One of the recurrent refrains that echoes across the city of Toledo in the weeks after the October 15 riot in North Toledo involves the supposed influence of "outside agitators" on the anti-Nazi protesters. I have heard city officials, community leaders, and even the neo-Nazi group NSM utter the same sentiment.
The reality is that these "agitators" were, by and large, Toledoans themselves, and quite a few of them live in the North End.
The tendency to write off this group of protesters as outsiders might be due to the fact that we can dismiss these people from future conversations on the North End. If, the reasoning goes, they are outsiders, then we can shut them out from events like the community forum Tuesday night at the Zablocki Center.
Classifying these protesters as "outsiders" also helps some community leaders come to terms with the violence that erupted on October 15. Were it not for these "outside agitators" - as the theory goes - the crowd would not have reacted the way it did.
To follow this line of reasoning is a condescending form of racism in and of itself. What people who believe this theory are really saying is that poor minorities cannot think for themselves, possess no sense of political consciousness, and need white "agitators" to provoke them into action. This is patently absurd; the protesters that I spoke with voiced a great deal of well-reasoned political thoughts to explain why they were out in the streets. I might not agree with their views, but to deny that there was a political element to the protest and riot is the height of patronizing elitism.
Does this excuse the burning of Jim and Lou's Bar, or the looting of stores? Most definitely not, nor does it excuse the attacks on police officers, emergency crews, or passing motorists. The violent criminals in the riot should be punished for their actions.
However, Toledoans need to disabuse themselves of the notion that "outside agitators" stirred up an otherwise clueless mob. The protesters of all colors and backgrounds knew exactly why they were there, and articulated rational political thought in defense of the protest. That some elements within the crowd chose illegal means to convey their message does not take away from the fact that such messages existed.
For those who have not nodded off during this missive, I dissect this issue further in an article in Clamor Magazine this week.