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Why I Love the Black Bloc or, Anarchy in Downtown L.A.

by T. Thorn Coyle

I am the anti-pepper spray, I am aromatherapy!
I know what I want, you're gonna smell better!
I'm gonna spritz you, in all kinds of weather!
I, I wanna beee, Aromatherapy!
This is what Anarchy smells like! Spritz this!
— to the tune of "Anarchy in the UK" by the Sex Pistols

We marched in the heat, phalanxes of cops dogging every step. Row after row after row in dark uniforms, with bandoliers of tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets at the ready. They were working class people being lied to. Their superiors had told them we were dangerous, we would not only engage in property damage, we would attack the police. The delegates in the Staples Center had been told we were dangerous. They were told to not sit by the windows of their big shiny busses. We were prone to throwing stones.

Anarchy means taking total responsibility for yourself and your actions. It means people working collectively in community to make decisions on policy and morality.

Why was there such fear and misinformation? People liked to blame the "anarchists," the dreaded "Black Bloc." They blamed those youth in black clothing and bandanas who marched, day after day, arms linked in formations three or four rows deep. I tried to explain to Rob Morse of the Examiner that they were not the only anarchists out there. We were anarchists too. I explained what anarchy was. I said that "Anarchy means taking total responsibility for yourself and your actions. It means people working collectively in community to make decisions on policy and morality." He, alas, misquoted me. The misquote made the front page.

We marched in the heat, dressed in white and supplied with Anarchy Love Spray provided by Mixtress Oak for the Revel Alliance. This potion perked up wilting activists with sun exposure and kept people calm. We sprayed it at the cops a lot. The Black Bloc would offer up their sweet, young necks to the spray as I said, "This is what Anarchy smells like. Smells pretty good, doesn't it?" Those young people remained linked in their disciplined rows in their sweltering clothing. They said "I'll take some!" They said, "Thanks."

They marched in formation into Staples Center, formed a circle,and sat in unison. What were they going to do? Would they lock down, blocking the driveway? One person got up, slowly patting head after head. "Duck, duck, duck, duck. Goose!" The goose shot up and ran and ran and ran after the first young anarchist, who skidded safely into place. The game began again, entertaining those of us huddled under the few trees on the very edges of the "protest zoo" with its one tiny exit that would cause such trouble at the infamous concert when 6,000 people were trapped by the cops.

We arrived too late for that concert, getting there minutes before Ozomatli got the plug pulled on its set. We got out. We saw the horses, motorcycles, cars with sirens screaming. Retreating to 6th and Flower, the place of Center, we reinforced the magic we had set the night before when we called on the elemental directions and the spirits of the City. We Witches had fanned out, surrounding the activists' Convergence Center, calling Air into the garment district, explaining to cops that the stone and feather in Pershing Square were representatives from North and Earth brought there by that quadrant. This night, sirens screaming from neighboring blocks, we stopped burly security guards from harassing a poor skate-kid who was just trying to get away from them as they taunted him and yelled at him. Oak sprayed him down with Love Spray and gave him and his friends "Wake Up Muggles: banish corporate rule!" stickers.

The next evening, at the Queer March, the dreaded Black Bloc got us all singing the theme from the Brady Bunch: "they were four men, living all together, but they were all alone!" When we went to the huge intersection near the Federal Building, we formed a circle. The Black Bloc, never leaving formation, backed itself into the circle, arms still linked. They and others sat around in a circle of protection while others of us had a die-in, chalking pastel bodies on the black pavement. The cops pinned us in. Row after row after row of them. Fascist intimidation tactics. None of us were violent. They held us there and held us there, as helicopters circled overhead. We sprayed a circle around the cops. I grew angry. I was ready to be violent. Luckily, my Witch's tools kicked in, and I grounded and sang and calmed myself. We sang and helped calm others. They finally let us go. Then they pinned us in again, for no apparent reason. Violent? Were we? We weren't the ones with the guns. I consoled myself by chalking spirals with the words "Wake Up!" along our path. I consoled myself with some direct action on the Metro back to our hotel, talking to four squeaky-clean Goreheads with flag neckties about the "environmental candidate" and his stock in Occidental Petroleum, which is set to destroy indigenous people's land in Columbia.

The Black Bloc marched and marched. Every day, we'd offer them Anarchy Love Spray as a respite from the heat. Every day, their heads would bow and their necks would get sprayed with the sweet smelling water and flower essences. What is so terrifying about that? I know. I know they broke windows in Seattle and spray painted someone's jacket with a Circle A. I also know they planted gardens in DC. I also know they were there, with collective spirit, connected to one another in Anarchist precision at the anti-corporate marches, the U'wa march, at the Queer March, at the marches against police brutality.

What I also know is this: corporations do far more property damage than the breaking of a few windows.

What I also know is this: corporations do far more property damage than the breaking of a few windows. And what I want to know is this: what is property in the first place, whose property is it and why are we so bent on protecting it? We need to begin to look at these things. Many people admire the Plowshares activists for smashing government computers, hammering on missile nose cones and pouring their blood over weapons blueprints. These are all acts of "property destruction." I've heard people who support these very actions speak with disgust about "those anarchists" — the Black Bloc. We need to look at the fact that, in a Capitalist society, more energy goes to preserving this dubious "property," usually owned by the rich, than goes toward creating school programs, availability to health care, to art, to distribution of food and money, to stopping murder in the inner city. Now, I am still a believer in the premise that violence begets more violence. Property destruction still counts as an act of violence in my book. But I also understand the sense of rage and helplessness that causes a French farmer to drive his bulldozer into a McDonald's, or causes some young people to smash the windows of a corporation that destroys ancient forests and indentures children into working under sweatshop conditions.

Sorry for the rhetoric, but I want us to remember what our real issues are. Let us not splinter our forces by forgetting what unites us. We want clean water and soil. We want food and education. We want art and music and the dance of our revolution. We want sustainability. What else do we want? We need to figure that out. We also need to figure out what non-violence is and what is important about it, not just lash out at those who may lend support in ways with which we are not comfortable. Can we work together to decide issues of policy? What is our morality? We also need to figure out how to deal with the violence that coils within each of us. I know I felt that violence within when surrounded by the LA cops. Let us talk with one another. Let us focus on alliances, not on what can tear us apart. Isn't that tearing apart just another act of violence?

Down in LA, I was thankful for the Black Bloc. They gave me hope. And I certainly couldn't wear Anarchist Black in that heat and smog. It takes discipline and guts to do that, and to walk, never unlinking your arms from your collective members and your friends. They also gave me a physical reminder that, when everyone was chanting "This is what Democracy looks like!" I could chant my alternate phrase, "This is what Anarchy looks like!" I don't even know what Democracy is, so how can I know what it could look like? Anarchy, however... I've seen images of it, surrounding me. I've seen it in your faces and your hands at work and play.

The Black Bloc drank their water through the black bandanas or ski masks that never left their faces. Day after day, more people were wearing bandanas in solidarity. On the day of the marches against police brutality, even the beautiful Guadalupe puppet of the Tacoma Catholic Worker sported a bright bandana across her brown, papier mache face.

I heard that on the final day of actions and protests, the dreaded Black Bloc sang the cops a lullaby. I wish I had been there to hear it.

T. Thorn Coyle is a writer, activist and student of Philosophy and Religion. She wears a lot of black at home.