Playing a Very Dangerous Game

I’m just an old guy with a computer, but I try to be thoughtful about what I write.  This particular post began as a draft on Tuesday morning.  I was going to publish Friday, under the headline “Protests”.  The seeming Declaration of War by the President of the United States. attempting to divide Americans into two warring “tribes”, mine subordinate to his, most recently targeting Seattle, brings this amendment.  Except for the placement of the photos, what follows is virtually identical to the earlier draft.

There is a great deal more to say, but let this be a start.  And if you have the interest, I also recommend three previous  post, Schools (July 22), Racism (July 7) and John Lewis (July 19  ).  Several upcoming posts, the first tomorrow, on contemporary politics from my point of view, will flesh out my feelings on the upcoming elections (plural).  Today’s Just Above Sunset, “That Reality Thing”,  is as always worth your time.


May 30, 2020. Gandhi Mahal area at 27th and Lake Street Minneapolis MN.  The restaurant would be between the two folks walking, about one block away.  Photo by Dick Bernard

This week the Portland OR protests were daily news.  (See POSTNOTE 4)  Now it seems that troops need to be sent in to save the city from the protestors.  perhaps this is the Current Occupants idea of the convenient war he needs to help win reelection.  We are being played for suckers.

Now the President sends in federal troops – at least people who look like such – into Portland, with plans to send them into other cities supposedly under attack.  And very dark political ads I see every day, with “I approve these messages” from the President of the United States.

I think the earlier military cleanup for the photo op with the Bible in the vicinity of the White House was simply practice for what is happening now, and I am increasingly of the mind that the damage and destruction following the death of George Floyd on Memorial Day was an initial demonstration of using protests as vehicles to discredit peaceful protest through use of agents provocateurs who blended in to commit the acts of mayhem on the streets of Minneapolis.

Beware the bright, shiny objects dangled to disrupt and confuse.

Just Above Sunset  (“The Protection Squadron” July 22) gives a good summary of what is happening, and the danger thereof.

Portland is not hard to fact check.  Yesterday I simply called a friend who lives in Oregon not too many miles from downtown Portland just to get an assessment of reality, which is very different than the sound pieces you get from television or from the presidential podium at the White House.

I have some recent experience.  Here in my own metropolitan area, after Memorial Day, protest erupted in the wake of the George Floyd murder in south Minneapolis (the four policemen involved are under indictment).

The restaurant of a good friend of mine was torched by someone: burned to the ground.  My friend was a pillar of his neighborhood, a very unlikely target of any local.  In fact, it wasn’t until the day after the protests began that his restaurant burned to the ground.

My wife will attest that I worried about rumors that the violence 20 miles away would spread the night I first saw flames on television.  I am embarrassed by that fear I had that first night.  My concern, that night, was white nationalists, exploiting an opportunity to make trouble.  These are the kinds of people we saw taking the State Capitol in Michigan – thugs masquerading as patriots.

The next day, and several times subsequent, I have driven to the area of the protests.  The dominant vision past the wanton damage to what seem to be mostly small businesses catering to the surrounding community, was of a community getting to work to clean up the damage.  The surrounding residential streets were untouched, though I am certain there was plenty of fear in those houses the night of broken glass and flames.

My friend is hard at work beginning the process of recovery and ultimately reopening his restaurant.

Meanwhile the theater of the absurd that is the current White House, tries to conjure up visions of chaos, confusion, and fear of the unknown other. I’ve been thinking of this when I see the clips of the supposed chaos in Portland; the feds in to bring back order; when I know, from my well-informed friend in Oregon, the bigger and much less demonic depiction of what is happening in a small area of Portland OR – protestors, almost all peaceably assembled, with the usual sprinkling of unknown agents provocateurs up to no-good.

I think we witnessed the same in Minneapolis some weeks ago; and in Lafayette Park across the street from the White House even more recently.

Beware the ‘bright shiny objects’, drawing you away from reality.  Make a real effort to learn the facts.

POSTNOTE:  I spent a lot of post-9-11-01 years involved in a group that did plenty of protesting about the Iraq War.  I know the drill.  All is not quite so simple as it seems.  One size does not fit all.  Years ago, I wrote a series that I called Uncomfortable Essays    These were primarily to my friends in  peace, justice, environment, sustainability and global cooperation communities – people I deeply respected and still respect.

The last of these essays were written during a time when I was becoming skeptical of the effectiveness of the method of engagement called protest.  It didn’t seem to be the most effective way to achieve change.  We gathered, heard speeches, walked and went home…and that seemed to be the be-all and end-all for most participants.  The protest seemed to have become the sole action.  If you are interested in what I was thinking then, go to those Uncomfortable Essays (link above), and read #15, 16 and 17 found on pages 37-47, all written in 2012.

To my friends in the movement, of which I remain a very active part, I simply offer the essays as an opinion to consider.  I didn’t, and don’t consider the writings as definitive in any sense.  Basically, though, they were appeals to think things through; to expand action beyond simply making some sign and walking in a street somewhere.

They are especially timely today.

Gandhi Mahal community meeting room July 7, 2020. photo Dick Bernard

Gandhi Mahals aspiration for its community – this room of the restaurant was not destroyed, but like the rest of the block needs to be demolished and rebuilt. Photo June 30, 2020, by Dick Bernard

POSTNOTE 2: Those who know me, know I was no stranger to nonviolent protests and demonstrations, from the wake of 9-11-01 to 2012.  Here’s one such gathering, I think it was in 2006 in south Minneapolis.  I’m the pole guy at right.  I was then President of the Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers.

May Day Parade, Minneapolis, 2006. It was an unseasonably cool day, possibility of rain. The posters, which I have in posterity here at home, were the creation of Dr. Joe Schwartzberg, who is behind me, holding the Citizens for Global Solutions sign. Joe died in 2018.  His work lives on.  See the website The Workable World Trust.  Joe was also one of the founders of Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers, 25 years old this year, and is being recognized at this years National Veterans for Peace Convention August 2-9.  .Registration information here.

POSTNOTE 3: About noon on Saturday I was out and about, and noted a crowd by the Woodbury City Hall.  It was not a large crowd – perhaps a couple hundred – it turned out to be a Black Lives Matter march about to begin.  At one point, briefly, my road trip was delayed while the group crossed a busy cross street.  A young lady, white, probably college age, was the traffic marshall.  She was very pleasant, but no nonsense.  It was a minor inconvenience.  Good for them, I felt.

POSTNOTE 4:  This came from Nancy and was included in my Mary 31 Post, “Learnings”:

from Nancy, May 30:

Here’s a post that I saw on Facebook today — very important message:

‎Jesse Haug‎ to Lowertown, Saint Paul
9 hrs
A reminder that on nights like these, there are multiple distinct groups in action, with distinct goals and behaviors. Do not confuse one with another.

I’d group them into at least 5 categories.

ACTIVISTS: They have clear goals, at least in their own heads. They are out to be heard and noticed. They may be nonviolent. If there is property damage, it will be targeted. Diff activists may have diff targets, but it won’t be indiscriminate.

GRIEVING CITIZENS: They aren’t (yet) organized activists. They’re hurting deeply. They haven’t been heard. They have more anger than they know what to do with. They may cause unjust damage, even though their anger comes from a place of justice.

ROWDY IDIOTS: They don’t give a shit about justice. They just want to fuck shit up. They’ll mingle with the activists, even though activists are ultimately a nuisance to them. They’ll come like moths to a light any time things are going off the rails.

CHAOS AGENTS: Like rowdy idiots, they want to fuck shit up. But like activists, they have a goal and are self-controlled. They’re here to escalate, create an opening, make others look bad. Prime examples: alt-right instigators and crooked police. (There’s overlap.)

PROFESSIONAL THIEVES: Whenever there’s chaos, there’s an opportunity to make a buck. Some of the “looting” has actually been well-organized, coordinated hits: post a lookout, designated grabber, getaway car.

There may be more groups I’ve overlooked.

I say all of this to point out the danger of using the word “protesters” for everyone out there tonight. If, for example, you say, “protesters need to stop burning buildings,” which of these groups are you are referring to? Be specific, not vague or generalizing.

Above all, be careful that you do not wrongly ascribe to ACTIVISTS and GRIEVING CITIZENS the actions of the other three groups. That is just what those other groups want.

The need for justice is real. The grief is real. Take them seriously. Respect them.

Addendum: just in case it’s not obvious, the first two groups are the vast majority of people out there — but the last three cause the vast majority of damage.

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