—armbands—

45th Parallel Absurdist Brigade @45thabsurdist

k twitter, it’s Old Anarchist Story Hour. We weren’t on the ground at Red House hardly at all, so this is very much not trying to tell anyone what to do. But it’s worth remembering that various solutions to the “Security” problem have been tried in the past. (thread)

First: We’re old enough to remember extensive use of two organizing roles that seem to have fallen by the wayside: Purple Armbands (Conflict Resolution/De-Escalation/Mediators) and Marshals. Neither is perfect, but they’re both worth reflecting on.

Different colored armbands got used a bunch in large-scale actions back in the day, to signify different logistical roles. We first encountered them in anti-war/anti-globalization and eco-defense actions in the early 2000s, but the practice probably goes back much farther.

The exact colors vary, but there was a consistent role of “conflict resolution” at most actions. One of us remembers purple armbands. Another one of us remembers the de-escalation/conflict resolution team (maybe at Camp Trans?) wearing Gold Lamé armbands.

What’s important about this role is that it is NOT a security role. Purple armbands were there to help the community take care of itself, and make sure its needs were being met. If there was a conflict between members of the community, they were there to help folks talk it out.

purple (or gold lamé) armband folks were sometimes also there to help folks who were having emotional crises. Other times, there was a whole other color of armband dedicated to that. But in all cases, these were care roles, focused on the needs and wellbeing of the community.

the starting assumption that anyone present in the space was automatically a part of the community, who needed to be cared for and included. yes, this was all exceedingly deep-feels hippy-dippy. also nobody got choke-holded.

armbands also spent most of their time doing whatever else needed doing. but they were people with de-escalation/mediation training who could get tapped when needed. this was in contrast to another role, protest marshals, which can be sort of a mixed bag.

If the armbands are kinda like a squadron of Deanna Trois, marshals are sorta a combination of town crier, crossing guard, and air-traffic controller. a lot of the time they even wore those silly hi-viz vests.

here’s how ACT UP describes the Marshal role
To facilitate the action as planned;
To act as an information source between planners and demonstrators;
To help demonstrators be safe while and feel good about demonstrating;
To act as a buffer between police, hecklers and bystanders.

ACT UP has a few other clarifications:
(from here)
WHAT MARSHALS DON’T DO
Don’t panic, ever.
Don’t do the police’s job, ever.

THE ROLE OF THE POLICE AT AN ACTION
To protect property from damage;
To contain demonstrators, keep us from making a commotion.

crucially, both the de-escalation team and the marshals are inward-facing: they’re there to keep the community (of activists, of protesters, of an occupation) safe, and in the marshals’ case, to keep the cops and others from fucking with that community.

“marshal” is a pretty broadly-used term, and the role can also veer into busybody crossing-guard peace-policing: “this is what our permit says, don’t do anything that would get our permit revoked” – this attitude obviously breaks the “don’t do the cops’ job” rule.

in some cases, marshals come to see their role as “identify troublemakers in the crowd,” and have turned protesters over to the cops. in 2001-2004, during anti-War protests, this almost always happened at large liberal-leaning events, fueled by an “outside agitator” narrative.

So that’s inward-facing community safety: when done right, armbands are Deanna Troi, & marshals are your friend who threw a house party, but can get the cops to leave when they show up at 2 am and everyone’s drunk. with constant right-wing violence, outward security matters too.

with outward-facing security, it can make sense for a security detail to be armed. but security has one goal, and one goal only: protect the community from external threats. even there, de-escalation teams can be a key part of the infrastructure:

regardless: how you deal with community members who aren’t adhering to group agreements should not look similar to how you deal with chuds driving by and macing people out the window of their pickup truck. the people involved shouldn’t be the same people.

most crucially: people whose job is external-facing security with possible recourse to force should never be the main people making major decisions about how things get run internally. because that’s how you get cops.

So if you hear screaming while on the barricades: it could be an argument in camp, and armbands might need to jump in and de-escalate. it could be an argument with the neighbors, and armbands and marshals might step in. it could be chuds, and you might need external security.

or maybe someone’s really drunk, & also having an emotional crisis.
You might need armbands & medics.
Maybe a bunch of saltines, and some gatorade.
And possibly a mop.

community safety is not one-size-fits-all.
we take care of us. that takes lots of different skill sets.
~fin~

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