When I got to the student protest against David Heimbach and the TWP, I thought there was good energy; people were chanting things like "No Nazis, no KKK, no fascist USA," and it was very clear what everyone was there for, but then the event started losing focus and momentum.
One group of protestors broke apart to head toward the pedestrian bridge over Cumberland Avenue and show off their signs to passing drivers. One small group of what looked like a church pastor and members of her congregation got arrested for standing in the middle of the street with their banner. And eventually, the group that I was in circled the block trying to get access to the bridge at the parking garage right by the Hill.
Every movement was closely monitored by police. There were chants of "What's with the riot gear? I don't see no riot here." People in my group started yelling warnings: "You're getting kenneled," or, "They're trying to come around behind you." They grumbled to each other about the "pigs."
At one point I said, "They've got a job to do," hoping it would keep the people closest to me from getting too riled up. One woman's response was, "The Gestapo had a job to do, too." I didn't say anything in response; it seemed pointless. A few minutes later, I decided to go home. (I was soaked through from the cold rain and started to lose feeling in my hands).
The whole way home, I couldn't help feeling that the student-led event was a failure in one significant way. What had started out as a clear protest against white supremacy and Nazism turned into people venting their frustrations over the Traditionalist Worker Party on the police and state troopers. We went from a wall of solidarity and unity to a wave of disgruntled, unfocused students with an axe to grind against police agencies.
If I had to say one thing I learned from the experience, it is this: Address as many of America's problems as you want, but do it one protest at a time. Trying to protest two problems at once will always draw attention toward one thing and away from the other — something you don't want when one issue is definitely the worse of two evils.
We have a responsibility to choose our civic battles wisely. The anti-Nazi protest was not the place for anti-police rage.
Margaret Cross is a graduate student in German and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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