To those who think “defund the police” is too strong or controversial a slogan, try considering it as a mission statement instead.
People have allowed police violence to continue unabated. A catchy slogan that’s soft enough to feel unchallenging to opposing voices isn’t going to shift a norm. Remember, conservatives wanted to play at civil war over one man who knelt through an anthem.
Mission statements shift norms. Communicating clear criticisms and expectations shifts norms.
So many allies who have issues with “defund the police” seem to grasp the concepts of shock doctrine and disaster capitalism, and how they’re used against us on socioeconomic fronts. We understand when there’s a sea change and a moment of unpredictability, politics can be changed against us in fundamental ways. We’ve fought that forever.
Why is the idea of using social protest to quickly shift norms to achieve the goal of that protest still such a foreign concept to so many? It’s the same concept of using unanticipated, shocking moments to shift norms quickly, except instead of dismantling a society for profit, it’s utilizing the voice of a society to rebuild a broken part and keep people safe.
We completely understand how these moments of shock are used against us. We understand it to the point where the shock and disaster capitalism itself threaten to become constant norms. It’s used so often against us that the first step of fighting against it is to fight the weariness that tempts us to shrug our shoulders and accept it.
Despite shock doctrine being such a constant in our lives, despite recognizing that it’s something we live with every day, we still don’t understand how protest inverts the same mechanisms to help people; we still don’t imagine we’re capable of it ourselves – even when millions are protesting. We imagine we have to soft sell it – and not even our own fights. We convince ourselves it’s our job to soft sell someone else’s fight because we’re so afraid we can’t take hold of the mechanisms once that Trump uses day after day.
How fucked up is it that we fight against this administration’s normalization and shifting of social anchors every day, but when that shift is asked of us, we hem and haw and ask if we can pre-concede it on behalf of someone else’s protest, against their wishes, in order to play to the very people who fuck up our norms and social anchors daily?
That is a brutalization of our consistency and resolve. It’s a misunderstanding of our capability, and it’s an absolute failure to understand the needs, priorities, and capabilities of those we’d say we’re allied to. Slogans do not shift norms. They advertise something that a customer is already seeking to buy – they’re just deciding between brands at this point. Slogans are “come identify with this brand” so you impulse buy from us instead of them.
We’re not dealing with impulse buying. We’re dealing with picking up the largest vestige of one of the most brutal social norms our country was founded upon and shifting that anchor out from under people so it can be placed somewhere healthier. Our first act cannot be deciding that shifting the norm is too difficult. The job is to convince and expect people to move that norm, not to repaint the one that already exists without shifting it one jot.
How much have George W. Bush, Trump, and their cohorts absolutely ruined our ability to gauge our responsibilities and capabilities in protest? How much has a generation-plus of this nonsense gotten into our heads?
Branding is not reality. Doing shit is reality. “Branding is reality” is what Trump sells you because it’s the only thing he and Republicans are good at. It’s the only way they can still win anything. We will not beat them in “branding is reality” because they are better at it than we are and they believe in it, where we stop when it goes too far off the rails.
We’re the “doing shit is reality” side, or at least that’s what we’re supposed to be. And if we’ve lost that so soundly, we’re already screwed and we every one of us know it deep down. I don’t think most of us are that lost, but we absolutely know the draw and temptation of being that lost; we all understand something tugging at us that says, “just take the easy route” because we’re all so tired.
We all know what that lurking element within us feels like, and we all know that the Trump administration is relying on our giving into it. Hell, it was Stephen Bannon’s entire strategy starting Day One of the Trump administration: Tire us out. Tire us until we were willing to mistake the easy for the needed, and call a change in advertising a change in reality. That is their entire plot. It is all they’re good at, but holy shit are they good at it.
We will never out-sell Trump on perception. We can beat him on reality, and we can easily outwork him. Figure that out fast.
So let’s be good at doing shit. Let’s be good at resting when needed and then being tireless. Let’s be good at the hard things. Let’s be good at taking that lurking piece of ourselves that says, “justify what’s easy instead of doing what’s needed” and setting it to the side. We don’t do what’s easy when it comes to civil rights. We do what civil rights organizations tell us is needed.
Black Lives Matter is looking to haul up and replace a social anchor that’s been used to suppress Black people since before the Civil War, that’s been so effective at it that this country has used that same social anchor to suppress every other community they can think of: Latinxs, Asians and Pacific Islanders, indigenous people, LGBTQ people, the disabled, the list goes on.
Trump used secret police in Washington, D.C. with no identifiers, working for lord knows what agencies, with no trail of accountability for crimes they commit, and we’re wondering if de-funding that happy ass bullshit is too strong a stance?
New murders, beatings, and sexual assaults committed by police are revealed daily and we’re wondering if de-funding that crap should be toned down? To what? Funding murders, beatings, and sexual assaults by police at the same level they are now?
You’re not a salesperson on commission looking for the best angle. The slogan doesn’t need work because it’s not a slogan. It’s the job: You’re an activist working against the risk of people losing their lives. Act like it.
Imagine being a protester who actually believes the act of protest can achieve the goal of that protest. Then imagine the opposite. Ask which one gets shit done.