(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
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…
My Experience at the 2004 Republican National
Convention Protests -
Part III: A31 and Guantanamo on the Hudson (August 31 – September 1)
By Jim Macdonald
September 8, 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) http://www.eclecticworld.org/2015/09/my-experience-at-2004-republican_26.html
III.A31 and Guantanamo on the Hudson (August 31 – September 1)
IV.Copwatch and Aftermath (September 1 – September 3)
For better or worse, getting arrested while protesting can be a badge of honor
for an activist. It seems to be the demonstrator’s equivalent to a Purple
Heart. Yet, all too often, whether one fights for war or for peace, there seems
to be too much glory associated with the wounds of the fight and not enough
emphasis on the reasons that began the fight or what the fight was for. Too
easily, we fall into the trap of being victims or being heroes, or being
soldiers or being cowards.
Since the moment I began these essays, I knew that people would be interested
in the story of my arrest more than anything else. Nothing is more
sensationalized and interesting. Here, we can talk about our victimization or
our heroism and dramatize every moment as though it was the greatest or the
worst thing that could possibly happen. Lost would be the story about how we
got there or how we took care of a blind man. Even dragons cannot survive such
flames on the front lines of the social justice movement.
Even so, what I have to share was different, unique, and one of the better and
most profound experiences of my life. The people I met, the compassion I saw,
and the spectacle was one of the best I have ever witnessed during my time as an
What I fear, though, is that as we tell about horrors and heroes that we forget
all the people suffering in our world at the hands of injustice. While we were
in jail, many children and others were being held hostage in Russia. Many of
those people ultimately died. In Iraq, people on all sides were dying. In Sudan
and in every corner of the world, true tragedy was happening. Abuse reared its
ugly head in ways you could not imagine. Women were raped, people were
murdered, animals were slaughtered, and wilderness was destroyed. In New York,
others went to jail, and whether they committed crimes, they became stuck in a
system that had every potential to abuse and lose them.
What happened to protesters and others arrested with them on August 31 was
truly a crime by the city of New York, and the conditions the city subjected
them to were ludicrous. However, we who were there have the responsibility to
take with us our brothers and sisters who have been forgotten, who need our
help. I am afraid that we care far too much about the mysteries surrounding
burning dragons than we do dying blind pacifists. Now, I am afraid that we are
far too fond of drowning in our own miseries than we are of raising up the
misery of others.
With this all in mind—namely those my story does not directly concern—I share
my own story from August 31 and my day in the New York City jails.
Marching on behalf of those Detained
August 31 began as many of our other days in New York had begun, half awake on
a floor in the West-Park Presbyterian sanctuary. Today, however, Genevieve was
not at my side, and the day had the uneasy feeling that we might not be
sleeping in the same quarters that evening.
Even though my affinity group did not plan on being arrested or participating
directly in any nonviolent civil disobedience, we knew that arrest was a
possibility. My group at that moment also consisted of Dave, Nat, and Chris and
would soon also consist of Andy, Ria, Pete, and others who came in and out.
Generally, for various reasons, it did not make sense for most of us to put
ourselves in a dangerous situation. When I originally came to New York, many of
us hoped to participate directly in nonviolent civil disobedience, but as the
realities of my logistical responsibilities weighed on me, I realized that
participating directly was nothing less than selfish. Even so, if for some
reason the group decided to change its collective course, I was more than
willing to do the same.
Our plan for the day was straightforward. First we planned to eat a short
breakfast followed by a journey to St. Mark’s church to see if we could get a
better idea on what was happening that day. Then, my affinity group hoped to
attend an unpermitted march highlighting the detentions of foreigners and
others at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Then, we planned to walk along the sidewalk
during the War Resisters’ League die-in, which was action designed to highlight
the victims of Bush’s policies since 9/11. Finally, if all went well, we wanted
to work on the outskirts of the Truesecurity action taking place that evening
in Herald Square. Needless to say, we did not quite finish our day as planned.
Our trip to St. Mark’s followed a brief breakfast. St. Mark’s was the
convergence center for many activists in New York. There, you could get medical
attention, take care of your housing needs, eat free food from Food Not Bombs,
participate in trainings, or mill generally about and catch up with old friends
or make new friends. These convergence centers are remarkable places in many respects.
While many there are suspicious of anyone with a camera and not always open to
people who look like strangers, generally most of the people there are
incredibly kind. In that area, I would often run into old friends or into
people I had met at other demonstrations. Many there I had seen in Boston while
protesting the pro war policies of the Democratic Party. It was a beautiful
spot with kind people, and the space became indicative in many respects of the
alternative culture many in the space wanted to see.
We did not stay long at St. Mark’s before the four of us headed to the
detentions action down in Columbus Park. Most actions this day, and this was no
exception, did not have permits. Organizers dubbed August 31 as “A31”, and A31
became synonymous for nonviolent decentralized direct actions. In other words,
though there was some inter-coordination between groups putting on actions,
there was not one centralized organizing body putting the actions together.
Particular actions were even more decentralized with particular affinity groups
taking control within the scope of larger actions. This sort of organizing
tactic, or some might unfairly say disorganizing tactic, threatened the police
in New York. They had no sense of the scope of the actions, who the leaders
were, or when or where they would happen. So, New York invested a lot of time
and money into undercover operations to unearth the plans of the protesters. To
the extent that the actions had already drawn such an inordinate amount of
attention, the organizers had already succeeded in their aims to distract from
the Republican National Convention.
The action at Columbus Park did not have more than 100 or 200 people marching;
however, it attracted a large number of lunch hour television cameras. The
point of the march was to highlight the plight of those lost in the detentions
system, especially those being held without charges and under hoods in
Guantanamo Bay. Can you imagine what you would do in such circumstances? What
is it like not to know when and if you will ever leave, or whether you will
even have so much as a chance to defend yourself? If you are not guilty, then
you must be that much more upset, stuck in a system where you might be lost and
forgotten. How desensitized we have become to the suffering of others. Even as
I marched on this action, I did not exactly feel it. I knew it was wrong, but I
did not dare imagine what it was like to be hooded, or what it was like to live
so many days in such isolating conditions and to be treated with such
fundamental disrespect for my very being. I did not dare imagine what others
experienced in our system and systems around the world, whether you are in
Castro’s Cuba or Sweden or Washington, DC. The suffering we as humans
perpetrate on other humans is enormous, and that does not begin to figure in
what we do to the other beings in this world, from the suffering caused to the
smallest insect to the slow death of an elm tree in a forest. I cannot say the
degree to which insects and elms suffer, but if we have any inkling of what it
feels like ourselves to be treated without respect then maybe we would not take
any chances on even the least known being in our universe.
This march proceeded with a police escort and without incident, perhaps the
irony of arresting those standing up for the detained being too much for the
New York Police Department. Toward the end, though, there was an incident that
would become somewhat of a pattern for our day. While Dave and others had masks
on for a photo op highlighting the conditions at Guantanamo, the police
arrested a man nearby. The man, witnesses claimed, had climbed a tree. When
police ordered the man out of the tree, he immediately complied. As soon as the
man got down, police immediately arrested him. Despite pleas from the crowd to
let him go, police took the man away. He was the only arrest at this march.
After the march, several of us went to lunch before heading to the War
Resisters’ League and SOA Watch action that was supposed to congregate near
Ground Zero at 3:00 PM.
Ground Zero: Detained Almost Immediately
Around 3:00 PM, we arrived near the subway station on Church Street across from
Fulton. Normally, I would not remember the intersection, and so you can guess
it is pretty significant. What we remember and what we forget, what we choose
to remember and occasionally what we choose to forget have been themes of these
essays. We cannot remember a man dying of AIDS, but we can surprisingly
remember an insignificant intersection, the color of a shirt that someone we’ll
never meet was wearing, and many other things of little note. This is not
necessarily a judgment in that I do not think it is possible for us to remember
or forget in some sort of arbitrary rank order of significance. Even so, to be
aware of this process may be of some good to us and others, especially in
recognizing that we are in need of other perspectives, other memories, other
experiences to make our own whole and complete. John Donne wrote that no man is
an island. No island is a man, either. That latter thought is obvious but in
the right time and place is one worth highlighting. In this context, the
intersection of Church and Fulton holds a similar significance.
For the next hour, we rested and waited lazily for our march to begin. I spent
much of my time worrying about keeping our group together. Someone was off
getting water or off checking out the crowd or off talking to a friend. It can
get annoying keeping free spirits on the same page, making sure that we are all
listening to what each other is feeling. In any group, the actions of one
person can ripple through all the others. Often, precisely the person acting
misses that point. We all work in worlds bigger than ourselves, and we act
unwittingly into events where our own particular actions can change everything.
For instance, what if we did not choose to go down to Church and Fulton? The
chances increase that we would not have been arrested. Yet, from our
standpoint, simply being on a sidewalk or walking up a sidewalk did not seem to
affect much of anything. It did, however, affect everything for us. It may
affect others as well. Now, this is the story I am telling. The previous
stories I have told have been affected by what happened this day. All sorts of
consequences followed thousands of times over because of actions each of us
took whose consequences we could not have understood. That is one reason why I
cannot understand the justification for any war. Often, people say that the war
will have particular good consequences. Yet, how is one so omniscient as to
know the greater consequences for the universe at large of any of our actions?
It seems to me so pretentious in our planning to believe that we have the
answer that will change things for the better. So, how can we believe that the
only known consequence of war, which is death, will produce other better
consequences? I do not believe we should act with a particular consequence in
mind, or even the particular set that my group had to start the day. We should
act much more humbly in our frameworks, open to what the world may open up to
us. More than that, we should be attentive to each other, to that inside our
world that we do know and can care about. That is to say, just as we know that
war produces the consequence of death, an act of kindness produces a
consequence we can know and appreciate immediately. In humility and sacrifice,
we can give up the game of figuring out all the consequences we can never know,
like the game of consequences we were playing that Tuesday with the police.
At about 4:00 PM, members of the War Resisters’ League and SOA Watch told us to
line up in pairs along the sidewalk on Church Street. The sun was hot, but it
was not nearly so warm as previous days. In the crowd, we sensed many hundreds
of people, and behind us, thousands perhaps. Our group lined up toward the very
front of the line. The crowd dressed predominately in white just as the
organizers had asked of us. The organizers intended the march going to Madison
Square Garden to be solemn and fairly quiet. Organizers discouraged signs. They
also stressed the point that we were not to block the sidewalk and should stay
in pairs walking in a straight line. While the end of the action involved civil
disobedience, the organizers took great care that the first part of the march
be compliant with the city’s laws and regulations.
Before we marched, I heard some confusing talk coming from people in the march
about the possibility of arrest on this action. However, we knew that, and that
is why we planned to duck out at the first sign of trouble.
Soon after, we began to march. No more than 100 feet later, we crossed Church
Street onto the sidewalks of Fulton. There, I heard the only police command I
was to hear. The police officer said, “Hurry up and cross the street.” We
hurried up and crossed the street. On the other side of the street, press
cameras crowded the sidewalk. This upset some of us who were beginning to
notice a heavy police presence crowding around. Our aim was not to block the
sidewalk, but these cameras had begun to do just that. What we did not realize
at the time, though, was that the police had already blocked off the top of the
march with bicycles, and by this action they created a backlog on the sidewalk
that made holding the line difficult.
At that point, Chris became very worried. He faces trumped up disorderly
conduct charges for an incident that has been well documented in the
alternative press back in DC. He noticed that we might get trapped, and
consequently left the area immediately. Soon, Andy and Ria joined in the worry,
Ria adamant that she did not want to be arrested. Andy informed us that they
were about to duck out, but by then it was too late.
At that second or a few seconds following, at approximately 4:02 PM, the police
surrounded and sectioned off the entire march. Organizers from SOA Watch told
us to make sure that we stood on only one side of the sidewalk to show that we
were doing our best to be compliant. Immediately, the entire crowd shifted.
While this was happening, a young man stood along a church fence near us
yelling at police. I motioned to him to be quiet. He saw me and got mad. I
informed him that the organizers had asked us to be quiet. He said, “No one
organized me.” My fear was that he might provoke a police response, and since
the call to action was that we not fight back that he risked foisting on us an
unjust claim by the police that we started it. Others like Andy spoke with the
young man to try and calm him down, but he continued to do his best to speak with
the police. I became worried at that point that he was a police provocateur;
however, I later became convinced that he was just trying a different tactic
At this point, we were all being detained. Police surrounded us with plastic
orange netting and held a line between them and us, with feet to spare—given
all the space we were allowing on the sidewalk. Many in the crowd, almost none
of whom intended on being arrested, began crying. Most were in shock because
there was no order to disperse. What’s more, such an order to disperse should
have been unnecessary since those walking on the sidewalk were not blocking the
sidewalk, not even chanting, and in many cases were not even there to protest.
Several members of the media were stuck in this dragnet. Ultimately, those with
media credentials were allowed to leave, and those members fled and in most
cases did not even stay to cover what was happening. Other members of the media
without media credentials were detained with the rest of us.
Soon, a middle-aged woman hysterically went up to police very upset that she
could not be let out and was not given a chance to be let out. Police
surrounded her with the netting and immediately arrested her. Again, many were
afraid at that moment that the police might try and rush the rest of the crowd
at that moment, but they did not.
For awhile, we had hope that organizers might negotiate our release and allow
us to continue the march. All of us knew that we had done nothing wrong and
that the only order we had heard was to cross the street. However, several
minutes later, one of the organizers told us that negotiations had failed and
that we would be arrested. This was in spite of chants like, “Let us disperse!”
and other chants aimed directly at the police like, “Give them a raise!” Many
in the crowd sang a song of union solidarity in an effort to let police know
that we were friendly and not trying to work against them.
Now that about 300 of us were going to be arrested, many of us in the crowd
realized that we had better get on our phones and fast to make sure that our
friends and family were aware and that our responsibilities were attended to. I
immediately called Genevieve, who said right away, “Don’t get arrested.” I told
her that I had no choice and that I was doing my best that day to do nothing
that would get me arrested. When she realized the situation, she asked me what
she needed. I needed her to call my dad, needed her to talk to West-Park and
Jan Hus about our housing situation and to get the word out to the DC activist
community. After calling her and then Ryan with DAWN, I began talking with the
press. I called Grant McCool from Reuters, who later wrote a story that did not
accurately portray the gist of my statement or the reality on the ground. I
tried to leave a message to a contact with Mother Jones. Then, I
called Ryme with WPFW. WPFW is the local Pacifica, community-owned radio
station that does an excellent job covering the local activist community. Ryme
immediately gave me the opportunity to record my story. She had Drew Poe call
and interview me for the station. I do not know whether the interview appeared
on the radio, but I know that you can hear it over DC Indymedia (hear me atimages.indymedia.org/imc/washingtondc/media/audio/3/rnc20040831arrestsdawn_byrymedrew.mp3)
Around me, so many others called loved ones or media outlets by phone. Other
legal observers came through the crowd taking names for the list being kept by
the National Lawyer’s Guild. Little did they know that they too were about to
be arrested in this sweep.
Those who had been scared to be arrested eventually calmed down. We did our
best to comfort each other and express our confidence that everything would be
okay. Many of us were quite prepared to deal with just this situation because
of previous experience or past training. The knowledge of so many in the crowd
certainly helped put others at ease who had never been in or had no knowledge
of these situations. So few there expected to be arrested that so many were
unprepared, but by and large the lack of faith in the system had driven many
others to take precautions to protect themselves. Many of us had memorized the
phone number for the National Lawyer’s Guild, and many of us knew our basic
legal rights. All of that preparation was invaluable for those chaotic and
uncertain moments before being put in handcuffs. Even as we waited, people
began memorizing officer names and badge numbers.
As I looked down the street, I noticed that those in my group would soon be
arrested. In my group, Dave, Nat, Andy, Ria, and I faced arrest. Jay, who had
been with us, had already been arrested—the details of his arrest I will not
share. Others from DC also faced arrest, including Christy and Ozone from SOA
Watch, whom we knew either from past meetings, trainings or from the bus ride
from DC. Throughout the city, many DC activists were arrested. Later, our
friends Karen and Suzanne were arrested and held for two days. Prior to this,
though at the time unknown to us, Sam, Morrigan, Mike, Matt, and others from DC
had been arrested. In fact, it seemed that most of the DC Cluster was arrested
Eventually, the police singled out five of us to be arrested. With me were Nat,
Andy, and two others who had met up with us before the march. The police
searched our pockets and stuffed them all in a bag. At the same time, they
handcuffed us in plastic tie cuffs. In my case, the cuffs were not on very
tight, but in Andy’s case, the cuffs dug into his wrists and were
uncomfortable. When he complained, the police re-tied the cuffs only to make
them just as tight.
As our possessions were bagged and as we were cuffed, the police used
Polaroid’s to take our pictures. In my case, I made sure I grinned. It was
important to me to let them know that they could not break my spirit. When I
saw my picture, I was quite pleased. Andy even asked for his back after the
process was over, but they declined the request. Soon, the five of us, who had
been assigned to an arresting officer named Gard (a guard named Gard) with
badge number 422, boarded a charter coach and sat down in cuffs holding our
Onwards to Pier 57, Guantanamo on the Hudson
The conditions we faced were not so much harsh as they were ridiculous. The
whole notion that we had broken any law was ridiculous, and the strange way we
were cuffed and assigned an arresting officer was ridiculous, and even some
things that worked in our favor were ridiculous. Many of us rode to our next
location in an air-conditioned charter bus. All around us were young men, old
men, old women, and priests all tied up sitting in this air-conditioned bus. I
did not understand the mix of good treatment and bad treatment. Some of the
people arrested at other times left in paddy wagons or other assorted and
uncomfortable vehicles, but we got a bus. On the bus, I sat on my hands to
relieve the pressure from the cuffs. The scene of absurdity had a tendency to
amuse me, and I was determined to stay in high spirits. I’d hum to myself
George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun” as I waited.
For others, the experience was not so friendly. A woman was on our bus who said
she was dying of terminal cancer. No one would give her any medicine or use any
common sense. Whatever the reason, whether the orders from on high were so
rigid or because the officers on the ground were unsympathetic scoundrels, no
one helped her. Occasionally, Lt. Shay appeared, whom others said they had
video of making inappropriate comments, and he would smirk and try and strike
up conversations with passengers. Generally, I said nothing to him.
Our arresting officer, Gard, looked like he was about 20 years old. He was a
young blond man who had the look of a deer lost in headlights. One of the
passengers asked Gard why we were being arrested. He told us that it was a
disorderly conduct charge and that we were being arrested because we blocked
the road and when given an order to disperse had failed to disperse. I asked
him whether he saw any of us that he was arresting do this. He said that he saw
all of us doing that. I asked him whether he had seen any of us in particular,
that is the five he arrested, breaking the law. He refused to answer the
question. So, the man began by lying to us and then when faced with a specific
question about his lie could not answer. We have learned that police will lie
to you, are trained to lie, and are under no legal obligation to tell you the
truth, but that if we lie that we face big trouble. The best thing to do is not
to talk with the police in this situation, and by and large, that is what I
did, somewhat frustrated when others continued to try and pry answers (almost
always lies) from police.
Many have said that they do not believe the police lie so much as do not know
the answer to the questions they are asked. This fails to be convincing because
I do not remember a single police officer prefacing her or his answer to a
question with, “I am not sure, but I believe it is this way.” Instead, the
answers when given were always direct. Most commonly, people asked about the
law concerning when we needed to be released and how to define that. Some said,
“24 hours from the moment detained.” Others said, “24 hours from the moment
your mug shot is taken.” Others said, “48 hours.” Others said, “72 hours.”
Others said, “Whenever we decide to let you out.” This is one of many examples
of police misinformation. I personally heard from police all these answers to
the same question. The best thing you can do in that situation is to remain
silent when talking to the police. Even with that advice, it does not always
seem possible not to engage in conversation, if only occasionally, and because
we have no reason to believe anything we say is in fact incriminating
ourselves. It is the main reason I write this. Though from what I say,
authorities may try to use in a court of law against me, there is nothing that
I say that they could use against me without it being misleading at best.
The bus eventually rolled away to another part of town. Earlier, one of the
buses had been delayed because at least one protester jumped in front of the
bus and lay on the ground. I would later meet someone, whom I don’t remember in
any detail, who claimed to be that person. That was an act of civil
disobedience that I applaud because it forced the police one more time to see
the consequences of their unjust actions in arresting us.
On the bus, we began to sing with each other and get to know each other. It was
as though they had arrested a festival, whose participants generally refused to
believe the festival was at an end. There were generally good spirits on the
bus, and I could not stop grinning even as my cuffs became more uncomfortable
as the ride grew longer.
Shortly, we entered a large warehouse-like building that I later learned was an
old bus repair area called Pier 57. The building was enormous and dark, and it
was teeming with police. Some have said that the New York police are one of the
largest standing armies in the world. In such a small area, you can imagine
just how many police are all over the place. Everywhere one would go one would
see one dark uniform after another.
We also saw a lot of other protesters. Our arresting officer, Gard, kept
telling us that he hoped the process would go quickly because he wanted to get
off work. Apparently, his entire evening would be taken up by the enormous
paperwork in processing us. There sure were a lot of protesters around us, and
they would continue to come through in large numbers until about 1 AM.
Early Hours at Pier 57
When we got off the bus, our arresting officer and his superiors lined us up,
asked us some questions, and then moved us through with our bags. Soon, I was
facing more officers whose task it was to search my backpack and belongings for
arrestable evidence. I did not know at the time that was what he was doing, but
later paperwork made it evident that the way he divided my belongings made it
clear that that was what he was doing.
I did not consent to a search of my bags. The police simply searched them.
However, since I was confused very much by the process, I did not try to stop
the officer from searching my bag. It was very confusing. Certainly, I did not
offer permission for the officer to search my bags. Others, especially the
arrested legal observers, made a point of telling officers that they did not
consent to a search. In those cases, I heard reports that police swore at
people and tried to pressure them in allowing a search of their bags. When
denied, they still went through the bags, making an inventory of items before
keeping all items together. In my case, they took my camera, several flyers
talking about actions, some videotape that someone had handed me that I have
never even looked at and could not tell you the contents, and all of my
emergency contact info for bus passengers from our August 27 trip. They set
that aside as arrestable evidence. When seeing my bus passenger list, the police
officer rhetorically and ignorantly asked, “What is this? An activist
manifesto?!” In fact, it was simply a list with passenger information,
emergency contact info, and needed medical info for anyone traveling with us so
that I could make sure that they were safe. If an activist manifesto is sheets
intended for the care of others, then that would be quite a compliment.
However, it was obviously nothing like a manifesto. That just tells you the
haphazard way that police processed us.
At that point, the officer allowed me to have my wallet, my money, and two keys
so long as they were not car keys. Others received uneven treatment. Some did
not receive wallets back. Anyone with more than $100 had at least the excess
money confiscated. Others did not receive any keys back. All my other
possessions were kept for “safe keeping” to be picked up immediately upon
release. As I stated, I did not know any of this until later in the process.
After going through a metal detector and having to take off my shoes, finally
police released me from my cuffs. They escorted me to a pen with many other
protesters who had been jailed. The pen had a small walkway leading into it
with two portable outhouses. As I entered, an officer handed me a cup for
drinking and warned me not to lose it. Soon, I was inside with about 50 others
waiting for the next step in the process.
Inside, I could see the vastness of the surroundings. My first thought was that
it looked like a huge version of the infamous “free speech zone” in Boston.
That area was surrounded by high fences, followed by high black netting, and
lined at the top with razor wire. This area had high gray metal fences that
were surrounded also by razor wire. Above us were large fans, general darkness,
and high beams making it clear we were in a warehouse. The ground was a dry
black soot mixed with motor oil that did not look so imposing until you sat
down and touched it. The soot would not come off entirely even when water was
applied, and some who had been there prior reported that the ground caused
rashes. The mixture was one of a kind. However, when faced with a choice of
crowded benches and standing for hours with my generally flat feet, even this
nasty soot and the risks involved seemed more bearable than standing. Each pen,
I estimate 5 pens to each side of the prison, were approximately 25’ X 30’ and
held about 50 to 75 people on average. At each end was a Deer Park water
dispenser with lukewarm water. Generally, the police replaced the water when it
was empty, though occasionally there was some wait. Each pen usually had an
officer looking inside allowing people to use the portable toilets, though
later in the evening, the use was much more restricted.
All of this description many others have reported. When you add in the nasty
bologna sandwiches, the stale milk, and the general lack of accommodation for
anyone who was vegetarian (forget about vegan), and one can definitely say that
these were not pleasant conditions, especially for people who were in most
cases innocent of even the smallest charge.
However, I cannot say that I felt all that bad for myself. All around me I saw
people doing their best to take care of others. Some made sure that others had
the legal number. I made sure that people who got out had access to housing.
Others offered encouraging words about the prospects of a class action lawsuit.
In my case, I made special point to seek out others who were either to
themselves or who had claimed that they were not protesting. In one case, I met
a man from Victoria, British Columbia, who had been parted from his 18-year-old
son on their way to a Yankees baseball game. The man had been crossing the
street near a protest when he exchanged a few words with an officer. He was
immediately arrested and separated from his son, who had to find his own way
back to wherever they were staying. The man was worried to death about his son,
whom he described as naïve and extremely shy. I, in part, found myself worried
about the father. I wanted to make sure, since police were not going to allow
him a phone call, that he was okay, that he had friends, and that he understood
that this situation faced many others in our police system far worse than it
affected us. As it turns out, the man was a historian and had lived in the
United States, having written the standard historical work on the history of
the Lincoln Memorial.
To me, we had entered this space meant to scare us, separate us, and punish us,
but we had turned it into the space we desired our world to see. Outside, some
were trying to occupy Herald Square, but inside, we occupied our new jail with
just the sort of spirit that would not allow us to be slaves. Inside our space,
conversations and friendships formed. Those with medical needs had instant help
from medics who had been arrested along with the legal observers. Strangers no
more we were becoming to each other. Our chants and songs overtook our cell and
all the others. It was not uncommon to hear the entire Pier 57 break out into
songs like “Power to the people.” We could hear the women on one end of the
jail singing, followed by the men. At almost every point that someone’s name
was called, cheers and congratulations erupted throughout the crowd.
Who was in jail? I should have been outside, but here inside this space was
sufficient. So many philosophers write about the jail metaphor, about what to
do in jail, about where jail really resides. Socrates, when faced with the
choice of escape, refused and failed to see the point, even as his captors
prepared his death. He claimed that it was impossible for the unjust to hurt
the just. Sartre wrote convincingly about the freedom available even, and
perhaps especially, in jail. Here now I was experiencing that same feeling,
that here in this world, as physically restricting as it had become, I was
witness to so much freedom and beauty. Who was in jail? I knew that I may be in
jail, but I was assuredly free.
Our police, however, were imprisoned. Repeatedly, protesters asked their
captors why they were doing this. Those who answered most often said, “Because
I have no choice.” If so, how sad indeed! What is the very definition of
imprisonment than the lack of choice? Each police officer, even the most
scoundrel of them, suddenly had my most profound pity. They had no choice; they
lacked freedom. In this case, they acted on orders even when those orders
called for arresting people many of them knew were innocent and participating
in a systematic lie that ultimately took more than 1,100 people off the streets
in a single day, a Manhattan record. How would they do when faced with the
great tragedies of human history, like slavery in the South and the Holocaust
in Germany? When faced with orders would they say they had no choice? If they
truly believe that, then what a sad existence, to be faced with a real choice
but to believe you have none. Here are people who were far greater victims than
us, those who were perpetrating the crime against us. My spirit was not only
not broken but at one of my highest points, and all the man watching our pen
could say was, “I’d rather be at the beach.” When pressed by others about how
he felt about the arrests, he would not allow himself a direct answer. Others
who were more direct and yet sympathetic said that there was nothing that could
be done. Who had the hoods over their eyes? Who was in prison? I was in jail; I
could not move and see the beauties of our world. My world and the world of
those with me could have and should have been better, but how far worse it is
to be imprisoned in your mind, in your actions without so much as a razor wire
cage stopping you.
Final Hours at Pier 57
In my group of five arrested by a boyish guard named Gard, I was the last to be
moved from my cell and through the next part of the process. Yet, because of
the way I noticed that our group had been staggered, I believed that I would be
leaving to the next step eventually. By 9 PM or so, I moved to the next step.
As I left, people applauded me. I waved a peace sign at them.
My arresting officer escorted me through a short series of tables. The officers
took basic information from me. My group had declined doing any kind of jail
solidarity because of the responsibilities we faced, and so our aim was to move
through the system as quickly as possible. Not all that many participated in
any jail solidarity, whose aim in this case was not to slow down the system but
to make sure that other prisoners in the system who were not protesting
received equal treatment and to make sure that other minorities and
generally-oppressed people in the jails also received equal treatment. If my
group had some consensus on this, I would have joined, but lacking that, it
would have been selfish of me to insist upon this while at the same time
punishing my friends for their very personal decision. In any event, my point
here is that I did not withhold information from the police when asked, and
they asked me nothing more than identifying information. At the final table,
the arresting officer and another officer filled out paperwork on my belongings,
sorting out the arrestable evidence from the possessions they were holding for
“safe keeping.” They handed me paperwork at the end of that process telling me
where my possessions were being held and instructions on how to receive it once
they released me from jail.
After the tables, my arresting officer took me to a new pen on the opposite
side of the warehouse with others waiting to go to the courthouse for booking
and arraignment. In this pen, I saw some others who had been in the previous
pen with me while being mixed with others who had been in other pens. This was
great because it meant a new set of conversations to have, and there’s nothing
I live for more than the conversation between friends. At this point, we all
were becoming more tired, and it became harder to avoid sitting on the
soot/motor oil floor. Generally, I could not find space on the bench on which
to sit, and we tried to reserve that space for many of our older cellmates. I
did the best I could.
In the meantime, I conversed with some journalists who had been scooped up in
the sweep, and others who had varying degrees of mood about their experience.
One particularly upset journalist was worried he’d miss a photo shoot he was
doing for the PBS Series “Frontline.” I failed to find a single case where
someone was incarcerated where they blamed the protesters for his predicament.
All people, protesters and others alike, joined in chants of “Lawsuit!
Lawsuit!” and “We win! We win!” Even so, many did not have as glowing a sense
about the experience as I did. Others, however, did. It was not hard to
communicate at all the sense that the police were less free than we were. While
we sang adapted Queen songs at them like, “We will, we will, sue you, sue you!”
the police became more agitated. Sometimes, a group of them would come to my
cell, yell at us, and threaten us if we did not stop singing.
Throughout the night, buses of protesters rolled in a large stream. As people
marched by us in cuffs, we cheered them. Even as we became more sedate, the
entire cell made a point of clapping and yelling whenever and wherever we saw
brothers and sisters in chains walking by. Often, these people were beginning
their jail experience, and you could see the palpable joy on their faces to see
us showing such support for them.
The jail support was so overwhelming that I could not take seriously the idea
that we had it all that bad, however absurd and ridiculous and unfair and
unhealthy our environment. Repeatedly, I pleaded with others in the jail to
remember those who are suffering in this system more, to turn our hearts from
our own plight to those who are truly hurting and lost in these jails. What
support system do you have when you are an out of work drug addict, perhaps
with mental illness, picked up on a marijuana habit you cannot seem to control?
However you feel about the guilt of such a person, the place we were in did not
inspire confidence that these people would be treated with any kind of fairness
or community. It is community and fellowship that keeps us whole and sane, but
if you are without family, if you are without education, if you are without friends,
or without any means to help yourself, you are going to be surrounded in a
scary world. I wanted people to emphasize that reality and the reality of all
those suffering at the hands of others all over the world. No one wants to hear
about more white middle class activists claiming to be beaten down by the
system. Come on! Yes, what was happening was unjust, but the sensationalizing
that comes out of places like this unwittingly continues to trample on the very
people that our social justice movement is supposed to uphold. If we are not
careful with our publicity, we run great risk of oppressing these communities
again. What happened to us was wrong, but if we do not take care of others less
fortunate than ourselves, then all of the self righteousness that essays like
this smugly portray will be weapons against all those oppressed people who
remain without voices.
When I would make those pleas, people heard and agreed with me. However, I
continue to read in the reports of those who have gotten out a deep “woe is me”
attitude coming out. We have to stand up for ourselves and tell the truth of
our condition, but we must not simply become victims over this. Where it
counts, they cannot victimize us. Our defiance must be an encouragement to
others and empower others whom the system has successfully victimized.
For several hours, I sat becoming sleepier. My bowels needed to move, but I
became afraid that if I asked to use the bathroom that my name would be called
and that I would not hear it. At times, I helped relay messages from other
cells. Occasionally, I would talk with Andy, who was in the cell next to mine.
My arresting officer occasionally came by to ask for my information. Once, he
took my ID, and the time it took him to return caused me to fear he was not
Finally, after many hours, it was now at least 2 AM, I saw several of my
friends heading toward the wagons that took people to the jail. In fact, I was
afraid that I would be left behind. Soon, though, an officer called my name,
cuffed me very tightly in plastic cuffs, and took me to the wagon where many of
my friends were, which was about to be transported to the jail. By now, I
believe it was closer to 3 AM. The cuffs were tight, and cut into my arms.
Ultimately, there was no physical damage, though others I saw had welts from
their experience. This time, Andy’s cuffs were quite loose, thankfully.
The ride over was not the most pleasant. Andy sang some songs and performed
some poetry, but we had a couple smart alecks in the wagon. The officer
boarding us was a really abusive man, who did his best to make all the
passengers feel low. This egged on some of the passengers to heckle him. This
officer left fuming that it was like a fucking kindergarten. Those passengers
continued being somewhat belligerent while a female toward the front complained
of their being too much testosterone. Sitting there in the mix of what was now
becoming a gender dispute, I felt very uncomfortable and sad. Andy’s songs and
poems helped to break the mood some, but not entirely. One of the women
complained of her hands becoming numb from the cuffs. So, the woman who had
complained about the men demanded we all do jail solidarity until her cuffs
were loosened. After having gotten on a bad foot with all the men, it was
remarkable that everyone generally agreed to go along with this, intimidated
from saying anything else. Finally, another woman struck a compromise and said
that we should wait until we got to the station. In the end, the police
uncuffed us immediately at the station, and the situation diffused.
As we arrived at the station in this mixture of sad tenseness and some
joviality, we saw protesters yelling for us at the station. There, we saw
Shahid and Sam from DC. Later, we learned Sam had just been released. It was so
great to see our friends out there showing us support at 3 AM.
Pumped up from our support, we wondered how many hours we had to go. Since we
had been arrested much earlier than most others we saw coming after us from
Ground Zero, from Union Square, from the Library, and from other spots in
Manhattan, we thought there was a decent chance we might get out in the next
few hours. The mood became lighter as a result of the change in scenery.
The police took us inside, uncuffed us, emptied our pockets yet again, and put
us through another metal detector. They then put us in another cell and fed us
another bologna sandwich. This time, vegetarians were able to eat a terrible
cheese sandwich while vegans still got the shaft entirely. The jail had no
windows, had inadequate bench space, but at least the floors were not covered
in soot and motor oil. Each cell had a toilet and a faucet with cold water.
Generally, the colors of the cells were light green. Outside, we saw a lot of
police processing people and otherwise milling about.
Over time, the police called individuals from the cells. After an hour, my name
was called. In my group of five, they called Nat as well. They chained us by
the hands and had us walk in a row of five. From there, we moved through these
cavernous hallways through the city jail. I understand now that we were well
below ground in a part of the courthouse/jail complex known as “The Tombs.”
After walking around and going through another metal detector at some point, the
police took us to electronic fingerprinting machines. There, many officers
stood nearby taking protesters to be fingerprinted. Generally, most of the
police there were unfriendly. My officer took each hand and each finger for
fingerprinting. It took a lot time for the computer to capture each image. My
right thumb took at least ten times to get right. Since there was so much soot
on my hands, he even used Windex to wash them when he was unable to get a
reading. The Windex only minimally cleaned my hands. I noticed how embarrassed
I was by my dirty hands, and yet now looking back it was really their fault.
Finally, he got a reading that he saved before cuffing me again to those being
booked with me. In my case, I guess they got the fingerprints correct because
no one called me back to redo them. Others had to go back hours later for
another round of fingerprinting due to errors. Those people, police said, now
were in the system as though they had just begun. I do not know whether that is
true, but that is what they told people. It did break the spirits of some.
After that experience, the police took us through more caverns to wait in line
for our mug shots. By this time, most of us were quite exhausted, and there
wasn’t a lot of talking except to support fellow prisoners as they passed by.
However, at this spot, we had an especially talkative police officer covered in
tattoos. Some of the younger people with us struck up a conversation with him.
They asked him how he felt about this. Just by the look of this man, he seemed
out of place, as though he were a member of the rap group Public Enemy, except
in a police uniform. He sat on some plastic crates bouncing back and forth
against the wall. He said, “Fuck da police!” People looked somewhat stunned. He
said, “I’m totally sympathetic with you. When I’m out of here and out of my
uniform, I do everything I can to fight the motherfuckin’ system. If my union
didn’t tell me I couldn’t protest in uniform, I’d protest in uniform.” Stunned,
some asked why he wasn’t sitting over with us. He told us that familiar story
about not having any choice, that he needed to make money for his children,
needed health care, needed the stability of a union job. Andy, who was in
chains nearby, told him that that was what we were fighting for. He said that
what we were doing would do no good, that it would be the same fuckers
controlling things no matter what, and that’s why he might as well be a cop. He
had given up and lost his spirit. Though he won many fans in our group, I did
not actually trust him. Why? I did not trust him because other police heard
everything he was saying and did not so much as interrupt, only a few staring.
Then, he proceeded to tell us a set of lies about what was coming next. He
said, for our charge, we could be released on one to two days of community
service. He then asked another officer if that’s what they were doing with us.
That man, said, “Yeah.” So, others who now trusted him because of his “I fight
the system when I can” attitude now were trusting him about what was to happen
next. For me, knowing he was lying made me wonder how much else he was lying
about. Was he toying with people? Did he really feel that way?
Soon after, police led us near the room where we would be filmed for mug shots.
Around us, we saw paper “Bush/Cheney 2004” printouts in white. The officer
moved us along the wall into the photo room, forcing us to move and keep our
back against the wall. He and other officers called us “Perps” or “bodies,” but
never “people.” In jail, there is no presumption of innocence. At this point,
in the middle of the night, I was exhausted, but all I could think about was
that I was determined to smile for the mug shot. Finally, it was my turn, and I
grinned for the man behind the computer. Then, I turned my head to the side.
The side shot was another “Bush/Cheney 2004” sign. That made smiling easy. If
that was the best they could do at that moment to get under my skin, they had
to do better than that.
Following the mug shots, the police led the five of us who were chained
together through more caverns and finally into another cell. The only thing
remarkably new about this cell was that it was the first to have a telephone.
Inside, there was a pay phone. Immediately, my fellow cellmates called the
National Lawyer’s Guild number, and we began giving them our names, our
charges, our arrest number (which we were not actually given) and any other
details they asked for from us. Soon after, each of us was called out of the
cell momentarily to answer more identifying questions. However, this time, they
asked whether we had a drug and alcohol problem and whether we had been tested
for drugs. To these questions, the National Lawyer’s Guild advised silence. In
my case, since I never drink alcohol or use drugs, I answered, hoping it might
help me avoid any subsequent bail.
After a short time in this cell, the police moved many of us to another cell
where others were being held. Near us were cells filled with other protesters
and at least one with regular prisoners. In most cases, protesters were not
housed with regular inmates. I do not know the reasoning for it, but I wonder
if it was done not so much for our sake but rather to keep us from helping to
better inform those inmates who were stuck in the system. We had plenty of
legal phone numbers that could have helped them out, and I hope that some who
were with regular prisoners had the chance to share information.
My cell, just as the others, had light green walls, a toilet, a faucet without
cold water—the faucet in the cell across from ours had hot but no cold water.
We had just missed breakfast, according to a chart in this cell telling us when
meals were served. The cell had two pay phones. It was now just before 6:00 AM.
My particular cell held a maximum of 29 people and fluctuated between 9 and 25
people during the day. When the numbers were higher, some had to lie on the
At this point, I needed a bowel movement. When I got out of jail, one of the
things I heard repeatedly from men was the need for a bowel movement. However,
since we were in tight quarters, no one in my cell risked the inconvenience to
other cellmates that the smell would cause. As the day went on, I became more
and more sick holding my bowels in. At times, I would shiver. Later, I developed
a soar throat and the first stages of a cold I am still recovering from.
Even though the conditions could only get worse the more tired and ill we
became, I refused to let my spirit dampen very much. George Harrison or Richie
Havens, depending upon my mood, kept singing “Here Comes the Sun.” The choir
singing “Power to the People” over at Pier 57 was so powerfully stuck in my
internal radio that even now I cannot get the song out of my head. At times,
I’d hum it aloud to myself.
Now at this time of the morning, the cell became quiet. Soon, someone saying he
was not a police officer but an advocate from the court came over to interview
me. I was wary. None of my training had told me that such a person would be
there. However, I decided to trust him and answer all sorts of questions,
including my work situation. These questions embarrassed me, and I hoped to God
they were not questions that would keep me in jail longer than necessary.
Apparently, the man, and others wearing the “Visitor” tags, who were interviewing
us, used the information so that the judge could determine the conditions of
our release. In this case, less information meant less likelihood of seeing the
judge. When I and others finished our interviews, we sat silently with the
By 7 AM, I decided that regardless of the quiet, I needed to call Genevieve.
She had an 8 AM class and would be unreachable after that. So, I used a phone
card that she wisely bought for me before the trip in case of something like
this. She seemed calm, although she later told me she was very anxious. I heard
news about my interview being featured on DC Independent Media and about her
phone ringing off the hook because of DC activists looking for information. She
told me about others who had been arrested and a little bit about the general
news. She had called my father and had taken care of some of our housing
details. Thanks to her resourcefulness, I felt as though I would be ready to
pick up my responsibilities as soon as I was let out. I figured that would be
in a few hours since the police kept telling people that the next step was
As for arraignment, apparently the courts in New York had cleared their docket
for the week to do nothing but arraignments of protesters and others. One judge
worked throughout the night while three judges worked throughout the day on
nothing but arraignments. However, at the pace the police called us, I realized
that it would be impossible to call everyone in the 24 hour period that people
had told us was required for arraigning charges like the citations we faced.
While it looked good for those of us in our cell, those behind us, I reasoned,
would be backed up geometrically. In fact, that is what happened.
After talking to Genevieve, I slept for half an hour. I was desperately afraid
to fall asleep out of fear my name would be called and that I would be skipped
by. The officers never seemed to know which cell many of the inmates were in.
They would walk around the cells yelling names of people, and sometimes people
could not hear their names called because the police yelling were in cells much
further away. The cellmates passed word as best as they could by yelling names
out loud. Again as before, as each name was called, the cell roared with
applause at the good fortune for the person whose name the officers was
Eventually, my affinity group member Nat had his named called just before 9 AM.
At this point, since he was arrested with me and booked with me, I thought that
my name might soon follow. However, for hour after hour, my name and others who
came in at the same time as me or just before me or after me were passed over
for people who came into our cell much later. Nat eventually made it home to DC
by 8 PM. Where was I at 8 PM? I was still in jail.
If there was anything that wore on my good spirits more than anything it was
the sense that I might be lost in the system. Since there was no order
whatsoever to the names being called and only conflicting lies coming from the
police about the reason for the delays, one wondered if it might be forever
that we were locked up. Generally, police ignored questions asking for status.
In some cases, they provided answers. In others, they would not. It seemed the
more some asked for answers, the more annoyed I became with them. Could they
not see that every question produced yet another lie and that every lie
produced lower morale? I preferred quiet defiance toward the police and warm
conversation with cellmates, but the more they persisted on talking to those
who would not talk honestly, the more annoyed I became. I became even more
annoyed when I would see others who had not even been in our cell very long
complaining about the length of their stay in the cell without worrying about
how those of us who had been there longer felt. In one of the female cells, I
heard of a jail solidarity where the women refused to leave before those who
had been there longest left. We had no such luck in our cell. I thought of
suggesting it, but since such a tactic was going to benefit me and a couple of
others the most, I declined mentioning it to others.
Yet, despite those annoyances, I do not remember a single argument in our cell
between cellmates. I also only remember support for those leaving. Any general
angst was saved for the police who continued to treat us unfairly. People
shared money for the pay phones and other numbers of interest. One cellmate
wrote his pay phone card on the wall for others to use. This number remained
long after he had left and may still be there for all I know. He also included
numbers for legal aid, Mayor Bloomberg’s office, and City Hall. Other cellmates
shared food they did not plan on eating. In some cases, some cellmates used the
bologna sandwiches as pillows on which to sleep.
The day dragged on, but the conversations continued. In my cell, one cellmate
dressed in army fatigues attracted some interest. His name is Dennis, and he
was a Gulf War veteran. In the cell, he educated others about the dangers of
depleted uranium. I asked him if he knew Doug Rokke, the world’s foremost
expert on depleted uranium, whom I had met while he was giving a teach-in that
DAWN hosted, and he said that Doug was a good friend of his. Others in our cell
talked about the dangers of dairy and the virtues of a vegan diet, even as they
must have been the most starved people in the jail. My new friend Ozone, who
had come on the bus with us, talked a lot with me about the sense I had of
prisoners often being much more free than those who put them in jail. When I
shared my feelings, his face lit up. Apparently, while in prison, he had
written a book with that theme.
At 4:02 PM, 24 hours had passed, and some of us had failed to be arraigned. We
called the National Lawyer’s Guild, who told us to sit tight and that there was
nothing they could do for us at that moment. Soon after, the jail warden came
down to check on conditions. When questioned, he claimed not to be a lawyer and
that he did not know the answer to the question. Like hell he didn’t! That same
warden asked an officer to check into my status and that of another protester,
but that officer never did. People became angrier. Then, at dinner, the police
officer serving the food said that many of these bologna sandwiches were in
fact soy. We all eagerly took them but were disappointed to discover that the
policeman had lied to us and given us more baloney. How much baloney can one
take?! Some vegetarians, ignoring the evidence of their senses, ate the
sandwiches anyway tired of starvation.
Many times all I could do was laugh. I would look at the harmless people in my
cell, of all ages, and then I would stare at the bars. I would laugh again.
When being taken on the bus, a woman with an English accent said, “What is
this? Open season on pacifists?” Those who had been arrested at Ground Zero,
especially, going with longtime pacifists like the War Resisters’ League really
felt the irony. The police officers had this look often that they were in an
absurd situation. Were they told we were all these mean scary black bloc, who
incidentally are not as mean and scary as their reputation? Most of the black
bloc are just children, and by far the vast majority of all anarchists have
renounced violence. Yet, here in my cell you mostly saw people in their
thirties and forties, and few even had the look of anarchists of any stripe. In
some cases, you had people in their fifties, sixties, or older. One of our
cellmates said that he believed the police had no idea what to make of all
these normal middle-aged people. I cannot say, but I do know I was with the
most harmless set of people I could imagine. And, yet, there we were behind
bars, many of us there for walking on the sidewalk. What positive reaction can
one have at that moment except laughter?
Finally, at about 6:30 PM, my name and the names of others who had been held as
long as I had been were finally called. When the officer called my name, the
entire cell erupted in applause. My first thought went to the two others who
had been in the cell even longer. Soon, the offices called their names as well.
When the officer called names, each cellmate had to identify himself with his
date of birth. I thought it ironic that we had to verify our own identification
but that I am not so sure that the police could possibly have kept track of
everyone without losing a few. Who was more untrustworthy?
When the officers cuffed us, it never felt so good to be in handcuffs. It meant
that we were one step closer to arraignment.
The officer took us to an elevator. From there, we could see that we had been
buried deep underground. Eventually, the elevator arose above ground and up to
the twelfth floor. From there, the officer led us into another cell. This time,
however, we had light. We could see windows just outside our bars that were open
to the air. The air felt pleasant, and it looked like Wednesday, September 1,
had been a nice day for those outside of the jail.
For the next couple hours, this cell was my home. At this point, the police
finally allowed people their free phone call. Naturally, I called Genevieve,
although I needed to use my calling card since she was long distance. There, I
heard more stories and heard who was now arrested and who was now out. We heard
rumors that our friend Suzanne had been arrested, which we later verified. On
the whole, though, there was not a lot of news we had not already received in
jail. One officer near another cell even allowed her radio, while other
officers were not around, to be tuned to the local Pacifica station, WBAI, so
that those cellmates could receive news. We had heard about an action Act Up
managed inside of the Convention while Andrew Card was speaking. We heard about
Codepink’s infiltration inside of Madison Square Garden. Each bit of news
excited us and made everything we were now experiencing feel worthwhile.
Already threats of lawsuits against the police permeated alternative media. In
fact, we found out that the National Lawyer’s Guild was about to participate in
a hearing to try and win our release. Since we had not been released in 24
hours, the Guild argued that we should be released, having not been served a
writ of habeas corpus. As I waited, I continued to hold out hope
that we might just be released with our charges dismissed.
As I waited, others who came before me into this cell again
were processed ahead of me. As we waited, our captors gave us a large supply of
some nasty purple punch. Some of my cellmates and friends jokingly warned us
not to drink it out of fear it would wrongly enchant us into pleading guilty.
So, one clever person dubbed the punch, “Gil – Tea.” They then served us
peaches. I managed a good peach. Prior, I received one that was rotten. While
we eagerly waited, we played quarters, warning that the winner would be forced
to drink a cup of Gil – Tea. However, each winner declined the drink.
Then, we heard some amazing shouting coming from
outside the jail. Indeed, a sizable protest was going on outside the jail
demanding our release. We began whooping and hollering hoping they could hear
us. Later, we discovered that they did hear us but thought we were chanting.
So, they chanted back something to the effect of, “Over 24, let them go!” This
really cheered us up. When we were not yelling back at the crowd we could hear
below, we all began whistling.
Finally, the officer called my name at about 8:40
PM. She cuffed me, taking me through the halls looking for other prisoners.
However, she was new to this particular job and repeatedly got lost. A great
many police had been brought in from other jurisdictions to work on this week,
and the incompetence was permeable. If we as protesters wanted to stop the
processing system from functioning, we could have easily done so. As it was, it
barely functioned. Police could not find inmates, fingerprinting records were
all wrong, and people were processed haphazardly and in no particular order.
Now, I figured I was going to see a judge where I planned on pleading “not
guilty.” Others planned on taking a deal where if they avoided a disorderly
conduct charge for 6 months, the original charge would be dismissed. I had no
such plans because what had happened was fundamentally wrong. They say to pick
your battles, and this seemed like one for me to pick.
However, my fate did not involve a judge. Instead,
the authorities gave me a “Desk Appearance Ticket,” which when I signed
committed me to returning to court on September 30 to be arraigned on the
charges. In return for that commitment, they released me.
When I was released, it was 9 PM. What follows in
the story is as intriguing to me as the jail story itself, but I need to pause
In great detail, I have described two days of my
life, especially the 29 hours that I was in jail. As I prefaced, I am a little
annoyed by the importance given to this time over other times. Yet, here, I
have written just as much. While I have your attention, I hope I reminded you
enough of what has gone unsaid, hope I have showed to you that I was not a
victim. What happened to me and others that day was wrong, but I only want to
use my story to shed light on the stories that have not been told. Please seek
them out, please wonder about them, and please do what you can to support them.
My time in jail was remarkably easy because of the tremendous support of our
activist community. They took care of me before and after this ordeal. Others
are not so lucky. They need our support, and I hope that what I have written
does something on their behalf.
If we can do that for each other, we shall all be
free of the shackles that continue to imprison us.
To be continued…