Movement Ideology and Tactics Pt II: Jail and Legal Support
The work of political struggle and resistance is regarded by many as an act that takes place solely in the streets. Protest and direct action, after all, are often the loudest and most visible acts of resistance against state sponsored and institutional violence. As such, many individuals wishing to participate in movements of political struggle may view protest and direct action as the only effective modes of participation in this resistance. For people of European descent in particular, visible protest and direct action can become glamorized embodiments of material solidarity within these movements. It is worth noting that FTP’s use of tactics such as mass turnstile hops and graffiti, while powerful tools of direct action in and of themselves, can become easily glamorized embodiments of material solidarity for white participants who do not examine their roles in virtue signalling and performative allyship. On the contrary, it should be the willingness of white participants in these movements to not only follow the leadership of Black and brown people, but to use their whiteness as a tool to protect Black and brown protestors from violence and arrest in the streets and beyond. During aboveground FTP marches, white protestors were asked to move to the perimeters of the crowd, thereby insulating Black and brown protestors and making them less vulnerable to arrest. In turn, there were a large number of white arrestees at FTP2 in particular (Reed, Interview on February 22, 2021).
In examining the potentiality of direct action to become glamorized, it becomes necessary to explore the myriad forms of resistance and community care that often go overlooked within social movements. Emphasized both within FTP’s Principles of Unity and in the practices of the movement itself, robust networks of mutual aid and community care serve as quintessential a role as direct action and protest themselves. Following individual FTP actions, jail and legal support played a large role in supporting those arrested, and additionally provided a space for those involved to process and debrief. At jail support, people gather and wait for their friends and community members to be released, and ensure that there are provisions and resources available to them and those who are waiting. Jail support also serves to provide a sense of levity to a situation that can often be jarring and emotional, particularly if the action was intense or had a high number of arrests. This is an incredibly necessary space as it reminds us of our common humanity, that even as we seek to dismantle the oppressive systems we live under, we must also remember the fundamental value in building community, friendship, and solidarity with one another through these movements (Reed, Interview on February 22, 2021).
Legal support similarly serves to provide much needed resources to those arrested, and brings a sense of community care into a space that is otherwise hostile and univiting. Many who were arrested at FTP sought legal support from members of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), who performed legal observation of the actions and answered the questions of arrestees and their loved ones. Simultaneously, acts as simple as distributing coffee and provisions to those waiting for arraignments (even those unaffiliated with the actions), signaled that individuals were being cared for and looked after. Through fostering these networks of mutual aid, community care, and solidarity, we actively play a role in making police, prisons, and other oppressive systems and institutions obsolete, through moving away from the frameworks that they provide (Reed, Interview on February 22, 2021, Decolonize This Place, 2020).
Perhaps most important of all, are the ways in which jail and legal support communicate to all involved that an arrest, and the legal system for that matter, is not something that one must face alone (see Figure 12). Though arrest is not the ultimate goal of direct action, these forms of community care embolden individuals to continue this work, knowing that should they be taken inside, there is support and resources available. In conversation with Reed, they noted that these are also good practices for working on larger projects of prison abolition, in which communities rally to reintegrate individuals who have spent longer amounts of time inside, back into the outside world with support and resources. Though jail support exists on a much smaller scale, it signals to the community as well as institutions of policing and prisons that their actions will not be tolerated, and that we may take care of one another using our own frameworks (Reed, Interview on February 22, 2021).
Figure 12: A flyer promoting court support for FTP2. (Source: Decolonize This Place via Facebook)