Anaheim, CA–By 5 p.m. I was completely sunburnt – even my eyes felt singed by the scorch of the Southern California sun. I was seriously depleted of anything resembling energy. I was done. My knees were buckling underneath the weight of my tape recorder, sweat and even that faux black feather that landed ever so gently on my shoulder … No energy to flake it off. I was losing it.
Calmly, coolly coming down the red carpet, past the teen and tween Disney actors, past that juggling long-legged stilt master, was a finely bedecked LaDonna Harris, Comanche, president of Americans for Indian Opportunity. Harris, Johnny Depp’s adopted mother, wore hypnotic turquoise. I could hear the audible gasps of the white reporters around me. They don’t experience turquoise often – not like this. They see it on shelves in Middle American trading posts. Not on bona fide Indians, and definitely not on red carpets at Disneyland.
I spoke with Harris, the whole time feeling the bony fingers of my elders poking at me insistently: “You have one mouth and two ears for a reason. Shut up and listen.” So I did. I asked only questions, if I could, and then thanked LaDonna for sharing a moment with me – Simon, the oft-verbose pain in many asses.
Then along comes Johnny Depp. There was an immediate roar from the crowd, like teens at a TOOL concert. People pushed hard at my back. “Johnny! Over here! Johnny!” The actor’s name was shouted maddeningly … like cries from a sinking boat. And all I could think was, “Who is this lady standing in front of me?”
The lady had appeared almost immediately. I could see her eyeing the white, laminated sign I stood before. It read, “INDIAN COUNTRY TODAY.” She looked at it with a stare & glare, then said, “Here, Armie. Right here.”
Armie Hammer, the actor who plays John Reid/The Lone Ranger in the film, suddenly appeared in front of me, standing tall in a soft-grey suit and with a smile that could melt the hearts of the darkest demon.
I found myself before the man in the mask. … What do I ask him? I thought. I could jab him with something major – like, “What do you know of the plight of Native Americans today?” Or “What does ‘Redskin’ mean to you?” No, I thought. Just tag him with the question I laid on Bruckheimer. I have only a moment:
“Why should Native Americans support this film? Why should they watch it?”
“Because I think this is a great project and one of the few examples when you actually see the Native side,” he said. “You see what happens when, through the Industrial Revolution and the building of the railroads, there was exploitation of indigenous peoples across the entire continent. And this is a movie where they don’t paint it in a positive light. In fact, there’s a very serious thing that happens at the end of the movie, and I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s a moment where you look at it and go, ‘Uh, yeah. We definitely didn’t handle that right.’ There’s no glorification of it. It’s a very real sort of side of what happened, and I think it’s a great side to see.”
Then, zip. Armie moved on and Johnny was gone, slipped past me somewhere behind Hammer during the interview. …Did they plan this? I thought. Was that an intentional diversion?
Who was the mysterious lady?
I didn’t get to speak to Johnny Depp, or even see him up close. But from the roar of the reporters and photographers, and the elbows in my back, I know he was there, in close proximity, just on the other side of Armie and the mysterious lady.
From the story’s original editors: Late last week we received an unexpected call from our New York-based correspondent Simon Moya-Smith: He had obtained press credentials for the copy,000-a-ticket gala premiere of The Lone Ranger at Disneyland in Anaheim, outside of Los Angeles. He attended and was one of a few Native journalists on the scene for an event tied to a film that has sparked nearly endless debate in Indian country. We didn’t know what to expect — would he speak to Johnny Depp, who plays Tonto in the film and who has proven unresponsive to ICTMN’s invitations? Would he get to see the movie? Would anybody even talk to him? “Give it a shot,” we said. “It’s going to be a crazy circus. Get what you can.”
Anaheim, CA–At about 4 p.m., some slippery lookin’ reporter with a double chin and gigantic sweat beads on his brow asked me which outlet I was working for.
“Indian Country Today,” I blurted.
“Hoping to interview Johnny Depp then?” he buzzed.
“No, man,” I said. “I’m here for the Ceremony. There’s going to be a fire later, and tobacco and spirits and all kinds of goodies. So keep the camera ready. They’re bringing in the wood now.”
My conversation with the portly camera handler was quick and ugly. Good, I thought. Talking to him was a waste of my time; I needed to watch this whole scene take shape. We, the journos, were huddled together like cattle ready for the slaughter. And any musician-turned-reporter will tell you that there’s very little difference between a press pit and mosh pit: throw your elbows. Avoid the wiggy drunkard in the middle. Gain the upper hand by staying low beneath the frenzy. Occasionally you may suffer a knee to the mouth, but it’s all in the name of The Story.
On my way out of the red carpet area, I caught a sudden glimpse of the film’s producer, Jerry Bruckheimer. He was straggling far behind the herd of ticket holders; the B-list celebrities and even the stars of the film had long made their way to end of the path, which, it occurred to me, was the exact shade of blood. Jerry B. was talking to a gesticulating show host who seemed too jittery in her posture not to be doped up on caffeine or coke or Red Bull. A moment later, I swooped in like a vulture hoping to steal some last scraps of meat (or at least nibble on the bone) of what looked like a rich interview. The Disney gods favored me that day, because as soon as I walked to the metal partition separating Bruckheimer from myself, the interview between Jerry and the frazzled reporter was over.
“Sweet Jesus, Jerry, do you have a second?” I shouted. “Indian Country Today. Can I ask you a few questions?”
My curious cry caught him off guard (as you want to do as a reporter in high-octane, red carpet situations like this — if you don’t grab their attention, they’ll keep on truckin’ and you’ll miss some seriously good comments or wisdom).
Bruckheimer obliged, and then I went in with the business that mattered to me. I asked the question that has been gnawing at so many of us from day one:Why?
“Why should Native Americans support this film? Why should they watch it?” I asked.
“It’s a retelling of a tale from a whole different perspective,” he said. “… From a Native American telling of the tale.”
Then zip. He was gone.
Anaheim, California–“Ah, god! Jesus!” I shouted. “Here they come!” Several reporters behind me clawed at my back to see what the Hell this savage reporter was staring at. Suddenly, a gaggle of white kids, clad in faux Native garb and face paint, sauntered down the red carpet; Mom dancing jubilantly in front of them, snapping photographs and goading reporters with mics to interview her brood.
They had Ritalin grins and privilege in their eyes … but also ignorance – yes, I knew it had to happen. Someone had to do it. Costumed-bodies crowded the red carpet, and wherever there’s face paint and fringe, there will be a white Indian. You can bet your ass, slick. #Halloween.
But I don’t want to get into that now. First thing’s first: the cleavage.
The Lone Ranger has caused a serious division in Indian Country, but we’re no stranger to that, are we? Divide & Conquer. We know the phrase – all too well. Nobody on this goddamn continent knows the detriments of the D&C quite like the indigenous peoples of this place, our place. “Remove the head and you kill the body.” That might’ve worked in 16thCentury Europe, but not here. No. You remove the head we honor it and then sprout another. We’re relentless like that. We’re the rock in the American shoe. Rumor has it that, at least once a week, President Andrew Jackson would wake up and find several stones in his boots. Jagged Toe Jack, they called him, and so do I.
I digress. … We were about to discuss the bathroom scene before we went on some odd rant about the DCs and heads and Jagged Toe Jack, the bastard.
After the wildly luxuriant premiere, we ended up at the Piano Bar in Hollywood. I was completely stoned. “When in Rome,” they say. And I certainly was in the back alleys of Rome that day. The premiere was over – for good or vicious ill, and I found myself reflecting on the afternoon, listening to my tape recorded interviews with Jerry Bruckheimer, Armie Hammer, LaDonna Harris, Saginaw Grant and others, when this large black man lunged into the urinal beside me.
“What are you listening to?” he asked.
“I’m not sure yet,” I said. “Some hits. Some flops.”
He stumbled a bit, nodded, urinated and then left without washing his hands, massaging the doorknob on his way out.
Alone again, standing in the narrow bathroom of some seedy dive just off the Sunset Strip, I wondered how I’d conclude this journey, this sojourn of wisdom and anger and edification and booze. Would I endorse the film? How could I? I haven’t even seen the end product, and I never endorse things without trying them on. Right.
Later, I found myself leaning over the bar and writing frantically on several available napkins. I scribbled things like, “Disney is a corporation. Not an advocacy group” and “the [American Indian College Fund] earned hundreds of thousands of dollars today” – which is true. According to Public Education Director Dina Howerdel, the College Fund raised an estimated $266,000 as result of the premiere. That’s what we call a headline in this business, folks – especially in Indian Country.
So it was a pleasant surprise to find this rumpled napkin in my jacket pocket the next morning. “Fine news,” I recall saying as I burrowed my toes deep into the sand of Venice Beach. I had a plane to catch, back to New York, and as I dug deeper into my jacket pockets searching for more evidence of debauchery, I found a ripped parchment with several letters etched into it. The words read, “Keep it pure.” … So I will, and do exactly as my elder in Denver instructed:
“Watch the fucking film and then get back to me. Until then, you’re no expert on it.”
Sweet Jesus, I thought. That’s a solid argument. He should’ve been a lawyer. Cheers.
Below is a selection of images from the photographer; more photos from the protests may be found here.
– CourtneyOccupy –]]>
The streets were covered in color. Pregnant with people, full of Angelen@s that were standing up for their freedom of expression, art, and speech. The police response was predictable and unconscionable. Those in power are trying (and failing) to apply the insane broken windows theory on the 1st Amendment! The gall of this system is shocking. They will do anything to stop dissent, and people are waking up. Kids shot and tackled and beaten and gassed for using sidewalk chalk on a sidewalk.
It’s not really about the chalk, and you and I both know it. It’s about what’s being written.
One of the components to this movement in my opinion is the recognition of the power of the people united. On Thursday night, it felt like Los Angeles was the People’s Town. For an evening, public space became one of meaningful expression. Messages to lovers were written on street corners. Inspiring quotes from social justice figures were drawn on bleak emtpy walls. And smiles were everywhere as people were empowered to be heard through chalk.
The #LAPD, just like the police forces in New York, Oakland, Portland, San Francisco, Chicago, San Diego, UC-Davis, Miami, Seattle, DC, and Philadelphia, reacted how they always do. It is systemic fascism. Lest we forget, the day before the Brooklyn Bridge saw 700 arrests last fall, JP Morgan Chase donated $4.5 million to the NYPD. If you’ll remember, the Oakland Police Department received “counter-insurgency” training from Bahraini military police and Israeli Defense Forces. Training for what? How to deal with some tents and signs? For peaceful assembly?
The connection to that type of money in politics & policing in LA? The lobbyists for the 1% in corporations like the Central City Association, the Central City East Association, and other business improvement district firms throughout the city. The free speech crackdown began when activists laid their heads on the sidewalks at #626Wilshire, the offices of the CCA. These groups give money to every single City Council seat and are “helping shape policy” in City Hall nearly every day.
Who is lobbying for Bank of America, Chase, Wells Fargo, Verizon, Walmart, Ralph’s, Chevron, AEG [property developers]? The Central City Association. Who is pushing for further criminalization of the homeless, rent hikes on the long-term community residents, “intelligence-based graffiti”, a Walmart in Chinatown (and 211 other locations in LA County)? The Central City Association.
So the police fired gas, flashbangs, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds, and beat people with batons. Who are they protecting and serving? The 1%… and a system that values profits over people, property over community, stifling dissent, imprisoning people, and keeping the status quo. On Thursday Night in DTLA, chalk became a catalyst for the people to take the power back.
– Ryan Rice –]]>
Los Ageles, CA–On Thursday at the Downtown Los Angeles monthly Art Walk, a police escalation erupted into an uprising of the people. All because Occupy Los Angeles activists organized an action around our right to free speech through chalking. The action started at 7pm, and immediately the police made aggressive arrests for using chalk on the sidewalk. By 9pm, hundreds of cops had amassed on 5th street, some in riot gear because the people of Los Angeles had taken it upon themselves to create their own art at Artwalk. Energy and anger buzzed around the crowd as people spilled into the streets from the filled sidewalks, furious and frightened at the amount of police. A woman of small stature was slammed to the ground, face first, and then arrested for using chalk on the streets. Her face was contorted in pain as three officers twisted her arms back to zip tie her wrists. People in the streets, yell “Shame.” Chants of “Whose Streets? Our Streets” and “Fuck the police” spread through the crowd.
But really, what did the police expect? They showed up in large numbers, with weapons and riot gear. A line of motorcycle cops formed, lights flashing, engines ready. As they moved forward, the crowd ran in a dizzying, angry and frightened manner. Riot cop lines formed on all sides of the intersection, pushing people in two directions – to Pershing Square and North on Spring. Guns with rubber bullets fired at the dispersing crowd. On Spring Street, I watched a man get shot at close range, stumble from the sidewalk into the street and collapse. I ran up to him to see if he was okay; as soon as I touched his shoulder, the police surged forward towards the man. One male officer pulled back his foot and kicked the man on the side. I saw him flinch, but ran back as an officer reaches for my arm. The man was grabbed and dragged behind police lines. His limp body was cuffed and taken away. The police continued to move forward, in what the media would call the next day clearing the area block by block. Every five feet, the police line stopped, and their commanding officer yes, “Maintain the line. Whatever you do, keep the line!” Otherwise, what? The several hundred frightened people on the street, who were at least thirty feet away, would rush the line? Was this a police who are supposed to protect and serve or a militaristic group attacking civilians?
Each time they advanced, both men on either side of the line would point their guns at the crowd threateningly aiming, occasionally firing in the crowd. I later heard that the Pershing Square contingent was tear gassed. Helicopters buzzed overhead, their lights shined on the streets. The crowd continued to mill around the streets, as the police continued to move forward. Tourists and groups of young people approached the riot line and take pictures. It was a spectacle now. Riot cops in downtown Los Angeles because of chalking. The city was shut down – streets are blocked off, freeways are jammed, the train stops are closed. Clearly this is bigger than just chalk.
When we started to organize around the Central City Association after May 1st, we knew it was a good target. After all the CCA is money in politics, it is corruption, it is a pretty big gear in the system we are trying to fight. Since our siege on CCA began, we have continually faced state repression vis-a-vis the police. It has not stopped. Captain Frank is always there lurking in the background, at least when he’s not dressed in his suit and lunching with the CCA members (as he did last month!) We have a hit nerve. Several nerves. CCA. And then the idea of private property and free speech. Free speech is not really free – we are limited to where, when and how we can exercise our right to free speech. The state makes laws in order to repress the people. Our founding fathers had no qualms about admitting that – we cannot have a true democracy, because the mass of the people must be controlled. That is the basis of our principle of democracy, that only certain people have the authority to do what they want, the rest of us must obey their laws. The masses of the people are stupid, illiterate gremlins. We cannot allow the masses to rule. It is the marginalized masses who are criminalized by most laws. This is why you cannot sit, you cannot lie, you cannot have your belongings with you on the streets of Los Angeles. Laws are made to criminalize the bodies and the existence of those who do not fit into our society.
So this is not really about chalk. It is about repression. It is about who has the authority. It is about who has the control. It is not us, it is them. And they are trying to turn the rest of the us against us. But we have to see through the media fog and their justification of their action. We must stand together as humans and realize that there are bigger problems in our society: poverty, inequality and corruption – in a word, capitalism. Capitalism is the systemic problem. This movement, which is sometimes called Occupy, for better or worse, and may never admit it, is anti-capitalist. Somewhere in its decentralized core, Occupy is about abolishing the system and restructuring our society in a completely different way. Occupy dares to shake the status quo. What happened at Art Walk is what happens to us, activists, and us, houseless, poor, and of color, all the time. We are brutally arrested, we are kicked, we are harassed by the police. Welcome, Art Walkers, to our life; welcome to the new phase of this movement: state repression.
– Karo S –
Then we carpooled about 10 miles to an industrial area of northern L.A. for a union organizing event: minimum wage garbage separators with poor safety, no training and no benefits are fighting to organize a union. We were the only Occupy group there, but about 500 people from a dozen or more unions were there. It was well-organized, with a band, a jumbotron and live video. Dolores Huerta was among the speakers. After that it was off to Downtown L.A. to join Occupy movements from every corner of Los Angeles County.
Check out our other May Day stories here.