By Crow Qu’appelle, Summer 2018
(Originally published in Slingshot #127)
In February of this year, Black Lives Matter activists in NYC marked the third anniversary of weekly march called the People’s Monday. It is organized by a multiracial POC-led group called NYC Shut It Down. Formed out of a desire to maintain movement energy generated by the 2014 unrest following the police murder of Eric Garner, each march memorializes a different victim of police murder. The first one was held on February 9th, 2015, and I’m told there has been one every single Monday ever since, without fail, no matter the weather. Initially, every People’s Monday march began at Grand Central Station, but over time organizers chose to start holding it in different parts of the city. Sometimes they will go to Brooklyn, Harlem, Queens, etc… and bring street demos with a militant vibe to neighborhoods where protests are rarely held. Part of the thinking behind this is to bring people from the neighborhood into the streets, which apparently has been successful.
I visited NYC last winter, and attended the People’s Monday march on March 13th, 2017. At 7 p.m. A group of around 30 people gathered in Washington Square park in the middle of Manhattan. The march was unpermitted and the route was not pre-announced, but that didn’t stop the group from immediately seizing the busy streets. Throughout the march, NYC Shut It Down showed their courage and confidence in their own power by not only disobeying police orders, but also antagonizing the police by yelling insults at them from close range. Keep in mind there wasn’t a large crowd to melt back into if a juiced-up pig started ‘roid-raging. These folks know the power of the people, and how to assert it.
The real reason that I’m taking the time to write this reportback, though, is because this group did something that I haven’t participated in before, which I think could be a useful tactic in many instances. The group invaded first a bar, then a fancy restaurant, then a Whole Foods grocery store with a huge check-out line.
The purpose of going into these places was to force a captive audience to listen to a political message. For this, they used the Occupy Mic-Check tactic. One spokesperson would speak at the top of their voice, and then everyone else would repeat their words as loudly as possible. In this case, the message was as follows (almost verbatim):
“We are here today because Black Lives Matter! We are here today because Black Women Matter! We are here today to remember Denise Hawkins, murdered by police!
Fact 1: Denise Hawkins was an 18-year old black woman from Rochester, New York. Her high school principal said “they never saw her not smiling.” Denise had an 18-month son with her husband, Lewis Hawkins, at the time of her murder.
Fact 2: Her father forced Denise to marry Lewis after she became pregnant. Lewis was abusive and she tried to leave Lewis three times before she was killed. Police had been called before, but they never helped Denise.
Fact 3: On November 11, 1975, Denise and her family were at her cousin’s house for dinner when she and Lewis started arguing. Her cousin called the police.
Fact 4: Denise was holding a knife when Lewis chased her out of the apartment with a chair, threatening to kill her. Seconds after she fled the apartment Officer Michael Leach, who was standing outside, shot her in the chest, killing her.
Fact 5: Officer Leach claimed he was trapped in a corner unable to move away from Denise and feared for his life, a story disproven by forensic evidence. Officer Leach made a similar claim in 2012 when he murdered his own son. No officer was charged with any crime in the murder of Denise Hawkins.
This is not an isolated incident. In the past 15 years, the NYPD has murdered over 300 people. Of these, over 80% has been black or brown. Of these murders, there have been four indictments, resulting in a total of two convictions, with an end result of ZERO JAIL TIME. If you believe that BLACK LIVES MATTER, we ask that you raise your fist in solidarity.”
In each location, quite a few people present did raise their fists, and the protesters exited the premises, chanting, in one case to applause. It felt validating for more than one reason – on one hand, it felt nice to be supported by members of the public, and on the other hand, it felt good to get in the faces of people who aren’t sympathizers… to force them to listen. In the age of the echo chamber, where social media algorithms allow people to insulate themselves within bubbles filled with like-minded voices, we gotta find creative ways of rupturing them bubbles. Nowadays, when it feels like many liberals believe that the media portrayal of reality is more important than reality itself, it was intensely satisfying to participate in something where the desired result did not happen in the digital landscape but on a human level.
So mad respect to the People’s Monday organizers NYC Shut It Down, for showing me what consistency looks like. And let’s be real, if we can’t be consistent, what can we hope to accomplish?Since 2014, every single Monday, rain or shine, they’ve been holding it the fuck down. What can we learn from them? Be bold. Be defiant. Have a specific message. Be loud. Be proud. Have fun. Say it like you mean it. And make it social – after People’s Monday, comrades gather to socialize in a neighborhood restaurant.
I’m told that in the past, the People’s Monday march has occasionally led to clashes with police, but apparently property destruction is not part of the culture. Perhaps smashing windows and slashing tires is viewed as counterproductive, because I’m sure that’s it neither due to moral objection or lack of courage. If the point of militant protest is to deliver a message in a way that can’t and won’t be ignored, they achieve that in their own way.
The People’s March does very much have a ritualistic element to it… which I mean in a good way. As such, every march ends with Assata’s prayer, with all participants joining hands and chanting together: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
I think a weekly ritual could serve the purpose of movement-building well. Public events give people an opportunity to meet each other, but we all know that activists are slow to bestow trust. People need to get familiar with each other before they can work together. A smaller group makes it easier for folks to get to know each other.
Also, I really like actions that are demanding justice on autonomous terms rather than reacting to an injustice. I think it’s a mistake to view outlying incidents such as police murders as the actual problem, rather than symptomatic of a more deeply oppressive normalcy (i.e. self-policing, surveillance, prison slavery, wage slavery, patriarchy, and the list goes on). Rage at the abuse of power can conceal the heart’s true rage, the rage born of the heart’s desire for freedom – the rage against oppressive power itself.
So, whether you live in New York City or whether you just happen to find yourself there on a Monday, I encourage you to check the People’s Monday march. Folks are friendly and you don’t have to conceal your politics. Maybe you’ll make some new friends.
And if you live in place where there is enough of a movement to turn out 15-30 people on a weekly basis, maybe this is an tactic that could be adopted into the protest culture of your town or city. Maybe a weekly anti-gentrification march makes sense in your city. Think about it. Or why not a weekly Anti-fascist demo? The thoughts start coming quick, don’t they?