(or other places to find my writings from the mundane to the supermundane)
The Magic of Yellowstone
A sample of Jim's writings
Buffalo Allies of Bozeman
- Name: Jim Macdonald
- Location: Bozeman, MT, United States
Hi, my name is Jim Macdonald, and I have an odd assortment of interests. In no particular order, I love Yellowstone, I am an anti-authoritarian activist and organizer, and I have a background in philosophy, having taught at the college level. My blog has a lot more links to my writing and my other Web sites. In Jim's Eclectic World, I try to give a holistic view of my many interests. Often, all three passions show themselves interweaving in the very same blog. Anyhow, I think it's a little different. But, that's me. I'm not so much out there, but taken together, I'm a little unusual.
View my complete profile
Besides 2020 being the year of COVID, it was a year for social awareness, for Black Lives Matter, and for educating ourselves about those who face systemic oppression in our society. One such group of people, who in Montana are disproportionately BIPOC
(Black and Indigenous People of Color), are the people in our community without homes.
My dear friend Aly and I spent some time in Bozeman's tiny downtown Soroptomist Park dancing with and listening to the stories of some residents of this park and took time to educate ourselves about and witness this population. Over the last many months, I spoke with city officials, advocated for the population in a City Commission meeting, and spoke with the head of HRDC (who provide services for this population). Bozeman's unhoused population has no year-round permanent shelter, and city laws forbid them of even pitching a tent. The large majority have jobs, but many of those who want shelter cannot afford or find a place to live.
More recently, I happened on an article in Bozeman Magazine celebrating a 112-page report put together by Montana State University, which discussed ecological and development approaches for Soroptomist Park. What was never mentioned once was the population of humans often residing in this park. They presented no evidence of having spoken to a single person living there.
This upset me, and I commented on the article. I shared it with Aly, and she also commented. Bozeman Magazine Publisher Angie Ripple reached out to Aly asking her to write an essay explaining our views. Appreciative for the platform, we wrote the piece you can read here. True to Angie's word, Bozeman Magazine has published it unchanged. Besides following the link, it is available also for free, available at a number of stores in town.
We call for unhoused residents to be treated with respect, that we listen to their stories, and hear and consider their needs and desires. Too often, their lives have simply not mattered, particularly here in Bozeman. This must change.
I’m writing this mostly for the white residents of Bozeman, but everyone is free to read if they want to be provoked, take inspiration from, react for or against, and confront the uncomfortable reality of racism in Bozeman, Montana.
I just returned from a spirited rally and march organized by the Montana State University Black Student Union and the Montana Racial Equity Project of thousands of people in my town organized in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and in solidarity with Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) in our city and state. As a white male observing what is happening right now in this country, I feel that I do not have the privilege to stay silent. I must say something to elucidate the situation here, namely how white privilege is manifest in my town, and I must ask anyone here who cares to join me and others in thinking of and acting on ways to tear down the systems of injustice that keep us all from being able to live in the best and most vibrant community possible – one where we all have the privilege I have—to breathe, to enjoy this beautiful environment, to earn a decent living, to care for my family, and to be able to walk my streets without fear.
It may be lost on most Montanans, in a state with the lowest black population per capita in the United States, how we in Bozeman have not come to terms with our own racist past and how that perpetuates in the reality today.
Once upon a time, there was a white man named John Bozeman. He and some of his friends—in part to escape America’s largest racially charged war (the Civil War) and in part to join the gold rush at Alder Gulch—headed to this area. Only, they didn’t just head to this area – which for centuries had been a passage to hunting grounds for numerous indigenous peoples—including the Blackfeet, Crow, Shoshone, Salish-Kootenai, and Nez Perce. They decided that the Oregon Trail was too long a route. So, they found a shorter route right through lands that had been granted to the Lakota by the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851. This became known as the Bozeman Trail, and Bozeman was founded as a town near the end of the trail where John Bozeman and his buddies could sell supplies to those men foolish enough to think they would get rich off of the gold at Alder Gulch.
This inevitably started another Indian war—known as Red Cloud’s War—and it is one of the few wars that the indigenous peoples actually won. They temporarily closed the trail and settlement by way of the trail.
So, the people in the new town of Bozeman needed some way to survive. Interestingly, it came from the fall out of the murder of John Bozeman, a murder that was blamed on Blackfeet Indians. The people did so with the intention of stirring fear and racial animus and to force the hand of the military to build a fort just outside of Bozeman (Fort Ellis). It is likely that John Bozeman was murdered by his white friend for having an affair with this man’s wife, though no one really knows. However, what is pretty certain is that Blackfeet Indians had nothing to do with it. Where Bozeman was murdered was outside of their typical range, and there are numerous other holes in the story, which you can research if you are interested.
Nevertheless, a town built along an illegal trail by people who felt privileged enough to create that trail and build a town there had a new lease on life from an army fort that the people could supply and sell grain to. And the new town slowly grew and gained a foothold.
That town was racially diverse. There were people of all colors in early Bozeman, including a significant population of Chinese people. Some say that the Chinese population may have been as high as 20 percent. This is a little known fact of Bozeman life. However, during the era of the 1870s, where the buffalo was being hunted to near extinction in a genocidal war to force indigenous people to reservations to make way for settlement and the railways these Chinese immigrants were often hired to build, there was growing racial hatred throughout the country of Chinese immigrants. This culminated in the Chinese Exclusion Act that for generations forbade Chinese from being American citizens and largely stopped their immigration. Alongside that, there were many laws openly aimed at Chinese people throughout Montana to make life for them impossible. One of our largest groups in what was once a racially diverse city were mostly wiped out of Bozeman by force of law.
While all this was going on, a group of prominent citizens formed vigilante committees to take law into their own hands. They were not entirely dissimilar—in their culture and that they consisted of the prominent members of society—from the early incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan. However, in Montana, they did not simply act on the basis of race. Nevertheless, they established their own fear and order that benefitted the white business interests who ran the state. These vigilantes have been mythologized to the point of celebration and part of the Montana heritage. To this day, their numeric symbol “3-7-77” is on the very symbol of the Montana Highway Patrol. It is a disgusting legacy openly celebrated by our state’s police force.
Over time, the white people of Montana forgot this history of racism, as was forgotten the forced removal of Shoshone Sheepeater Indians from Yellowstone National Park, as well as the Marias River Massacre of Blackfeet Indians and also the tragic story of the Nez Perce. Over time, white people forgot, and Montana became whiter and whiter.
Yet today, we still have a significant population of indigenous peoples, many of whom fill up our prisons and jails and have a life expectancy far lower than the rest of the population. We have a city here in Bozeman that has become very expensive to live in and increasingly so. You find homeless throughout our city but not a permanent homeless shelter. While this has been true, you also have an increasingly progressive population that is happy to stand up for the environment and will even come together to stand up against overt forms of racism. And yet, it is people of color who are poorer and are less likely to be able to afford the spoils of this community. It is still people of color who end up in jails. It is still a town that seems totally unaware of its racist past and how racism has made it the affluent, predominately white town that it is today.
And I as a white man benefit from this. Lucky me. I get to work from home and raise my son and go to Yellowstone whenever I want and hike in the beautiful canyons and mountains that surround me. I can afford to live here in the peaceful town with a low crime rate. But how often do I stand up and say that this is not working for everyone here? Beyond race, Bozeman has a high rate of rape. It has outpriced poor people of every race. Right now, I’m helping a nurse’s union at a nursing home collectively bargain a wage that is even comparable to wages across this city, let alone the state and country. These nurses put their lives on the line during a pandemic, and yet they can’t get a fair wage. What does this town do for the mentally ill or for the homeless? So long as we ourselves feel comfortable, we go on merrily. And yes, I do go on merrily. I live a really good life. It shouldn’t just be me and for people who look like me. We should all have this opportunity. All our lives would be luckier, including my own, if we could realize true racial justice in our city.
BIPOC people in Bozeman, I hear you. My friends and others in Bozeman who hear me, if you are moved, I want to talk and help be allies. I don’t want us to ignore the uncomfortable truth of our city any longer. Let’s be allies and supportive of all efforts to change this, led inspiringly by the BIPOC community of whom we support. And let’s no longer pretend that we who are also white have not been complicit in a racist system in a city that was founded on racial injustice and continues to bear too much of its rotten fruits.
What? When? Where? Who? Why? Cost?
What? Nine-week Chakradance course facilitated by Jim Macdonald
When? Most Sundays starting October 20, 6:30-8:00 PM
Where? Montana Ballet Company (at the Verge Theater building on 2304 N. 7th Ave. in Bozeman)
Who? Anyone interested who can commit to the full course and being present for 7 of the 9 classes and is willing to make up what is missed (no experience required)
Why? Dance is its own reward, but also greater inner balance, healing, and help reaching our own personal potential
Cost? Free for the full nine weeks, with a $50 refundable deposit for attendance at least seven of the nine sessions.
More questions? Contact Jim and read below
An Invitation to Chakradance
I invite you, starting on Sunday, October 20, at 6:30 PM at the Montana Ballet Company (over at the Verge on 2304 N. 7th), to dance with me on a beautiful nine-week course in Chakradance.
Chakradance has been for me a life-changing dance modality. You are not required to learn a single dance move in order to dance it. All you need to be is present and open to the power of dance to uplift, heal, or help you work on whatever it is in you that needs working out. Chakradance focuses on seven energy centers that ancient people identified in our bodies that represent physical, emotional, and psychological functions within us. By moving to, around, and with that energy, you can unravel blocked energy and deepen your connection with yourself.
A class involves both still and moving meditation, a little sharing, some exercises to get us grounded into our bodies, and even some work with mandala art. None of it requires any experience with dance, art, or chakras. Really, all it takes is presence, an open heart, and a commitment to complete every step of the course. For seven of the nine weeks, we will also dance and work on a particular chakra.
You will dance with your eyes closed or gaze lowered, and so this truly will be – though in a shared space – your own dance and your own process in a judgment-free environment.
What Is Required
If you are interested in taking this nine-week dance journey, the biggest thing I need from you is a commitment to the course. We will not be meeting every week because of holidays and my own travel, and so anticipate the actual course to be closer to three months. The time between classes is important because a lot tends to come up in the classes, and the real work is often the integration we do on our own throughout the week. More importantly, chakra work is about achieving balance throughout our chakra system. Your energy system will receive the most benefit from completing the full program and may feel imbalanced if it is only completed partially (much like getting a massage on one arm and not the other!) Therefore, a commitment to the full nine-week process is essential. However, because we all have lives (myself included) that do not always make attendance possible, please make a commitment to attending at least seven of the nine courses. If you cannot be at a class, please commit to making up the work in the week or two that you miss. I will make special arrangements with you so that this can be possible.
To cement your commitment and the value we put into it for your time and my time, I ask that you place a $50 deposit either by check (payable to Jim Macdonald) or by cash. If you complete the course, then the check will be ripped up or the cash returned. If this is a hardship for you but you are truly committed, we can make arrangements.
I also ask that by agreeing to take the course, you take responsibility for your own safety. I will do everything I can to hold the space, and the dance tends to be gentle, but I am cognizant that accidents can happen. Because I am offering a basically free service, I would just ask that to keep it that way, we all take responsibility for ourselves through this.
Great, But What If I Am Still Unsure?
If you are unsure of whether Chakradance is for you or whether you want to make a commitment to it, besides talking with me, you may drop in to the first class for free, and try that out. The first week is an introductory week. If it turns out that it is for you, then you can make the commitment during that week.
If you end up needing other arrangements, please contact me separately to see if we can do one-on-one work or whether you might be available for the next cycle that I facilitate. Once the cycle gets going fully in week 2, we cannot add new people to the class. It is important that we keep the energy of our circle and those in it with us safe and protected. I am not offering the class to build as big or open a class as I can; I am offering a journey for those who want to take it first for themselves and secondly with the other dancers who have chosen to take that journey with them.
I may, at times, offer some separate classes for those not in the nine-week cycle.
Okay, But if I Am Trusting You, Jim, What Is Your Background?
While you can read about me more here on my bio, let me say briefly here that I am a licensed Chakradance facilitator, having completed my facilitator training with the founder of Chakradance – Natalie Southgate – and also a nine-month deep dive course into Chakradance, also led by Natalie. Moreover, she has recently hired me to co-facilitate with her in next year’s online deep dive course and to help with future live trainings for Chakradance facilitators. Beyond that, I’m just a regular person who has lived in Bozeman for 12 years, with a day job at Oracle, a father of a 12-year-old boy, an M.A. in philosophy, and who loves to camp and hike in Yellowstone. In addition to Chakradance, I dance 5Rhythms, and I also love to swing dance or just dance anywhere and everywhere. However, I am not a licensed therapist. That is not my role here. I am someone who simply facilitates you through the dance and helps hold the space for your journey.
I have numerous other interests we will surely discover as we get to know each other. If you are interested, please contact me.
What is the magic of a word?
Marks on a background
Sound waves on an ear
For all the ways we fail
For all the words that fall
On deaf ears
Isn't it much more the miracle
That words communicate at all?
I believe this suggests
By nature, we connect
Or else these marks, these sounds
Would suggest nothing more
And yet, even when they don't
We think they might
We believe they ought
Mean something more than they do
These thoughts give me hope
That none of us is really alone
That if we only pay attention
Try, reach, listen, and speak
We have every reason to believe
That someone else may speak
Something ringing true
To our eyes, our ears, our hearts
I'm announcing today my new website, http://www.yellowstonemagic.com/dance
. If you live in or near Bozeman and are interested in Chakradance, please contact me
I'm very excited now that I'm a licensed Chakradance facilitator. I hope I can share this wonderful transformative dance with you.
I just had the most beautiful dance to the heart chakra. Let me try to find the words to describe it.
It actually began before the heart chakra – in our abbreviated dance through all the chakras. In the third-eye chakra, I began to see dancing pretzels. They danced on an earth of cotton candy, surrounded by snow that fell as popcorn. There among them was the pink elephant who could fly. At times, I was but a feather flying and tickling these dancing pretzels, making them laugh, making the pink elephant who could fly sneeze.
This picked up into the heart chakra dance, and I was narrating everything I was seeing in a soft voice as I saw it. There were the dancing pretzels, sometimes dancing like the Rockettes, sometimes just holding hands in a circle. There was the pink elephant who could fly. The falling popcorn. The cotton candy fields. Candy apple trees. There too was I, now not a feather, but just myself, dancing like a bird, sometimes grabbing a pretzel for a twirl.
Then, I saw a woman in an emerald green dress. I know who she is, but I will not share. I walked over to her, and I asked her if I might have this dance. And she said yes, and we danced a beautiful dance on cotton candy dance floors in and around dancing pretzels as a flying pink elephant smiled over us. But we did not simply dance – she and I – we then looked out of our circle. We grabbed homeless people, we wheeled in people who could not use their legs, we brought in the forgotten, and came in with a cart of misfit toys. We all danced together – us and these misfits and the woman in green who will not be revealed – and in the middle was the pink elephant who could fly showered with love.
Then, I saw my son – my beautiful River. And he brought in his misfit friends. And they danced with pretzels. The popcorn began to smile, and I turned back to feather form, tickling and making people laugh, and then me again. I’m narrating out loud everything I’m sharing here, and I’m narrating that I’m narrating.
The scene changes. I’m now in the Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park, at the very spot of my first kiss. I’m with the woman in emerald green, and we look into each other’s eyes, still in a swaying dancing way. But then we look out at the beauty before us. We open up our arms to it and invite it into us. This is not the love of a selfish couple, a romance only for the two, the first kiss of a boy who didn’t really know how to kiss. This is an openness to the world, a love for all that’s in it. And so came the elk, and so came the buffalo, and so came the wolf and the coyote and the fox, and so came the moose, and so came the grizzly bear and the black bear, and so came the beaver, and so came the pine trees and the fir, and so erupted the geysers all around us, and there too came the dancing pretzels, and the pink elephant who could fly was smiling down on us, and all the people who have been forgotten were there with us.
And then came my son – my dear River. And he runs into my arms, and he says, “I love you, Daddy. Are you having a nice day?” – he says that nearly every time I see him. And I cry – and I’m really crying (I’m crying now writing this) – “The best day … the best day of my life.” And we hold each other, and we cry, and the world dances around us, first the lady in green, and around her the dancing pretzels, and around them geysers and animals and pink elephants who can fly in a sky of snow and falling popcorn.
The love I feel right now is tremendous. I ended by wanting you all to join this scene and dance with us. This world is for you; this dance is for you. You are invited into my heart, into the strange curiosities of my mind, into the silliness, into the light touch of a feather, into a world where pretzels dance in a field of geysers, in a place I call Venus on Earth. You are always welcome in my home, in my dance, into my surrealism.
And like an old movie, we bowed as the curtain closed – the last thing you see is a dancing pretzel and the hint of a pink elephant ear. And, closing credits.
Living in the Gallatin Valley in such close proximity to the most beautiful place in the world – Yellowstone National Park – surrounded as we are by mountain ranges on every side of us, immersed with a sky so big that you can see forever even on the vast majority of cloudy days – we derive our sense of beauty from the striking and endless beauty around us. The valley floor contrasts with the rise of the Bridger Mountains. Very cold waters in the region mix with very hot. The colors in our morning and evening skies are like few places in the world. It is not hard for me to write just these few sentences because my view at work gives me a striking vantage on the Bridger and Tobacco Root Mountains. I know if I could turn 90 and 180 degrees that I’d have equally stunning views of the Madisons and the Gallatins.
We can muse forever on what makes this place beautiful. One of the notions that seems obvious to me is that beauty provides a kind of endless diversity, one that never grows dull on the senses. The place will not allow you to take it for granted for very long. It is always full of pleasing new dimensions.
Let’s shift gears radically.
In philosophy, there are these obvious truths called tautologies. Perhaps, the most famous one is expressed in the law of identity – “p = p“. You are you; I am me; something is the same as itself. There are other forms of tautologies. What we need to remember is that tautologies are always true; we also need to know that they can connote needless repetition or the stating of something so obvious that it does not need to be said. Either I am here, or I am not here. You will either be or you will not be.
Tautologies seem quintessentially uninteresting. You might even argue that they are the ugliest things you can imagine. Not only do they not say anything new, but also they dull you by saying it in a needlessly bulky way. Do I really need to say “I am me”? Isn’t it enough that I am?
However, I think tautologies are infinitely fascinating and that even our love for this valley or for anything anywhere else we may live is nothing more than a new way of expressing a tautology. When we mistake the staid quality of particular tautologies like “p = p“, we run the risk of confusing the mere body of the tautology with its beautiful embodied soul.
What possibly could I mean by that metaphor?
Let’s try to reduce truth to its smallest possible component. What if instead of saying “p = p“ I said instead “p“? I walk up to you on the street and gleefully announce “p!” You probably are going to wonder where someone urinated or something of that sort. You do that because saying “p“ by itself is never enough to express any truth. You have to fill in the blanks. What is this “p“? You sniff around, hop up to avoid stepping in it, but you have no idea what it is I really mean unless you know what “p” actually is.
So, Okay, maybe I should say something like “p is”. Yes, you might think that’s a strange thing to say and still have little idea what that means, but at least it's a complete sentence. Yes, indeed, whatever “p” is, it most certainly is. Or it is not. Yet, you can still have some conversation about it. Yet, notice what your mind has done. In order to grasp the meaning of a simple sentence with a subject and a verb, you have unwittingly in your head turned it into a tautology. Either “p” is, or “p” is not. Another way you can put that is that “p is p“, which logically means the same thing as the disjunction “either p is or p is not.” You will still fill in a context for which the “is” relates.
We cannot assert truth, then, by reducing it to something less than a tautological form. There is no “om” that reduces the world to itself unless one means that “om is om” Try expressing anything true without a context. There is no way to do so. We can spend more time expressing why, but that is true of anything. Any attempt you make to express why you can simply say “p“ or “p is” will result in you saying something more. However, go ahead and say “om” and see if I understand you without either of us making reference to anything else. If you can, it’s a wonder that you could make sense of my sentence asking you to do that.
So, not only are tautologies true, but also truth cannot be simplified beyond its tautological form.
Now, this is fascinating. Why? If “p is p“ but you cannot assert simply “p“ by itself, then it means that the nature of “p“ is such that it has to be expressed as containing some diversity within itself. What I mean is that “p“ must also have as part of its nature that it must be expressed by a subject and with a predicate. It doesn’t matter that the predicate of “p is p“ is self referential; it is still necessary to its concept that it be expressed through aspects which are not the same. Predicates and subjects are not the same in any sentence, even if “p“ is still “p“ That means the simplest notion of identity still entails a kind of internal diversity.
So, there is no “p“ without a world of context, without a reference to something that is not merely “p“ as “p“ “P as subject” is not “P as predicate” even if “p is p“ must be true. This is a surprising conclusion and opens up Pandora’s box, right? Is it not also true to say that “1 = 1” and “1 = 3 – 2” and perhaps also that “1 is the loneliest number” and even that “3 – 2 is the loneliest number”? We are not equivocating. If we are saying things which are true that follow from the nature of tautologies, then there are infinite many things which we can say while anchored to our tautologies. If identity is true, so is it true that identity entails infinite diversity of any true statement.
Why write about this subject? I think what I am trying to get across is that the study of philosophy is not an abstraction that is distinct in any substantive way whatsoever from the world we inhabit. When philosophers talk about Truth, Beauty, Being – with all the capital letters – they can and should be talking about notions that are really the same as the ones we are expressing about our world. They are only abstract in the sense that we talk about them as generalities, but they are not abstract in being otherworldly or perfect ideas of which our world only is a mere replica. It is to say we should not run away from the trail of truth, virtue, logic, and several thousands of years of jargon built to facilitate the discussion of our world.
I am an activist. I do care deeply about the injustices in the world – to people, Animals, the land, and our overall environment. Nevertheless, I hope I am also a philosopher. To deal with big concepts like injustice and working toward a world that looks like we want it to be, we cannot be afraid to do the hard work of gazing into the depths of these ideas. We cannot simply assert “injustice” and hope everyone knows what we mean. We have to tie it to a context; we have to reach that subject into a predicate. What is “injustice”? Well, it is injustice. Yet, to tie that to the endlessly diverse context of our lives, we need to be willing to explore the tautology further even if the path can often be littered with all kinds of ugly and ineloquent things.
My Experience at the 2004 Republican National
Part I: Prelude (March 21 – August 27)
By Jim Macdonald
This series of essays will consist in four
I. Prelude (March 21 – August 27)
II. The Great Big Opening Act (August 27 –
August 30) -
III. A31 and Guantanamo on the Hudson (August 31
– September 1) - http://www.eclecticworld.org/2015/09/my-experience-at-2004-republican.html
IV. Copwatch and Aftermath (September 1 –
Prelude to the prelude
Many of you are certainly wondering about what
happened to me in jail, how it happened, what it was like, and what the next
steps in that particular fight are. Since it could be several days before I
share that account, let me share a few things on that score right now.
Firstly, the jail experience was one of the best
in my life, one where people came together and took very good care of each
other. It was like going to the best protest rally ever, only made that much
more poignant by the ridiculous situation we found ourselves and some of the
harsh realities of life in a jail cell. The friends I made in jail give me
great confidence of the power and imagination in our movement, and the
compassion I saw and received from others was astounding.
However, more importantly, and secondly, for all
of us who are so gladly martyrs for the cause of peace and social justice and
who are trumpeting our own personal stories (for instance, read this one), the
reality is that we are not victims, that we are not the forgotten story of New
York. The forgotten story is all those people who have gone through and
continue to go through the jail and prison system in this country. In New York,
police repeatedly told us that we were lucky, that it usually took up to 72
hours to process the average person and that the “Tombs” (as the jail in New
York is called) were remarkably more clean and more pleasant than usual. The
poor, the mentally ill, the minorities, the homosexuals, the transgendered, and
the unfortunate drug addicts go through this system all the time. They become
lost in it without charges for days, without the support system that the
activist community brought. They do not know who they are locked up with, and
they do not have people outside when they get out. It is for them and not for
us that I give my support and pity. If writing this account inspires others to
speak out on behalf of those who are the real victims, then it will serve its
purpose. I am intent on building this movement and showing both the positives
and negatives in my experience, but none of that means a damn thing if we do
not reach out to those people who are truly feeling the brunt of this system.
So, as you read, remember the forgotten people.
Then, organize and take action so that we can create a world where we truly
take care of each other and the world in which we live.
Why protest the RNC?
Well over 500,000 people protested at the
Republican National Convention (RNC) at hundreds of events and demonstrations.
No other political conventions in American history have had anywhere close to
this many protesters. Yet, this year, the magnitude of these protests surprised
George W. Bush has been a horrible President. In
2000, he stole Florida and the national election despite losing the popular
vote to Democrat Al Gore. He gave the rich a tax cut that bankrupted a
government that was starting to get on its fiscal feet. He used the tragedy of
September 11 to start wars in Afghanistan and Iraq where tens of thousands have
died, including over 1,000 Americans. His environmental policies have included
easing restrictions on the Clean Air Act, numerous attempts to drill for oil in
the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, allowing increased snowmobile emissions in
Yellowstone National Park, and attempts to weaken the Endangered Species Act.
He has been a friend of big business, the pharmaceutical companies, and the oil
industry. His Administration supported the successful coup against the
democratically-elected leader of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and the failed
coup against another democratically-elected leader in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez.
He has cut benefits for many social programs. At the same time, his government
has assaulted civil liberties, especially through the Patriot Act and the
detaining of those held without charges in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
The list could go on indefinitely.
As a result of the failure of many to have faith
that electoral politics can be counted on and the sheer suffering that Bush’s
policies have caused, massive demonstrations have been the norm during the past
four years. In 2000, 80,000 protested Bush’s inauguration, by far the largest
such protest of any inauguration ever. From October 2002 through March 2003,
tens of millions demonstrated worldwide hoping to stop the war in Iraq,
including an estimated 32 million alone on February 15, 2003. More than 1.1
million women and men marched in the March for Women’s Lives in April 2004.
For over a year, most activists knew that the
protests at the Republican National Convention would not only be necessary but
also that they would be quite big. The million reasons to protest Bush could
not but stir the passions and enthusiasm of those who wanted to make it happen.
Why protest Bush and the RNC? Are you seriously
asking me that?
The Beginnings of My Involvement
On March 21, 2004, I was writing about my
experiences on March 20 just as this September 4 I’m writing about experiences
of the day before. In writing, I find the power to preserve and to collect so
that I can gain perspective on the melodies of my existence. However, in
writing, it is not the truth we are preserving. Writing does not contain the
truth not so much because what is written is untrue but because truth is not
itself able to be contained. The truth is always so much more than any
particular collection of words. Nevertheless, writing is a melodic process with
potentially profound results. What writing does is invite others to
conversation with the wonders of our minds and with the tapestries in our
world. If successful, it evokes response and creativity. That process is
profoundly beautiful, and in that process truth unfolds—rather than being
contained—before our eyes and sets fire in our hearts.
Something about March 21 was different, though.
I found myself unable to feel enthusiastic about my writing. It was as if what
happened that yesterday no longer seemed all that relevant to tomorrow. Often,
I write with the idea that the thought that went into that writing session
would organize my actions for the next. Yet, long before that day, I already
knew what was next for me. The March 20 demonstrations by United for Peace and
Justice (UFPJ) and Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) were moderately
successful, but everyone knew that they were only a prelude to the later
demonstrations in New York at the RNC. Perhaps, that is why we in the DC
Anti-War Network (DAWN) could only field two buses to New York that day.
Everyone knew that a bigger wave was on its way.
Thus, what I wrote that day failed to resonate,
it failed to seem all that important. The formulas of our protesting had grown
as old and stale as what I had to write about. This is not to say there were
not fresh thoughts of some relevance, but it is to say that they were not fresh
and active enough. We had to do and be more or the RNC would be our Waterloo
(what is the fascination with the analogies of war?)
On March 21 I knew that I was going to propose
to DAWN that we immediately turn the team that provided buses to New York for
March 20 into a working group to prepare for the protests at the RNC. In my
heart, I also believed that I wanted to be the working group’s point person for
the action. Never before, believe it or not, had I ever been the point person
for any action in DAWN. For March 20, I served as the bus ticket sales
coordinator and ultimately as the bus coordinator for two other bus captains,
but I was not ultimately responsible for keeping the overall work of the group
together. For the RNC, finally, I felt that I had the confidence to do the hard
work of taking the lead in organizing, not because I had some egomaniacal need
to be a leader but because my energy was at an all time high, and I knew that
that energy could best be used in this effort. The bus trip left me feeling
unusually confident that maybe I could take on a project of some scope and
organize a team of people to get things done.
DAWN formed a working group for the purpose of
protesting at the conventions, both the Democratic National Convention (DNC)
and RNC, the following Tuesday. Within the week, the working group met for the
first time at Café Mawonaj and then soon after over at the Warehouse Theater.
From efforts following those meetings, a DC Conventions Coalition formed,
meeting regularly at St. Stephens Church and eventually in Dupont Circle. That
entire planning experience truly is a book in itself. I would like to write it
some day, but I think that there are going to be far too many volumes of
experiences upcoming for me to ever tell the whole story. That’s a happy
thought, to know that life is so full of wonder and experience that there is
not enough time to write about it all.
The Scope of Our Work
While I cannot write about all the work of the
DAWN working group, the DC Conventions Coalition group, or the DC Cluster that
arose out of the latter, I will highlight some of our thinking and try to give
you the scope of the planning that went into this. Eventually, DAWN buses
brought 200 people to New York. We estimate that over 1,000 DC-area residents
attended the protests, perhaps more. We housed between 30 and 40 activists and
had the capacity to house many more. The activists on the ground took part in
numerous planning meetings while many DC affinity groups took effective action
on the ground. In the past, big demonstrations in other cities simply meant
that DC people came to participate in a march but do little else. This time hard
work and planning by our group and so many other groups like SOA Watch, MGJ,
and Codepink meant that Washington, DC activists could play an important and
organized role in both the national planning and the actions on the ground.
In my particular case, I estimate working at
least 60 hours a week simply on conventions-related planning. I organized
meetings; attended meetings of other groups; participated in conference calls;
researched and created spreadsheets of activist groups; wrote calls and press releases;
created, printed, and distributed flyers; participated in every wheatpasting;
oversaw all the bus tickets sales; updated the website; publicized meetings;
created agendas; participated in numerous events; took trips to cities like
Richmond to promote the coalition and get support; helped organize other events
where conventions was promoted; organized the bus trip; worked with groups in
Boston and New York to secure housing; and so much more. There wasn’t a job too
big or small that I didn’t have some part in. In fact, many have told me that I
probably did too much, that one of the central flaws in organizing was my
inability to delegate responsibility effectively. I can say that it was not for
lack of trying, but it surely was for lack of ability that I hope will improve
And, yet, for all that I did in planning from
late March until the very end of the convention protests, I absolutely did not
and could not have done this alone. Genevieve had her hand in most things, too.
She made hundreds of phone calls, which is especially useful given my neurotic
fear of making phone calls. She helped wherever I needed help and took care of
so many of my physical and emotional needs. She single-handedly secured Jan Hus
Presbyterian Church where some people ultimately were housed and which provided
the DC Cluster meeting space. She accompanied me at several meetings and
offered numerous planning suggestions. She was the inspiration for so much of
my energy. Then, there was Andy. From beginning until end, Andy was critical.
He designed and maintained the conventions part of the conventions website. He
helped with important outreach, designed flyers, worked hard on helping us put
on events, at least one that never happened but still may. His analytical mind helped
us see ways we might do things differently or remind us of tasks that needed to
be completed. Sam was another extremely important member of the group. Having
moved recently from New York, Sam was our best source of information about what
to expect in New York and for potential contacts and information. He made
whatever calls we asked him to make and more besides. He was able to do a lot
to help build our coalition and secure ticket outlets. At moments when I felt
low about the enthusiasm that the community had for our work, he always
reassured me and told me that things were going on the right path. Then, of
course, there was Ryan, who although he had a very busy summer which took him
away from being as active as he had been in leading us on the March 20 action,
he played the extremely important role of acting as liaison with the bus
company and for coordinating the final days of the August 29 bus contingent.
Besides these people, many dozens of others played important roles. Ellen fed
us several times and provided a lot of food for the August 27 trip, which one
passenger from Texas called the best bus trip ever. Morrigan helped us with
wheatpasting buckets, by giving advice about securing St. Stephens, and played
the pivotal role of organizing affinity group, legal, and medic training.
Gordon and Tracy at Iraq Pledge of Resistance helped put on a nonviolence
training workshop. Josh and Christy at SOA Watch facilitated the affinity group
training while Peter and Carol led crucial medic and legal training respectively.
Pete, through his “Free the Peace” events, gave a megaphone for conventions.
Louise at All Souls Church and Cindy with the Virginia Grassroots Coalition
helped a lot in getting the word out. Mary from Maryland helped us flyer. Jeff,
besides being a bus captain on August 29, was an important help to me in
particular by making sure that I put an emphasis on training and action.
Without that emphasis, I might not have put such emphasis on the necessity of
training, which turned out to be especially important for those of us who
eventually went to jail. Ashley, a summer intern for Los Angeles, helped
wheatpaste and she also promoted conventions heavily, especially at a poetry
slam at Mangos. Ethan, a graduate student from Berkeley, helped wheatpaste,
print numerous flyers, and offer general support to our efforts. Loree made
sure that we had plenty of wheatpasting flyers. Jose helped us create a Spanish
version of our wheatpasting flyer. Ryme at WPFW helped us publicize the
protests as did Brian at the Washington Peace Center. Jesse helped us
wheatpaste. Sam W. over at DC Labor for Peace and Justice was so important
early in the process and helped us develop a better connection with that
organization. The Kucinich campaign helped us get the word out about Boston,
and I’d like to thank Charles in particular. In New York, we need to especially
thank Julie and Todd with the noRNC housing team; the good people at West-Park
Presbyterian Church, especially Philip, Hope, Lauren, Rev. Braga, and Rev.
Brashears; and Rev. Irwin, Marvin, and Del over at Jan Hus. There are so many
other people to acknowledge, who played important roles, including Gael at
Codepink, Malachy and David B., Chris, and David K. in DAWN, our new friends,
especially Jen L., in Richmond, Mike with the Green Bloc and Baltimore CAGE,
Paul the Peacewalker, Ann and Dean with the DC Statehood Green Party, Shahid
and Laurie and all the DC Guerrilla Poets, and on and on and on. As I remember
others, I may go back and edit this. However, you can gather from this that
this was no small effort.
I do not know how much reading such a list might
bore you, but in truth it was only a very small part of all that went into this
entire experience. Days and minutes were so full of activity that you cannot
simply reduce all of that varied experience into a few pages, which many of you
will tell me you never finished reading because they were too long. Planning
for these protests were some of the most rewarding days of my life and
represented the beginning of what I think is a new age in my life, one with
many happy days to follow.
Our mission inside of our small local grassroots
anti-war group was to help DC mobilize for two long and important protests one
month apart. Logistically, it was the most complicated thing that we ever had
to do. This was not simply organizing a bus trip, which was not at all easy to
do. It was organizing several inter-coordinated bus trips, housing, and myriad
on-the-ground actions. Each level of complexity made the workload increase
geometrically. To deal with this work, we developed a strategy that was largely
successful, though probably flawed in some respects.
Our strategy in DAWN was to create partnerships
with a large number of groups so that we could share the workload. For
instance, we identified the housing component as the crucial element of our success.
Whether it was is quite debatable since so few actually stayed in housing we
provided, but nevertheless the housing need and our interpretation of its
importance helped set the strategy. How would we house up to 150 activists in
New York who needed free housing? Knowing little about New York, we believed
the only way to successfully get that much housing was to develop partnerships
with New York-based groups who would help us with housing. To form those
partnerships, we researched New York-based peace and social justice groups,
contacted them about our needs, and then offered similar assistance in the
future. These groups had a vested interest in having the New York protests
become massive, and we had a vested interest in getting as many of our people
there as possible for as long as possible and for others to come to future
Washington events. Thus, I spent much of April contacting many groups in New
York and doing general outreach. Interestingly, though response was pretty
decent in New York, especially from groups like the War Resisters’ League, we
managed to attract some attention and help from outside New York. Charles Shaw,
the editor of Newtopia Magazine
and Green Party organizer,
generously offered to help out. Over time, we joined the noRNC housing group,
which was somewhat in disarray, and offered to do what we could to help. They
gave us access to databases, and we held calling sessions to New York churches,
using that info to update their database. As a result of that and our early
start time, that group committed heavily to providing us with the housing we
got at West-Park Presbyterian Church.
So, we formed partnerships with working groups
and organizations in New York, Boston, and Chicago, but what about DC? In DC,
there was no way to mobilize as many people as we wanted to mobilize without
the help of the other grassroots organizations in town. So, while we were
simultaneously working outside of DC, we worked hard inside of DC forming a
coalition of groups to work on planning. We recruited and received endorsements
from several organizations including Codepink, SOA Watch, Mobilization for
Global Justice (MGJ), DC Labor for Peace and Justice, Howard University peace
groups, Critical Resistance, Kucinich for President, Richmond’s Virginia Anti-War
Coalition (VAWC), Veterans for Peace (ch. 016), Jews for Peace in Palestine and
Israel, the International Socialist Organization (ISO), DC Guerrilla Poetry
Insurgency, Proposition One, and the DC Statehood Green Party. Frankly, the
coalition almost never functioned like a coalition. Some groups never sent
members to meetings, many groups did their own thing, and some others gave
sporadic support. Yet, forming this coalition was not unimportant to the
efforts. The outreach created relationships that did not exist before. They
introduced some of us new to big scale organizing to many others in the local,
regional, and national movement. I also believe that while the coalition did
not always meet or work together on coordinated projects, the general notion
that there should be a coalition for this effort must have had some effect on
overall attendance at the convention. Since word was getting out to very active
participants in these organizations, conventions-related activities spread
through to the general body of supporters in the region.
Our strategy of partnerships inside and outside
the DC region was key to helping us pursue the ambitious organizing we hoped to
and eventually accomplished. At times, I found myself exhilarated by the scope
of the project. How was housing coming along? Where are we on getting bus
ticket outlets? Are we playing an active enough role in the Free the Peace
planning? Which interview must I do today? How do you like this flyer? How many
meetings do I have this week? I was not getting by financially at all
throughout this process, working a temp job at the US Department of Education
in Federal Student Aid through July, and not working at all in August. I was
getting poorer and likelier to be homeless by the day, and didn’t have time to
take care of many of my basic personal needs. Yet, seeing this project through
was worth the enormous personal sacrifice and was so often energizing. Other
times, however, I was running myself ragged, getting myself discouraged by the
lack of participation, by tasks not being completed on time, wondering if there
was general dislike of me since so few seemed to be participating as actively
as I might have liked. Sometimes, that sense of discouragement would seem to
happen to me most at our Monday conventions meetings, which probably turned off
people who were there looking for enthusiasm and a way to help out. The low
point was certainly when we discovered that only one ticket for Boston had been
sold a week out from the convention and that we had to scrap any buses. At the
DAWN meeting 10 days out from our trip, I broke down in tears in the meeting
believing that I had been an absolute failure as an organizer.
Finally, It Comes Together
Eventually, through hard work and a lot of help,
everything came together spectacularly. I think the turning point may have come
when Shahid began organizing the DC Cluster. Up to that time, bus ticket sales
had been okay but rather slow. After the last couple meetings, which had great
participation, bus sales exploded. DAWN ultimately filled four buses, but we
could have easily filled two in the last couple of days after ticket sales
ended. Genevieve, Ryan, and I wore ourselves out the week before New York. In
all honesty, the week before the RNC, I was receiving well over 200 emails a
day, and about 60% of those were in some way relevant to the work we were doing
on the conventions. My phone rang off the hook, giving me cell phone bills that
have left me scrambling for ways to pay them. I was also moving out of my apartment
while all this was going on. Genevieve’s home turned into a travel agency
office where we were booking reservations for travel and housing while
answering individualized questions. WUSA, channel 9 in DC, even suggested
coming to the house to watch us work. When I was not doing all of that, I only
found a spare moment for a WPFW radio interview. The day before our trip, I
worked 16 hours nonstop on the bus trip. You have no idea the accounting, the
money collection, the information packets, etc. that goes into a bus trip.
Throw on top of it that it is a protest with potential legal, medical, and
other issues, and you just add layers of complexity. Yet, I made a commitment
to keep up. Very few emails went unanswered (except when my email went down for
half of a day the day before I left) as quickly as possible, and I put all my
passion and work so that others could protest at the convention. I felt a big
rush from it all, a sense that the more exhausted I felt, the more alive I
I had a great sense by the time I got to Union
Station to board our charter bus to New York that we were about to have the
time of our lives.
In the end, I had the time of my life.
What will follow is a lot more writing. All my
memories crowd together and compete to be remembered in black ink. If I had
started writing this later in the day, another flood of different memories
would have found themselves here. My point is that writing is merely the façade
of a much more intricate and compelling world. The major party conventions had
very little coverage on prime time television, and people complain about that.
Yet, how much more time and space they get than we get, we who are working on
systemic changes in our culture and society? How much more do we get than those
who have been forgotten, who don’t have the time to write and record and to
share? The world is so much more than our words. Activity and color flood us
all the time, infinitely occupying even the smallest recesses of any being. So,
what will follow is largely small, even though it will be too long for most
editors. We as readers have the responsibility to remember and to ask about
what our writing and our words do not say. There are words for the forgotten,
I have reduced several months of experience to mere
pages of writing. In meetings, I would reduce it to a minute’s worth of
speaking. How lucky are those who stand out to be counted! In New York, the few
represented the many, and they were represented only barely. What I hope these
few words have shed light on is the sheer scope of the effort that went into it
from just my end of things.
Tomorrow, we can only hope to do more.
To be continued… [Editor's Note: Part
II is shared here.]
Part II: The Great Big Opening Act (August 27 – August 30)
By Jim Macdonald
September 6, 2004
This series of essays will consist in four parts:
I. Prelude (March 21 – August 27) - http://www.eclecticworld.org/2015/09/my-experience-at-2004-republican_89.html
II. The Great Big Opening Act (August 27 – August 30)
III. A31 and Guantanamo on the Hudson (August 31 – September 1) http://www.eclecticworld.org/2015/09/my-experience-at-2004-republican.html
IV. Copwatch and Aftermath (September 1 – September 3)
One of the central goals in all of my reporting from the movement’s big events
is to share the story you could not possibly get from any other media source.
Any number of sources can tell you the basic who, what, when, where, why, and
how many. They can also paint a broad brushstroke of some mythic overarching
theme of what was happening. Rarely do we get the millions of individualized
stories, emotions, and dramas. You can bet that somewhere hearts were broken in
those crowds, that elsewhere someone else fell in love. Any given person was
there for any number of reasons, and they are all ultimately relevant to what
actually happened. In my case, I do not so much try to share with you every
detail, like every bathroom break I took, or the final moments before falling
asleep, but I try to evoke that all that goes unwritten was happening, that
every experience is potentially rich. If there was something uniquely special
that you might have missed, hopefully I have found it and given it expression.
Much has been written about the big UFPJ march on August 29, and I’m sure
plenty was written about the sizeable marches on August 30 and the preceding
events on August 28. I may be able to fill in some more information about the
basics that you might not have had; however, to be honest, there’s not all that
much more on that score that I can add. I can, however, tell you what it was
like for the DC contingent that was near me. My days were spent dealing with
the housing issues arising at West-Park Presbyterian, taking phone calls from
DC from people looking for bus rides, and much of the time helping Genevieve
and others care for our blind companion, Paul the Peacewalker. In those
experiences, I think there is analysis and reflection for the movement at large
and the success of these actions in particular. For, it is not whether CNN
carries our message accurately to the countryside outside of Peoria that
matters most. That is something beyond our control. What matters most is how we
take care of each other and ourselves. That’s what I believe. I know I risk
sounding self righteous in saying that, but it makes it no less true. In what
follows in this and the remaining parts of the story, the degree to which
people took care of each other seemed to have a direct correlation with how I
felt about the success of the trip.
In any event, what is to come is a story of big events many of us participated
in and the story I was living inside of these larger gatherings. The days
involved cover DAWN’s August 27 bus trip to New York, our stay at West-Park
Presbyterian Church, and our attendance at the Green Party’s “A Green World is
Possible” festival, the great big UFPJ anti-war march, and Monday’s “Still We
Rise Coalition” march. Much more happened in between and all around. The days
also involve the interpersonal challenges that arise in the mix of things.
A Great Bus Trip to New York
Months of planning and preparation finally gave us in DAWN a chance to see our
work come to life. There is so much life before the “coming to life” that it is
no wonder that there is such controversy where the one begins and the other
ends. Nevertheless, there was something profoundly different inside of me being
able to sense now what was only imagined before. The bus was real, the people
on the bus looking at me were real, the road was real, and New York was real.
Someone wisely said that the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray,
but sometimes they don’t. Our bus trip to begin the protests at the RNC on
August 27 could not have gone more smoothly.
A full bus of DC activists left Union Station that Friday evening with our
sights set on New York. Check-in went smoothly except for the fact that one of
our passengers brought much more than any of us anticipated him bringing. This
passenger planned on going to New York to sell buttons and had traveled with
DAWN in the past, but none of us had any idea just how much that entailed.
Throughout the week, these little unexpected things created organizing
challenges that kept me from simply relaxing and having fun. Nevertheless,
everything else went so smoothly.
The bus left for the highway, and we tuned into “Democracy Now,” the show that
most people in our circles listen to for news. Of course, most of the show was
about the Republican National Convention and the protests that were about to
happen. In Boston, I had personally been disappointed by the show because it
seemed to spend more time inside the convention than outside of it where
activists were having some success in getting their messages out to the public
and to the delegates. Even so, “Democracy Now” is a great help to our movement,
and we listened attentively for the first half-hour of our trip.
After that, the bus became an open mike on wheels. I began by welcoming
everyone to the bus and talking about why we were going to the RNC. Soon after,
the mike filled with poetry from the DC Guerrilla Poets and followed with a
series of people speaking out. Of special note was Charlene who came all the
way from Fort Lauderdale just to ride with us. She beamed with happiness
despite the fact she told us that she was losing her home in part because she
was traveling with us. Even so, she said she never felt more wonderful. For the
next two hours, people spoke, sang, and shared poetry. We even watched an
8-minute trailer for a documentary from a DC-based woman named Laurel who is
seeking funding for her project. Laurel was not with us, though I would run
into her later in the week.
The riders all seemed happy with the bus trip. Ellen from Prop 1 had brought an
awful lot of food and water that nourished all the passengers on the bus. One
passenger, who had moved from Texas, said that this was the best bus ride ever,
a luxurious coach with entertainment and lots of great people. As an organizer,
that’s just the sort of thing that is most gratifying to hear. Genevieve helped
make sure that people had food and that any medical needs were met. For
instance, she attended to one passenger who suffered a bee sting. Andy played
an important role giving out information and guiding our bus trip in the final
stages into New York. Any rest that anyone could give me was important to me
because at times it could feel as though I might never get to have the
slightest bit of fun during the entire week since I was making sure everyone
else was. And, while sacrifice is such a wonderful thing, it does not mean that
we always want to be doing that rather than something else. It would not be
sacrifice if it were easy, right?
About half way through our trip, I received a panic call from Suzanne, a friend
of ours in DAWN, who was already in New York. While on the phone, she was
witnessing the mass arrest of bicycle riders participating in a Critical Mass
event. At that moment, it was hard to get details because she was in tears, but
from many reports we subsequently got on the bus, we learned that over 260
people were arrested after a successful 2,000 plus person bike ride. Some
reported people climbing the fences at St. Mark’s Church (where the convergence
headquarters for the protests was) to escape the police. I never became clear
about what started the incident, but I know that people like Suzanne were quite
frightened by it all. As she cried, I gave her a press contact to try and
reach. Immediately after the call, I announced the news to our bus. Our
wonderful bus driver, Percy, worried that it would slow down our entry into New
York. In the end, though, there was only a minor delay in traffic, and all was
By about midnight, we arrived at West-Park Presbyterian Church at W. 86th and
Amsterdam on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Percy told us to “give them hell,”
and we unloaded the bus. That took longer than we anticipated because of all
the equipment of the button man. Inside, Julie from the noRNC housing team and
Hope from the church greeted us for the night.
The housing dream fulfilled
When we arrived at West-Park and saw Julie and Hope, I perhaps felt better
about it than anyone else. Here was a building where people could stay who
could otherwise not afford to go to New York unless they happened to have this
free place to stay. All of the hard work by Genevieve, Sam, Andy, Ryan, and
myself was right before my eyes. Also before my eyes for the first time was
Julie, whom I had talked to repeatedly on the phone. She worked so hard to
house us as well as other groups in New York. Without her efforts, I wonder how
well everything would have come together. It was the security of housing,
whether people used that housing or not, that made people feel comfortable
about long term commitments to coming. Perhaps, I regret putting such an
emphasis on housing, but I do not regret it much because the fruits of that
effort produced so much good.
West-Park Presbyterian was an old church, but it had more comforts than you
might expect. While the church was dark and felt as though it might be nearing
its last legs, there were some surprising comforts. The church had showers for
our use. What’s more, we did not have to sleep simply on uncomfortable floors.
The church had plenty of gym mats that gave us cushion on the hard floors of
the sanctuary and the upper room, dubbed by Mike the “Romper Room”. Besides the
fact that we had to vacate the church by 8:30 every morning and could not
return except in the evening, there were very few rules. The only rule of any
significance was that no one was allowed to smoke or set fire to anything.
You’d think that rule was of no significance, but as it turns out, one of our
guests repeatedly broke it.
Before bed, those of us staying in the church held a meeting to go over the
ground rules with Julie. One of my main worries was getting some help. Every
evening, we needed to watch the door after the church staff left the building.
That ultimately meant that I was responsible for making sure that task was filled.
If no one filled the task, it was up to me to abandon my day early to come back
and watch the door. If that failed to happen, everyone would be locked out.
However, it was not easy to get volunteers. That left me feeling somewhat blue
because it could mean that all my days would be abbreviated; however, it was
something I was willing to do to make sure that the trip was successful.
Another issue was taking care of Paul the Peacewalker, our blind companion.
Paul was not always blind. You see, in 1987, down in Forsyth County in Georgia,
Paul was at an anti-KKK rally. One of the Klan members hit Paul in the eyes
with a brick. During surgery, he developed gangrene, which eventually took his
sight and six of his fingers. Despite the illness, which will take his life far
too short—he’s only 49—he continues to be one of the most active members in the
peace movement. Most will recognize Paul’s gigantic peace sign with which he
walks wherever he goes. Blindness and the steroids and other medication that
Paul is on make his mobility extremely difficult. He has trouble with his
balance, and he needs someone to lead him at all times. Yet, how can someone
say that Paul should not have been there? How can someone say that his life is
less valuable than ours is and that he should be confined to a nursing home
while all his being is about going out into the streets and marching for peace?
I believe that we have a responsibility to the disadvantaged and that it is our
community responsibility to make sure that the least of us has the same
advantages as the most of us. If that meant that we could not have as much fun
as someone else just so he could go to perhaps his last protest, then that’s
what it meant. So long as one can help, one should. To a greater or a lesser
degree, people did help with Paul. However, it was the perpetual priority of
the early part of the week. Paul had so much to offer, in his story, in his
persistence, and I am thankful to those who recognized that and helped out.
We had our issues to take care of, but I was generally quite upbeat about our
situation. Sure, we had a button guy who was irritating the church because of
the amount of space his stuff required, and we had a blind man with us that
required a whole lot of help and attention. However, for me, we also had dreams
coming true. We worked so hard to see this happen. When people coming with us
thanked me repeatedly, it was so gratifying. And, then I’d see Julie and want
her to know just how much we appreciated the space. I hope I expressed it enough.
We also had space, if we needed it, over at Jan Hus Presbyterian over on the
East Side. In fact, we planned on using that space the next evening for the DC
Cluster meeting. I definitely felt a great deal of satisfaction.
A Green World is Possible! Arrest the President!
Saturday, August 28, brought with it our first day of action; however, the
dominant thought I had was to rest up and save my energy for the days to
follow. Many of our friends went over to Brooklyn for another March for Women’s
Lives, which had an estimated 30,000 people march over the Brooklyn Bridge. We
decided to take a more low key approach and witness the Green Party’s “A Green
World is Possible” over in Greenwich Village down in Washington Square.
We began our day at a small diner on Broadway called “The City Diner,” which
became our little hangout the first few days. It was not that the food was
good, but it was a place to go and relax. Since that took awhile and since we
had Paul, it did not make sense to take a long march across the Brooklyn
Bridge, and so we headed straight down to the Green Party festival. So, after a
subway ride, we soon arrived in the park, where we would spend most of our day.
We chose to go down to this festival in part because of the involvement of the
DC Statehood Green Party in our planning. Many of our friends are Green Party
activists, and our friend Ann had encouraged us to go down there. David Cobb,
who many still do not realize is the Green Party nominee for President, Peter
Camejo, Nader’s running mate, and Medea Benjamin planned on speaking. It seemed
worthwhile enough to attend without risking us losing steam before the next
day’s huge protests.
The festival itself was rather poorly attended. Apparently, there had been some
confusion over the actual location of the event, and some hypothesized that
that affected numbers. The women’s march was a bigger draw, and there were
several other competing rallies that day. What’s more, the heat was sweltering.
I found myself becoming exhausted simply sitting on a park bench. The first few
days in New York were dominated by heat, and so much of the time we spent
trying to get enough water.
As for myself, for some reason I had a very short fuse. Most people who know me
think of me as remarkably patient, but for some reason, though I was in a good
mood, I could not seem to avoid turning angry at any perceived slight.
Genevieve can tell you how moody I was that day, and I’m not altogether sure
why, except that I had this looming sense that something might go very wrong.
Perhaps, I was getting tired of all the last minute calls from DC asking for
bus rides. If those calls had come four days earlier, we could have filled two
more buses! Perhaps, I was unenthusiastic by spending all day with only about
200 other people. Perhaps, I was just exhausted. Whatever the reason, I was not
myself, and it seemed I was this close at any moment from screaming at someone.
Thank goodness that later in the day we had some good punk bands. The dancing
in those moments helped ease a lot of steam.
Anyhow, Paul, Genevieve, and I spent much of the day mysteriously heckling all
the speakers on the stage, including Cobb, whom I plan on voting for in
November. Paul has this habit of asking people at the end of many of his
phrases, “Do you know it?” So, we kept saying back to him, “I know it, Paul!”
and that phrase became an inside joke. We shortly combined it with the phrase,
“Well!” This June at an event on prisoner abuse at Plymouth Congregational in
DC, Rev. Hagler, who is the well-known pastor of that church, gave a fiery
speech. One woman in the audience constantly yelled out to him, “Well!” at the
end of many phrases. So, Genevieve, Paul and I combined “Do you know it?” with
“Well!” and “I know it!” As speakers on the stage spoke, the more bored we
became, and consequently the more we yelled these phrases out. Others listening
looked back at us quite puzzled. We were puzzled, too, since we agreed with
almost everything being said. I guess we needed more excitement.
Eventually, the DC Guerrilla Poets arrived at the festival and asked us if we
wanted to join them for an impromptu march around the nearby streets. We all
wanted to do this very much. After some time and even being on stage for a
presentation by the DC Statehood Greens that focused on DC’s lack of voting
representation in Congress, we set out on our little march. Shahid, Moment,
Gregg, Amber, and the rest of us walked down the street with a banner that
Genevieve and I created which reads, “Arrest Bush for War Crimes.” We also brought
some drums and some chants. It was a lot of fun. Some would yell out, “Money
for books, not bombs!” Then, we would yell back, “Arrest the Pres-i-dent!” They
would reply, “Money for schools, not jails!” We would yell back “Arrest the
Pres-i-dent!” On each side of Broadway, we yelled this chant back at each
other. A young man on the street with a drum joined us. Then, we ran into Luke
from DC on his bike, and he joined us as well. After an hour, we went back to
the park having had a great time.
By this time, despite doing so little, we were exhausted. In large part, it was
the heat. In some part, it was the physical part of helping Paul. For some
reason, I never felt so physically drained as I felt this first day, despite it
being the day we did the least. I had the responsibility to return back and
watch the church, and so we did.
Back at the church, Philip, one of the staff people at West-Park, greeted us.
He was a great guy, very kind, with seemingly the perfect mix of knowing how to
be diplomatic and knowing where to draw the lines. He told us that our button
guy would have to move his stuff from a room he had stored it and that he would
have to be out by 8:30 the next morning. Apparently, he had not left before 10,
and this caused problems. Genevieve agreed to tell him since I had to go to a
DC Cluster meeting that evening over at Jan Hus. I used the remaining couple
hours to rest before taking a 45-minute walk over to Jan Hus.
Despite feeling so tired, by the time I left for the meeting, I was ready for
the walk. Going to Jan Hus meant walking across Central Park. Ann was worried
since Central Park had some reputation for crime, but having lived in DC for so
long where crime is so high and where I had already been mugged, I was not
particularly worried. Even so, I was surprised by how empty it was in Central
Park at night. All the streets bustled with activity, but I did not see one
person as I walked on 86th Street across Central Park. What a strange feeling
to have so much space to myself in a city so crowded. As I walked, I noticed
the Central Park police precinct. It looked like a medieval torture chamber. It
all felt surreal.
DC Cluster meeting
The DC Cluster arose out of the DC Conventions Coalition, but it was distinctly
different in its operating procedure. Whereas we created the DC Conventions
Coalition around participating organizations and interested individuals, the DC
Cluster arose out of the West Coast structure around individual affinity groups
and clusters of affinity groups. The distinction seems subtle, but I think the
difference made the difference in getting participation. Affinity groups are
small groups of people working together on a specific purpose. They can be open
to new members or closed to new members, and they can be more permanent or more
temporary, but they are generally not formally recognized groups. In other
words, any group of friends could be an affinity group. The old meeting
structure was flexible in that it allowed anyone to participate, but it seemed
rather conservative in its approach. Many individuals in the movement think of
themselves as belonging to smaller groups and shun getting tied to a particular
organization. Calling oneself a coalition suggests more formality. Calling
oneself a cluster suggests that the process is basically decentralized and is
at root still the product of what individual affinity groups decide. In
reality, both ideas were essentially the same since the DC Conventions
Coalition did not aim to be a centralized organizing body. However, for the
reasons I have outlined, it seemed to make a difference. Our largest DC
Conventions Coalition meeting never had more than 15 people. Our last DC
Cluster meeting had about 30.
What was really exciting about forming the DC Cluster was that we planned to
meet as a DC contingent in meeting space in New York. That excited me because
that was the original dream when we began the process in late March. At every
rally I could remember that was away from DC and even several that were in DC,
my anti-war group failed to do anything or plan any actions on the ground.
Instead, we did nothing more than show up. The plan for New York always was to
meet and organize on the ground toward actions happening in New York. Several
DC affinity groups participated in the meeting, and a few had actions planned.
That was exciting to me. What’s more, we met in space we were able to provide
through our hard work. Perhaps, no one could feel better about the moment than
Those of us who met that evening did not agree to a plan of action. Generally,
because different groups had different levels of openness, different levels of
willingness to speak with the media, different risk tolerances for being
arrested, it did not make a great deal of sense to plan a mutually supportive
action. Many of the participants wondered how the next day would play out, and
lacking any sense of that, there was not a large appetite for making specific
plans for the day of direct action on August 31. Beyond that, I am not going to
go into the particulars of the meeting. However, we all generally agreed to
encourage our affinity group members to congregate at the dragon, which was put
together by a DC-based group known as “Don’t Just Vote.” That group planned on
leading a feeder march into UFPJ’s main rally. There was a lot of buzz about
the dragon, and the meeting confirmed that groups planned on congregating
Mike and I walked back together across Central Park and headed home. On the
way, we talked a great deal about the movement and about the ills of
civilization in general. How ironic it was to me that people looked so fondly
at Central Park as an oasis in the human jungle. Our civilization has become
far too vast, I kept telling Mike. We can come to places like New York and
enrich our experience, but it has come at the cost of making our lives far more
complicated and alienating. Text messages, email, oil, cars, and bright lights
made everything possible for us. The sheer mass of choices made life so
infinitely complicated that we ironically became more and more restricted by
our need to maintain the civilization that gave rise to these so called
conveniences. It left people alienated from their families and neighbors and
instead tied together by a popular culture that consists of sitting at home in
an apartment watching television. We know where Beyonce is at any given moment
better than we do our own brothers and sisters. Our homes have become prisons
to support an unnatural system, one which disguises places like Central Park as
wilderness. This is just the sort of conversation Mike and I were having, and I
felt as though we were fighting the trend of civilization in that moment. Yet,
what a long road we must walk to be rid of these roads, so that our world can
be wondrous and larger than life again.
Transition to a New Day
When we arrived home, I found trouble involving the button man, who was worried
that his stuff might get stolen if he were not allowed to sleep with it. Other
guests had become annoyed with the noise he was making, and this created some
conflict. After a long day, I did not want to have to deal with this sort of
problem, but soon it was solved to everyone’s satisfaction. Of course, the next
day, he failed to move his possessions to the designated location, and he came
this close to being thrown out of the church. Soon, however, he became the
least of our problems.
In the middle of this, a call came from folks traveling from South Carolina
whom Genevieve had arranged to stay with us. Peggy, Tom, and their guest
misjudged the length of the trip and would not be arriving now until 4 am. This
meant that I would have to stay alert enough to hear my phone ring to let them
in. At 4 am, they finally arrived, and I staggered to the door to get them
oriented. Their guest seemed to be mute, though occasionally he muttered a
word. This guest would prove to be a tremendous challenge to us. No one told
Peggy or Tom or any of us that he was a paranoid schizophrenic until we caught
up with one of this person’s acquaintances on Monday afternoon. This man would
challenge our patience and goodwill by sticking his finger in Chris’s syrup,
smoking a pipe in the sanctuary, walking around with my hairbrush, showing up
uninvited into the church ahead of hours, following Genevieve and I around city
streets, and ultimately lighting a candle in the sanctuary. Apparently, no one
was responsible for this person, and no one let us know what he or she was
dropping on our laps. To our knowledge, he did not attend a single rally, and
it’s not clear how he ended up coming to New York. We were not sure whether the
man was violent, and he repeatedly risked having us all thrown out. The man was
ill, and that was very unfortunate. However, with a blind man we were committed
to taking care of, a button man who was scattering his things all over the
place—this does not mention the several pints of rice he mysteriously
bought—and now a paranoid schizophrenic dumped on our doorstep, we all wondered
how we would manage the rest of the week.
Despite all of this and how little sleep I was managing, I woke up the next
morning wide awake and full of adrenaline for the great big march that we knew
was coming today.
500,000 United for Peace and Justice
Most people who protested at the Republican National Convention chose August 29
as their day to protest. UFPJ had long ago put out a call for a major anti-war
rally and march on the Sunday before the RNC. In terms of publicity, this march
had plenty of it as well as plenty of controversy. For a long time, the city of
New York did not give any permits out for the day. Finally, they approved a
march permit that allowed the group to protest past Madison Square Garden, but
they denied a rallying permit for a rally after the march in Central Park.
After some fighting, UFPJ finally agreed to a permit along the West Side
Highway, but soon after declined the permit. UFPJ said it was too expensive and
too dangerous for so many marchers. While that was true, there was also
political pressure from other grassroots groups who said that nothing less than
Central Park would be acceptable and that they planned to go to Central Park
regardless of what UFPJ did. When UFPJ picked up the fight again for Central
Park, it lost. Finally, the city allowed the march to end at Union Square far
from Central Park, but since the location was far too small for a rally, UFPJ
urged people at Union Square to go home immediately.
This sort of politics only helps to create buzz for protests. For a few it
discourages them from coming, making them scared of police violence. For most,
it galvanizes them to come and make the most of it. As the news of this march
became more public, interest in it in places like DC exploded. If the explosion
had happened just a little sooner, we could have bused our largest contingent ever
to any march. Even so, we brought an awful lot of people, and many more came
separately. Everywhere I went before the march large numbers of people claimed
to be going to the RNC while only a small percentage of them planned to travel
on our buses. This, in addition to evidence in New York, suggests that we
undoubtedly had over 1,000 area residents there and perhaps many more.
I like to think that our efforts helped magnify that number. Most people I
talked to had seen our wheatpasting flyers across the city. Occasionally, we
found ourselves on the radio. Event after event had us speaking about the need
to go protest at the RNC. We handed out many thousands of flyers. We had radio
spots on WPFW occasionally and also regularly on Luke’s pirate radio station.
We talked it up to other groups and traveled to meeting after meeting. Our
outreach certainly extended well beyond our normal reach, and we had the
interest of people not necessarily involved in progressive politics. On our
buses, for instance, we even had some Republicans against Bush.
In the end, over 500,000 protested. Some think the number was closer to one
million, but I do not think we reached that number. How can I say? I cannot,
but over time one becomes better at gauging crowd size. I felt far more
claustrophobic on the Mall during the March for Women’s Lives, which drew at
least 1.1 million. However, I felt just as crowded as I did during the February
15, 2003, marches in New York. It’s a very poor science, but most sources
coalesced around that number.
For our part, we joined this very hot and steamy day at 20th Street between 5th
and 6th Avenues where the dragon was being assembled. Many of you have heard
about the dragon by now, but let me describe it. The dragon was 70 feet long,
with a giant green head placed on top of some kind of cart or wheelbarrow. The
rest was cloth and paper with wings that said “Self Determination”—listing all
the places that should have self determination like Iraq, Afghanistan, and
DC—and another that said “Don’t Just Vote”, which was the aim of the campaign.
It took a large team of people to move this large float. What was remarkable
about the dragon was that it also had an internal sound system in the dragon’s
head. This amazing creation could play loud music, roar, or even wax poetic. It
took an enormous amount of time and energy to put together and was quite a
sight to behold.
Our DC crew spent much of the time trying to take care of Paul. Because of the
physical demands, no one carried Paul for more than 20 minutes at a time. So
many people helped out or were willing to help out. Genevieve went around
recruiting folks. Those who really helped us out a lot that day included Ethan,
Dave, Tim, Pat, Pete, and Ann. It was so hot that any one of us could have
gotten ill from the heat. It was an especially dangerous day for Paul, since
water was limited, the walking severe, and the crowds dense. Genevieve worried
a great deal about his survival. This caused her to worry to the extent that
caused miscommunication with others. Paul, whether he made it through the day
or not, wanted to be out here doing this. He would rather be not living at all
than not have this historic chance to be on the streets speaking for peace. In
the end, that argument won over Genevieve’s better medical sense.
On 20th, the energy picked up enormously when a large group of people dressed
in pink came in banging on buckets. Soon after, DC’s Rhythm Workers’ Union with
their Mother Drum Ship came on the scene. Before you knew it, the dragon was
pumping out jams. Soon, the entire sidewalk full of people was in the streets
dancing. I can honestly say that I have never seen so much energy at the start
of a march. It felt to me a little like the closing scene in Star Wars movies,
which often have a parade with exuberant celebration. The scene was so joyous.
Soon, without police around, the crowds removed the police barricades, and the
sidewalks joined the streets as one big party.
As we stood in this amazing festival of color, sound, and activity, I soon had
a nagging worry. It felt so wonderful, but I wondered if this was the calm
before the storm. Would people try to go to Central Park and get assaulted by
police? What if the march grows so big and the police crack down on its size? I
did not know what, but something did not feel right. Soon, a friend of mine
from the Black Tea Society in Boston came up to me and asked, “Are you ready?”
I stood holding the DC Anti-War Network banner and told him, “We’re ready.” He
cautioned, “I hope so because something’s going to happen.” I have no idea what
he meant, but we were all feeling pretty much the same thing, that something
was going to happen.
The feeder march took up more than one block. It was the greatest feeder march
ever. Many of the visuals we saw in the paper the next day came from this
feeder march. Many held a giant “No Bush” banner that could be seen from any
spot looking down. At times, we walked right in front of that enormous banner.
From the apartments nearby, people partied and yelled back at us in resounding
approval. During the week, I don’t remember meeting more than a few people who
showed any disapproval that we were there. In fact, over 70% of New Yorkers
approved of the protesters, 68% approved of nonviolent civil disobedience, and
even 11% claimed they would protest during the week, though I expect that that
number was a bit high.
Soon, we began the long, slow march, merging with the main march on 8th Avenue.
Our friends on the DAWN buses arriving that day made it in safely, and some joined
us for the march. It was great to see fresh faces like Ryan and Jeff walking
with us behind the dragon. The dragon was so hard to move, and it slowed the
entire march down and created a backlog of people behind it. Everyone wanted to
be near it. Around us were an assortment of anarchists, pagans, and many
activists from DC enjoying the party. It was the People’s Convention. Every so
often, Pat would yell at the crowd with a small sign he made that said, “GOP Go
Away!” He’d yell the words of his sign to thunderous applause.
Generally, this was unlike other marches in New York. The pens were not a big
issue. A court order forced the police to let anyone in and out of the pens,
and this as predicted made the pens a lot less useful in crowd control. All along
the path, you saw protesters on each side of the pen, on the roads and in the
Eventually, we walked by Madison Square Garden, home of the convention, and
also Penn Station. There, the dragon became especially slow. We saw a much
heavier police presence, and occasionally I’d see paper being thrown at the
police. Nearby, about 50-75 counter-protesters yelled at us, but they were
pretty inconsequential compared to the large march. Darwin called me while we
were early in the march telling me he had already reached the end. Apparently,
the entire march route of 30 blocks was full with hundreds of thousands waiting
to get on the street. No one could deny that this was a success. The Chicago
protests in 1968 only had 6,000 protesters during the most fateful protests.
Yet, in a world that seems numb to protest and because corporate media has
become numb to the strength of grassroots social movements, many will still
think that Chicago 1968 was more significant. Here we had over 500,000 people,
and because there were few incidents, their significance is downplayed. I hope
most of us know better than that.
Of course, there was one incident that day that most people I know continue to
talk about. Genevieve, Tim, Paul, and I got in front of the dragon and
proceeded down W. 34th Street. In front of the dragon, the crowd was sparser
since it was moving faster than the cumbersome beast. Here we were about to
stop for a moment so that Genevieve could get some water for Paul. I worried
that if she did not hurry that the dragon might catch us and that we would get
caught in the thick crowd behind it. Then, seconds after expressing that worry,
chaos broke loose.
Behind us, we saw young people dressed in black running down the street yelling
to “Move fast, move fast!” At that point, some panic set in. Moving with a
blind man with poor balance was very hard, and now the crowd was beginning to
panic. Then, behind us, we saw smoke. Our fear was that the police had set off
tear gas. So, we started to move even faster. Young people continued to run
down the street, and one pushed Genevieve in the back. The situation became
very dangerous, and we were looking for a means to escape. Then, I saw one
young man throw something like a paper tube at a police officer. Another officer
tried to tackle the young man, who because of the sweat on his bare body was
able to slither away and escape. Paul, not knowing what was happening, kept
yelling at us to tell him what was going on. I was yelling that I didn’t know
and that we needed him to keep moving. Finally, we ducked into a perfume store
and watched what looked like a strange battle occur outside on W. 34th. The
store we were in shut down its doors as confusion reigned, many of the people
working in the store wondering why the protesters had resorted to violence. We
reiterated that we had no idea what had happened and that we were not at all
there to be violent. Outside, we saw young people in black retreat, and then we
saw two police officers go back the opposite direction with fear in their eyes
in retreat as the young people retook the space. Then, we saw the young people
retreat, while some others of them took pens from each side of the street,
putting them in the middle of the street to fortify their positions. They
created gates that allowed more protesters into their space. Then, they
relinquished the position in full retreat. Soon, the police came in larger
force, followed by more police in horses. It was a strange back and forth
battle where I could see no one hurt, but a lot of back and forth.
So, what had happened? When the scene cleared, the police ultimately let the
larger march continue. Eventually, we found out that someone had set the dragon
on fire, creating a riot. Yet, who set the dragon on fire and why? Everyone we
talked to was quite upset about the dragon being set on fire because it created
a very dangerous situation. If some of the protesters or some doing black bloc
set the dragon on fire, then I knew I would be downright resentful. That dragon
nearly caused the life of a blind man and many others who had no idea what was
happening. We may all hate Bush, but no one group should be co-opted into the
tactics of the other. I don’t think, as some have suggested, that the police
caused this. The battle that followed was far too intricate to believe that
this was not something that somebody had planned. The police would have had to
have hired 100 protesters and created a counter-army that no one would have
known about. Yet, there were and remain other mysteries that I hope get solved.
There are people who face serious charges and have high bails for their part in
this, and we do not know if they have the right people. I would like answers
because I personally disavow this and any other violence used in the name of the
movement, especially violence that sweeps up people unwittingly into some
perverse notion of revolution. It’s not that “revolution” is perverse; it’s
that this sort of silliness only creates the same old system that we have now.
In any event, I don’t know what happened, but I do know that one of the most
amazing spectacles I had ever seen was no more, and that our brilliant march
suddenly felt tainted. We marched on not quite feeling quite as well.
Sometimes, you can go on a really uneventful and depressing march to have
something special happen toward the end that would make you feel good about it.
Here, we had a spectacular and special march where something at the end left
you feeling somewhat sour. And, yet, despite that bizarre hiccup, the march still
felt great on the whole.
We cut out of the march early, having run into Nat, Jill, and Legba, all of
whom were staying with us at West-Park. From there, we decided to head up to
Central Park to see what was happening. Of course, no one was supposed to be
allowed to go to Central Park, and so we did not know what would wait there for
Our feet ached, our spirits had been spun around all over the place from highs
to lows. The sun was hot, and we remained somewhat thirsty. Paul was holding up
remarkably well, and to be honest, I did not feel nearly so worn out as the day
before. Even so, waiting and waiting for the subway to arrive was somewhat
deflating. I was becoming glad that our day was beginning to end.
At Central Park, we saw a large number of protesters coming in and out of the
park. This made me feel great. We headed toward the Great Lawn, and there we
saw tens of thousands of protesters hanging out on the lawns relaxing. It was
so pleasant, a great way to unwind. In the park, some groups held a nonviolence
training. Others drummed. Most just lay around relaxing. It was so nice, and
the police left us alone. What were they so afraid of? Certainly not that
inconsequential minority that set the dragon on fire, whom so many of the protesters
instantly disavowed? The politics of the Great Lawn and why the police did and
did not act throughout the week were great mysteries. I expect that much of the
anger in Iraq has to do with inconsistencies in policy, lack of rationality,
lack of perception of the reality on the ground. Here the police left us alone.
Later, outside protests of Republican delegates at Broadway shows, the police
randomly chose people to arrest. In one case, Legba barely escaped out of a
plastic fencing he had been wrapped in by a police officer while he was simply
observing the scene down on Broadway. However, at Central Park nothing like
this happened. Who was pulling the puppet strings?
After awhile, we headed back to the church quite exhausted. Along the way, we
met one of our bus passengers from Codepink. She was with a crew that
successfully unfurled a banner drop from a large building. During this
escapade, she and her cohorts barely escaped arrest as they hid from police,
who were looking for them inside the building. Throughout the week, Codepink
successfully managed to get three of its high profile leaders on the floor of
the Republican convention over three consecutive days. Each of Codepink’s
co-founders, including my friend Gael, broke into the convention despite the
fact that the Secret Service was looking for them and despite the fact that one
co-founder, Medea Benjamin, had broken into the DNC a month prior in Boston. We
congratulated our Codepink colleague on her success, and went to the church to
At the church, we had the usual circus to deal with. The troubles with our
mentally ill guest became apparent while the church threatened to throw the
button man out if he did not respect their wishes. However, the real issue for
Genevieve and I was Paul. Both of us found ourselves depressed by the
situation. Paul was scheduled to stay the entire week, and although so many
people had been helping out, it was becoming much harder to manage. Many of our
friends planned to leave that evening, and Genevieve was leaving the following
evening. Others were unable or in a few cases unwilling to help out. It was not
possible for one person to walk Paul around. Imagine that you are a shock
absorber for a large vehicle and how long you could stand that. Every crack
Paul walked over, every step he took down from a sidewalk, every misstep on the
path pounded one’s body. While Paul certainly had it much worse in his
condition, any fewer people helping out would prove to be a nightmare for Paul
and everyone else.
This reality depressed me and especially depressed Genevieve. What a world we
live in that a man who was the victim of standing up against racism in the
1980s has been reduced to such dependence on a community that is not always
ready to help out. I was willing to give everything up so that Paul could stay,
but I also knew that I could not physically do it and that I could not do it at
the expense of taking care of other people. In a vacuum, these decisions are
easy. However, how does one help others in such a complicated set of contexts?
No matter what, though, we were bound to feel bad about the harsh reality
staring us in the face. We needed to talk with Paul and see if he was willing
to return with Genevieve the following night. If he felt differently, then we
would act differently. In the end, though, we felt we needed to be frank with
him about the situation.
The next morning at breakfast in the City Diner, Dave, Genevieve, and I spoke
with Paul. While the man is blind, his faculties are certainly there.
Throughout the time, he interviewed extremely well and was never boring to talk
to. He’s someone who has done more than most of us, and he continues to do more
than most of us in the cause of peace. Even so, it was a hard conversation. For
the past couple days, Paul suspected that there was not enough help for him.
Even so, he wanted to be there so badly. Yet, he agreed that it would be best
if he went back with Genevieve that evening. I think his mood was not the same
that last day he was with us. Certainly, he was not physically holding up as
well. He was more tired, nearly fell down several more times than usual, almost
fell down an escalator, and needed much more water than on previous more
difficult days. Was this because he was truly wearing down or because he felt
low as a human being? Either way, I wonder deep in my heart if we could have
done more. If we could have, we should have. We are there to take care of each
member of our community, to see to it that this is our principle
responsibility. Yet, as I think back on all the help we got from all the
people, perhaps it was just a task bigger than us. At least he got three entire
days out of his house, a house he must rent, pay for his food, and take care of
his basic needs for only $900 a month. At least he got away from the “dead
beats” he says look in on him and steal his money.
Even so, these were the lowest moments for me during the entire week. I felt
sick inside that we could not do even more for Paul.
Still We Rise
Today’s big action was the Still We Rise coalition march. I think that the
march had about 50,000 people. However many there were, it was really
remarkable to see such a diverse and large group of people marching on a Monday
afternoon. The march was mostly made up of poor people’s advocacy groups, AIDS
advocacy groups, and other groups upset at the social programs of the Bush
It was really a very great atmosphere. The UFPJ march for all its size was not
nearly so diverse as this march. It was often as common to hear chants in
Spanish as it was in English. Often English chants were in foreign accents. I
was so happy to be among this crowd on this day. They worked hard on the march
and pulled off a great event.
Paul was the star of the day. Carrying his giant peace sign, Paul attracted the
attention of numerous press. His picture appeared prominently in an Associated
Press wire photo. Others interviewed Paul and sometimes his companion. A
reporter from Spain interviewed him, for instance. Later, a graduate student making
a documentary interviewed both of us for a film they hope to entitle, “This is
What Democracy Looks Like.” They said they would let us know if they use the
The two major marches that day, this one and the unpermitted Kensington Welfare
Rights Union march highlighted the plight of poor people. These issues touch me
closely, having evacuated my own apartment because I could not afford the rent
and unable to find a steady job despite having an M.A. Throughout the week, I
found myself skipping meals occasionally because I lacked the money. In truth,
I could not really afford to be in New York. Yet, for others, it is far worse.
I have a support system, people who will not let me hit rock bottom. What do
you do when the support system collapses? Do you have time or ability to get on
your feet? If you do not have an education like me, what are you supposed to
do? Do you even know what to do? Or, what if you have mental illness or a rare
disease? The world is a dark place for those without support. Paul generally
lives in that world, barely staying alive and looking far older than he is.
Others we do not know about waste away in a system that has no patience to see
the beauty of taking care of its least fortunate. We are all so busy being
victims that we do not see how we victimize others. That thought would resonate
with me throughout the week. Perhaps, it is why the harshest moments for me
personally became some of my happiest.
After the Still We Rise march, we did not do an awful lot. We were at an awkward
time where it was too early for us to stop moving around but too late for us to
take on another big project. Genevieve, Tim, Paul, and Vallon (a DAWN bus rider
whom we gave housing to after he missed his bus ride back) all had a bus
leaving later that day. Dave had the responsibility of watching the church that
evening. I had nothing until a Spokes meeting that evening in Brooklyn for
activists planning the next day’s actions. So, as a result, we spent much of
the time milling about at a Progressive Tourist Bureau near the bus station.
This was something of a front for the Democratic Party, but we used the space
to drink water, eat doughnuts, and recover from the march. Genevieve and I
returned to the church for Paul’s things only to discover a crisis. The church
had miscommunications between its staff and its ministers. As a result, they
had booked the space for a group of youth from Germany for Thursday night,
meaning that we would have to vacate the space by then. This left my last hours
with Genevieve one of scrambling for space for our people and working out
details with Jan Hus Presbyterian.
Eventually, we took our friends to the bus station and said goodbye. It was my
last chance to see Genevieve that week. She and I barely had any chance to be alone
the entire time, and I was going to miss her greatly. She needed to return to
nursing school, and I needed to finish the job here in New York. So much would
happen in our time apart, and my biggest regret was that she could not share
all those experiences with me. Even so, she continued to play an important role
as we shall see as this narrative continues.
Spokes Council in Brooklyn
The most anticipated day for many of us was approaching. August 31, dubbed A31
by organizers, was supposed to be a day of nonviolent direct action occurring
all over the city. None of these actions would have permits, and all of them
aimed in some way or other to take attention away from the Republican National
Convention and onto the messages of the streets of the city. While no single
organizing body was responsible for these actions, many groups planning actions
worked on a coordinated strategy so that the actions might have some coherence
to them. Many actions were known to no one except the particular affinity
groups planning them. However, a couple of others were public. Of special note,
two actions involving nonviolent civil disobedience had been approved by DAWN.
One was an action by the War Resisters’ League and co-sponsored by SOA Watch
calling for a march from Ground Zero to Madison Square Garden. There,
protesters when stopped by police planned to run into the streets and have a
die-in to draw attention to the many victims of the policies of the Bush
Administration following 9/11. Another action, one that I had been personally
involved with thanks to Mike from the Green Bloc, was called the Truesecurity
action. It involved holding space at Herald Square, which was one block from
Madison Square Garden and right in front of Macy’s. Its aim was to show an
alternative to the security culture. The cluster encouraged affinity groups to
take creative action in demonstrating against empire or for democracy. Both
actions brought great risk of arrest since both called for civil disobedience.
To prepare for A31, organizers called a Spokes Council meeting. A spokes
council is when affinity groups nominate a spokesperson, or spoke, to speak for
the group in a meeting. At the meeting, these spokes vote on proposals that are
agreed to only by consensus. This particular meeting involved more than 150
people in a crowded Brooklyn building. It was a really nasty building, but
seeing so many beautiful people in this room was a great sight. What’s more,
even though there were 150 people, the meeting ran smoothly and was facilitated
nicely. Often, in meetings of only 15 people, we have trouble keeping order.
Here, such a large group of people worked efficiently and effectively, knowing
that there was a great interest in keeping the agenda moving. Of course, we
were sure that undercover cops had infiltrated the meeting, and so details of
actions were discussed only at the broadest levels.
I have to say that it was quite exciting. So many names that we hear about in
the movement all were in this room talking, but all people there were equal before
the group. I was amazed that such a level of organizing was happening without
the slightest whiff of a hierarchical leadership. Many of us have dreamed for
moments like this, and here it was in a dark Brooklyn room.
Loaded with information, I returned to the church and those remaining with us.
Besides sorting out the entire housing ordeal and the problems there, I was
intent on getting our affinity group on the same page. At the church, I joined
up with David and Nat, and we talked in great detail about what we wanted from
the next day and what to expect. We all agreed that we did not want to be
arrested but that it might happen. Since New York does not simply allow those
picked up to plead guilty and pay an immediate fine, all of us decided that it was
quite unlikely that we would join the die-in. However, we wanted to participate
in the march aspect of the action, which was supposed to walk safely on the
sidewalks. We also became interested in ways we could help the Truesecurity
action without much risk of arrest. When Chris came in, he chose to join us as
well and agreed with our plan of action. Andy and Ria eventually chose to join
us as well on the understanding that we were not in this to get arrested or to
do anything illegal, though we would show solidarity with those who felt called
to nonviolent civil disobedience.
As you can see, suddenly there was a purpose for the next day, a plan of
action, and general preparation for what might happen. None of us hoped to be
arrested, but we all knew that even if we tried our hardest that it was
possible. This in itself shows a general lack of faith in our criminal justice
system. So many people are arrested without cause, prosecuted without cause,
and imprisoned without cause. We had seen too much over the past couple years
to believe that if we simply behaved ourselves that nothing would happen.
Otherwise, we would feel no reason to be out in the streets protesting.
So much had happened in so few days. In the past, such an account would have
sufficed for an interesting and full report of a very special time. Yet, what
would happen next would be one of the most special experiences of my life.
I can’t wait to share it.
To be continued…