In this excerpt from The End of Protest, the author compares the tactics of rioting and ambushing and argues in favor of the ambush when confronting the police.
“Rather than trying to overcome police repression in a series of successful protests, activists should aspire to a dramatic victory in a single encounter. A video of a stunning victory against paramilitary police could mobilize the world. This victory does not need to be violent. In fact, a spectacular and humiliating non-violent defeat of riot police would be far more effective.”
The closest a spontaneous riot has come to a successful revolution against an empire occurred in Constantinople, present-day Istanbul, in AD 532. During the spectacular people’s riot, known as the Nika Revolt, a large portion of the capital city was burned and a new emperor declared by the people. The riots nearly forced Emperor Justinian I to flee and almost toppled the Byzantine Empire. The Nika Revolt is significant in the history of protest because it demonstrates that revolutionary moments happen when the people break the pattern.
In 532, two hundred years after Constantine transferred the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople, the life of the people was oriented around the chariot races that took place in the hippodrome. The chariot races were bloody entertainment dominated by two competing teams, or factions: the Blues and the Greens. There were also two minor factions — the Reds, who aligned with the Greens, and the Whites, supporters of the Blues. Historians disagree about the political nature of these circus factions. Some historians argue that the Blues and Greens were akin to contemporary football hooligans whose team loyalty was non-political. It is true that the factions often engaged in rioting, violence against each other and attacks on civilians. From one perspective the factions were similar to gangs. On the other hand, some historians believe that the factions represented differing political and theological tendencies. From this perspective, the Greens were the faction of the landed aristocracy, and the Blues were the team favoured by the mercantile class. The chariot races then became a proxy for a culture war. What is clear is that each emperor favoured one…