Many people have this idea that protesters are out there angrily shaking their fists and yelling at people. Maybe that is true some of the time at some of the protests, but it is certainly not true at the RMAD fur protests. In fact, RMAD has a detailed policy on the expected behavior of their volunteers.
Ironically, though I’ve been protesting with RMAD for a couple months now, I hadn’t seen the Protester Guidelines until one of our protesters was arrested.
Use of These Guidelines
It is Rocky Mountain Animal Defense’s policy that protests and public events shall be conducted in a civil, peaceful, and orderly manner, respecting the rights of all other individuals. Individual behavior during our activities may reflect back on Rocky Mountain Animal Defense, other like-minded organizations, and the overall causes that we represent. Therefore it is imperative that we conduct ourselves in a manner that demonstrates professionalism and knowledge of the issues, and that garners respect from the public. Your participation in a protest or public event organized by Rocky Mountain Animal Defense indicates your agreement with these guidelines and your intent to abide by them.
Protest Participant Responsibilities
Participants shall follow these guidelines:
· Follow the instructions of the protest leader.
· Avoid confrontation. Never harass, insult or personally provoke others.
· If you find that you are directly involved in a confrontation, or in an exchange that likely is leading to confrontation, remove yourself from it and ask other involved protesters to do the same.
· If you observe a confrontation, or an exchange that likely is leading to confrontation, approach the involved protester and encourage him/her to walk away.
· If you are encouraged to walk away from an exchange you are having, walk away.
· Do not yell at others, even if you are provoked.
· If, for some reason you do get into a debate, do so with civility and without raising your voice. Focus on the issues, and not on individuals.
· Never give so much of your attention to any one person that you ignore others.
· Never interfere with the free-speech rights of others.
· Familiarize yourself with the literature. Be prepared to have a short answer as to what you are protesting and why. You are speaking first and foremost for the animals and Rocky Mountain Animal Defense, and secondly for yourself.
· Never impede the public’s access to streets or sidewalks, or to public or commercial spaces.
· Obey all laws, including pedestrian and traffic laws. Stay safely back from traffic.
· Direct media, police and other authorities to the protest leader.
· Make sure your clothing, and all signs and materials that you bring, are consistent with the message of the protest. If in doubt, ask the protest leader.
· Please return all Rocky Mountain Animal Defense protest materials to the protest leader unless given permission to use materials for a future date. In an effort to save money and protect the environment, Rocky Mountain Animal Defense reuses materials whenever possible.
Now, granted, we’re all human and it is very difficult to maintain a zen serenity when you are out there demonstrating because of an issue you are passionate about. Especially when assholes walk by and try to provoke you with the “you’re wearing leather shoes” comments. (which really just goes to show you how little we need leather, when the immitations pass so easily. but that is another topic entirely)
What happened was this: customers were in the fur store, at which point some of the protesters will hold signs (the graphic ones, especially) facing the store. If you’re on the sidewalk, you have to be marching, if you’re on the grass you can stand there, just holding the sign.
Though this picture was taken a week earlier, it was the same basic scenario. Except this time a guy walked across the grass right past Craig, and made the he-only-thinks-it-is-clever comment about Craig’s shoes. Which are not, in fact, leather, but which apparently can pass as looking quite a bit like leather.
Craig, unfortunately, didn’t give this comment the attention it deserved (none), but instead reacted. The guy had been pretty must past Craig, but came back and really got in his face. The kind of logic that this redneck-yuppie used were truely clever and convincing: his assertions that he made more money than Craig, and presumably the protesters in general. His hate talk about “faggots”, which was educational as well, because until then I hadn’t realized that being gay was required of men interested in protesting. Granted it is Denver, but I haven’t met even one gay male protester. Or maybe I have. Somehow sexuality isn’t something that necessarily comes up when you get a group of passionate Animal Rights Activists together at a fur protest. Imagine that. Unfortunately the cop, employed by Marks Lloyds Furs, did not hear the hate speach. Not did he hear the threat the guy made to Craig, along the lines of finding out where he lived and implying that Craig would then be harmed.
I heard the hate speach, but not the threats. There were people standing next to Craig who did hear the threats. I can believe that the cop didn’t hear the threats, but I imagine it would have been hard for him not to hear the guy ranting, not quietly, about “faggots” and making interesting suggestions, such as, “why don’t you go fuck his dick”.
There was also obvious violation of personal space. If the guy had taken a deep breath, his belly would have pushed against Craig…that’s how close and in-your-face he was. He also made rude comments to other protesters. Clearly his intent was to provoke.
It didn’t take him long to keep all of his focus on Craig, who he could see was provokable. Craig moved away, to the other side of one of the protesters, but the guy followed him. Eventually Craig cracked, as I think most of us would have. Still holding his sign with both hands, he leaned his shoulder into the guy to move him away.
Craig was arrested, and the guy wanted to press charges. He was pretty pleased with himself, that much was clear. I would not be surprised if he is friends with Mr. Fur Store and set out to see if he could accomplish exactly what he did.
Unfortunately, it worked. And unfortunately this is not good PR for RMAD or the fur protests in general. We get a lot of support, and I’m sure we didn’t lose any of our supporters with this arrest. However, I can’t help but to wonder how many of the “I love fur”ers and “Get a job”ers felt vindicated in their belief that we should not be allowed to protest, and that we’re a bunch of wackos for believing that wearing the skin and fur of another being is wrong.
Craig reacted, and it ended in his arrest. He was not, however, the only one at fault. Any of us could have and should have pulled him away when things didn’t cool down. We are a team out there, working together to reach people, change their minds if needbe, and otherwise remind them that these cruely used animals need a voice. We march, they honk. It works well, but how many more people will remember instead the arrest, if peaceful, of one of ours?
I don’t think Craig will be convicted. He has a good (and free) lawyer. One of us. He will get a jury trial, if the case is not thrown out of court. None of that changes the impression we may have given the people driving by that day, nor does it change the fact that Craig was in jail until 10:30pm that night.
Keeping our cool is never more important than when faced with the challenges of the people who can push our buttons the easiest. The hardest thing is sometimes to just walk away, but this is exactly when we need to. And next time, if there ever is a next time, when one of my friends needs to walk away and isn’t, I’m going to overcome my own anger and pull him away. Pacifism is not the same as being passive.