Waiting For The Protesters

Watching the media debates about Ferguson, about militarized police, about use of force, about all of it… I am A) depressed, and B) put in mind of C. P. Cavafy’s amazing poem “Waiting for the Barbarians“. Go, read it! (Ok, that’s the English translation; if you want the Greek, here it is.)

Cavafy’s poem rings true for so many situations–the war on terror (or on drugs, or on…) justifies somethings, and excuses waiting on others. For purposes of Ferguson (I wonder, in passing, whether “Ferguson” will become shorthand for this sort of thing, or whether there are just so many cases that Ferguson will fade into just another face in the crowd), a rioting crowd justifies military-style buildup (of course, “military” would actually preclude the use of tear gas, so the adjective is not a perfect fit); if you go to the trouble of suiting up, hell, you want to dance!

So, yeah, with sincere apologies to Cavafy and any who love him…

What are we arming for, assembled in the roadway?

The protesters are due here today.

Why aren’t we talking to the people?
Why are we in riot gear, in armored cars?

Because the protesters are coming today.
What inroads could officers make now?
Once the protesters are here, we’ll counter their will.

Why did the SWAT teams arrive so early,
And why are their trucks in the city’s main square
With weapons leveled at the grieving crowd?

Because the protesters are coming today
And the SWAT teams are ready for violence.
They have rubber bullets, wooden plugs,
Tear gas, and flash-bang grenades.

Why have officers come from far and wide
Wearing their military-surplus desert camo?
Why have they put on night-vision goggles,
Gas masks, and body armor plates?
Why are they carrying assault rifles
With custom-fitted flashlights and scopes?

Because the protesters are coming today,
And things like that intimidate the protesters.

Why don’t our trained negotiators come forward as usual
To speak with leaders, hear what they have to say?

Because the protesters are coming today
And we are afraid of retribution for past actions.

Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
Everyone going home so lost in thought?

Because the world has changed and the protesters have cameras.
And some who have witnessed the confrontation say
The cops are the barbarians now.

And now, what can we do if we cannot blame the victims?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.


  1. forestdragon says

    Yep. All they need are the riot shields shown in Transmetropolitan – the ones that read SUBMIT NOW in large unfriendly white-on-red letters.

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