The ACT for America March

You’ve got to be carefully taught, as they say on the stage, to hate.  And fear; and so, “ACT for America” came to Seattle to give us some pointers.  Or maybe because Portland wouldn’t give them a permit.

Also, as I recall, this was originally billed as a “Free Speech” demonstration.  That is, you wrap yourself in a slogan that no one can dispute, hoping to discredit, in advance, any criticism of what you may actually say by those whom you are baiting.

But why stop there?  Organizers settled on a “March against Sharia Law,” casting themselves as saviors against an existential threat to American values. Few of us were fooled, though, knowing as we do that our Constitution protects us from laws based on religion.  It is the separation of Church and State that keeps us from being subject to Sharia, not the persecution of Muslims, just as it saves from Halakha those who do not wish to be Jewish, or from Canon Law those who do not wish to be Catholic, etc.

Nor were we persuaded by their fanciful depiction of how religious laws are applied. Instead, the Faith Action Network, The Church Council of Greater Seattle and Neighbors In Faith, among others, organized a counter-demonstration starting at Occidental Park.

I joined them there, despite the 9:00 a.m. start time. There were only about three preliminary speeches, which was a good thing, because the wireless microphone started cutting out during the last one.  A man at the edge of the crowd began repeating each sentence, loud enough for all to hear, Garrett Morris-fashion.

After that we were off. It was suggested that the slower of us start at the head of the line, to keep us together.  At the beginning I walked behind a man with a big paper sign that read, “First they came for the Muslims. . . and the people said NO!”  I had myself accepted a pre-printed sign from a little girl and her mom, one indicating neighborliness in three languages.

We soon arrived at City Hall Plaza, where there were about a hundred ACT demonstrators.  There were about a thousand of us, however.   Although encouraged to mill around like a picket line, we mostly just stood facing the others and chanted. A woman standing in front of me had a sign that I admired, in the form of a spiral-bound sketch pad, facilitating a variety of messages (I think I saw somebody later with a little portable dry-erase white board).

The Seattle Police, experienced now in minimizing confrontation, had used portable barricades to mark off an empty 12-foot wide space between the opposing factions, which would work well as long as nobody left their positions. There were other identifiable groups, including legal observers from the National Lawyers Guild, in day-glo caps and vests. Some ruggedized protesters were marked as medics — one was signed “snacks” as well, and offered me a granola bar, which however I left for others whose need might be greater. Preparation for the event varied greatly. I saw one generic protest sign that was clearly built around a shield, with a horizontal handle on the back. I was surprised to see the guy with the big JESUS IS WEED sign, who spends time at Westlake Park even on non-protest days, among the ACT group.

I was content just to outnumber the ACT demonstrators, but after a while the organizers asked us to step back to make room for the Noise Brigade. Now a hardier-looking group of individuals filed in against our barricades, making an impressive racket. Most had percussion instruments: there were a couple of music-store drums, but the typical outfit was a pan and something to bang it with. I glimpsed an old Revereware saucepan from my childhood. Some had two full-sized skillets to knock together.  They were relentless. There were horns too, including an official bugle and a trumpet, and a bunch of those plastic ones for soccer games. At some point I began hearing an actual air horn, like on a diesel locomotive.  At any rate, it’s doubtful that anybody heard much of what the anti-Sharia speakers had to say.

The drowning-out of speech is fairly new to our protests. From the early days of George W. Bush’s presidency, mechanisms developed to stifle dissent in a crowd.  If an anti-war protester somehow slipped into a carefully controlled event, there was a squad of people whose job it was to surround him or her, overpowering any unwanted message. The Tea Party became a way to prevent even scheduled, mainstream or institutional speech from being heard. These tactics are adopted more widely, as reason becomes less less significant in the post-factual age. When liberals begin acting like conservatives, it isn’t pretty.  Maybe that should suggest something to us.

I had to move back across Fourth Avenue.  When will I start remembering to bring earplugs? I eventually propped myself up against the fence surrounding the long-vacant block north of the courthouse, the site of the old Public Safety Building.  Some time around noon I heard someone say that the permit for the ACT demonstration was good until two o’clock — at that point, a couple more hours off. I thought that my resolve might be tested. But small groups began to filter away from the plaza, toward Cherry Street. This opened up a new front for the police to worry about, and in fact I witnessed a little turbulence.  I had hoped eventually to leave in that direction (my after-protest errand was to return some materials to the library, a tantalizing two blocks north). But my own official march was heading back to Occidental Square, and I left most of the prospective trouble to the more ardent group, those masked and wearing black.

But I did sneak away when we got to Third, and then ran across a few demonstrators fanning out across town.  Among them was the young man I had seen dressed as Captain America. I would see a picture of him later, being treated for the effects of pepper spray. The opposing factions had met again  back near Occidental Square, and three arrests for obstructing resulted. Here is the account of the day from KOMO News and the Seattle P-I. 

— Scott McKee, June 11, 2017