Twin Cities GDC Suggestions for Liberation Movements in the Twin Cities
It’s going to get hot this Summer. Good. We’ve all kept the fires going this Winter, and that’s good too, because we’ve got too much work to do to be seasonal about this stuff. We also have way too much work to do for us to successfully win our own challenges without help from each other.
It is the General Defense Committee (GDC) of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)’s mission to provide defense of the working class. Here in the Twin Cities, we have explicitly chosen to see that as a duty to extend our solidarity and defense of the entire class, whether organized self-consciously as workers or not.
We explicitly attack the structures that divide us and prevent us from directly and collectively attacking capitalism: racism, sexism, nationalism, Islamophobia, ableism, transphobia, and all other forms of oppression.
Since we’re in the struggle together, and will need to rely on each other in demonstrations and other actions, we have created this document as a list of suggested ‘best practices’ for marshals at direct actions. These are based not only on our individual experiences at direct actions, but on the experiences of many others within our organizations, from young people inspired by the Ferguson uprising to those who’ve been organizing and fighting for decades.
We’ve been formulating these ideas into trainings and our own practices explicitly since 2011. If you or your organization are interested in attending a GDC marshal training, please contact us.
In offering these, we don’t see this as the end of a discussion, but hopefully the beginning of a conversation with our newfound comrades and accomplices, that will lead to better and better practices.
For the revolution that leads all and each of us to total liberation.
We ‘marshal facing out, not in.’ This means that we avoid being the ‘peace police’ or policing the general behavior of those within the crowd, except insofar as that behavior puts the entire group at risk. As marshals of liberation movements, we recognize that our presence can be used to restrain the energy of our movements, and has been used in precisely that way by people whose true goals are not liberation. Instead, we recognize that if our presence is necessary, it is necessary to protect the people against the forces of repression – the police, security forces, paramilitaries, fascist groups, and right-wing lone wolves, among others – and that we will not waste our time trying to get people in our movement to look respectable for the cameras. That’s not why we’re here.
There must be a meeting of marshals before the action, preferably more than a day before. Regardless, the marshals should
- all introduce themselves to each other, and
- Have enough marshals. The bigger or more aggressive the action, the more marshals you need. These numbers will fluctuate wildly depending on the size and aggression of the planned action. Plan for more than you think you need. Having sufficient, competent marshals can make the difference between a successful action and any set of terrible outcomes.
- Establish roles for each marshal. These include where general marshals will be relative to the crowd (most should be along the sides and at front and backs of the action, with a few scattered in the crowd), as well as who will be runners, fast people whose main job is to carry messages to different marshals and protest organizers, as well as scouts, people who may be ahead of the action to report back on situations ahead. This meeting may also be a good time to coordinate with volunteer street medics or legal observers.
- Establish a means of collective real-time communication with each other. If you have walkies, those will work. Otherwise, consider various secure apps such as Signal, Voxxer, etc.. Make certain everyone on the marshal team has access to the means of communication. Remember that lots of information about the action should not be shared with law enforcement, and that they are almost certainly listening in if we’re doing it right. So, runners may be a better option for sensitive or tactical information.
- Identify one experienced and trusted person as the marshal captain for that action. This is the person who, in coordination with the protest leader (marshal captains should never be the same people as protest leaders; we are protest leaders’ jobs easier), will make decisions about next actions as necessary.
- Expectations of marshals need to be made clear, and all need to be clear on the plan. No marshal should be counted upon if they cannot make a firm commitment. Avoid collecting marshals right before an action. Marshals should hold themselves to a clear understanding of collective responsibility for the action – they should not take actions without reflecting that these will reflect on the marshals themselves and the action as a whole. Therefore, the marshaling group should be honest and explicit with each other about the various risks perceived, personal levels of commitment, and practices such as being armed or not, what level of physical resistance we are willing to present if attacked, etc.
- The marshal captain, or someone else, should speak to the crowd briefly before the action, and make expectations clear. Among other things, she should make it clear that
- Marshals are there to help the protesters, not to police them. We’ll leave the police to their jobs, and stick to ours: defending our community.
- Ask the crowd to introduce themselves to the two people on either side of them, and emphasize that we all need to be there for each other’s safety.
- Then lay out whatever specific safety guidelines might be specific to this action.
- Emphasize to the crowd that it is crucial that we stick together. If we get spread out, it becomes easy to drive vehicles into the middle of a group, for police to engage in snatch squad activity, or for violent onlookers or security forces to attack individuals within our group. Our power comes from our unity, which is physically expressed by staying close to each other.
- If it’s not a surprise, emphasize to the crowd where the action will end, geographically, and insist that no one should leave the action by themselves. It is not safe to leave actions alone, because of the risk of assault from law enforcement or others when alone.
- Have banners – preferably with rigid components such as poles – as the front boundary of the action or march, held by more than one person per banner. This forms the forward boundary of the action, and the forward level of active marshaling, excluding scouts.
- In larger actions, the forward banners can be behind vehicle-blockers – cars driven by the protesters blocking traffic from coming at the march or crowd. Vehicle blockers at the rear are extremely useful as well. Regardless, a rear boundary should be established with banners, and marshals should always be the last people in the crowd.
- Rearguard marshals will have to get comfortable asking people to hurry up to the rest of the crowd for their safety, just as forward guard marshals will have to get comfortable asking people to slow down so people in the back can catch up.
- Much of the frustration of this can be alleviated in marches and relatively low-confrontation actions by being very clear to invite the slowest individuals up front, but behind the front row of banners: families with small children, elders, people with mobility issues. This should obviously not be done if placing them there poses any threat to their safety, nor should people be pressured to take these positions. This will help keep the crowd pace at a level that can be sustained by all members, thus helping keep the crowd together.
Provocateurs, Informants, and Snitches.
We can get paranoid in our movements, for good reason. If you’re part of a liberation movement in America (or indeed in many places), our government has spent tax money to spy on, discredit, disrupt, and murder your movement. This has been done by undercovers who urge unthought-out actions that entrap activists (especially young ones), by the planting of division between movement people, often by rumor and gossip. And then, of course, we are always under surveillance.
When they can’t convince us to murder each other, they step up to do the job themselves. Dealing with these people is difficult, and explaining the tactics involved would take more space that we have here in this short pamphlet, but is something with deal with in our marshal and picket trainings.
However, be very careful to ask yourself if these people are genuinely a threat, or if perhaps they are radicals with whom we disagree at the tactical level, as well as the extent to which we have the right to dictate tactical discipline in this action.
Above all, avoid calling out people as feds or undercovers without proof: this is called badjacketing or snitchjacketing, and is a tactic used by the state as well as by authoritarians within the movement to sideline dissent to their ideas.
[For more on why snitchjacketing (aka badjacketing) is dangerous to our communities, see https://twincitiesgdc.org/badjacketing/ ].
Our movements are enormous, and diverse. We won’t agree on everything, and we don’t have to. But we can have each others’ backs as we struggle towards our individual and collective liberations, if we begin to agree on how to protect each other in our actions.
There is lots more to discuss. But we hope that this serves as the beginning to a discussion that can benefit us all. Thank you for reading.
The Twin Cities General Defense Committee, Local 14
Industrial Workers of the World
(The IWW GDC).
update: a previous version of this document included Cell411 as an example of useful activist technology. We no longer support the use of Cell411. Please click here for an explanation.