ITHACA, N.Y. –– This weekend’s racial justice rally in downtown Ithaca saw a departure from the normal routine of speakers at the Bernie Milton Pavilion followed by marching to the Ithaca Police Department. This week, protesters used their Sunday to both prepare for upcoming conflicts with right-wing activists and to target institutions upholding injustice other than IPD.
Protesters met at their usual spot on the Commons this week to discuss rising tension between themselves and right-wing opposition –– on full display at a Trump rally on Meadow St. Friday during which violence broke out. The tone of this Sunday’s rally was clearly preparatory, and multiple times the crowd was asked to brace themselves for escalation in the coming weeks.
“Know yourself, know your trauma, know how you’re going to react in those situations and prepare for it,” said protester Josh Dolan, who himself was struck in the face during last week’s Trump rally.
Notably, the attendance at this week’s rally was significantly larger than it has been over the last few weeks. During the more than four months of action, crowds have dwindled from several hundred at their peak to around 15 to 20 people at their lowest. This past Sunday, a crowd of around 100 people showed up to participate.
After their brief meeting at Bernie Milton, the large crowd took to the streets and marched, not to IPD headquarters, but to the Department of Social Services building on West State Street.
There, organizers touched on the need to shift attention from just defunding and reforming law enforcement, to instead reforming all systems meant to disenfranchise the public. Protesters talked about the history of social services tied to benefiting primarily white widows during WWII –– all the way to the present, where black Ithacans struggle to find decent housing through DSS.
“When we say defund the police, we’re freeing up money to do other things, like take control of the DSS system and make sure that they’re not abusing the people they serve,” said protester Ellie Pfeffer.
In addition to using the Human Services building as a backdrop to protesters’ teaching moment, the group also used the parking lot between Human Services and the Southern Tier Aids Program to practice protesting formations and blocking techniques. The tactics protesters are practicing look to ward off injury in case of not only violence from opposition protesters –– but also from law enforcement.
Umbrellas and other blocking tools look to protect protesters from rubber bullets, tear gas and other use of force.
Though Ithaca Police Department does not use SWAT or other tactically equipped officers to police protests as a matter of policy, the relationship between police and protesters has grown more volatile in past weeks. On Oct. 11, IPD made the first arrests in over four months of protest after protesters occupied the street in front of their headquarters and spray painted the building. During the arrests, protesters did attempt to engage in a blocking technique of linking arms in a circle, they say to prevent personal injury.