I’m a white working class cisgender woman. I’m disabled & a sex worker. I have been raped by police, multiple times. I’ve been specifically named as an outside agitator in the city I have spent my entire life in on three separate occasions.
On each occasion, I was a central organizer for an escalation of tactics in a mass movement, two against police and one in solidarity with indigenous resistance. I planned the escalation hand in hand with leftist black and indigenous organizers. Each time, the escalation made national news. Each time, the mayor of my city came out and named me and my comrades as outside agitators, Some people claimed we were white supremacists trying to disrupt peaceful movements. Others claimed we were cops and some correctly called us white anarchists but incorrectly assigned us motivations & politics that were not ours. There was no way to counter these claims without putting my black & indignous comrades at risk and to royally screw myself & my comrades in court.
The spectre of the outside agitator is as old as movements themselves. It is a derivative of the white supremicist conspiracy theory that the new world order (Jewish people) intentionally incite riots and race warfare to maintain power. There has already been a lot of good work deconstructing the history of this particular piece of propaganda so I won’t go deep into it but I would recommend people to read the links here, here, here, and here.
I was at a rally this week and I ignored the Black leaders of the protest when they asked people to get off the street. I didn’t do it because I wanted to see shit go down or because I get off on conflict. I ignored them because I knew the tactics they were suggesting were extremely dangerous (corralling the march into a park with our backs turned to the cops) and I knew their politics; which were in deep contradiction to mine (they were not police or prison abolitionists). I wasn’t the only one. The crowd I was in was primarily black women who had no intention of ceding ground to the cops. When the organizers said “this is my neighborhood and we need to get off the road to let my community get to work”, these women yelled back that it was their neighborhood too. The middle class marshals of the protest spent an enormous amount of time & energy trying to de-scalate the crowd- resorting to tactics that mimicked the police in their aggression and force. They even protected a fascist who was harassing the crowd – turning their back onto the facists and arguing with black & white people to leave him alone. There were white people ignoring the marshals and they did the right thing. They put their bodies on the line side by side with black comrades.
I have been involved in leftism since I was 18 years old. I have been in marches of tens of thousands and I have been in riots. There are provocateurs, undercovers, and just general assholes at every protest. At black led protests, including the ones I was at last night, there are white people who make it about them- who are obnoxious and loud and sometimes try to escalate things with no thought to strategy or tactics. And yet, I have never seen any of these kinds of individuals be able to provoke a crowd into mindless action. Black people are not mindless victims- a group of white people/cops/provocateurs starting nonsense is not enough to instigate a large scale rebellion in multiple states.
It is easy to be an ally. Find a black leader you like, follow what they say, check the boxes, and go home feeling good. You get to be an altruistic savior. You don’t have to make any choices, you don’t have to investigate your politics & motivations & racial/ socioeconomic class interests or the politics/motivations/class interests of your favorite leader. Just follow and get your gold star! Do the right things and you will get rewarded with panel & conference invitations, boosts on social media, and the ability to name drop. We get to feel like part of the struggle while taking no ownership of our own autonomy.
It is much harder to be in solidarity. I couldn’t tell you the names of the black people I stood with. They couldn’t tell you my name either. They didn’t have a large following or cred in social justice or leftist circles. They weren’t gonna give me that gold star. To stand with them, I had to risk my own cred & reputation by ignoring well connected & well known organizers. I had to own that there was going to be no immediate reward for my actions. I had to risk being a bad ally.
What is the evidence for the existence of outside agitators? So far, I have seen protesters wearing backpacks, protesters wearing bandannas, protesters wearing goggles, protesters traveling from out of state and protesters saying “fuck the police”. What has been the call to action around outside agitators? To film people destroying property, to spread their images and names, and to work with the police to keep these protests peaceful. Who does this ultimately serve? Who benefits when people are afraid to bring supplies, gear for protection, travel to show solidarity, and for expressing anger? Who benefits from the policing of radical rhetoric? Who benefits from casting black people as easily manipulated by white agitators? Who benefits from telling white people to go home, to refuse to fight? Who benefits from a narrative that multiracial solidarity is impossible?
Should I turn away when black comrades charge the police? Should I stand safely in a park while black comrades raise a BLM in flag in the face of riot police? Should I stay on the sidewalk and pat myself on the back for staying peaceful when black comrades are being beaten and maced? Do I pretend that I am not scanning the faces of the cops, looking for the ones who hurt me? Who benefits by me acting like I have no stake in this fight? The ruling class!