or, one thing that happened at foley square on may day.
for the non-new-yorkers out there: we’re at the harmonious point in the five year cycle of cooperation and hostility between the mainline labor unions and the immigrant workers’ organizations (workers’ centers; country/region-of-origin anti-imperialist organizations; &c). what they agreed on this year was not to march, but to hold a three-hour rally in a historically significant park in the middle of the courthouse complex next to the financial district. a place no one goes who doesn’t work in finance or law enforcement, unless they have a court date or have just been released from the tombs. it’s very close to chinatown, but you’d ever know it by who walks down centre street. but at least the music between the endless series of speakers (some of them fantastic organizers and inspiring when not blasting muffledly through a giant stack of speakers) was pretty good, the weather was pleasant, and the socializing was lovely…
at about 6:30 pm, a group of 20-odd fascists appeared at the northeast corner of the park. i was told that they had marched down from union square, where antifa folks had prevented them from attacking another mayday event. i’d seen them perhaps half an hour earlier as they approached the park; i was on my way to get dumplings and didn’t see what happened in the interim.
when i say “fascists”, this is what i mean: they carried one big KKK flag; two 13-colony snake flags; a big trump banner; a “anti-communist action” flag showing someone being thrown out of a helicopter; a few “latinos for trump” and “jews for trump” placards; a u.s. flag or two; a few reichswehr-style military helmets; at least one headful of blonde dreadlocks; and an assortment of other far-right insignia and symbols.
after a few moments of them yelling at folks across the opening of the park, the police (about a half-dozen standing by the gate; several hundred within a pepsi-can’s throw) let them try to push their way in. a few dozen of us crowded our way across the gate and path, and blocked them. they yelled about free speech; we drowned them out with hand percussion. they stopped yelling when it became clear they couldn’t be heard, and drew back a bit.
then a batch of rally marshals appeared, in safety orange vests (a reasonable choice, i think – though i have a higher tolerance for ‘nature-enhancing’ colors than some – but not an economical or aesthetically informed one). they proceeded to tell the folks who’d blocked the fascists from entering to attack the rally that we shouldn’t have “engaged” with them, should stop “engaging” with them, and should pull back ourselves and ignore them.
a fair number of our folks moved away from the entrance, more or less as the fascists spread out along the north side of the park. they formed up into three or four little clusters on the street side of the fence/hedge/&c stuff that separates the park from the sidewalk, and started heckling folks inside. a little cluster of defenders gathered at each clump, “engaging” in various (verbal) ways. once they saw that the marshals had mostly cleared the path inside the park gate at the corner, the fascists reassembled into one group and tried to come in again, led by a tall guy holding a u.s. flag on a pole, with classic-hipster glasses with big square black plastic frames. the police at the gate let them (surprising exactly no one who’s ever met the nypd).
a person did a solid and at times elegant passive block move to stop the lead fascist, being walked into repeatedly and not giving ground, moving side-to-side to stop the guy from walking around them. when the fascist with the flag did dodge his way off that blocker, another person took over. three or four folks, including one marshal, held the flagbearer’s advance to about twenty feet in this way, repeatedly pushing him back despite his attempts to shove them out of the way. he tried to yell at the folks blocking him; he was drowned out again and gave up. there were a few dashes and cluster-swarms in there, but no punches thrown or other active attacks from our side. a few of the other fascists followed the guy with the flag into the park and got similar treatment.
the marshals meanwhile, went and got the cops. which is to say: they actively invited the police (whose ‘broken windows’ arrests are the main way new yorkers get deported, especially black new yorkers) into a rally centered on immigrant workers, many of them undocumented, some attending with their children. police who up till then had been actively staying out of the park, and who had done nothing to prevent a group of fascists carrying a KKK flag and a flag celebrating the mass murder of leftists and jews in argentina and chile, armed with assorted heavy sticks and poles, from entering a park full of black folks, leftists, and jews (not to mention immigrants, trans folks, and small children).
the marshals brought the cops over to where we were blocking the fascists. some of us drew back (having had experience being attacked by the nypd while protecting ourselves and our communities from white supremacist, misogynist, anti-queer, and anti-trans attackers). the fascists came further into the park. so did the cops. the cops talked politely to the fascists, who yelled about free speech; we drowned them out with hand percussion. eventually, the cops persuaded the fascist with the flag to retreat back to the park gate, followed by some of the others. more marshals came, and started telling the folks who’d been successfully blocking the fascists to move away, that the cops had the situation under control, and that we were why the fascists were there. (yes, literally that: apparently the secret to making fascists disappear is to not stop them from coming into your event to attack you. if you ignore them, they just go away.)
meanwhile, the fascists the cops hadn’t talked to were still in the park with their snake flags. the marshals ignored them (see above). strangely, they didn’t go away.
after a few minutes of non-marshals standing near the fascists still in the park, making it clear that they’d be physically stopped if they tried to advance, they backed off and went back to the gate with the others.
more marshals came over, including one marshal-sergeant with a bullhorn. they said the same things the others had said. that anyone who wasn’t a marshal should go away (meaning everyone who’d been successfully protecting the rally, except for two or three orange-vested marshals whose practice was totally in opposition to what they were telling other folks the ‘right’ thing to do was). that the cops (who’d let the fascists into the park twice) would take care of everything. that we were why the fascists were still there (true in a sense: if we hadn’t blocked them, they’d’ve been in the middle of the crowd by then, probably hitting folks with their clubs). that if we just ignored the fascists, they’d go away. all of this by bullhorn, by unamplified loud voice, and one-on-one to the folks who’d been directly involved in blocking the fascists.
the fascists kept yelling about free speech. the marshals kept trying to get the folks who’d blocked the fascists to go away. the cops kept doing nothing in particular. the folks who’d blocked the fascists stuck around. after a while i got bored and walked away.
as i was chatting with a friend i ran into about thirty feet away, and describing what had just happened, i saw the fascists (apparently also bored, or perhaps lulled into apathy by the dulcet tones of the marshal with the bullhorn trying to get rid of the folks who’d prevented them from attacking the rally) move away across centre street.
and that, tayere shvester un khaveyrim, dear sisters and comrades, is why pretty much everywhere there has been a serious fascist threat, the struggle within the left has been as important as the struggle against the far right. because (to state the moral bluntly) some folks who consider themselves part of the left (1) undermine effective, non-escalating physical tactics of community and movement self-defense, directly putting all of us at immediate risk of physical attack by fascists; (2) actively collaborate with the police who kill, injure, deport, and harass the most vulnerable among us, and pursue that cooperation even while the specific cops they’re collaborating with are assisting fascists to gain access to movement spaces; (3) believe, or at least promote the idea, that ignoring fascists is the appropriate response to them even when they pose a direct, immediate physical danger.
i want to lean on this last point for a moment.
the line that the marshals were pushing at foley square – that the folks physically preventing the fascists from entering the rally to attack it, drowning out their ranting, and maintaining a presence to discourage them from trying to push into the park again were why the fascists were there, or why they stayed there, that all they want is attention and we shouldn’t give it to them, that if we wouldn’t challenge them, they’d just go away – is a very familiar one. at least to anyone who has ever been the target of school or playground bullying, of workplace harassment, of street harassment, of online attacks on social media, etcetera etcetera etcetera.
it’s the line we’ve heard from every teacher who refused to stop us from being beaten up. from every supervisor who refused to do anything to make a jobsite safe for us. from every diversity officer who refused to do anything before giving our harassers ‘a fair hearing’. from every friend who told us we ‘overreacted’ to a death threat they hadn’t been paying enough attention to hear. from every internet company that refused to cancel the account of someone who doxxes women and puts their addresses on a rape list. from every progressive NGO that supports a venue that hosts holocaust deniers.
it’s not a new pile of bullshit. we know it very well. we know from our direct experience that it’s a lie. we know they don’t want attention – they want our blood, and they say so quite clearly. we know that when a teacher tells you to ignore a bully, that bully knows perfectly well that the teacher will not intervene, and acts in the knowledge that they have that teacher’s practical support to continue their attacks. we know that a supervisor who tells you to ignore sexual harassment, white supremacist harassment, anti-trans harassment acts in full knowledge that it will continue, and that their intention is not for it to end. we know that someone who tells us to ignore a person who says they want to kill us does not care whether or not we live.
and when that position is taken in a political form, as we face an emboldened (not in any way new or newly large) far right, we know damn well how dangerous it is. it’s the stance white liberals took in the 1950s and 1960s, that helped get medgar evers killed (despite his commitment to armed self defense – he drove home without his security detail that night), and fred hampton, and many other black liberation organizers. it’s the stance that straight liberals took in the 1970s and 1980s, that helped the lack of response to the start of the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS kill millions. it’s the stance men (cis and trans, liberal and radical) take towards many forms of misogyny. and it’s the stance the german social democratic party took in the 1920s, that helped the nazis gain enough strength to hold state power once they were handed it (by a president the social democrats chose).
and that stance, in essence, is why in the 1930s, in italy, germany, spain, and elsewhere, the radical left called the social democrats and other liberals “social fascists”. because they talked a militant rhetoric and had a practice of non-resistance to the far right and collaboration with the police. because they said don’t give them attention, it only encourages them and argue against them, but do it politely, and don’t fight back. because when they finally got around to supporting physical self-defense, they did it by equating the radicals who had been fighting back for more than a decade with the far right. (that’s the meaning of the three-arrow symbol, incidentally, which the social democrats created for the militia they formed in 1931 after they’d been marginalized within the ruling coalition government they were part of: one arrow against the nazis, one against the (basically irrelevant) monarchists, and one against the communists who had been fighting the far right in the streets since 1919.) late to the party, and even then more interested in attacking the dj than the dudes making the dancefloor awful.
do i need to say that the social fascists – sorry, i mean liberals – sorry, i mean ‘responsible leftists’ – were wrong then, and they’re wrong now?
we must love one another and protect one another
we have nothing to lose but our chains