Retrospective: One Year of Chicago DSA Red Rabbits Marshaling & Safety Committee

Retrospective: One Year of Chicago DSA Red Rabbits Marshaling & Safety Committee

In October 2020, Levi Todd wrote an article reflecting on the formation of Chicago DSA’s Red Rabbits Marshaling & Safety Committee. Now that we’ve had a full year of keeping our comrades safe, we want to reflect on our achievements, what we learned, challenges we faced, and what’s next for CDSA Red Rabbits.

Achievements

Whether it was snowing, raining, or a bright Chicago summer afternoon, we were out in the streets! In 2021, CDSA Red Rabbits showed up for 29 actions, working with CAARPR, GoodKids MadCity, US Palestinian Community Network, multiple neighborhood IPOs, and dozens of other organizations throughout Chicago. As a strictly abolitionist, mostly non-hierarchical marshal group, we showed up for the Lori Doesn’t CARES actions, anti-fascist counterprotests, Palestine solidarity rallies, the annual Bike With Rossana day, and much more.

While it was important to build out our own CDSA marshaling team to ensure a consistent presence at actions in Chicago, we also emphasized sharing our knowledge and experience with other groups. We provided training and safety presentations to various radical organizations in Chicago and across the nation, including fellow DSA chapters. 

In 2020, Mandy Medley and Marcy Ford proposed that CDSA should be more visible at actions, not just as marshals. Part of keeping each other safe is creating a space where we can congregate together. Thus, we built out a Protest Logistics team within Red Rabbits that made sure comrades had the DSA flag and Defund banner at appropriate actions. This made it easier for CDSA comrades to find each other, which was especially important in big actions like the Justice for Adam Toledo protest. Protest Logistics also communicated important information about actions via Slack, Signal and pre-action briefings.

Over the year we also really tried to incorporate a love for art in our actions, especially inspired by the Stop General Iron protests and some of the socialist feminist actions in Latin America. We wanted to make our actions beautiful and engaging for everyone who attended them, so we collaborated on art builds with multiple groups within and outside CDSA–creating a boldly socialist banner for May Day, a dramatic snake prop for a Line 3 protest, and so many creative signs, just to name a few.

Oil snake prop at a Line 3 protest.
Oil snake prop at a Line 3 protest.

What We Learned

Growth through learning was a big part of the year 2021 for us. We worked with many different organizations throughout the year, and oftentimes they were hesitant to work with marshals because of experiences with marshals who policed others’ actions. So we re-contextualized what it meant to surround our group with community care, abolition, and anti-fascism, which helped us gain the trust of orgs in Chicago. We often say that by the end of actions the goal is for there to be no difference between marshals and non-marshals since we all keep each other safe.

Because we marshaled at 29 actions this year, we now have a much greater understanding of protest spaces around Chicago. We are constantly reflecting on lessons learned from actions and debriefing with each other to strengthen our collective knowledge. While we do not see ourselves as experts, we believe we are developing better strategies for going into the streets and dispersing an action safely throughout the city. Our experience seeing how the police move at protests also makes us more prepared for keeping each other safe.

At a few actions this year, we witnessed organizers openly collaborating with cops. This made attendees feel unsafe, especially comrades who are undocumented or with criminal records. As an abolitionist marshal team, we have seen first hand how cops actively escalate actions–whether untying barriers between our community and fascists, pulling our comrades from crowds, or threatening Black and Brown people during spaces of mourning. We refuse to actively talk or negotiate with the Chicago Police Department (CPD), who are a direct threat to what we are building here in Chicago. 

Rather than keeping us safe by quietly coordinating with cops, we instead aim to demonstrate that cops are unnecessary at demonstrations. To do this effectively, we need to continue training marshals and building skills such as safely and efficiently blocking streets, redirecting traffic, and mindful de-escalation. When people seize the streets, police do those things in order to project and maintain the dominance of the capitalist state in our city, over and against the demonstration. The Anti-Fascist Working Group contingent saw this last December, when CPD was more lenient with us taking up space downtown while the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival and the annual Christkindlmarket was underway. In that instance, CPD wasn’t protecting us or the fascists – they were protecting capitalism.

In contrast, abolitionist marshaling projects the power of the people to safely and intentionally occupy the city that we build and run through our labor. To most effectively prove the cops unnecessary, marshals need to be informed about the routes, risks, contingencies, and other logistics of demonstration planning. This is one of the reasons why we believe it is important for Red Rabbits to have a representative at the table for the planning committee of any CDSA-endorsed action.

De-escalation is also an important skill for many to know in intense situations, so we began offering training prior to actions to improve our on-the ground marshaling. Equipping ourselves with this shared knowledge helps to increase our confidence in the streets and in each other, and is something we look forward to doing more of in 2022.

Bike marshals holding an intersection.
Bike marshals holding an intersection.

Challenges

Like CDSA as a whole, two challenges have loomed large for Red Rabbits this year: capacity and engagement. Getting enough people to show up for actions is crucial, and there has been a noticeable slump in volunteers for both marshaling and protest logistics. This goes hand-in-hand with another challenge we’ve faced: lack of time to properly engage Red Rabbits members. Many of us leaders in Red Rabbits have duties split between multiple campaigns or committees, so finding the time to do the extra work to make sure everyone else stays engaged can be tough. This is why in 2022, we plan on being more intentional about spreading the work amongst more people, so we can keep building Red Rabbits and avoid burnout.

A collective challenge for both the Rabbits and the chapter as a whole is how to integrate CDSA-endorsed actions more strategically with the rest of our chapter work. When our Executive Committee votes on whether to endorse an action, we believe there should be a robust discussion of how the action will materially advance the goals of our chapter campaigns, branches and/or working groups and how the chapter will offer support to make that happen. One area we definitely would like to see improvements in is turnout to actions. You can’t build a multiracial mass movement without a MASS amount of people! There’s nothing we love more than seeing both chapter leaders and new DSA members show up to represent CDSA in the streets.

What’s Next?

Where we succeeded was through practices that strengthened our relationships not only with each other as teammates, but with our coalition partners and other socialist groups out in the streets. We were able to demonstrate and build that trust by sharing our resources, trainings, and experiences collected freely with our comrades both within and outside of CDSA, including routinely hosting debriefs and sharing space with one another after intense actions. We’ve seen in practice the way building our relationships and establishing trust is an integral part of not only information security but protecting and advancing the socialist movement across the board.

An often overlooked part in the work behind a security team like Red Rabbits is how much behind-the-scenes labor it takes to make us functional and advancing. After long and arduous actions where we needed numbers out in the streets there was still so much outreach, record keeping, and day-to-day work that also needed to be tended to. Administrative and communication based roles are how we can take our debriefs and lessons learned and turn them into best practices, and how we maintain the relationships we create by entering high-stress situations with strangers who become comrades. This can’t be done with a reflective vest and bike in hand, and the work of those on the frontlines wouldn’t be possible without it. It is also a practice in our commitment to disability justice that security work doesn’t just mean physically showing up to situations that have a risk level, whether that risk be physical, legal, or otherwise. 

Highlighting these principles we’ve learned over the past year, a priority of our team is how we’re nurturing the work that needs to be done outside of direct actions.

In 2022, we plan on expanding our two existing teams (Marshals and Protest Logistics), while also introducing new ways for CDSA members to get involved with Red Rabbits, including formalizing:

  • An Admin and Training Team that will provide regular training to our marshals, the chapter as a whole, and our coalition partners
  • An Infosec Team that will be a chapter resource for any members with infosec concerns and work with the secretary and web team to help ensure chapter infosec.
  • An Outreach Team, which will connect with chapter committees, working groups and campaigns to see how we can support their external organizing, work with Creative Team to obtain evergreen socialist propaganda, and plan meetings and socials for Red Rabbits
  • National Liaison position(s), that will attend national DSA Red Rabbits meetings, provide report-backs to the Chicago chapter and communicate input to the national committee

The work of Red Rabbits requires comrades of all abilities, as it encompasses both on the ground direct action and at-home support. We hope that expanding our team will allow more CDSA members to feel empowered to join us in the next phase of our fluffle.

If you are a CDSA member interested in joining Red Rabbits fill out this form. We can’t wait to work with you!