Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 6. 4th April 1973
Demonstrations: Time for Positive Tactics
Demonstrations: Time for Positive Tactics
Iriquois and Sioux helicopters hover just above the trees, filming the crowd below and radioing information on their movements back to the communications headquarters. On the ground police officers, safely away from the action, issue directives to their forces in the front line. Every few minutes a flare casually crosses the sky, signalling one of the helicopters to travel to the source and report on crowd movement. The officer in charge of operations, from the comfort of his car, barks out ultimatums to the crowd through huge loud speakers mounted on the roof. Hidden from sight behind large buildings a mobile police station efficiently processes the arrested, Photographing them with polaroid cameras, securing their hands behind their backs with disposable plastic handcuffs and taking them to empty rooms in the Navy barracks for holding until space can be made for them in the cells in the Central Police Station. A crowd outside a U.S. Navy hanger uses the cover of a smoke bomb to rain a barrage of stones at the buildings. One of the helicopters reports that the demonstrators are closing off the second road into the airport so a decision is made to lift the barricades on the main entrance road. Half a minute later police assemble into a cordon. They form a line three deep and begin to wade through the crowd. The ones in the front have crossed and linked arms, they use their elbows and knees to bunt their way through. The second line have their arms free, they punch across the shoulders of the first line and they are punching at anything in their way. Behind them the third line of the cordon concentrates on pushing. They provide the momentun for the operation. As they move they grunt a sort of war cry, and within 2 minutes the road is clear.
All this may sound like riot squad exercises somewhere in Japan, or maybe a National Guard warm up in Ohio. Does it seem incredible that the scene is set in Christchurch? Maybe — maybe not. But that's where it was. If we learnt nothing else in Christchurch on the weekend of April 24-25th, we learnt one thing; the police have got themselves organised. The emphasis is on technical sophistication to the point of automation, and in the ranks policemen are being trained to behave like automatons.
Chief Superintendent Tait, the man responsible for it all, called it the 'new look' demonstration, although he denied that the tactics were new — "some of them were used notably in the 1951 waterfront strike". He said new or old we could expect to see them in the future.
What does it mean to those of us who want to go on to the streets to express an urgent point of view?
The police at Harewood put themselves firmly between us and the Yanks. They were not even going to let us look at what the Yanks are doing down there. Not that that's new, they have always put themselves in the middle, that is part of the reasons why we call them pigs. But before Harewood-Weedons we could kid ourselves info believing we had a fair chance to demonstrate. But not anymore. When you are a disorganised crowd lugging around banners, you can't demonstrate against military installations that are being protected by police who treat it as a military exercise. Nor can you create dialogue with a cordon of pigs controlled from the air.
Maybe the time for dialogue has ended? Seriously, we're getting to the stage where the right to demonstrate is fast going. This was clearly evidenced at Harewood, when police threatened a group at the airport with summary arrest if they tried to demonstrate elsewhere. And from the demonstrators point of view, persuasive argument and massive peaceful demonstrations have had little effect on the U.S. military. So where do we go from here? Open confrontation? Street fighting? Okay laugh, so we're not in Detroit or Chicago, hut the point is that demonstrators are now at the stage of thinking about it and planning for it. Now just imagine if Nixon takes it upon himself to order further bombing of Hanoi because he decides the Vietnamese are not playing the game right. Well fuck it! I mean what do we do then? Maybe we picket the U.S. Embassy — we engage in dialogue, but only dialogue on the 16th page of the "Post" along with the women's news.
We learnt this in the Mobes in Wellington last year. 5,000 people marched peacefully around the streets and it received about 12 column inches in the middle pages of our great independent newspapers. Yet an hour after the march 150 people went up to the French ambassador's residence to protest against nuclear tests. Because the police tried to stop them, they blocked off the road and there was open confrontation. Eight people were arrested and it was spread all over the front page of every paper in the country. That told us something. And if the Springboks come how many of us are going to be doing something and I mean really doing something. Carrying the banner around won't be enough, but if we try to do any more the pigs are going to be right there — trying to stop us.
Which brings us to the question of how we treat a pig when he stands between us and the people who are dropping bombs on the Vietnamese, or the people who tread on Africans like they were grapes. Do we say "well heck, you're a guy with a conscience so will you please get out of my way"? It's likely that he will tell us to piss off! Or perhaps if he has half a conscience he will tell us about the three kids he has to support and how he's only doing his job. What he won't do is get out of our way. So what next? Well, if the argument is that we have to keep up the dialogue with the pigs, or anyone else, chances are they will see more in our arguments if we show them we believe enough in what we're saying to risk getting our heads busted over it. Some people call it being committed to the cause.
It's a funny thing this dilemma we have over the police, we're not quite sure how we should treat them. When we're with our friends we call them pigs, when we're in the front line we call them fascist pigs, but when we're in the lock-up or on neutral territory talking to them, we think that they are humans who just don't understand. It's a problem that is unique to revolutionaries. Most people know how they fee! about their law an' order men. The Mongrels for instance know how they feel about the pigs — they hate them. Most of the Mongrels have been in the front line from a young age and they learnt from that young age that the pigs are definitely not their friends and if a pig had any good in him he wouldn't be one. If the pigs get in their way there's no question about it — they fight them. Now the pigs are getting in our way, they're treating deonstrators the same way they treat the Mongrels, the rules have gone, and demonstrators may have to start reacting accordingly.
At Harewood the pigs showed that they had the equipment to arrest large numbers of people, a lot more than they have been able to in the past. They have got mobile police stations which are mainly concerned with getting identification. Once they have got your photograph and thumb print even if you do escape they have a good chance of finding you. And with these new plastic handcuffs things are easier for them. They can hold you any old place for long periods, it doesn't have to be a secure cell, because these plastic things are a bit more than handcuffs. They are about 18 inches long so they can be used as thigh cuffs, upper arm cuffs or even arm to leg cuffs. Which means that even if they put a half dozen of you in the middle of a field with only one pig watching, it's going to be hard to escape. So we have to start fighting a little harder when they try to arrest us and we have to fight a bit harder for our brothers and sisters when they try to arrest them. Because if we don't, and if we don't start thinking about all this we are no more than paper tigers.
It is necessary that we create dialogue but it has to be with the right people. The people we have to relate to now are the ones that are getting kicked in the teeth the same way as we are. They are the only ones that will understand. The people we want dialogue with are the Polynesians and the working class whites, but before they will listen to us they have to see that the pigs can't push us around. They just won't be interested in our intellectual analysis of capitalist oppression if that's all we have to offer.
The events in Christchurch showed us that we need some new tactics. I'm not prescribing violent demonstration as the only answer but if we are saying things like 'Help Yank Out The Yanks' or 'Give A Stuff Disrupt', when the time comes we have to do more than just push against cordons of pigs. We have to take our militancy out of the safety of our home ground. If we are going on to the streets with an aim we have to go someway near to achieving it. Some hoary old radical once decreed that it was imperative of a revolutionary that he be successful. In New Zealand, the radicals are beginning to see this need and are working towards its realisation.
By M.F. Hobbs