Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Thursday's Children Blog Hop: Mob Rule

"Solitude is strength; to depend on the presence of the crowd is weakness.  The man who needs a mob to nerve him is much more alone than he imagines." -Paul Brunton

Many of you probably know by now I recently visited Seattle.  What you may not know is my visit there coincided with a riot.

Last year, the May Day Protests gained Seattle national attention.  Originally billed as a peaceful march supporting immigration reform and workers' rights, the situation deteriorated into one rife with violence and opportunistic vandalism.

This year, I was in Seattle on May Day.

My husband, son, and I were walking around downtown Seattle that morning.  Someone mentioned to us there was a protest planned for that afternoon, and we should clear out.  My husband and son took the Light Rail back to our hotel.

I pulled up the camera on my phone, staked out a spot on a high balcony overlooking everything, and waited.  The things we do for research.

From a writer's perspective, a riot is a fascinating thing to witness.  While I was not present for the actual riot itself (and there was one, though not as devastating as last year's), being there for the build-up and the aftermath provided some interesting insights.

1) Emotion is electric.  People often speak of being able to "feel" the tension in the air before something bad happens.  This is legit.  Everyone was fairly crackling with nervous energy, from the storeowners, to the police, to the people on the street.

There was also a faintly violent undertone that was both intriguing and telling.

2) Mobs feed on passion.  As was the case last year, this year's protests were supposed to be just that: protests.  Despite this, it's easy to understand how a protest can devolve into a riot.

After all, they both feed on the same key ingredient.

Protests depend on passion to be effective.  Riots depend on passion too.  And if you gather together a large group of people who feel strongly about something, it's shockingly easy for that passion to turn septic.

3) You can often tell who is who at a protest-turned-riot.  There are a lot of indicators who is there to protest peacefully, and who is there to wreak havoc.  Clustering into groups, deliberate boisterousness - or, conversely, cold isolationism- and overall attention-seeking behaviors are some.

How people look/present themselves is another.  This is an uncomfortable topic.  It smacks of profiling and prejudice.  But while it should never be the only consideration, it can provide some insight.

In the grand scheme of things, May Day 2013 was fairly benign.  Over almost as soon as it began.  I can't claim to know everything about mob rule because of it.  I had rejoined my family before the real craziness started.

Hell, I wasn't even teargassed.

But what I witnessed was pretty powerful stuff.  If you're a writer, you spend your life seeking to broaden your understanding of the human experience, if only so you can accurately translate it later.

Thanks to May Day, I understand one part just a little bit better.  

Photos I Took

(above) the square at Westlake Center before the first protest march

(above) the first march; already, you can see some people who look like they might be there for something else...

(above) aftermath of the second protest/riot; police blockade at the top of Capitol district


  1. Very interesting and I'm glad you and your family were okay. I like a quote by Mark Twain, he said "Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority it is time to pause and reflect."

    I hope that I'll always keep these words in mind and never get caught up in a mob mentality- I don't like it. It's unreasonable & scary.

  2. Agreed! I like that quote, too. Thanks for reading, Paula :-)

  3. Love this post, and good for you for using this interesting experience in order to more fully understand the human experience. This is the best kind of research!

  4. Hear, hear, Jeanette! That pretty much sums up my life's philosophy. You'll never understand something so well as when you experience it firsthand! Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Hell, I don't even like shopping on Black Friday, talk about ugly mob mentality... I'm glad your vacation provided not only family time, but writing fodder :)

    1. Hey, what's the point of a vacation, right? Wait... that IS the point of a vacation... right?

  6. Now that's inspiration--grabbing a nugget from something potentially scary. Glad you're all OK and glad you got something good out of it!

  7. Wow, it sounds like a very scary occurrence, but like the talented writer you are you processed the event through your art.

    I think you're right--emotion is electric. We are meant to connect and feel with each other.

    By the way, I'm glad you and your family are okay.

  8. Super interesting. I can just picture you on that balcony, phone at the ready. Powerful stuff.

  9. I've seen some mob violence living in China and it can be terrifying. Glad you were okay. Your photos reminded me of "Battle in Seattle"!

  10. Really interesting dissection of a mob riot. Well done. I felt like I was there.

  11. What a great, but scary experience, and I can totally see the inspiration you'd feel.

  12. Chilling! And definitely full of tension.

    The spine-tingling part is KNOWING that it's gonna happen. The G20 meeting in Toronto a few summers ago was like that — streets were closed and barricaded, and you KNEW something was going to happen.


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