Atlanta, GA–I had been to Atlanta, Ga., before — running trainings with Occupy Our Homes Atlanta as part of the Wildfire Project. But until Saturday, I had never been to Atlanta the day George Zimmerman was acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin.
In some ways, it was strange to be away from New York when it happened — the city whose streets I’ve gotten used to marching in, the people I’ve struggled alongside for years, the cops I’ve learned so well. But in many ways, being in Atlanta felt lucky — away from the shiny glass of Wall Street, the manufactured dreams of Times Square, even the quiet Park Slopes that blur our vision and obscure hard truths. Instead, I was in a place where the faces of slave-owning Confederate generals still stand chiseled into the sides of mountains commemorating them, where a sizeable majority of the population is descendant from people kidnapped, enslaved and brutalized ever since. Being in the South felt somehow closer to the truth. But you know what Malcom X said: “Long as you south of the Canadian border, you’re south.”
The first night after the verdict came we marched in the streets, and the march grew with the very real anger and sadness and fear and hope drawing people out to join. The next day was even bigger, in the thousands. We must have marched five miles, much of it in the pouring rain. The city erupted in a symphony of car horns honking in solidarity, echoed by people cheering and clapping from their windows, emboldened by thousands of people stopping on every sidewalk with their fists up, and strengthened by people jumping out of homes, restaurants and cars to join. The music was loud — genuine mourning, righteous fury and deep purpose. I remember thinking, while marching to the beat, that this is the kind of music that revolutions come from.
The sound of the car horns struck me most — in anger, but not anger that they couldn’t get through, all in solidarity and encouragement. I heard from friends who were part of the demonstrations that took over Times Square that even there — in a city where people are so stressed out that they eat while walking — the honking was supportive. Tens of thousands were in the streets in dozens of cities across the country, and the media couldn’t help but report on it. Friends and family who have never identified themselves as political or radical were furious, and many of them took their first steps into a march. Maybe people have had it. Maybe the music is finally getting loud enough.
I suppose it’s like Aura Bogado wrote in The Nation: The question is not whether the Zimmermans of the world (or the rest of us) are white, brown or black; the question is whether we uphold white supremacy or fight to dismantle it. Oddly enough, in this sense, this case is black and white. In a country where a black person is killed by a cop or vigilante every 28 hours, where more black men are in prisons today than were enslaved just before the Civil War, where drones come home to rest after bombing people of color all across the world in the service of U.S. imperialism, you are either for white supremacy or against it.
The honking horns seemed to compel us — white, black and anyone else — to choose a side. They pierced through the wall of white guilt that threatens to handicap some of us, booming: Yes, you are different, your experience in this country is different, and your role in the struggle is different — but you, too, can choose a side.
Rather, You must choose a side.
As the march snaked through downtown Atlanta, the protesters flooded around cars like water. The drivers — the musicians of the day — sat with their windows down, high fiving or clenching a fist in the air. And every so often a marcher would stop at an open window, have a conversation and take down the driver’s phone number to put it on a list for future organizing. At moments like those I was reminded that people don’t march forever, that crisis moments pass and that we must always think of tomorrow today.
The sight of a young woman taking down people’s numbers reminded me how too often we tell ourselves the myth of spontaneity to avoid the hard work of organizing. There is nothing spontaneous about people streaming into the streets. It comes from a rage that builds over years and centuries, the hard work shifting narratives and raising consciousness, the organizing to bring people in and connect groups to one another, the movement-building to create structures to carry us as we fight. And, of course, people join only when an organized community is willing to step off the curb in the first place, ready to go into motion when confrontations are thrust on us and lines are drawn in the sand.
Then I drifted back into the music, an epic score dedicated not just to Trayvon Martin, but also to all the kids carried through the streets those nights by their parents, whose raised fists seemed to declare that they would no longer permit a world in which they were forced to fear for their children’s lives. The horns — and the rest of the music that gives life to our struggles — blasted through Atlanta and all across the country. The tune was unmistakable: Choose your side, organize and take to the streets.
At 5pm we set off towards Caleta, via La Puerta de Elvira to meet up with the Asamblea del Albaicyn. Each group arriving at the gate at the same time (more luck than coordination) and greeting each other with cheers and whistles. Raul turned up on his tricycle, coolers loaded with water bottles and begging a hat to cover his dreds… I gave him mine; I looked silly in it anyway. We numbered about 150 by then.
We continued our little stroll towards Caleta, passing a group in Triunfo fixing up posters and banners. There were affectionate criticisms of their tardiness: “Where are you going?” “To change the world! And you guys are late… hurry up!”
We reached Constitucion, and suddenly we weren’t 150… we were 1000!!! Two more barrios had sneakily joined us, drums and all. We checked each other out, admiring our t-shirts, our banners and our messages. The atmosphere was–electric sounds too cliché–expectant, perhaps. We were beginning to sense the after-shocks travelling back through time. Something big was about to happen.
By the time we reached Caleta our numbers were growing, and then suddenly we can hear drums, music, shouts and cheers as the head of our little procession entered the square to greet the thousands already there waiting for us. People who had come from all over Granada and beyond. The first people I saw were folk I recognised from the acampada. People I had slept beside in the Plaza del Carmen. They seemed as shocked by our numbers as we were by theirs. Looking around we realised we had already passed the 5000 mark of the first demo on 15th May… rumours abounded. Astonishment abounded… crowds of sweaty demonstrators huddled together in the sparse shade as the temperature soared to 35 degrees and everyone looked for people they knew.
That should have been a clue. Who were all these people? Why was it so difficult to find companions from the assemblies?
At 6:30pm we set off… at 6:50 we were still in the square! Thousands had joined us… and more were still coming… and jumping the queue! (This is Spain, after all!) Finally we got back on to Constitucion to head towards the centre and already the head of the march was at Triunfo. Unbelievable… 12,000 was the number buzzing around.
The atmosphere was incredible: charged, elated, indignant and loud! The drums were pounding, the saucepans were clanging, the whistles were… errr… whistling.
We jumped, we shouted, we marched a little bit… repeat. We bumped in to people as surprised and as happy as we were to find a familiar face. We hugged, we compared notes and emotions. We realised we were part of something that still defied explanation.
And still the sun beamed down. Friends and strangers passed bottles of water, or squirted us from water-pistols and atomizers–everyone was a friend, a fellow ‘Indignado’ sharing whatever resources we had brought with us.
Slowly we crept towards the Town Hall where a few thousand Granada FC fans were celebrating their team’s ascension to the first division. “First Division Team, Third Division Government!” we all shouted. And still we streamed past them.
I met a friend who said she had spent half an hour watching us pass, and still we were coming! 20,000 we were once we reached the Fuente de las Batallas! 20,000, when last time we were 5,000!
Children, students, parents, grandparents all together and clamouring for a better world, a true democracy and an end to corporate control of our government.
At 10:30pm we left the fountain to the Granada FC fans. Some to have drinks with friends, others just to rest their weary legs and reflect on what they had been a part of…
That is going to take a little longer than the five hours walking in the Sunday sun. Will let you know when I make sense of all the emotions. There is one thing I do know… I am embraced in the arms of 20,000 people who feel just like me… indignant with the way the powers that be have lied, cheated and stolen our future, and now ‘THEY’ can no longer ignore us. We will reclaim our democracy. We will prevail.
Resistance is NOT futile.
New York, NY–I ran like a fleeting shadow up a dark New York City street. All about me was the occupation. Not the “take a plane to NY and lounge around Zuccotti Park for the afternoon on the One Year Anniversary of OWS” crowd. This was the night-time Birthday March to Times Square on the night of September 16th, 2012–a hardcore crowd. It was unlike any other occupation experience that I’ve ever had. What is the occupation? Who are you people? Tonight those questions would be answered to me in a more profound way. We’re the glue that holds American society together. The playful spirits who appear, not with violence nor its threat, but with a vision of how the world could be—and act on it. But all around us on this march were dozens and dozens of NYPD cops on foot, in cars, in vans, on motorcycles, etc., to keep, in a sense, Queen Hippolyta’s order. But as Bottom’s head was transformed into an ass—magic was soon to be squeezed into the cops’ and the world’s eyes.
At the head of our column was Puck. That’s not his real name, of course, but still apropos. His delight in playing pranks on these foolish mortals no less than the enchanting sprite. We took off from Zuccotti Park on a trek to Times Square—many, many blocks away—to be there when the figurative ball would drop on our one-year-old world. Night time, long urban march, lines of riot cops, the press nowhere in sight—this is where things get violent quickly. But you wouldn’t know it from observing Puck. It was as if, literally, he was from a different world. He’d wander this way, that way, ahead of the group, behind the group, but he was leading us. Not like the NYPD Commander leading his troops a few feet away. It wasn’t just that the local occupiers would defer to him at key points—an undercover cop could pick up on that—if they could get this close to us.
No, this was different. We weren’t being sucked up a river like in Apocalypse Now. We were being compelled forward, by an unseen energy as if from the shadows, much like what compelled us all to show up in the tents last year. A sense that the order of the world was against the common man and something must be done to change how the people around us see the world. What would Puck squeeze into their eyes? We were about to find out. We were hippies and trouble-makers to many of the cops on this march. Would we make asses of them? We are America. Just as the Tea Party is also, but we’re very proud of our inclusiveness. The Tea Party panders to peoples’ dark side, their fears, intolerance, selfishness, etc. Preaching loudly to their flocks, but then shying away when the mainstream media arrives. At the end, in the glow of Times Square, celebrating the fact that we’re still going strong, even the cops seemed uncomfortable, out of place.
The march came to a pause by Macy’s. “We have to keep moving!” It was Puck’s voice. Suddenly, very much in this world. Our “escort” of motorcycle cops slowed also, sheepishly staring at us from their bikes. BEEP, CRACKLE, WAIL. The strangest sounds will pop out of some of these police vehicles. Occupation marches are like snakes. They coil and contract. Punkish girls with red, white and blue spiked hair, teens with backpacks pockmarked with political and social buttons, glistening young eyes above bandit-strewn bandanas. But NY is very different from LA. Where are the U-Streamers? I could swear that I’m one of the only people taking photos while the group’s moving—still and video. The group “coiled” forward. A chant began: “We are unstoppable! Another world is possible!” Over and over, echoing throughout the Manhattan canyons. And then–and then–there it was. Glowing in the distance. Times Square. The pace of the march picked up. The cycles dropped off and lines of cops on foot would take over. STOMP, STOMP, STOMP. Puck would be here, then there, then disappear. Closer. Wow! Talk about lights. Story after story of commercial ads packed with models up into the dark sky. It was then that the real symbolism of this march became clear to me. Yes, be where the ball drops at our midnight, but also be at the center of the over-commercialization of American society. We flooded into the center of the square as if from another world, and we are, aren’t we? We speak the truth when your normal world of TV channels and news rags seem morally empty.
A cake appeared, as if by magic. Occupiers delighted in taking a bite, though there were no forks. The police formed rings around us. We ignored them. Our eyes were on the figurative ball in the sky Puck had brought us here to imagine. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, Puck sat down. Others joined him. 5, 4, 3, 2, and then Puck spoke. It wasn’t like anything I’d ever heard from an occupier before. Why we were still here after a year… What we’d accomplished… But in my mind’s eye I heard: Why the potion had worked that we’d all squeezed into society’s eyes. How people stopped focusing on distractions such as whether or not to raise the debt-ceiling limit, but on the reality of the plight of our very real fellow Americans whom we care about deeply—who have been deceived by the serpent’s tongue of the ultra-rich. After Puck’s speech, the crowd dissipated and even the cops fell away—as if the occupation had been a dream. Puck from NYC, Nowhere Man from Hollywood, all of us “meddling fairies” vanished back into the semi-darkness of Manhattan like shadows who’d overstayed their welcome in the mortal world of driven, but dishonest men. But all of us, Puck included, had one phrase on our minds. “We’ll be back.” We are the pressure in society to make amends.
I’ll let Shakespeare’s Puck (a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow) have the last word:
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding, but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend;
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck,
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long:
Else the Puck a liar call.
So good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.
My primary contacts here—those I knew best—were my friends Nicole and Harrison, though at the night before I met a group of out-of-towners from a few different cities that had organized itself into an affinity group. I chatted a little with them, amazed that friendships had been cemented with people met only 12 hours before. But such is typical within Occupy.
Just after 7:30, we departed for our roving marches, splitting up early on but then reconvening. We did the usual chants: “When education’s under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” We soon began taking intersections, first with simply a circular picket that occupied each crosswalk simultaneously. Some civilians stopped to watch us, and we moved away to continue the marches without any conflict. Our group split and it seemed agreed that we would go civilian to the People’s Wall, yet we remained a loud, chanting march. The march that I was in jumped into the center of an intersection to dance and sing “A-anti-anticapitalista!” Not quite ready to dance so early in the morning, I joined in the chant and ran circles around the inside of the intersection with others, clapping my hands. We put on quite a show for civilians and once again had no conflict with police.
Upon reaching the area around Wall Street—here is where locations become truly blurry for my memory—we found a swelling mass of other protesters crammed onto the sidewalks, some straying into the streets, and a glut of police officers standing.in the middle of the intersection, along curbs—everywhere. I think I missed most of the People’s Wall drama but it was tough to be sure: a great mix of joyful chanting and militant yelling all filled the intersection. Every so often you would head chants of “March! March! March!” but everyone remained where they stood. I wandered around the intersection to see what was happening at different angles. After standing into the street, police ordered all of us to get onto the sidewalk.
The sidewalk closest to me happened to be the corner where police were checking work IDs to enter the sectioned-off street. Of course, police then said that the side half of us were standing on was reserved only for those in line to have IDs checked. I, and others, then, had to move—but the corner was so crowded, with the street off-limits, that one had no space to move. So I stood on the curb. The police tired of us standing there, and suddenly I felt hands on my shoulders and an officer trying to raise me; he then pushed me forward into the man ahead of me, who fell forward into the people in front of him, causing many of us to push against scaffolding. Feeling a great deal of adrenaline and anger, I walked away from the situation to the outskirts of the group, where I found Harrison again. Luckily this situation was my only one in which I was at all handled by the police and I (and as far as I know, others in that situation) were not injured.
Meeting again with Harrison, we wandered a bit and expressed to each other some disappointment at how so many were caught in a standoff that seemed to be past its opportunity. There was no civil disobedience, really, in crowding the sidewalk where no one except protesters and police stood. Marching seemed to be the best strategy at the stalemate that had occurred but relatively few took the call.
But I was still in awe at everything I was watching. Even after my six months with Occupy Wall Street, it’s difficult to watch so many people get arrested for exercising rights that are to be guaranteed for them, or for “breaking” laws in ways the laws were not intended to be enforced—or to be arrested violently and aggressively. I watched a man red-faced and with tears in his eyes yelling to us as he was being taken away that he could not feel his hands. This is my city, this is my country, and this is what we do here.
Harrison split and now here I was wandering the financial district alone. I felt now less an activist than a sort of observer. I didn’t know where any of my friends were, although I would very much support the statement that we all in Occupy are friends already, a kind of weird, huge family. But what was great about September 17th is that we were all here together, and despite not having working service on my cellphone I happened to run into a group of friends—and we, then, happened to run into another friend in a march—without at all trying.
John, one of the people I ran into, was stringing yarn across streets and intersections to delay activity there. I stood by to scout for police as he strung the yarn on a side street (a large van quickly plowed through it.) The two of us and other friends of ours went in and out of marches and—if memory serves correctly—ended up near Trinity, where we wanted to cross the street. Today walk signals did not matter, as police officers themselves were controlling traffic—by only allowing cars to move from either direction, and never pedestrians. We stood on the street-side of the curb to wait to cross, other protesters crammed behind the scaffolding, and John began the chant: “Whose streets?” to which I and others answered “Our streets!” This went on for a couple minutes without police allowing us to cross. A white shirt pointed a few people out from the crowd, and suddenly officers were running towards us. We scurried, and one officer grabbed John’s arm. John broke free, ducked behind the scaffolding, but was caught and arrested; for a moment I wondered if, by being near John and joining in the chant, if I could have been another that the white shirt pointed to—officers were now chasing and arresting others who had been standing there—so I and my friends Shay and Thiago quickly left the situation, jogging down the block.
After the intense and stressful morning, we came across a parade of fun led by the Reverend Billy Choir of Stop Shopping, which was much needed to calm the nerves from all that we had seen and run from. After my dismay at police activity, I was once again inspired by the voices and singing of my Occupy family, the perfect antidote to the police state that attempts to wear us down—a great first half to a happy birthday.
– Joe Sutton –
New York, NY–There’s rarely a dull moment when they go marching in the land of Occupy, and the weekend of the 1-year anniversary ramped up to revive a lot of the energy seen swirling around Zuccotti Park last fall.
After a year of shaping their vision, forming their message, and battling with the police, the movement had a broad range of actions planned for Monday, September 17th, the day of the anniversary of the first tent pitched in Liberty Square. The overall plan showed that the past twelve months have forced Occupiers to evolve. No longer would the activity be focused on one massive march, but rather dispersed and mobile, adapting to responses by the police, but with the same goal they had from the beginning: To protest the machinery of Wall Street finance by shutting it down.
As I arrived near Zuccotti Park around 6 am, NYPD forces where already out and ready, Wall Street barricaded from all sides, as was Zuccotti Park, the bull statue and parts of Broadway. The news media was out in force, with TV trucks clogging both sides of Broadway. Little brings out the news crews in New York City like the possibilities of a potential blood bath … Both the police and mass media seemed ready for that. But the occupiers had other ideas.
By 7:30 am, about 500 protesters had assembled in this one of four assembly points, and led by Episcopalian bishop George Packard and other clerics, started marching down Broadway towards the intersection with Wall Street. The original plan was to block the intersection by sitting down in the street. However, barricades set up by NYPD forced protesters to stay on the sidewalk, and, rather than – as in the past – trying to battle their way through the barricades, the protesters decided to make their point by sitting down on the sidewalk instead. Still, the arrests quickly began, as now they were obstructing pedestrian traffic. Though the possibility that maybe the barricades and lines of cops the NYPD had set up might do a better job of blocking passage than anyone sitting on a pavement ever could, probably didn’t occur to the police commander in charge of the scene….
I had found myself stuck in the press pen that was handily provided on one corner of the intersection of Wall St and Broadway, so I couldn’t see the actual arrests, but several arrestees were quickly led away.
Looking for more freedom of movement and better angles for observation and photography, I decided to change venue and moved down Pine Street towards Nassau Avenue. As I reached the intersection of Nassau and Pine, the back side of Federal Hall, another popular flashpoint between OWS and NYPD, I encountered mayhem. Police had started to arrest protesters in this location and cops were grabbing at anything and anyone that couldn’t run fast enough, including a legal observer from the National Lawyers Guild, even though he was clearly marked by wearing a bright green hat marked “NLG Legal Observer”. I took some photos of arrests, but soon decided to move on further down towards Wall Street as I heard there were some activities going on there.
As I walked down Wall Street, protesters were marching on the sidewalk across the street from me, chanting and gearing up to block the intersection of Wall St and Pearl St. A massive contingent of police scooters along with cops in riot gear were standing at the ready for the encounter. A police officer started to read out a dispersal order to the protesters assembled at the street corner, and anticipating a new sit-in and some arrest shots, I crossed the street to photograph the officer with his megaphone, as well as any upcoming interactions. As I arrived on the sidewalk I started photographing the scene: The cop with his megaphone, other officers standing around that looking at the protesters, and I was just about to turn around and photograph the protesters, as I hear the voice over the megaphone saying “if you don’t move, you will be arrested.” I took one more shot of the cops standing at the corner, when the white shirt officer in charge of the scene pointed at me and said: “That’s it. She’s done. Take her,” and he promptly grabbed my hand. I shouted out that I’m an independent photographer, and showed him my credentials from the National Press Photographers’ Association. The officer looked at my badge and said “they’re not ours, so I’m not interested.” (an independent account and a great photo can be found here)
I was spun around and felt the zip ties tighten around my hands. This being my first arrest ever, I was surprised that I felt relatively calm and just let them do their thing, but I did notice that the cuffs were beginning to cut off the circulation in my hands. The white shirt officer handed me off to one of the cops standing next to him in riot helmets, and designated him to be the arresting officer, which meant he was now in charge of bringing me to the station for processing and staying with me until I was either released on a Desk Appearance Ticket or sent to court for arraignment. A couple of legal observers took my name, and information, and several other observers asked for it, too while I was being led away. At least I felt people would know where to look for me.
As I was being led to a van, my arresting officer was told that he couldn’t put me there, as only males were in there. So, the officer turned around and called over the radio “I have a body. I need a car.” — Well, while I was out of commission for the moment as a photographer, I still felt very much alive, and found that description of me rather disconcerting. Yet, the numbness in my hands continued to increase, so I decided that, rather than getting into argument with him over terminology, I’d plea my case for getting the cuffs loosened enough for the blood to be able to flow to my hands. The officer explained to me that the zip cuffs they were using could not be loosened without cutting them, and he couldn’t do that unless I was in a van. We walked back and forth searching for a van for me to be put into for another 10-15 minutes, until I was finally placed in front of a door, photographed with a Polaroid camera, and placed into the bus – joining four others already in there – with my backpack still on, and my camera and press pass hanging down in front. When I asked again to get my cuffs loosened, the officer said he didn’t have a knife, so that would have to be done at the station.
Other arrested protesters joined us in the bus and a dialogue started soon amongst everyone: About the day’s protests, occupy’s philosophy and other topics. One of the protesters started making his case for occupy to two of the arresting officers sitting with us in the van, who seemed nice enough to engage in the conversation. Whether any hearts or minds were changed remains to be seen, but it seemed clear that once the confrontation of the actual protest was out the way and a civilized conversation was possible to be had – and the boss wasn’t listening – some rank and file officers were not all that unsympathetic.
Before the cops were ordered out of the van again to accommodate more arrestees, one of them finally cut my cuffs, my hands now a darker shade of blue, and deep imprints from the edges of the cuffs visible on both my wrists. I was allowed to take off the backpack, put the camera into my bag, stretch out my fingers for a second, before I had to be re-cuffed, thankfully looser this time.
Overall the atmosphere in the van was quite festive. The other arrestees seemed to be at peace with their situation and were looking to make the most of it. One of the late arrivals managed to access his cell phone and started livestreaming from our van. Another one, sitting next to him started reciting some rap poems he had written about Occupy, manifesting some accute wordsmanship and creativity, while another protester accompanied him with a drum beat by banging against the backwall of the van.
About 90 minutes after my arrest, we were finally delivered to Central Booking at 1 Police Plaza for further processing. There I noticed that we were referenced to as “perps”, short for “perpetrator”. While this term may seem a tad less dehumanizing than “body”, it still felt hardly appropriate for a group of people arrested for such “crimes” as sitting down in an intersection, or photographing on the sidewalk.
As we were herded across the outer courtyard of Central Booking, had our names and addresses taken, any cary-ons removed etc, the treatment I received seemed reasonably courteous. I had requested that the Swiss consulate be notified of my arrest, which seemed to make an impression. While I wasn’t necessarily expecting the need of diplomatic interference, I felt it important to ensure access to it, should the need arise. Given how little decision room I was given with every step being pre-ordained (“two steps over here, back against the wall, one step over there) it also felt good to mark at least a little corner of my territory.
I was pulled aside with another arrestee still wearing his press credentials around his neck. He was a livestreamer and reporter for a website based in Portland, Oregon. We were asked as to where our work could be seen and what we were doing exactly, then that officer went away. I’m not sure whether he was a regular plain-clothed officer, from the press office or the legal team, but he was dressed in civilian clothing. Finally, my press pass still hanging around my neck, I was led into the back door of central booking, where my identity was verified, I had to pose for another photo – this time with the arresting officer – and was placed into a holding cell for further processing. My arresting officer seemed pleased with the photo of the two of us and showed it to me. When I jokingly asked him whether we should put that on facebook he laughed but said no, that he didn’t want to be tagged.
In the holding cell I found Nicole, one of my colleagues from the Occupied Stories website, who is also trained as a legal observer. She was arrested for hoola-hooping while directing pedestrian traffic in an intersection, leading her arresting officer to complain “Lady, we don’t have charges for that.” But, on orders of his white shirt officer, he arrested her anyway.
After a while I was taken out of the holding cell and led past the holding den containing many of the male protesters that had been arrested that morning, by that time around 70 of them. They were having a party in there, cheering on every protester who was led by their den, chanting, drumming and even dancing. One officer passing by along with me shook his head and exclaimed “what a zoo!” Others seemed less amused, but unsure what to do about it, so for the time being they let the protesters be. The holding room had glass windows, not merely bars, so the noise level wasn’t quite as bad as it could have been, but they were clearly heard all the way down to the holding pen I was about to be placed into.
I was led to another intake officer who collected all the possessions from my pockets, my press pass, and also my shoe-laces. I was allowed to make my phone call but only to a number within New York City. Other arrestees behind me where not so lucky. Several of the out-of-town protesters who had come to New York for the OWS anniversary didn’t have a local number to call. So, they were sent off to their cells without being able to notify someone outside what had happened.
I was led into a block of 9 cells, each designed for one occupant but allowed to hold up to four, furnished with a wooden blank with some mats on top, a sink at the wall and a toilet besides that which didn’t provide any privacy what so ever. The front wall of the cells were metal bars, so everyone walking by could see right in. Nicole and I were placed into the same cell, along with a sleeping medic and two out of town girls. We could also hear and communicate with the occupants from the other cells, which by that point held around 30 other protesters (we maxed out at 37 in our block). The two female intake officers were in a very foul mood, so any chanting or singing between the cells was met with verbal abuse and threats of delaying our release. We knew they didn’t have the authority to make such decisions, but it clearly put a damper on the festive mood in our corner of the building. Still, we quickly built solidarity around the privacy issue of the toilets that were provided. Every time one of us had to use the bathroom, the others lined up in a wall around her, facing towards the hallway, to shield her from view, all the while singing “Solidari-pee Forever”. We called it our Pee-ples Wall.
As the day dragged on conversations swerved from philosophy to politics. Also, Nicole gave advice to us less familiar with legal proceedings surrounding arrests, as to what to expect in terms of release, possible punishment for different charges etc. While at that time I was not given access to a lawyer (I had asked my godmother to contact a good lawyer we both know on my behalf), it did feel good to have somebody knowledgeable on the subject in the room. Still, time is passing slowly in a prison cell even with the best of conversations, and gradually we all started to chomp at our bits to be released, feeling we were missing things still going on out there.
Some entertainment was provided by our guards trying to assemble a proper count of all female inmates in our block. First the one officer passed by, counting each head, expecting four arrestees to each cell, as they passed by our cell their count got out of synch with their expectations, since we had five people in ours. However, that would take a moment to sink in, so they passed us by, kept counting, and about 2 cells later started to realize that something was amiss. So, they’d come back and do it again, then send a second counter to do the math, and finally a third, and we still had five ladies in our cell. “But it’s not supposed to be that way”, one of them exclaimed, pointing at one of us. “You were supposed to be in number seven”. After a while of headscratching they gave up and left things as they were. Clearly, these ladies are not loaded down with student debt …
Around 1pm, we were served “lunch” which consisted of two sorry excuses for peanut butter-jelly or cheese sandwiches, and a small carton of milk. I didn’t mind the PBJ in principle, but these two comprised basically two pieces of cardboard that had been dragged past a jar of peanut butter and a gotten drop of sugary something plopped on top. I was grateful for some food, and I do understand the impact of budget cuts, but this was ridiculous.
As the afternoon dragged on, one of the out-of-town girls got increasingly agitated, as she became worried about what would happen to her and her friend. As she got more and more upset and started screaming at the cops about not getting her phone call, her friend tried to calm her down, but to little avail. Irrespective of the tone in which she asked to make the call, it was indeed disturbing that she was denied what is ultimately one of her fundamental rights.
Around 5 pm I was finally released with what is called a Desk Appearance Ticket and a charge of “Disorderly Conduct”, which photography in public apparently now qualifies as in the City of New York. Before I was let out, we had to retake those two Polaroid photos I had posed for during my arrest. Apparently, they had gotten lost in the shuffle, but I couldn’t help but notice that this time my press credentials were not hanging around my neck … The entire upper body is visible in these photos, so any press pass hanging around my neck would have been clearly visible.
While I found the experience of this arrest very insightful into a part of America I have never personally encountered before, it also angered me that I lost an entire day’s worth of photographic work over a bullshit arrest. I don’t blame the poor beat cop who got stuck with posing as my arresting officer. This issue begins with his superior who decided to arrest me for whatever reasons he had or was given. I can understand how the prison system can break people, given just how little humanity is allowed to those it oversees and is supposed to reform and prepare for re-admission into the general public. Obviously, with the view from my holding cell I’ve only scratched the surface of what prison life in America can be like, but the stories I’ve heard are beginning to make a whole lot more sense. My spirit is fine but my wrists still hurt, and parts of my hands still have no feeling, which sucks when you’re trying to hold a camera.
Also, if intimidation was the goal of me being snatched off the street, the plan has backfired. I have no intention to interfere with events as they unfold, but I believe that the emergence of a movement like Occupy is one of the largest news stories of our time, and as such it needs to be properly documented. That includes the good, the bad, and the ugly. So, I will keep taking my pictures, like it or not. But obviously, I need to take better care of staying one step ahead of the body snatchers …
Far from reformed, once out of jail I went straight back to Zuccotti Park to reconnect with the day’s events and people I had spent the better part of last year with and grabbing dinner at an Irish pub with some of the photographers I had met on marches and in the park. The park had much of the energy back that swept through it last fall. While the park was surrounded by a sea of cops, inside occupiers had a great time reconnecting, and sharing their experiences. It was fun to hear stories about everything that happened, and annoyed me once more that I couldn’t be there to see it myself. Still, I also realized that I was lucky, in that my arrest was not a violent one, as I heard some of the horror stories of what the others saw and experienced. Around midnight I finally went home, completely exhausted, but also well aware that this thing is far from over.
– Julia Reinhart –
Chicago, IL–My new morning ritual—two Motrin with a handful of vitamins and my reflux medicine. I stretch my sore body. My Achilles’ tendons have joined in on the ache parade. My lower back, ankles and knees all feel like hardened mush beneath a thin layer of skin. I eat a bowl of almonds and dried cranberries and chopped nectarines. I want coffee but don’t want to risk waking Simone, so I go without. The sunscreen forms white inkblots on my forearms.
The same indigo sky, the same stretch to school on my bike. Traffic is light. I make good time. Much of the group is there. We’re a raggedy bunch. Still smiling through. Daryl’s brought his son, Jawan.
The sun appears. Signs are passed out. We head across Potawatomie Park, the grass freshly mowed. Above, dark clouds in the distance head in our direction. We station ourselves on Clark and Rogers. We stand on opposite street corners. Leah seems indefatigable; she dances and waves and smiles. Stu leans against a pole and toys with his iPhone. His dog, Trevor, is happy to be at his side.
Behind us a street vendor sells champurrado and hot horchata.
The morning is warm for a short time and then the weather changes. The dark clouds move nearer. Soon, it is cold.
We’re slaphappy. We’re tired. Some of us seem bored. Kris has a fit of hysterical laughing. Melissa sings the entire song of Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week,” while Katie and Hannah and Abbey listen on.
We’re chanting less. We break into it here and there. The sky is now gray. We hear a rumor that the city is towing cars by the school. Daryl and I head back. He’s in a bad mood.
“I’m just sort of cynical about things right now,” he says. He has a show tonight. He looks tired. The sky is amazing. The storm clouds are a pastel blue. There’s a clear line of demarcation where the storm begins.
The cars are fine. Lena moves hers anyway. Better to be safe.
A scruffy lineman in a worktruck at the end of the street asks me how it’s going.
“I think they’re close,” I say.
“Is it about tenure?”
“Not really,” I say. “It’s a whole bunch of things. Our paraprofessionals are part of the union, and CPS doesn’t want to give them the same raise they’re giving the teachers. That’s just one thing.”
“I’m a union guy,” he says. “If those politicians weren’t such fucking thieves all the time . . .” he trails off. I thank him and move on.
Daryl drinks a grape juice. His spirits improve. Nothing like fructose to buoy the spirits. “Cornel West gave us a shout-out last night,” he says. “And they weren’t even speaking of this situation.”
We return to Clark and Rogers. It is a honking paradise. Almost everyone waves or nods or honks or offers a fist in the air. We feel the love.
I wonder why we’re getting a better reception here than on Sheridan.
“It’s because,” Sheila says, “they’re no Evanston and Northshore people on their way downtown.”
We talk in an information loop. Everyone agrees on everything. There’s an arc to a strike, and part of the trend is a conformity of opinion. I find it disturbing. I prefer the texture of spirited disagreement. It keeps the mind sharp.
We continue to circle back to waving and chanting. Across the street, some of our staff sit in folding chairs. It almost looks like they’re waiting for a parade.
Jawan and I speak of horror movies. He’s only 15 but a budding cineaste. He’s already made the big jump; he can see the value in movies he doesn’t like.
The “Things Rahm likes,” game moves through the group. Someone says he likes Coldplay; this irks me. They aren’t a bad band at all. Daryl agrees. “X & Y is a great record,” he says. “Come on.”
The game evolves. We turn it salacious. We make up rumors about the mayor. “Did you know,” S— says, “that Rahm bronzed his foreskin and keeps it on his desk?”
I rut in the gutter for a while. I tell little anecdotes about the mayor’s sexual proclivities. “And then,” I say at the end of each little story, “he puts his clothes back on and goes back to work.” It gets some laughs.
The best rumor we can think of is that Rahm produced the “Two Girls, One Cup,” video. We tell others.
“What’s ‘two girls, one cup?’” Hannah asks.
Somehow, amidst the picket and struggle, among the exhaustion and the fatigue, I find the strength to tell her.
We walk down to Alderman Moore’s office. He isn’t there. We mill about on the sidewalk, take a few pictures, while Liz and Maggie ask Moore for support, both now and when this hot mess is over. The morning’s work is done. With plans to meet in the afternoon, we all depart.
Beth and Pearl and Simone are in better spirits. Simone had music class and is happy. I brew some coffee, make some lunch. Simone watches Sesame Street. I lie down to nap but Pearl is in a fidgety mood. I nod off for a little while anyway.
I wake up and dress.
The Tribune reporter calls, informs me that they killed her story. She asks me for a response to the end of the strike. “Was it worth it?”
“I don’t know yet,” I say. “I hope so.”
I leave for downtown at 2:45. The day is cloudy and gray, chilly but with occasional rays of sunlight, the kind of day I love. I don’t look anyone in the eye; I’m too tired for confrontation.
I hear the El stopping above. I sprint on tired legs up the escalator. I make the train. I sit in an isolated front compartment. I can’t control my foolish thoughts. They drift above the passing rooftops. Soon I am in a second heroic daydream. I’m arrested by the police, the union send in a lawyer, there’s a big trial and after I give a stirring speech the city is redeemed. I get a medal. Someone throws a banquet.
I’m embarrassed by my own silliness. I vacillate between the macabre—I often mentally recite obituaries of my family and friends, or imagine losing my loved ones—and the absurd. Such as the hero dream above. The human mind is a bizarre muscle.
I snap out of it. Downtown draws near. I exit at the Merchandise Mart, walk over the river and turn left on Wacker. There aren’t many protesters. I’m apprehensive. Was the event called off? Or did everyone else elect to stay home?
A few more red shirts here and there, and soon there are dozens of us. I should have stayed home. I turn the corner to Michigan. Tens of thousands of people on the upward bend. It’s a glorious sight.
“That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen all day,” the old timer next to me says.
I make my way past the blue police barricades to the protesters. Gawkers take photos from the balconies on the Hyatt and other buildings that limn this stretch of Wacker. I stand on the median, look for my friends. It’s the same festive atmosphere with drum lines and picket signs and smiling people. There’s a high school marching band. I find Bill, Ana, Daryl, the rest of our school staff. I see Jonathon, too, but after a quick embrace he moves along with his colleagues.
Bill’s energy remains. He leads us in numerous chants. He jumps. He gyrates. He dances. He sings. His voice is hoarse. So is mine. We’re soon in the thick of it. We pass a drumline, we dance, everyone is dancing, the thing feels right and true.
We keep circling; they haven’t opened Michigan Avenue yet. A man passes out red plastic ponchos in case of rain.
We’re interviewed by Maggio News. Neither of us know who they are. I try to answer calmly, but Bill rips into his high-energy spiel. “We’re out here fighting for working people,” he says, “we’re protesting the inequality of our schools, we’re fighting for every Chicago public school student.”
The best I can do is: “I don’t like Arne Duncan.”
We move on. I see Daryl limp up the stairs. The physical demands of this thing are immense.
Schools hold up banners. Vuvuzelas buzz. Trumpets blare. Drumskins beat. Bill continues his thing. He has the energy of five people.
“You’re amazing,” Ana says to Bill.
“It’s thirty percent self-serving,” he says.
The march begins and soon we are on Michigan. “Get up, get down, Chicago is a Union town!” we chant over and over, raising our hands on the up and leaning forward on the down. Three helicopters hover in the distance. Bill and I intermingle our chanting with talk of movies, cooking, babies. We move through a number of old union songs. We sing “Solidarity forever.” We chant “Hey hey, ho ho, crowded classrooms got to go!” We yell, “Show me what Democracy looks like? This is what Democracy looks like!”
Handheld megaphones bolster tired voices. Two marching drums run with baseline rhythm. Thousands of protest signs bounce up and down. Hand-painted banners on wooden sticks. Love and camaraderie and common purpose.
A figure raises both hands out the top story window of one of the high rises. We respond with a loud cheer. A second figure hangs a Che Guevera sign out an open window. This too, strangely, gets a loud cheer.
We pass the Art Institute. Some Occupy Chicago people have set up a sign. We walk. We chant some. We’re almost done.
Bill bemoans the tepid response from his liberal friends. I concur. He says he thinks it’s that Union has become a dirty word. I agree. He’s stayed away from too much talk with his family. Me, too. The whole issue is emotionally and politically charged. It’s damaged at least one close friendship already. He admits the same.
We’re too close to it, others are too far away.
We’re too tired to stay on one topic for long. We both speak elliptically anyway; it’s one thing we have in common.
“What’s your favorite Cassevetes?” I say The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. He says A Woman under the Influence. We’re too tired to press our cases. At the end of the march, we break off from the protest. We’re soon two red-shirts amongst the downtown set.
Beth calls. I’ve taken both sets of keys; she and Pearl and Simone and Jack are effectively locked inside the house.
“Why don’t you just leave the doors unlocked?” I offer.
“Are you crazy?”
Bill departs for the Blue line with a hug. I want the strike to be over, but outside the protests I don’t know when I’ll see him again.
I stop in at Beth’s dad’s office for more homegrown tomatoes. Away from the energy of the crowds my body begins to give in to fatigue. The elevator ride is interminable. The gold inset patterns on the walls seem to move.
I hurry home. I carry the tomatoes gingerly, hoping this time to keep them safe. The train is crowded but I can breathe. The people around me fool with their smart phones. I feel gangly, skeletal. Another protestor stands next to me. Oddly, he’s wearing a shiny knight’s helmet. We’re too tired for small talk. I don’t even have the energy to compliment his headgear.
I make it home at quarter to seven. Simone is cracking eggs with Beth into a mixing bowl. Beth looks frazzled, she’s had both daughters all day, and she’s a teacher, too. Bad portents loom. Simone has a slight fever. Beth’s grandmother is in the emergency room. But it all ends well. Simone goes to sleep without fighting. Beth’s grandmother returns home in good health.
We don’t have the heart to listen to anymore news. We make a promise not to speak of the strike, politics, anything acrimonious at all.
It’s a good deal. By 10 I’m too tired to write anything of the day’s events. We watch the second half of Roman Holiday. Watching Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn gallivant through the streets of 1950s Rome, the money worries and media battles and marching and protesting and singing and hardship, the pernicious poverty on the west side and south side and marbled throughout the middle, the gang violence and the presidential election and the embassy attacks all seem light years away.
We’re nestled into our safe little cocoon. My children are sleeping.
Day four is over. I take Jack out for his nightly ablutions, brush my teeth and get into bed.
Day five, we hope, will be the last.
 We learn later that they are a far right “news” website. As Bel Biv Devoe said, you got to live and learn.
Here is my personal account of my participation in the march and my false arrest by DPD:
I arrived at the march as it staged outside the skate park. I had my bicycle with me, and rode my bicycle throughout the march, mostly because biking requires less energy than walking. The march took the streets and went under the underpass by the Rockies stadium as we made our way downtown. We unfurled our banner reading “Stop Police Oppression– Solidarity with Anaheim” and chanted phrases such as “Justice for Anaheim”, “We want equality, stop police brutality” and “How do you spell injustice? DPD!”. At least four DPD vehicles began following us at this point, and they blared their sirens in an unsuccessful attempt to keep the game day crowd from hearing our message. The leading DPD vehicle was an SUV driven by one William J Andrejasich Jr, a Sergeant in DPD’s Special Events division.
We made our way to the downtown area of Denver, and Sergeant Andrejasich and his colleagues repeatedly attempted to use their voices and vehicles to discourage the march from keeping its message in the street. DPD prefers to see political expression confined to the narrow sidewalk where it cannot affect business as usual. This march had other ideas. I myself chose to remain on my bicycle in the street, as riding my bicycle on the sidewalk would be a violation of traffic laws and DPD will use any excuse to harass and arrest known Occupy activists.
The march continued down the 16th street mall as we continued to agitate and inform the public about the police murders and subsequent attacks on residents in Anaheim. Our police escort continued to ride very close to us until we arrived at Civic Center Park. After the police caravan departed, we decided to resume marching. We made our way through Lincoln Park and began marching past the Capitol on Colfax Ave.
As the march approached the intersection of Colfax and Pennsylvania, several DPD vehicles pulled into the middle of the street and officers stepped out of the vehicles. Sensing that DPD was looking for a fight, the march diverted onto the sidewalk. At this point, three officers charged our “Stop Police Oppression” banner, one of them striking it so as to break the wooden support pole holding it together. After breaking the banner (which appeared to be the primary target), the officers proceeded to grab and arrest the protester who had been using the megaphone to decry police violence throughout the march. They led him away into a car, and Sergeant Andrejasich barked at us that “if you go in the street again, we will arrest you.” This threat seemed absurd given that whenever we march, DPD’s vehicles that follow us essentially shut down traffic anyway. Sergeant Andrejasich was clearly hoping that by threatening arrest and possible violence, he could frighten our solidarity march into giving up and going home. He should know by now that Occupy Denver doesn’t play like that. Having seen DPD use violence or the threat of violence countless times to attempt to silence dissent, I figured someone should resolve Sergeant Andrejasich’s confusion about the relationship between his department and our subversive assembly. Using the megaphone dropped during the recent arrest, I told him that “Occupy Denver does not negotiate with terrorists, and the Denver Police Department is a terrorist organization.” Upon hearing this, Sergeant Andrejasich instantly went red in the face and grabbed my wrist, at which point he and another officer pulled me into the street, and while holding my wrists attempted to twist my arms into a painful position (I have a sprained wrist and was wearing a splint). I was handcuffed, and when I asked Sergeant Andrejasich why I was being arrested, he replied “for obstructing the street.” I told him that I was legally on my bicycle for the entire march route and he said nothing in reply to this. He then handed me off to two other officers who placed me in a car and took me to DPD’s offices in the Downtown Denver Detention Center. Interestingly, Sergeant Andrejasich is not listed as my arresting officer, and none of my arrest paperwork contains any of his information. We only know it was him due to his past interactions with our group. Before I was processed into the jail, I sat in a DPD District 6 cell while I listened to three officers outside the cell flip through the book deciding what to charge me with, highlighting the fact that this was a false, politically-motivated arrest. Upon being booked into the jail, I was informed that the megaphone I used had been confiscated by the police, presumably as “evidence” of my obstructing the street.
Two more arbitrary arrests of protesters were made after my own; during one of these arrests a ten-year-old child was forcefully knocked to the ground by one of the arresting officers. The march continued well after my arrest, culminating in a heated standoff between the remaining protesters and a heavily armed line of officers outside DPD’s District 6 headquarters as the march chanted “free our friends” and continued to hurl passionate criticism at Denver’s corrupt, racist, and violent police force.
After the march subsided, a group of occupiers gathered outside the jail awaiting the release of myself and my arrested comrades. Sergeant Andrejasich again approached this group, and told them that they were creating a disturbance (even though they were being quiet) and that as a warning had already been issued to the group, he could arrest any of them at any time with no further warning. Sergeant Andrejasich seems to believe that he can operate with impunity, arresting activists simply because they irritate him or offend his political views even when no laws are broken.
Sergeant Andrejasich’s comic arrogance represents DPD’s belief that they have the sole power to decide who is breaking the law and have the right to choose when to selectively enforce these laws. Everybody knows that jaywalking is common practice in Denver; one can jaywalk in front of a police officer without any fear of reprisal. However, when one is walking in the street as part of a radical political march, DPD suddenly decides these laws are worth enforcing with great zeal and armed force. Occupy Denver rejects the Denver Police Department’s twisted, politically selective interpretation of municipal codes, and we reject their claim that they protect and serve the citizens of this city. Their long record of murders, racist beatings, and politically-motivated violence makes their moral depravity obvious to anyone who is paying attention. We call on the City of Denver to condemn this corrupt and criminal police department, and to take their destinies and the safety of their communities into their own hands.
Our Anaheim Solidarity march was just one small part of the struggle against police oppression in Denver. There is a long history of resistance against police oppression in Denver, and this resistance is ongoing. We encourage everybody to attend the upcoming March Against Police Terror, which meets on August 21st at 6 PM in La Alma Park (13th & Mariposa). More information on this important community event can be found here:
Here is a short list of news stories related to Denver Police atrocities outside of their attacks on Occupy
Recent murder by DPD
DPD murdered an innocent man last summer, the murdering officers faced no consequences
In 2009, DPD officers beat a man within an inch of his life while yelling racial slurs at him
DPD recently reinstated, with back pay, two officers involved in the infamous Denver Diner beating
In 2011, the City of Denver had to pay $1.34 million to resolve police brutality lawsuits
In 2010, Denver Sheriffs tased a man to death in the Denver jail simply because he would not take off
his shoes. All officers involved were cleared of wrongdoing.
In 2006, a 24-year-old woman in the Denver jail bled to death as officers ignored her pleas for medical
Solidarity with Anaheim!
Down with killer cops everywhere!
– @DrBenway2323 –
Photo courtesy of Thomas Melchor]]>
Everything about night demo 100 in Montreal felt enormous.
There were the numbers of people — so many that when we were on long hilly streets, all you could see were people all the way back and people all the way forward for blocks and blocks; so many that when we reached a late-night, outdoor fashion show festival and thus a busy area, and hence the riot cops appeared to disperse us, it seemed as if every which way you looked, up and down different intersections, we still tightly crowded the streets; so many that it was impossible to guess how many, which means thousands and thousands, or ten thousand or more. This in contrast to recent night demos, where on the last one, we were lucky if we reached the “magic” number of over 49 to put us squarely in the illegality of special law 78. It felt, as one of my friends said, “Like the old days,” by which he meant the night demos of week 1, 2, or 3, way back when it was still assuredly Maple Spring, not the red-hot August 1 of last night.
There were, speaking of red, giant amounts of that too — more than usual, both in terms of mass quantity and dimensional size. It may not be clear from the red flag “100″ pictured above, but it was gigantic — many times taller than the person carrying it — and backed up by several equally gigantic plain red-square flags.
There was a huge contingent of drummers, all dressed in red, and it in turn was backed up by red-bedecked popular neighborhood assembly banners and an enormous three-dimensional fabric red square (on loan, I’m nearly certain, from the École de la Montagne Rouge [School of the Red Mountain] art collective — and the whole brilliant-red group was part of the ever-larger and also extremely red rolling wave of popular neighborhood assemblies and casseroles that started way north of downtown about two hours early and fused with each other as they met at multiple appointed intersections to then continue on together, ever larger and ever louder.
Most momentous, though, was the accidental line in the sand of this 5.5-month Quebec student strike: night 100 of the illegal manifestations and Premier Jean Charest setting the election date — September 4 — starting on August 1 too. For my non-Canadian friends, within certain parameters, elections are called by the party in power, and that can be used as a political chip in their favor if played well. Once called, candidates have five weeks to go all-out with promotion, and at the stroke of midnight as July 30 turned to August 1, I saw Québec solidaire (QS), a social-democratic and sovereigntist political party that includes candidate Amir Khadir, who got arrested this past June in a casserole while protesting special law 78, already busy putting up posters, including ones highlighting that QS stands for “free education.”
But the elections are already not playing well, at least not to the “audience” that poured unexpectedly by the thousands into the streets on this first illegal night march of August, turning the now-familiar “fuck law 78″ chant into a revised “fuck the elections.” As the majority student association CLASSE so well articulated in its manifesto, printed in the French-language paper Le Devoir the same day when rumors flew recently of Charest’s intent to call the elections, there is a grand divide right now between two worldviews — one represented by this night 100 versus day 1 of electoral campaigning:
“The way we see it, direct democracy should be experienced, every moment of every day. Our own voices ought to be heard in assemblies in schools, at work, in our neighborhoods. Our concept of democracy places the people in permanent charge of politics, and by ‘the people,’ we mean those of us at the base of the pyramid — the foundation of political legitimacy. . . . Each time we take to the streets and set up picket lines, it is this kind of democracy that at last breathes free. . . . Democracy, as viewed by the other side, is tagged as ‘representative’ — and we wonder just what it represents. While elections come and go, decisions remain unchanged, serving the same interests: those of leaders who prefer the murmurs of lobbyists to the clanging of pots and pans. Each time the people raises its voice in discontent, on comes the answer: emergency laws, with riot sticks, pepper spray, tear gas. When the elite feels threatened, no principle is sacred, not even those principles they preach: for them, democracy works only when we, the people keep our mouths shut.” (http://linchpin.ca/English/Share-Our-Future-%E2%80%93-CLASSE-Manifesto)
The first of August also signaled the calendar leap into the impending rolling wave of striking schools that are supposed to open soon — 13 of them, for instance, between August 13 and 17 — based on whether the impending rolling wave of student assemblies decide autonomously, school by striking school, whether they want to continue to keep their college closed. These highly participatory and/or outright directly democratic assemblies are an infrastructural legacy of the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, as I’ve mentioned before, and a long-lived practice within many of the now-striking schools. Students may have taken a break the past few weeks — and a well-deserved one, so as to rest up — but they are ready to jump back into their assemblies, where they already know how to make strike, blockade, direct action, solidarity, mutual aid, and other decisions about aims, strategies, and tactics. And starting next week, students will begin voting in their general assemblies as to whether they should continue the strike (see the schedule here,http://www.bloquonslahausse.com/2012/08/calendrier-de-la-rentree-des-grevistes/, along with a call for a convergence in Montreal to support the students from August 13 to 17, http://bloquonslarentree.com/node/12).
But night demo 100 signaled another huge shift, potentially pivotal as well in relation to the elections: there are now numerous popular assemblies, begun over the past couple months. They weren’t there at the start of this student strike, nor at the start of the illegal night marches. Now, in many corners of the city, they meet weekly or every other week to talk about issues related to and springing out of the student strike, and many include students, parents, and teachers alongside other neighbor-allies. They also discuss steps toward a social strike (even if in small symbolic steps for now) and tangible aid for the upsurge soon in the student strike. Furthermore, the assemblies all use various forms of direct democracy. They share and borrow that from each other. For instance, the Mile-End popular assembly that I attend asked facilitators from another neighborhood assembly to come and facilitate our first couple assemblies (which they did), and we sent emissaries, supporters, and helpers to a new assembly started in the neighborhood just next door to Mile-End last week, in Outremont. We also did outreach for their first assembly during our weekly “orchestrole” (casserole plus marching band) on the Wednesday before their assembly, detouring into their neighborhood a bit to hand out flyers — ’cause lots of people come out to listen to loud music rambling down the night streets!
The assemblies could be bigger, and certainly more reflective of various population groups in Montreal — a problem not unique to the neighborhood assemblies, nor the student ones, nor those of Occupy (and on and on). As with other assembly experiments, those within them are aware of such shortcomings. And in this case, the assemblies seem to be particularly sensitive to two key things: first, they want their own autonomous identities, to grapple with the needs and issues of their parts of the city; and second, we’re all also under this pressure-cooker schedule of having to ramp up quickly in order to offer real aid to the striking schools, real soon. In Mile-End, for instance, we’ve been having 3-plus-hour assemblies once a week, along with 3-plus-hour weekly mobilization/social strike working group meetings (and other working groups, but that’s the one I’ve been going to), and our weekly evening orchestrole, a form of illegal demo, solidarity, celebration, and outreach. Oh, and they are also contending with the fact that in all likelihood, they too (like so much other dissent and organizing) are illegal in various ways under special law 78, and hence the sentiment of disobedience spelled out on the Villeray popular assembly banner:
Last Wednesday night, a week before August 1, back in Mile-End, at the end of our orchestrolling as some of us stood around in an intersection chatting, with 3 cop cars vainly trying to get us to go home, we discussed trying to get our assembly and neighbors to walk downtown as orchestrole/casserole and meet up with other neighborhood assemblies at various convergence points along the way. Several assemblies had done this several weeks ago for a night demo, and it was lovely. We figured: let’s make a Facebook events page, do outreach via email to our various contacts with other assemblies, and hopefully the “casseroles march downtown” will happen again — since that’s pretty much all it took last time. Over the next few days and into early this past week, before August 1, suddenly it seemed that multiple assemblies had had the same idea, had also made Facebook event pages and even posters, and had also started doing outreach (there is no centralized popular assembly list, even a bottom-up version!). And absurdly enough, many of us had picked many different and conflicting convergence points, with no way to pull those puzzle pieces together. Organizational enthusiasm seemed to be creating mayhem, which sort of seemed a good problem to me in this case, since it at least emphasized the enthusiasm part. At our mobilization working group on July 30, we decided what the hell, it is too confusing. Let’s just meet up at our orchestrole spot at 7:00 p.m. on August 1, since people are used to that in our neighborhood, and then do our best to find other neighborhoods. Of course, we hadn’t actually mentioned this meeting point to anyone at that point, so we went home and started trying to spread the word around Mile-End.
At 7:00 p.m. on August 1, there were 3 regulars and me, with our banner, 1 pot & spoon, and a horn. Then 4 more people showed up, than 3 more, along with dogs and kids, and so on, until at around 7:15 p.m. we had maybe 3 dozen, and off we marched — growing as we headed toward Laurier and St. Denis, where we knew some Plateau folks were convening, and then growing and growing again as neighborhood stumbled on neighborhood in this surging wave of casseroles. We, along with our fellow popular assemblies, thus became another big reason that night 100 was so enormous, numbers and energy wise. Indeed, having gone to both the full “casseroles march downtown” walk and entirety of the illegal evening demo last night, it was clear that by the time all the many neighborhood assemblies and neighbors reached the already-large crowd waiting at the now-regular Gamelin Park meeting spot, arriving at 9:00 p.m., we by far outnumbered those patiently expecting us.
Beyond sheer numbers, there was something extra poignant about seeing popular autonomous assembly banner after banner streaming through the streets together, each with their unique character, but all articulating a contrasting vision of politics to the one that Charest and all his suddenly numerous riot cops (and politicians of any stripe) uphold. I think it’s never been more apparent that this isn’t “merely” the longest-running and perhaps now-largest student strike in North American history; it’s plainly a social movement with a deep and widespread social basis. And now, as July turns to August, the students know for sure that they have popular support(ers) far and wide outside their college doors — all, also, trying to practice direct democracy as the organizational grounding for this movement and all, also, attempting to experiment with another type of politics beyond statecraft (slow, embryonic, and painful as that is at times — “painful,” unlike Occupy at too many moments, not because people are awful toward each other but rather because sometimes, at least in Mile-End, people are too nice, and our meetings go on way too long so everyone can really be heard and respected, which is another nice problem to have, I suppose.
Of all the neighborhood banners, I think I was most touched by the Outremont one — both because unlike many other assemblies, it only convened this past weekend, as I mentioned above, and also because of its black cat and message of “popular power,” which seemed to so well capture the spirit of this evening where everyone knew so much is now at stake in the coming days of August: not provincial election so much as enormous social contestation.
This grand battle was captured for all to see — writ large on night 100, like everything else — in the form of an enormous projection on a building wall, just as we thousands and thousands rounded a corner at a big intersection. Ahead in front of me, I could see people turning backward to face the part of the demo I was in, but instead of looking at us, I could see people looking upward, fingers pointing upward, eyes lighting up, illuminated by the illumination of Nous Sommes Tous Art. Click on this link to see it for yourself (http://youtu.be/CIgnVSkXWWs), but it involved a series of repeating words, including our street slogan “fuck the elections,” but also decrying phenomena like racism, capitalism, and neoliberalism, and contrasting representative democracy to self-management. Its grand finale was the logo/slogan that’s now appearing as wheatpasted poster and elsewhere around Montreal: “August 13. The Strike Continues.” Rather than agitprop or empty street art, though, this wall of words reflects the on-the-ground reality of what everyone is preparing for — to hold the strike — using the very processes that offer a working alternative to electoralism (whether people take 30 seconds to try to vote Charest out or not in the privacy of a voting booth, since clearly ousting Charest is widely popular within this Maple Spring, if only symbolically).
So perhaps beyond the numbers, beyond the boundless joy and creativity and sea of red, beyond the newfound power of the neighborhood assemblies, and even outstripping the clear challenge of direct versus representative democracy — more enormous than all of this on illegal evening 100 was the tension hanging in the air, accentuated by the return of the helicopter hovering low overhead, even as Anarchopanda was right below, giving out hugs and sporting his own big red square pinned to his black-and-white fur. Back were the riot cops in large and aggressive numbers, along with sound grenades, reports rubber bullets and pepper spray, attempts at dispersal and kettling, and definitely some arrests. I ran into someone today with bruises on the side of their face, and they told me how police had chased them down, grabbed them, told them to lie on the ground so they could be arrested, but when they did, a cop then punched them in the head several times before carting them off to a night in jail.
Yet all that wasn’t so unusual in the course of this long student strike. And in fact, much of the tension that riot cops usually create seemed neutralized, precisely because people have now lived through it and gotten used to it. As many people commented, nearly everyone on the street displayed a remarkable lack of fear around the police, replaced by a militancy in the sense of not backing down. That meant different things for different people, including the police, who often ignored things like a bank window being broken (apparently a coop bank, so everyone in the vicinity laughed “Why not a real bank?” as some random guy calmly used the ATM next to the smashed window, causing the second amused & proud comment from the illegal night marchers: “Only in Montreal!”), and when the police encountered a dumpster barricade at one point, the ones on horses trotted through to follow the enormous demo from behind, but the cop cars behind the horses simply turned around and went a different way, leaving the dumpsters to hang out on their own on a now-quieted formerly busy street — with both disobedients and police gone.
The anxiety that the riot cops produced was not on this night 100 per se. Rather, it was what their larger presence signaled in terms of what’s to come. Everyone seems to be bracing themselves for the worst. But because neither cops nor let up on night 100, and because more candidate signs went up even as we marched, night 100 only seemed to add to the intensity of “What will happen?” in the next couple weeks.
For me, more than anything, night 100 illustrated the stark contrast between two types of “popular power” — liberatory versus mean-spirited. This is the power between citizens and neighbors, where people self-organize out of goodness and generosity toward all, or hatred, fear, and stinginess. And both are there. On the streets. It was illustrated in one potentially murderous act at the start of night 100, underscoring just how nerve-wracking a moment this is — when electoralism and riot police converge with student strike and neighborhood assemblies converge with aspirations for free education, social strike, and so much more, and all that converges with strong popular sentiments on all side, with all of it coming to a head in this already-hot August.
If last night’s marker of consecutive evenings of illegal marches ever since the passage of special law 78, a governmental tactic to try to quash the Quebec student strike, was a magnificent display of the strength and power of this social movement, it also revealed the social tensions brewing underneath, fueled by the machinations of the province/state because of the social crisis it clearly faces.
Early on in the evening, at 7:00 p.m., a bunch of us from the Mile-End popular assembly and other neighbors met up at our usual Wednesday night casserole/orchestrole spot, as I described above. We then boisterously walked over with our banner, pots & pans, horns, red squares, and whistles to greet the “Quartier Rouge” Plateau neighborhood folks around 7:30 p.m. and some several hundred of us were all joyfully reclaiming a busy intersection, waiting for our Villeray, Rosemont, and other neighborhood assembly comrades to meet up with us for the march downtown. It’s hard to explain the beauty of casseroles meeting each other from various directions, but add to that the pride of neighborhood assemblies, and when one neighbor starts marching toward another a block or two away, it feels like triumphant freedom fighters returning from hard-won battles into each other’s arms, which in a way, is what’s happening, as people struggle toward a wholly different version of the world, perhaps far ahead of us, that’s neither austere nor hierarchical.
Suddenly, within a group of hundreds in our intersection, all dancing and prancing around, I saw the front of a car coming toward me, with adults, kids, and dogs (most of them my comrades from the Mile-End popular assembly) “bouncing” off the hood, nearly being crushed under tires and hit by other parts of the automobile. It seemed so surreal that someone would simply intentionally drive into hundreds of people that I could barely register it at first. It had that slow-motion sense alongside horror. I and others leaped to help, and many folks threw pots and pans at the hit-and-run driver as they sped away; people ran after the car to try to get the license plate. There were lots of shaken folks who’d been brushed or hit by the car, including a kid who got hit in the knee, and one person seriously hurt (pictured below). Someone called an ambulance, and folks formed a circle around the wounded person, trying as best they could to medic. About five minutes later (despite police obviously lurking on the edges of our casserole), paramedics arrived. When I look at this picture, in hindsight, I realize that half the faces of those doing the caretaking are my neighbors in Mile-End and my comrades in the assembly.
The “silver lining” was how good everyone was to each other, and how it was clear no one wanted to let this stop night 100 from growing larger and larger, and us marching downtown. But many folks commented on how such willful brutality by other “neighbors” highlights that even if this really is a popular and widespread social movement, which it is, there are those who vehemently disagree and are willing to do almost anything (in this case, absurdly, purposefully try to injure or even kill) those struggling toward a better world for everyone, probably even including this hit-and-run drive, if I know some of my popular assembly mates.
At tonight’s Mile-End Popular Assembly (night 101), those of us who were there talked about this terrible incident, and I got this general update (hopefully accurate, since it was whisper translated to me in French): one of our assembly folks went to the hospital with the person who sustained the worst injuries to keep them company and help out. Apparently they had only arrived at our casserole convergence about 5 minutes before this hit-and-run and almost decided to stay home that night; at a previous night demo, they’d been kettled and arrested along with a whole bunch of other folks. Last night, they were hit in two places, but nothing was broken, and it seems like they’ll recover; they are just in a lot of pain now. People at the scene got the license plate number of the car, and they decided to give it to the police, who as of this evening somehow still hadn’t been able to locate the hit-and-run driver. Kids, dogs, and other casserolers are all OK, other than being upset by the experience. We processed that for a bit, and then returned to our assembly agenda, including working toward an August 10 “Mile-End: Dans la rue pour la grève sociale / In the street for social strike” event (http://www.facebook.com/events/408559369180806/), where starting at noon SHARP on St. Viateur and Waverly, we need lots of people, including you, to help us create an outdoor red-square street full of free education, food, music, art, and a couple hours of social striking, to also bolster ourselves and others for the coming August 13 to 17 week of resistance and solidarity. And likely, an enormous amount of a whole bunch of things, including popular power and social tension.
The enormity of night 100, when all was said and done, is that everyone recognized its enormity. That’s why the streets were filled, with people, politicians, media, and riot cops. That’s why so many indie photographers took so many gorgeous pictures, a few of which are here, and why CUTV livestream reporters seemed to be around every turn, chatting with as many people as they could cajole to talk on air. That’s why so many people walked miles from their neighborhoods and then kept going, kilometers more, with heavy banners and/or heavy instruments in tow. That in itself was the portrait of popular power: the populace showed up in droves, on foot and bikes and wheelchairs, or leaning out windows and balconies to wave — as always — as we marched by.
As most of this blog post notes, night 100 was a marker forward, to what’s ahead and what’s now at stake, thanks to a student strike that has unleashed a host of crises, anxieties, possibilities, and difficulties. But the students who had the foresight to start organizing this strike some two years ago, whether they knew it fully or not, were also unleashing a bunch of small yet perhaps, cumulatively, pretty great victories. Maybe not the victory of stopping the tuition increase or ousting Charest, nor transforming electoral politics as usual into a self-governing society. Nor ending capitalism. Some or all of that might be lost, or just might take a longer horizon to achieve. But there are other ways of understanding our victories, perhaps by accounting for those things we hadn’t intended that happen along the way of what really is a social (and a sociable) movement, stretching in this case from night 1 to night 100.
So even though I posted it yesterday as a separate blog offering, I’m going to end with it again here: “100 Red Nights,” a gift of 100 little victories (words by me) set to 100 little images of the 100 red nights, offered as a collaborative labor of love by myself and Thien V Qn (who took the photos), just one of the talented crew of new friends I seem to be running with on the red streets these nights: http://100-nuits-rouges.tumblr.com/.
After looking at our “100 Red Nights” piece during day 100, another of our talented friends, Amy Darwish, remarked to me last night as she and I started out on our long night of strolling at 7:00 p.m., basically this: “It figures that you and Thien would create such a gift. You’re the two romantics of this movement.” Romantic yes, because it’s hard as hell not to be when you dive into the spectacular beauty and innovation of this student strike. At one and the same time, though, I hope you’ll see that some of the victories contained in our “100 Nuits Rouges” are actually dilemmas, implicit critique, or as-yet only partial promise, which to me are indeed victories, because we’re making them visible and hence available for dialogue and deliberation, as something for the increasingly long agendas of the many self-governing bodies within this movement.
(Photo credits: red flags, red marching band, giant red square, Villeray and Rosemont banners, and red-brick building by Thien V Qn,http://quelquesnotes.wordpress.com/; big crowd scene by Martin Martel,http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151960346950062.871472.666270061&type=1; QS sign, Outremont banner and outdoor project, and dumpsters by Cindy Milstein; aftermath of hit-and-run driver by Jesse Rosenfeld,https://twitter.com/kissmykishkas/status/230813774976794624/photo/1; and final romantic night 100 shot by another of my talented new friends, Kevin Lo,http://lokidesign.net/2356/2012/08/100th-night-demo/).
– Cindy Milstein –]]>
Montreal, QC–Thanks to the orchestrole, the past four Wednesday nights in Mile-End have been more than magical, which itself would be enough — in this neighborhood famous for its magical Montreal bagels (the one filling thing besides poutine you can get 24 hours a day). In the orchestrole, struments and cookware bang out a loud protestation against special law 78; friends, neighbors, and fairly new autonomous popular assembly participants reclaim whatever streets we settle on taking that evening — or rather, decide to borrow as we temporarily take them — as a marching illegal demonstration against the criminalization of dissent. The magic comes in because it’s festive to stroll down tree-lined streets as the sun sets and stars begin to appear, and people in their homes pop their heads out doors and windows to watch, listen, or wave, or step on to their balconies with their own instruments or cookware to join in, briefly, in our orchestral cry against the government trying to shut down the student strike. And magic, too, because some sort of addictive joy seems to come over us all while we’re orchestrolling (for my story on the first orchestrole, see here).
More important, however, the core crew of our popular assembly and neighborhood musicians have transformed protest into the art of prefiguration with this orchestrole invention. It is a creative intervention that reshapes public space on its own terms, without permits or permission, while expressing not only outrage but also solidarity for the student and social strike, and each other too, precisely because we’re doing it in a way that builds bonds between us, allows us to do political outreach and organizing, and shows that we can make our own culture, sans commodification.
Tonight’s highlights in our fourth orchestrole included the following:
The innovation of lyric sheets, in both French and English, to some of the songs put together by some of the musicians, who decided to do a practice session before the march this week. I’m not sure if this first rehearsal of theirs is because they are increasingly enjoying being the newly named “Mile-End Orchestrole” as musicians, in demand from others in our neighborhood who aren’t musicians, or due to the fact that they’ll be playing the first indoor orchestrole tomorrow night at a “Red Square Sound” fund-raiser for legal funds for the striking students, morphing our new protest-prefiguration form into new ways to contribute to the DIY sustenance of this movement as well.
We also handed out five different pieces of literature — up from nothing the first week, to one piece the second, and maybe two last week. One of those was an invite to a new neighborhood assembly, in nearby Outremont, so we swung into the edge of Outremont to lend aid and music to our autonomous assembly comrades with a bit of outreach for them. I’ve walked through that neighborhood several times in search of red squares, and there’s been hardly a one, so perhaps this explains why it’s taken them so long to call for an assembly, or may later explain why so few people show up. But several of our orchestrollers were insistent on doing neighborly solidarity for Outremont’s first effort in a park this Saturday.
As we marched on and night grew darker, we seemed to better have each other’s backs this week, more than ever, as we assuredly blocked the whole of St. Laurent, or the biggest, busiest of the streets that we borrowed for a while. Unlike last week, when some 100 or so folks showed up, there were probably 30 at most this week by the time we reached St. Laurent. We were only loosely blocking about half of the lanes, and you could feel the cars and motorcycles edging up behind us, menacingly, about to put foot to pedal and try to drive way too fast past us on the other half of this one-way street. One person within our posse looked at a few other orchestrollers, and said, “Should we take the whole street?” Bodies moved quickly in answer, without breaking the music, spreading out across all lanes, as the drivers grew visibly more frustrated at not being able to get by. Several folks turned to face the oncoming cars, went up to talk to drivers, and made sure there weren’t gaps that would allow a car to attempt a zip by us. One of our crew on a three-wheel bike kept sort of doing circles around the cars. Even those folks who’ve been concerned at the popular assembly about defying law 78 or engaging in what they perceive as direct action seemed completely pleased that we were holding the streets, safely, for each other. (I suspect this doesn’t seem like it “counts” as a direct action, which is one reason it and casseroles have opened us space for those who might be nervous about such activities).
As we neared the end of this long stretch of St. Laurent, and chose to turn left on the main drag of Mile-End, St. Viateur, and start winding down our orchestrole for the night, the police finally decided to catch up to us with some three cop cars for the remaining 25 or so of us. The cops began to act as if they were blocking the streets for us, staying well behind us. There was a brief moment where we turned to look at them, and then everyone quickly agreed in word and motion that we should just ignore them. We ended up hanging out in an intersection chatting for about a half hour while the police sat in one lane, telling us several times to leave, then helplessly watching when we didn’t. They finally pulled their cruiser up close, and one of our crew played them an instrumental solo of a song that isn’t exactly cop friendly — but they didn’t seem to understand. They were probably too busy wishing they could assert control over what was simply a group of friends and neighbors talking politics, life, and music in the night.
I know the police could have asserted their power; at the same time, the fact that no one paid them much mind seemed to go far in this context to shatter their authority. That, in turn, gave us extra time to have an informal organizing chat of sorts about next week’s orchestrole — on consecutive night 100 of the illegal downtown demos, when we decided to take our neighborhood assembly banner and orchestrole downtown (plans since then include multiple neighborhood casseroles meeting at various points to bring many assemblies downtown, and a solidarity demo for Riot Pussy called by Anarchopanda, plus the Mile-End orchestrole gathering at Gamelin Park at 8:30 p.m. to then take the streets with likely many people on this special marker of a night against the specially awful law).
This is, certainly, nothing earth-shattering or world-changing about the orchestrole, whether week one or four Wednesdays in. But like the little red squares that are scattered here and there, disappearing and reappearing, each of the many little illegal and prefigurative acts here in Montreal and Quebec have added up to a near-six-month-long student strike that only shows rebellious-red signs of reemerging in early August, when students return and school, well, maybe doesn’t open.
I’ll end this overview of orchestrole 4 with a personal favorite moment from the evening. We’ve taken to taking the one particularly upscale street within the Mile-End neighborhood, where there are a bunch of expensive restaurants with outdoor seating and lots of unsympathetic-looking patrons. My contribution to the orchestrole is making red-felt squares and filling up a pot, then banging on that pot, but also holding it out to folks to take a square, so they can then wear and spread the solidarity. People often take several red squares, for themselves and friends, and on this fancy street, the waitstaff frequently want one too. The well-heeled diners always stick their noses up at us, avoid eye contact, and refuse my squares. Which makes me put my pot under their noses, across their fancy dinner plates and wine glasses, just to annoy them. This week, when I did that to one woman who sported fancy dress, thinking she too would reject this gift, she instantly took a red square, then raised her fist and said, in French, but in words I now perfectly understand: “To the infinite social strike!”
– Cindy Milstein –]]>
Chicago, IL–It’s quieter than you might expect. I’m in the middle of a crowd of NATO protesters, and nothing is happening.
Not “nothing,” exactly. We are marching, though it may be more accurate to describe it as trudging. (To trudge: the slow, weary, depressing yet determined walk of a person who has nothing left in life except the impulse to simply soldier on.)
Hours earlier, we marched this route in reverse, in much larger numbers. There was chanting and singing. Bullhorns blasted our messages to curious residents and concealed snipers on high rises lining South Michigan Avenue. Signs waved, flags flew.
In an hour-long ceremony, veterans of the misnomered War on Terror threw their medals back toward the leaders who made unilateral decisions that ended in needless loss of life. The crowd alternately cheered and hushed in sympathy with the brave men and women standing up for their beliefs. It was impossible to witness without being moved.
Even the violence was quieter than you might expect, at least from where I stood, slightly removed. I could judge what happened by the injured being pulled from the epicenter. Street medics tended to head wounds, carefully and methodically checking for evidence of leaking spinal fluid. Their calm demeanors belied an underlying sense of urgency. Hundreds of riot police stood behind the makeshift triage unit, silent in their all-black body armor, batons ready to inflict more pain if deemed necessary.
No Imperial March played in the hot sticky air as the Stormtroopers moved in to begin clearing the intersection. With the exception of some shouted commands and a periodic dispersal order broadcast via LRAD, they simply pressed forward, forcing us back. Their eyes stared through us from behind sealed visors as if we were not real, or as if they were not fully present in the moment.
A photographer took pictures of me filming the scene, streaming it live to the Internet. We exchanged pleasantries and credentials. The police line pressed ever closer. If this were a movie, there would be a melodramatic soundtrack accompanying our slow retreat down Cermak. Instead we moved through a sea of silent tension almost worse than the implied force itself.
We played cat-and-mouse games with columns of riot cops all afternoon. They tried to contain us and direct our movements; we tried to outmaneuver them and get to the convention center. We succeeded, making it to the eight-foot metal barricades three times only to be threatened by the Special Forces guarding the dignitaries meeting beyond. I did a stand-up TV interview at one barricade, telling the reporter that our goal was to be seen and heard by those inside the summit. I was only seen and heard by the soldier who cut the interview short, barking a command to leave the secured area immediately.
Now, hours wearier and sweatier, we have finally gotten ahead of the riot cop formations long enough to head north, back toward downtown. It’s a four-mile trek and we have been marching all day in 90 degree heat. There is no energy left for chanting; signs have mostly been discarded. We just put one foot in front of the other, advancing our small offshoot protest march and its ever-present bike cop escort.
It’s about to get loud again as we meet up with the other marches downtown. We’re about to stop traffic and close down Michigan Avenue. We’re about to sit outside a dinner being held at the Art Institute for the NATO spouses, demanding to know why we weren’t invited to join them. More people are about to get hurt, including my friend Harrison, who will be hit over the head by an overzealous baton for the crime of playing his tambourine in the street. We’re about to end the night with a dance party in the rain, followed by another five-mile march to the jail where they took our friends.
But now, right now, all is quiet. The sun is setting spectacularly over the skyline and we are blocking four lanes of traffic, winding our way back to the heart of the city.
This is the part that never makes it to the movie, or the textbook – how the protesters get back home. These are the spaces in the middle and in between that automatically hit the cutting room floor. This is supposedly the least interesting part of the day.
And yet it is also the most human. After all, the media loves to paint a caricature of us in opposition with the stiffly regimented forces of law and order. They look for the loud, flashy moments and show them in eight-second clips devoid of context. But we are human. We get hungry; we look for a bathroom. We get sweaty and tired and thirsty. If you hit us with a baton, we will bleed – human blood, not protester blood. Yet we press on, because we feel righteous anger and indignation. We eschew personal comfort in order to amplify our message and champion our ideals. We shout our dissent from the pavement to the rooftops, and it echoes back to us through the concrete canyons that have been abandoned by all but the most dedicated this weekend.
This is the hardest part of the protest, when we are tired and alone and one blister away from giving up and finding a train that’s still running. This is the part when I wonder if we made any kind of difference at all. This is when reality sets in, that we face a long road ahead with no express route to the finish line. We will put in the hard work, one step at a time, one day at a time. I have friends by my side and more waiting ahead. This isn’t the end; it’s just the first in a series of memorable adventures.
This is the part that nobody sees but me. This is the true measure of my convictions, because to me it’s not a long, arduous journey back. I enjoy every sweaty, bloody step of the way.
– Rachel Allshiny –
Photo courtesy of Kelly Hayes]]>