Facing Tear Gas is a story-telling project of War Resisters League by and for people that have experienced tear gas all over the world. By making the links between these stories we hope to bring those that profit off of tear gas further into the public consciousness and, along with that, the inspiring movements the gas is used to squelch. This is part of a broader campaign to end the US’s role in the business of tear gas in solidarity with global nonviolent uprisings and those facing US-backed repression everywhere, including within the US.
War Resisters League is building a campaign against tear gas.
Because it’s a tool of repression. Tear gas is almost never used against individuals—it is used as a tool of dis-organization against movements and convergences expressing dissent.
Because it kills. Canisters blasted directly at protesters and gas shot into homes and jails cells have ended many lives. There is a reason tear gas is classified as a chemical weapon and is banned under the “laws of war.”
Because movements asked us to. Pro-democracy activists in Palestine, Egypt and Bahrain have directly asked us here in the U.S. to step up and confront the manufacturers of the tear gas shipped to their oppressors and used against them.
Because there’s a war at home. Police repression, including the use of lethal and “nonlethal” weapons, is a growing force globally, as more and more states wage wars against their own people. In addition to its attacks on people in the U.S., our government supports many police-states abroad, supplying them with weapons. Removing one U.S.-made weapon can lead to removing them all.
Because our cities are crumbling. Highlighting the militarization of the police in the U.S. and their fancy toys raises questions about budget priorities and lifts up stories of communities that are hit first by budget cuts and have long struggled against police racism and brutality.
Because we are rising. Because all of us, as a global justice movement comprised of many struggles, are unstoppable in our demands for change and will continue to make our presence felt in the streets until that change comes.
We want to:
- End U.S. international export and local transfer of tear gas.
- Support U.S.-based groups organizing against domestic militarization.
- Change the story about tear gas among people around the world.
- Change the story about policing among people living in the U.S.
Since the beginning of the Arab Spring in late 2010, new generations of people have gotten to witness and be part of a time of global uprising, many of us for the first time. Economic austerity, dictators’ hold on power, and repression by state forces have brought millions of people into the streets from Egypt to Wisconsin, Greece to Bahrain. In the Fall of 2011, Occupy Wall Street brought thousands of new activists into movements for social change in the U.S., many taking direct action to reclaim principles and values, those often squeezed and manipulated by capitalism, through the symbolic occupation of public space.
As we assembled en mass to express our dissent, we saw protestors throughout the world facing some of the same instruments of repression, including tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets. Much of the tear gas that continues to be used to suppress dissent globally is made in the U.S. and many organizations have sought over the years to call attention to this fact and stop the shipments of tear gas to repressive governments, most notably in Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Right now, U.S.-made tear gas is nearly everywhere, including Egypt, Bahrain, Ecuador, Yemen, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, etc. and is being used by state forces to disperse peaceful protesters.
As a tool of dispersal, in tear gas is always a response to a crowd gathered, a mass of people who have come to protest collectively. Tear gas is handed to police forces to regulate dissent and to prevent it from lingering, to nip it in the bud—because what could we build together if we were in the same public square for long enough?
Within the U.S. and globally, the police operate similarly to the military, taking orders from their chain of command, and, with the expansion of “counter-terrorism” agencies over the last decade following 9/11 and the use of lethal and “nonlethal” weapons against those who “fall out of line” (i.e. those who express their dissent) and those who are deemed necessary to “keep in line” (i.e. those—mostly black and brown people—who are criminalized and incarcerated on a daily basis in the U.S.), the police often becomes a defacto military force.
Militarized police are on the offensive globally, using violent force to protect the power of the state they represent and serve, doing little for the safety and well-being of the communities they work in, with the exception of the privileged few. This is a campaign engaging with tear gas, a tool used by police in many countries, but we recognize that this tool is just the tip of the iceberg. The militarization of the police has been escalating in the U.S. and in other places for a long time. If we demonstrate our people power within the U.S. against the shipment of U.S.-made tear gas to governments and police forces who are using it to repress dissent in their countries as well as against us—people expressing dissent in the U.S.—we can end the U.S.’s role in the business of tear gas. From there, we can continue to build with one another to end the use of all tools of state repression.