How to Topple a Statue From the Comfort and Safety of Home (and Why You Should Want To)
There are racist statues everywhere (and plaques, and all kinds of other stuff). We can’t necessarily know about all of them; we can’t be physically present for demonstrations everywhere (and some places it’s not safe and more about that later); and demonstrations have two purposes. Those two purposes are to raise awareness to gain public support for the cause, and to inconvenience people enough to be able to push them to do the right thing. With COVID-19, the current whitelash, and police brutality, it’s not safe to demonstrate everywhere.
I have been protesting since at least 1970. I grew up a middle-class white kid with liberal parents, and I made my junior high school, high school, and college administrations snatch themselves bald with frustration. This is not for pats on the back but to establish that I have on-the-ground credentials for what works.
The most important (and scariest, for administrations of any kind) part of the protest is the inconvenience and disruption, and that is what really puts on the public pressure. If you have a racist whatever in a public place, the tactic that will work is to flood local government with phone calls, emails, and physical mail. The idea is to gum up the works so much that nobody in local government will be able to do their jobs because they are dealing with angry people on the phone and cleaning out their email inboxes all day, and opening envelopes only to find not checks for property taxes, but angry letters.
Once you make a local government unable to collect taxes, issue dog or fishing licenses, process traffic tickets, or engage in any of their usual fund-raising activities, the inconvenience of that plaque or statue will seriously outweigh whatever perceived benefit there is to keeping it in place. Then you will see the local officials decide to do the right thing, and although they will make the appropriate social noises, they are going to be way more interested in resuming “normal” activity.
So head over to their city/county/parish webpages. Use their contact forms and contact every single department. (If there is one dealing with indigents, mental health, etc., please leave those alone.) The commissioners, judges, tax assessors, and everyone else down to the dogcatcher should be getting hundreds of contacts a day. If you have a cheap burner phone, use that. Make an email (create a free anonymous email account if necessary) and send it to yourself, and BCC every local government email you can find. (The reason for BCC is because you don’t want the recipients to know how many other people got the email, which creates a sense of unease.)
Write postcards or letters. You can keep your message short, just tell them what you want them to do. Even if the person who receives it just glances at it and throws it away, that is still time out of their day. Combined with hundreds of other people's mail, that's many hours of lost productivity. You can write, call, or email every day.
If they have a social media account, take it public. Make it visible. Public pressure will force quick action. If it concerns removing a statue, tag them every time a post about taking down a statue appears. (This can also be used for renaming buildings and other actions.) Internet pressure works!
And don’t forget the local historical societies. The people in charge of the historical society usually have ties to local government, so pressure on them could be effective as well.
Note: do not call 911. First off, you can’t call their 911. And second, just don’t. You know your number will show up on their Caller ID and you’ll be in for a world of hurt, and after all, this is about protesting from comfort and safety.
“Won’t Someone Think of the Poor Dogcatchers?”
That’s the point. Every nonessential function of government has to come to a standstill. When that happens, as they say, the calls to remove the statue will be coming from inside the house. The dogcatcher will complain to everyone in local government. So will the secretaries, interns, assistants, special assistants, and so on. The internal pressure in the local government will be so great that the people in charge will have to do something or their government employees will be in revolt, and the easiest and cheapest course of action at that point will be to remove the statue.
It's Not My Statue
And now, why you should do this, even (and especially) if you don’t live in the area. We learned from Occupy that “The whole world is watching” is an effective tactic, because local governments don’t want to be publicly shamed. Many depend on tourist dollars for a good portion of their income; larger cities depend on conventions. If people perceive somewhere as racist, they probably won’t go, so if you’re from outside the area, your phone calls, emails, and letters will have more impact, not less.
But There’s Another, More Compelling Reason
We have seen the videos where white allies positioned themselves between black protestors and law enforcement. In effect, when you contact a local government from out of the area, you are doing the same thing, but without any possible harm to you.
People who demonstrate locally are putting themselves in danger. That danger comes not only from local law enforcement, but from other locals who are opposed to removing the offending piece. Recently, a planned demonstration in a fairly sleepy town was cancelled when counter-demonstrators threatened to show up armed and the police felt it necessary to call in state troopers. The organizers and supporters of the protest received credible death threats. However, those counter-protesters pose no harm to you.
This is how you use privilege. It is geographical privilege, and you can use it to good advantage.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 progressivist