrations, especially in the state of Arizona, whose fascistic SB1070 became the model legislation which was soon adapted by the states of Georgia and Alabama and passed into law. These laws were also denounced in the Call for NDP 2011, and served as rallying points for local NDP events nationwide.

All of the cities that sent in reports to the O22 National Office for this, the first online edition of Wear Black, had success building NDP with communities under the gun. In Seattle, the murder of Native American woodcarver John T. Williams, which was recorded on the cop’s dashboard camera, had been major news for the better part of a year and was the source of a lot of public outrage. In Atlanta, the killing of 19-year old Joetavious Stafford the week before NDP brought out large numbers of defiantly angry people. In Boston and Houston, victims of police brutality and families of incarcerated people spoke out powerfully at those cities’ NDP about Black and Latino people being targeted and dehumanized by the cops, courts, and prisons. In Greensboro, the mother of a young Black man who was killed by a sheriff’s deputy in 2001 led the NDP march through the Smith Homes public housing area.

The connections built between the victims of police brutality and criminalized youth through O22 is in itself a powerful force. It is the backbone of our organization, and the strength and perseverance of O22 families in the face of being demonized, victimized, and forced to live with the terrible loss of their loved ones inspires justice-loving people of all walks of life, not just in their local cities and towns, but across the country as well. As O22 brought the powerful voices of families into the midst of the Occupy movement, the resulting connections have been powerfully galvanizing. There’s a lot to build on here going into 2012 and beyond. As O22 regains its organizational strength and reach, we have a crucial role to play in the movement to turn back the increasingly dire epidemic of police brutality, political repression, and the mass criminalization and incarceration of poor communities and communities of color.

 

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