Repressing Social Movements

By Sheoin, Tomás Mac | Monthly Review, January 2013 | Go to article overview

Repressing Social Movements


Sheoin, Tomás Mac, Monthly Review


Repressing Social Movements Amory Starr, Luis Fernandez, and Christian Scholl, Shutting Down the Streets: Political Violence and Social Control in the Global Era (New York: New York University Press, 2011), 207 pages, $23.00, paperback.

Shutting Down the Streets is not an ivory-tower book, situated a safe distance from its subject; the first appendix lists the seventeen anti-globalization summit protests which were directly observed by the book's authors. And just as the authors were participants and not just spectators, they also refrain from merely presenting a comparative analysis of policing and repression at these summits. Examining the existing academic literature on social control, dissent, and social movements, they argue that existing works on repression mainly concentrate on protest policing. Instead they aim to develop a broader framework that examines social control by extending the object of analysis from the policing of protest events to the effects of social control on dissent, while also arguing that the unit of analysis needs to be changed from individual protests to the wider one of social movements. Repression then is not just police violence and coercion at protests but also includes a host of other methods of "soft" repression, such as psyops (psychological operations), infiltration, and surveillance.

The authors propose three categories for the analysis of social control: geography, political economy, and political violence. Of these, political economy receives the least attention in what is almost the shortest chapter in the book. Not the least of this chapter's virtues is the astounding figures for the cost of "securing" the G8 and G20 summits. The G8 costs climbed from $40 million in Genoa in 2001 to $309 million in Toronto in 2010, while the price for "securing" the G20 went from $28.6 million in London in 2009 to $574.6 million in Toronto in 2010 (51). This leads to questions such as: Who supplies what equipment to the police and at what cost? And what overlaps are there between these suppliers and the "security-industrial complex" which grew in the United States under the aegis of Homeland Security, and in Iraq and Afghanistan in support of the U.S. occupation?

The geographical analysis identifies the following spatial activities: holding summits in geographically isolated areas; fencing off summit venues; creating and extending security zones; creating and enforcing protest zones; penning or kettling protesters; attacking protesters' safe space through targeting infrastructure such as convergence or Indymedia centers and sleeping quarters; controlling the mobility of individual protesters through "ban orders, travel bans for foreign activists, daily obligatory registration, preventive (mass) detention, imposed spatial restrictions for demonstrations and assemblies, and (the reintroduction of) border controls" (41); and the increasing militarization of policing - as well as involving the military itself.

For the policing of dissent they trace the use of a wide range of legislative and bureaucratic methods to limit protest; the increased use of intelligence, including undercover surveillance and infiltration; conspiracy charges; preemptive mass arrests; police attacks even on permitted and pacifist protests; increasing criminalization of dissidence through recasting "trespassing and property damage. . . as severe and violent crimes and even terrorism" (87); and the transnationalization of protest policing.

The marginalizing, preemptive, and accumulative effects of policing on collective discourse, culture, and history, as well as the effects of fear on political consciousness, are also analyzed. Here they are candid enough to admit the methodological problems faced: "we have found it nearly impossible to distinguish between the effects of various police tactics and to track separately those effects on individuals, organizations and communities" (93). They argue that the combined effects of these methods of social control on social movements can be interpreted as political violence. …

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