Editor’s note: This is part of a collection of first-person accounts from #noNATO.
Chicago, IL–This account is not going to be the super detailed story of the battle between protesters and police. For one, I hardly saw any of the stories that people mentioned other than what I could find on YouTube, so it wouldn’t make sense to write a personal account of something I didn’t even witness. And two, I think my insights would paint a bit more interesting picture than the tired story of protesters being bloodied by batons. So instead I’ll give a little insight to the mysterious and silly clown bloc which I participated in for the first time today.
Surely everyone was aware of the massive protest against NATO that took place today in Chicago. It was hard to gauge the approximate numbers in the march but it surely surpassed 10,000. One thing that was for sure is that we will have to learn to adapt this coming summer.
In the past we were struggling to brave the cold and brutal winter, and were desperately looking forward to warmer temperature and greener pastures. If the temperatures pushing 90 weren’t wearing people out, the infamous Chicago humidity was. The clown bloc, which departed from Jackson and Lasalle, traveled a short half mile to rallying point in Grant Park, but upon our arrival it looked as if many of us had run a 10k (to be fair, we did do a lot of clowning around, so we exerted a lot of energy.)
One thing to keep in mind about the clown bloc is that it is a joke, and at the same time it is NOT a joke. What the clowns offer is safety and security to their fellow protesters in a fun and flamboyant way, which draws attention to the absurdity of the subject of which we are protesting. Many of the tactics we use are meant to help deescalate situations, entertain the protesters and soften (or annoy) the police, but more importantly we are out there to have fun.
I only attended a short training a few days before but in essence what the clown bloc does isn’t that different than what many direct action affinity groups do. You must have a variety of hand signals that allow for group as well as participant safety. You must be aware of the situation at all times, but when you have face paint and you are mimicking a cop you can easily get distracted.
We were taught to form a wall, how to “melt”, and charge in slow motion, as well as how to use hugs to secure those in compromising situations. But we often found ourselves just making fools of ourselves, cracking jokes while interacting with those around us and trying to get the police to smile. (By the way, a lot of the CPD seemed to be keeping their batons up their butt, because virtually none of them had a sense of humor, or facial expressions for that matter)
It wasn’t until later in the march when the rally was over and tensions started to rise that I started to see the value in the tactics that we were taught. At that point, I switched off clown mode and was keeping a safe but observant distance. Vermin Supreme (yes, that Vermin Supreme) showed better than any of us clowns that day the effectiveness of “clowning.” His calm, relaxing voice not only kept things from getting out of hand several times, but took people’s attention away from the people with shields and batons and refocused it on one another.
He may not be as outlandish as we were visually but his communication skills were outstanding. He gave a training on his methods to Occupy Chicago back in April and then we half-heartedly listened to his advice, but the NATO protest helped make it clear that our protests are more than just antagonizing and peacefully provoking the police so that we may “shed light” on the oppression and violence inherent in the system, but more that we have a message, and we have a story to tell: to tell the whole wide world that this is the people’s territory.
You have plundered our livelihoods, you’ve stolen our retirement, you’ve destroyed our health, and you’ve corrupted our system. We are merely taking it back. This is non-negotiable. We the people are re-declaring our independence and our freedom. And if it takes a pie in the face or acting like you’ve ran into an invisible wall, then so be it.
Often we have discussed diversity of tactics and what it means to be “non-violent,” but while the debate rages on about those who pursue more traditional methods, opposed to those in all black clothing, don’t forget that those with red noses also have something to offer, and in solidarity we can all fight this fight together.
- David -