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Streets of New York
Anthony Barreiro - Friday, September 3
Yesterday, Thursday September 2, was a beautiful, clear, mild day. I took a little walk around Sara Delano Roosevelt Park, did some yoga, and prayed. This morning routine has been so important to me during this past week. I haven't been able to sit and meditate for any length of time, but just having something regular has really helped me stay grounded and resourced.
Deborah spent four hours yesterday retrieving her property and trying unsuccessfully to get her driving license back, which the police lost after they arrested her. Deborah said the cops seemed to be moving really slowly. Keeping somebody waiting for hours in line to get their stuff keeps them off the streets, and it's cheaper than keeping them in jail because you no longer have to give them food or water. Deborah said that after an irate man in a "Bush Cheney 2004" t-shirt who had been arrested on Tuesday started screaming at the cops, the line started moving faster.
I bought a case of bottled water and spent most of the day outside the courthouse providing support to folks who were looking for loved ones who had been arrested and folks who were getting out of jail.
Parents of young people who had been arrested Tuesday evening and had been unable to get any information about them for almost two days were getting upset, scared, angry, frustrated. One young Puerto Rican man was released and his parents were very relieved to see him and just wanted to get him home, but he was very angry and wanted to talk to one of the lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild about how awful the conditions had been in jail. There were half a dozen cops standing right there, and the mother was terrified that her son was going to be arrested again. I spent a few minutes doing shuttle diplomacy between them, the son lowered his voice, mom calmed down a bit too, and after 20 minutes or so they all went home.
There were lots of people looking for friends or family and basically getting no information from the system. One physically disabled woman was driving her van looking for her friend who had been arrested Tuesday and whose name wasn't in the system at all. She was really freaked out. There was no place for her to park her van, so I went into the courthouse, through the long slow line and the security check, to find out in person that yes, in fact they didn't have his name in the system at all. While I was in line I chatted with a young man from Queens who was just trying to pay a fine and get to his afternoon work shift on time. He was not happy about the RNC, and figured the police were just trying to keep demonstrators off the streets. I agreed with him.
Back outside one of the NLG greeters who was getting people's info as they were released from custody was really tired and wanted to leave, but there was nobody to replace her, so she asked me. I got ten minutes of training and became an NLG volunteer, but they didn't give me a chartreuse cap (darn). I did, however, get to use one of my core social work skills: filling out forms. Name, court case number, case disposition, lawyer's name if you have one, time of arrest, time of release, contact info. I also had a handout from the NLG for folks getting out.
Two guys in suits brought us a couple of cases of water and a box of black ballpoint pens they had liberated from their government office.
Through most of the day people came out one at a time, maybe four or five an hour. Then in the early afternoon a New York State Supreme Court justice found the city in contempt of a previous writ of habeus corpus, fined the city $1000 for every protester held more than 24 hours without being charged, and ordered that everybody be charged or released by 5 pm. Folks started coming out a little faster. Of the fifty or sixty folks I got info from, only four or five had entered a plea of not guilty and been given a court date. All the rest had been adjourned in consideration of dismissal, like Deborah. People were not even being given paperwork with their case number, just let go. It was very clear that the city had no probable cause to arrest people and no intention of prosecuting anybody. They just wanted to get people off the streets for the Republicans.
One man released from custody told me he's a member of Amnesty International, and he's always wondered if it really made a difference to know that there were people on the outside supporting you. He said it had made a huge difference for him. The disappeared friend of the disabled woman happened to come to my clipboard, and I was able to tell him his friend was looking for him.
Many people coming out had oozing rashes on their lower legs and/or hands, apparently from the toxic chemicals at the detention facility at Pier 57, which is now known as Guantanamo on the Hudson. It's an old MTA bus barn that hasn't been used for 10 years because of toxic chemicals, including asbestos. Mayor Bloomberg told the press, "it's not supposed to be Club Med."
I was at the back side of the building, where people were getting out, and it was pretty mellow. The scene at the front was much more confrontational, with an angry demonstration and lots of cops. No arrests.
After passing on my clipboard and training a new volunteer, I went back to the hotel, had a nap and a cup of tea, and went to St. Mark's for the final evening of the naming of the dead. More names. More stories, which have all blurred together in my memory. One mother of a severely injured soldier read an email written by his son's best friend, who had died in the same attack her son was injured in. She was grateful her son came home alive. A woman read the "letter to be opened in the event of my death" written by her friend a 29 year old Marine reservist, who had dedicated his life to peace and liberty, and who encouraged his friends to become friends with one another. The story of an Iraqi woman whose family needed to keep her body in a makeshift grave in the backyard for over a week, and then when they took her body to the cemetery, their family plot had already been filled with other bodies, and the whole cemetery was filled. The groundskeeper apologized profusely, but asked, where am I supposed to bury all these bodies? Twelve Nepalese laborers had been killed the day before the reading. A US air strike in Fallujah that morning had killed 17 people, including children. The reading ended with middle eastern drumming and chanting, and burning sage.
After the reading, Deborah came by St. Mark's. We had planned to go to a candlelight vigil at Union Square, but Deborah had heard on IndyMedia that there were lots of cops, and she didn't want to get arrested again, so she went back to the hotel and watched the evening's events on TV. I called my new friend Sarah, who had coordinated the schedule for the healing space. She was on her way to Union Square, and reported there were a lot of cops, but everything seemed safe, so I headed over and met her and her friends and her mother there. Sarah's mother Loret teaches photojournalism, and was talking about one of her students who got arrested in a sweep Tuesday near the world trade center site while interning for the AP. Turns out it was the same intern Deborah got arrested with. This really is a small world, and we are weaving a web that is stronger than anything the Republicans can do to try to tear it apart.
The rally at Union Square was packed and felt good. I walked around the perimeter burning sage. Except for a few Park Police making sure nobody stepped on the grass, most of the cops were down the side streets, rather than right in the Square. The crowd was very diverse, in terms of ethnicity, age, politics, activity. The Buddhist Peace Fellowship was sitting and meditating. Young black hip hop artists were rapping over boomboxes and selling CD's. A lot of creative posters, buttons, costumes. Families with strollers. The Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, selling papers and extolling the wisdom of their chairman. Yuppies with a candle in one hand and their cell phone in the other. Radical cheerleaders. A wickedly funny performance of "Celebrity Death Match: Bush vs. Kerry!"
A Chicano man from California whose son, a US Marine, had died in Iraq, was sitting vigil with his family. They had a huge photo of the son, lots of candles, the virgin of Guadalupe, and a sign demanding that George W. Bush tell us when the troops are coming home. I later learned that the father had crashed the RNC earlier that day with the same sign. He stayed on the convention floor for almost two hours, and he was merely escorted out of the building, not arrested and interrogated like all the other demonstrators who have crashed the convention. I guess Karl Rove wouldn't like the headline "Grieving father of dead Marine busted by Secret Service".
At 10 pm, when Bush started speaking in Madison Square Garden, people in Union Square started yelling, chanting, singing, making noise. A march to the Garden started forming up on the west side of the square, and the police let them assemble and march off down the middle of the street. Everybody assumed they would be arrested quickly, but nothing happened. I read on IndyMedia this morning that the cops simply prevented the march from getting closer than a few blocks from the Garden, but there were no mass arrests in that march or any of the many other street actions last night.
(By this morning almost all the previously arrested demonstrators had been released. The final arrest total was close to 1900, more than half of those were arrested on Tuesday. Clearly the city's goal was to get as many people as possible off the streets during the convention. On Tuesday you could be arrested just for carrying an anti-Bush sign while walking down a sidewalk. Many people who had nothing to do with the demonstrations, but were just on the same block when the police netted the crowd, were also arrested and held for more than 24 hours. But on Thursday night, with the show almost over, a thousand people marching down the middle of the street was treated as a traffic problem. The first amendment to the US constitution has been trampled by the city of New York. I'm planning to get on the mailing list for the New York Civil Liberties Union. I hope the lawsuits get lots of folks some serious compensation, and I hope there will be meaningful injunctions against future unconstitutional suppression of free speech and assembly. I would encourage folks to write to Bloomberg and criticize his suppression of lawful political activity.)
As the rally was thinning out, Sarah, her mom and friends and I went to dinner at a nearby macrobiotic restaurant. Yummy. Getting my first proper meal since breakfast made me just want to curl up and go to sleep, but Sarah and I needed to take down the altar in the healing space at St. Mark's before midnight, so we walked back there and did that. The Infernal Noise Brigade, one of the street bands, many of whose members had just gotten out of jail, were winding up a very high energy performance in the sanctuary.
It felt good to once again move through the healing space and the church courtyard with a bowl of salt water, letting any negative energy flow into the water. I was again a bit surprised how a few people who didn't consciously understand what I was doing were immediately drawn to look and ask questions, and how open folks were to releasing stuff into the water. There was still a trickle of water flowing down the storm drain in front of the church, and it felt like a nice completion to let the salt water flow back toward the ocean. I got enough of a second wind from that to get the rest of my stuff from the altar, walk with Sarah to the corner and affirm our intention of keeping in touch, and make it back the hotel and crawl into bed.
I guess I should draw some final conclusions from the events and experiences of these past few days.
Michael Bloomberg is a slick, smiling fascist with no respect for the constitution that I served four years in the US Army defending. The NYPD is one of the most effective armies in the world. The Republican Party and the Bush administration lie through their teeth, and the corporate media happily cooperate. People are dying unnecessarily in Iraq, in the US, and around the world so that a few rich bastards can get even richer. The basic civil liberties of speech and assembly that we all take for granted are in serious danger of disappearing under a fog of terrorist threats and homeland security.
And half a million people came together to say no to all of that, and yes to a world of respect, peace, sustainability, justice, and equality. Amazing things were done by ordinary people working together, without leaders, figuring things out together, minute by minute. Deep reserves of wisdom and compassion were tapped, and flowed freely. People's hearts got really big and open. People who would never talk to one another under ordinary circumstances started talking, and discovering everything we have in common. A powerful web of connection has been created here, and it's going to persist long after we out-of-towners return home and the locals return to their daily lives.
Which is good, because our work is not over, not now that the Republicans are leaving New York, not after the election in November, not after the inauguration of a (hopefully new) president in January. We are still going to have to struggle and work to create a world in which every child has a decent chance of growing up healthy and educated. And we are still going to have to continue to protect our precious rights and liberties. And the *only* way to protect them is to use them. When somebody tells you its safer, just this one time under these extrordinary circumstances, to just stay home and watch TV, put on your shoes and get out in the streets. You'll meet some amazing people.
P.S. You're not going to get the full truth from the mainstream corporate media. Alternative sources of information are essential in our movement to create a better world. Two that have been particularly helpful to me during the past week:
- Democracy Now! A daily hourly radio/satellite TV/web news show by Amy Goodman out of New York City. Available on Pacifica Radio (KPFA 94.1 Berkeley, and five other stations around the US), many other public and community radio stations, both satellite networks, and on the web at democracynow.org
- IndyMedia. "Indymedia is a collective of independent media organizations and hundreds of journalists offering grassroots, non-corporate coverage. Indymedia is a democratic media outlet for the creation of radical, accurate, and passionate tellings of truth." New York IndyMedia has done an amazing job, reporting what happens as it's happening, Their recorded phone summary has been really helpful on the streets. There are indymedia centers in cities all over the country and all over the world. Find yours at www.indymedia.org .
Editor's Note -- RQ relies heavily on Indymedia as well! Visit Indymedia.org for links to regional sites
Anthony Barreiro is a Reclaiming Witch, a radical faerie, a queer christian, and a clinical social worker who lives in San Francisco. His email to family and friends is reposted here by permission. ©2004 Anthony Barreiro.
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