The 7 Most Important Things I Learned as a Front Lines Activist

#6: Never, ever call the cops.

I see you out there, fighting. I half-wish I was there too, and half-am-relieved to be hiding in the mountains here because I see history repeating itself, magnified exponentially, and when I see y’all getting brutalized my PTSD flares up. If I was there I think I would be among the dead already.

For what it’s worth, here are the seven most important things I learned from my many years of direct action and front-lines protest work:

1. Sharing food is radical in itself, and the lasting relationships and impacts of these campaigns tend to start in the basecamp kitchen.

2. The people doing the talking are rarely the ones doing the work
The work that drives change tends to be done by people whose names the public will never hear. Organizers, lawyers, farmers, builders, writers, tree climbers, graphic designers, jail support people, and so on.

3. Always, during ANY type of direct action, cover your face and wear unidentifiable clothing. 
Their cameras are tiny, they WILL track you down later, and underestimating their tech is fatal. This is 1000% more true now than it was when I was out there.

4. Underestimating their intelligence is also fatal
If you’re hosting a visible campaign, you DO have infiltrators and provacateurs, likely dozens of them, and they are way harder to root out than you think. And sadly, knowing someone for many years in no way puts them in the clear. Keep your mouth shut, in general, and stop being sloppy with your security. Stop sleeping around and telling relative strangers important details. Stop making inside “jokes” in mixed company. Never, ever talk about past actions. Avoid all gossip and community “drama,” as this is where security breaches tend to happen. Loose lips sink ships!

5. Addicts and abusers cannot be ignored. These issues will end your movement. If you have addicts and/or abusive people in your midst, you need to intervene, as a community, as soon as possible. A single, out of control addict and/or abuser can easily sabotage a years-long campaign in a matter of weeks, and everyone on your campaign needs to be in agreement that these behaviors will not be tolerated. Here is your chance to develop excellent people care skills, and this work is very much a huge part of the big picture.

6. Never, ever, under any circumstances, call the cops. 
Don’t even try to argue with me about this. I learned it the hard way, have seen it proven again and again, and it’s truer now than ever. Nothing good comes from cop-calling. Somebody stole your car? Go find it. Domestic violence? Pack your stuff and leave. Crazy dude with a gun? Put your nonviolence training to work and talk him down. If you can’t get with that, then go back to item #1 and wash some buckets.

Also: the best way to defund the police is to stop calling them, as a community — that way, you have actual data to back up your assertions!

7. You don’t have to go to every action, rally, march, and meeting, and it’s ok to shift gears
Changing the world comes in many flavors, and you don’t have to do it all. Do what you can uniquely do best, and find a niche where you can be happy, contribute to the change, and avoid incarceration.

As for me, I had to step back from the front lines, for a million reasons, but if I’m honest it’s obvious that I am so much more effective now, as an activist and also just as a human. So there ya go.

Thanks and be safe out there. I love you. Feel free to write to me directly, if you ever need to vent or just want some more links to explore.

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