Excitement for the dawn of a day that had taken much planning was severely tempered by the harsh reality of the night before. Sleep deprived but running on adrenalin, our group headed over to Grant Park.
In the same way the powers that be had tried to frame the narrative for the May Day ‘General Strike’ action by conveniently breaking news that morning of a terrorist plot by supposed Occupy activists, news of the arrest of the NATO 3 on the eve of M20 had been a prominent talking point over the past day. However, by now, more details were emerging, which made the whole scenario seem very suspect.
A pattern had started to emerge that had distinct similarities to the alleged May 1st plan to blow up an Ohio bridge – a scenario that turned out to be facilitated by the FBI to entrap a group of unfortunates who, left to their own devices, would likely be barely able to set off fireworks on bonfire night. Similarly, with the NATO 3 there was much talk of planted evidence and a highly suspect search warrant.
Following a speech by Jesse Jackson, Chris Geovanis of Chicago Indymedia briefed members of the media under the shade of a press not-quite-tent. She told us that when the police conducted the search that had lead to the NATO 3’s arrest it had taken them four hours to produce a warrant which was unsigned when it finally arrived. “That is the hallmark of dirty policing in this town,” said Giovanis, “There may very well be police entrapment here.”
The sun was beating down on Grant Park, so as the rallying cries began in the band shell, protesters were mostly scattered to take advantage of any shade they could find. Tactical and medic briefings wisely took place amidst clumps of trees.
Just before 2 PM, the protesters – and police – began to take formation, lining up in the road alongside the park. Protesters took their place in the center of the street, which was lined by police in riot helmets on either side. At the top of the march, ahead of the official rally banner, press were kettled in a pen of their own. Two police trucks were parked in front of the press pen, and in front of them, somewhat bizarrely, there was a red double-decker sight-seeing bus, the top floor of which was filled with news camera crews.
As the march set off, with the indie media segregated from the protesters, they resorted to interviewing each other. This made more sense that it might otherwise have, since the persecution of key livestreamers and members of the Twitterverse and Bloggersphere, had become one of the main stories of the day.
Walking through the streets of Chicago, I fell in step with Luke Rudkowski a.k.a. @Lukewearechange, who was giving an on camera interview as he did his livestreaming thing. Listening in, I heard him talk about how he’d spent the night at a “safe house” outside of the city. This was a precaution several other streamers had thought it prudent to take. “We stream live, raw and unedited for people to make up their own mind,” explained Luke to the old guard reporter. “It’s a very weird situation when homeland security is interviewing your friends about you.”
When they weren’t comparing war stories from the past 24-hours, those in the press kettle were gleefully mocking the news crews atop the double-decker bus. Physically separated from the actual march by the two police trucks, these so called “journalists” were limited to reporting a perspective the police controlled. It served as a graphic illustration as to why the world is tuning into livestreams as mainstream news audiences continue to fall.
Halfway through the march, I ducked under the leading “NO to NATO warmakers” banner and worked my way back through the impressively large mass of bodies. I found my friends just as the march ground to a halt at a point where a group of veterans intended to symbolically hand back their medals. Hot, tired, and too far back to hear the speeches, we spread our large banner on the ground and lay down on top of it.
As I lay back and sunbathed with my eyes closed, I could hear the crowd at the head of the march taunting the cops on horseback who were blocking their way (“Get that animal off that horse”). When I open them once more, much of the crowd has already dissipated. Parched, I left my group, and went in search of somewhere to buy a drink. This turned out to be a highly fortuitous time to act on my thirst.
As I headed back along the march route I encountered massive formations of ominously attired officers from a variety of law enforcement agencies. The state police I passed in full RoboCop body armor looked particularly threatening, sporting batons of a size and length more akin to baseball bats. Before ducking into a convenience store I passed one who was clearly in a leadership role. His smile, swagger, not to mention the large, lighted cigar he made a huge show of savoring all seemed highly inappropriate.
Heading back with supplies in hand, I bumped into my California 99% Solidarity media bus comrade @CodeFrameSF. He was one of several new but fast friends I’d made over the course of this hectic and historic weekend. As we made our way back towards the rally the CPD issued their first dispersal warning. A few minutes later the first of several injured and bloodied protesters began to trickle by, the most severe cases were being tended to and/or carried by Occupy medics. At this point, having got a fair idea of what was likely to come watching the livestreams the previous night, this reporter decided to get the fuck out of dodge.
Back in the relative comfort of the 99% Solidarity base camp, I monitored the livestreams. With the permit having timed out at 4 PM for the official march, it had now morphed into one of the wildcat variety, which was being policed with increasing ferocity.
Once again, the mainstream press were paying attention to Occupy for all the wrong reasons. Members of our group clustered around the TV and channel surfed through several network news reports.
The visions of violence were so shocking that the collective tone of the anchors was distinctly sympathetic to those on the business end of the batons. “We’ve also seen police officers pummeling people and we don’t know why,” noted CNN’s Don Lemon. Later on in the same report, after viewing a particularly brutal shot, he exclaimed, “My goodness! Does anyone deserve that?”
Reports of injuries and arrests were coming in thick and fast. At this point one of our number with legal experience peeled off to do jail support.
Disturbed by the riot porn that was taking over the TV on all channels, and in need of food and beverages of the alcoholic variety, the rest of our group decamped to a local eatery. The conversation was subdued, as our number stared down at their iPhone and iPad screens, keeping tabs on the wildcat marches that continued on for several hours.
As we walked back our base, a by now beyond capacity Red Roof Inn room, a brief moment of semi-delirious levity took hold as we spontaneously broke out in a chorus of our new favorite chant: “What do we want? Time travel. When do we want it? It’s relevant.” Yeah, I know, it’s occu-humor. Like much about the movement, you either get it or you don’t.
Full disclosure: Nicole Powers has been assisting with 99% Solidarity’s efforts and is in no way an impartial observer. She is proud of this fact.
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