So, a friend of mine started a discussion about the value (or lack thereof) in using the phrase ACAB. Reading the comments for and against it, all of the arguments were very familiar and almost identical to the ones used to argue over the value of using other rhetorical hyperboles. However, after reading over what my friend was saying and several other comments multiple times I unexpectedly got something new out of the discussion. Something that I feel applies to all rhetorical hyperboles like this one and the debates waging around them.
People who argue against the use of phrases like ACAB/ “Die Cis Scum”/”Kill Whitey” etc. often make the argument that statements like these are alienating, not productive, or not conducive to creating discussion and dialogue, but this is because they are trying to contextualize a militant tactic (the use of a violent/threatening rhetoric) within the parameters of a strictly educational and outreach oriented approach to activism, but that is not the context in which these phrases are used; that’s not what they’re there for.
ACAB exists for the moments when a cop has you pinned by the throat against the side of a car and is wrenching your partner out of your grasp. It exists for the times when they’ve shot yet another victim in cold blood. It’s for the times we are not trying to educate. If there is never a time in your career as an activist in which you are not trying to educate then it is hard for you to envision such a time existing all. You mistakenly assume that everyone is trying to fight oppression through education and outreach, just like you, but if that were true phrases like ACAB wouldn’t exist at all, because they are, by nature, alienating and hyperbolic.
No one tries to educate people about what is wrong with our criminal justice system by screaming ACAB. When I want to educate people about police brutality I hand out pamphlets or talk about my own personal experiences in a calm and rational manner. When I’m watching cops harass people of color or beat protesters or slam my friends faces in the hoods of cars it’s not a good time for educating anyone, or if it is the cops will do that work for me with their actions. You can be damn sure that if things have reached the point where someone is screaming ACAB at the top of their lungs people are well beyond alienated; they are trying to deal with and express their trauma or show solidarity for someone else’s.
*I would really appreciate feedback on this post, I’m somewhat unsure of how clearly I’m getting my point across here.*
NOTE: This kind of leads into a larger debate about which style of activism is more productive, grassroots community organizing or militant/ insurrectionist tactics. People tend to set these two styles of activism up as a dichotomy and say that you can only pick one and that only one of them is THE RIGHT WAY to be an activist.
Some people staunchly on the community organizing side of the line tend to poo-poo militant rhetoric or direct action because they believe the ONLY way to be an activist is the by trying to educate people and draw them in and get them involved. I believe that community organizing and militancy are not opposites that you have to choose between, but different styles appropriate to different situations. I also believe that if you strictly prefer one over the other then that’s fine, practice voluntary association and work with an affinity group of people who share your tactics. However, I think it’s particularly important to acknowledge that there are people out there who share many of your goals, but may use very different tactics from your own and that their work is still incredibly valuable. Both of these styles of activism are crucial, you can’t eradicate sexism by smashing windows, but you can’t smash capitalism with pamphlets and fliers either.