The last week of Occupying has taken any number of shapes and forms. From court support to street actions with hundreds of bodies meandering against the traffic, it reminds me of the power of movements to challenge social mores, make a point, and fight entrenched interests. More than anything, the bodies continue to push back against a sense that anything is inevitable.
Throughout the previous week, I had gotten messages about the action.
8:00 pm: March Against Repressive
Anti-Protest Laws Worldwide*
Meet in Washington Square Park [A, B, C, D, E,
F, M train to W.4 St. (at 6th Av.); #1 to Christopher St.-Sheridan Sq.; N, R to
8 St.-NYU; #6 to Astor; PATH to 9th St.; L to 6 Av. or 14 St.-Union Sq.; buses
via 6th Av. or Broadway or Houston -t.]
This Tuesday, May 22, marks the 100^th day of
the ongoing Quebec student strike, one of the largest student mobilizations in
history. Last Friday, the Quebec government enacted a draconian emergency law
(Bill 78) intended to break the strike. The law outlaws public assembly,
imposes harsh fines for strike activity and effectively criminalizes protest,
just as the movement is escalating to unprecedented levels.
On Tuesday in New York City, we will demonstrate
in solidarity with Quebec students and in defense of our right to protest. An
increase in the powers of the police and the state anywhere is an attack on us
/Organized by folks from Strike Everywhere and
Occupy Wall Street/
My friend Lorenzo St Dubois posted on facebook.
100 days later, our New York rally would stand in solidarity with the activists from Chicago to Quebec fighting back against those set on corralling, arresting, or criminalizing the movement of bodies in public space. In Chicago, the City Council passed a draconian bill supporting the controls of the streets, requiring those wishing to even protest on the sidewalk apply for a permit or risk jail time. Yet, still people turned out, by the thousands and thousands for the Anti NATO actions taking place.
In Quebec, a student strike over increased tuition ignited three months of street actions, protests attended by hundreds of thousands, and efforts to curtail the action. After months of striking Quebec passed Bill 78. It included called for mass restrictions on public gatherings including:
I had had a class throughout the day, but heard about some of the 250,000 student protesters who marched through the streets of Montreal today in defiance of anti-protest bill 78. “La loi speciale! on s’en calice!” or “We don’t care about this special law!” Colleagues from the Professional Staff Congress joined the rally in solidarity with the student strike earlier in the day.
I arrived at Washington Square Park at 8:10 where a crowd of a hundred or so was standing.
Malav stood on the fountain to welcome everyone just arriving and describe the scene. It was the hundredth day of the student strike in Canada, he explained. “We’re here to show support to our brothers and sisters in their struggle.”
|Mic check at Washington Square photo by Stacy Lanyon|
The permit less march kicked off at 8:15. “Shits fucked up and bullshit” people chanted marching East out of the park. This is my favorite absurdist chant. But it says something very basic out the visceral ambitions of the movement. We’re spending billions on wars and students are told to take on more debt. "The shit is fucked up and bullshit!!!"
|Marching out. Photo by Stacy Lanyon|
"Dans la rue, me and vous!" (trans – in the streets, me and you) others screamed as we marched out of Washington Square, east, north up Broadway against traffic, east against traffic, south against traffic, and back west against traffic. Malav gave me a plain sign to carry. “You can write something on it.” “No, its cool. I can photoshop my message in later.” We talked about the student strike. He told me that as the strike wore on the school year was canceled. So more and more people pushed into the streets with little to lose and no classes to attend. Such measures rarely work.
|Photos by Stacy Lanyon|
Recall the Criminal Justice Act which spawned the Reclaim the Streets movement in England in the mid-1990’s. Long time activist John Jordan recalled that moment in 1994:
The Criminal Justice Act, which was an attempt to pretty much kill all counter-culture in the UK... It was targeting ravers, targeting direct action people, travelers, so there was all this very resourceful DiY culture that was already there, very involved in partying, all that stuff. So there was already a kind of everyday creativity, a rave community, that was one of the bodies involved in this campaign. There was all that influence coming in. There was a 100-foot tower built entirely from stolen scaffolding with a sound system on top. It was all that party protest stuff already happening. And that was the beginning of when it took off.
RTS London actually gained strength by organizing against this law. “It was one of those wonderful moments where the government tried to pass the act, yet it was an example of a law that created a movement,” explained Jordan in an interview with this author. “It doesn’t happen very often. It really brought together all these different constituencies.” And instead of cowering, activists responded creatively. “There was art and there were these traditional forms of direct action,” Jordon explained. “The law called all forms of direct action criminal. On the day itself that the law came in, we actually occupied one of the building sites.” Not only a street party, “it was also a direct action itself because it was a criminalization of the body itself. All forms of direct action had become criminal.” So hundreds and hundreds converged to flaunt the new rule. “That day, the day that the Queen signed the law, we went on site. We’d produced just hundreds and hundreds of signs which said “criminal” that people just wore over their necks.” The group used every tool they could to respond to the police campaign to kill the group and the movement it represented. Still the group continued.
The actions of the Canadian government around Bill 78 appear to be having a similar effect, only adding energy to a movement hell bent on defying it. Marching up Broadway, some of us chanted “Touts ensemble, touts ensemble, oui, oui, oui!” Others chimed in with “A ati, anti capitalista!” Yet, an uncertainty hung in the air.
I ran into a friend who works in a harm reduction center for LGBT homeless youth. He explained he was worried that the movement had done an amazing amount of protesting but he wanted to see what would come of it, what counter institutions could find shape. It is a question many movements face. In 1965, Civil Rights icon Bayard Rustin argued the Civil Rights Movement should move from protest to politics. A quarter century later, the AIDS movement moved from protest to politics building an industry of AIDS groups. Many dubbed them, “AIDS Inc.” And the movement was institutionalized. It is never so easy to know when or how to do this. Dynamic movements build an inside outside approach pushing from the streets and the negotiating table. It is important to recognize both are important.
As the police moved to push us out of the streets, many ran ahead only to refill the streets. For some reason, there were only some 15 police. They not appear to have enough to arrest us. So we found ourselves running in the streets, only to be pushed back or checked by the police, who were starting to get angry.
“The police locked up Tompkins Square Park as the march approached,” noted my frend Elissa Jiji. “9 PM, No one allowed in, and people swept into the street. Preemptive closing of public space, Creepy.” Others questioned the legality of the police pre emptively shutting down the space.
A woman handed me a flyer with the words: “Wild in the streets” on the front. And “All Fucking Summer” on the back. I recalled the old Circle Jerks song of the same name.
With Occupy, a great deal of anger has become part of the movement – some against police and some against circumstances. “The shit is fucked up and bullshit.” Walking West on St Marks place a man on a bike screamed “fuck you’ at me, presumably because I was wearing a tie. “Whats up? Why did you say that?” I asked him. He did not say anything. I asked again. He said, “You are the third person today to tell me to get a job.” I told him I had not said that. He had a far away amped look. We talked about building a movement around kindness and not prejudging people because of the way they dress. The 99% come in many shapes and styles of dress. The black bandana is just one, as is the coat and tie for the CUNY professor. We all dress for our settings. As the years and distance set in between Occupy and Seattle and the debates about black masks, many of the same debates continue about diversity of tactics. We are obliged to think strategically about the way we present ourselves. Each style of dress presents an opportunity. When one activist wears a mask, he or she gives credibility to five undercover police who can come and provoke wearing masks. Each action creates a reaction, in this case more of a police response. I really wonder why people wear the masks at all. I certainly know it does not help when video evidence is presented in court.
By the time we passed Broadway again, the police started moving in to arrest people after announcing the sidewalk was closed. A group turned around and started marching East again. And I ducked out as everyone moved up to Union Square. Later on in the evening, Gideon Oliver would report, “
|Photo by Occupy Boston|
It had been a wild few days. Activists had rallied and clogged the streets throughout the weekend during the NATO Summit in Chicago. Reports of the actions filled the papers May 21st on the 33rd anniversary of the White Night Riot in San Francisco in 1979 when thousands defied the state, burn police cars, and retaliated against state controls. That night activists burnt police cars in retaliation for Dan White’s light charge in the murders of Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone. "The night of the riot, I will never forget any minute of it, ever," Cleve Jones recalled. San Franciscans remember it as the White Night Riots. .From Chicago May 2012 to San Francisco May 1979, there is a long history of people speaking up when the few in power use it to squeeze the rest of us. “The riot was a declaration of existence,” explained Cleve Jones in a 1995 interview with me. I interviewed Jones and several other participants in riots. Jones recalled the days leading up to the riots.
Harvey and George were murdered in late November of '78. I think that we'd had very high expectations because we'd won the Briggs Initiative and Harvey was in
ofﬁce and then he was taken from us and now we have so many martyrs that people maybe
lose track of the power of martyrdom but though gay people certainly have a history of abuses
directed against us, Harvey was really the ﬁrst public martyr whose martyrdom was something
that we had all participated in and shared in. Of course it was a terribly dramatic situation and
people were very shocked and the community were very mobilized by it. But then the winter
dragged on and on and on. During that winter there were two things that really increased the
tension by quite a bit. One was Diane Feinstein's delay in appointing Harvey's successor.
Diane had been elevated to mayor. Harvey had left a tape with the names of four, I believe four
people who would have been deemed appropriate successors by him in case he was
assassinated cause, you know, he always predicted he would be assassinated, the queen. So
Diane just kept delaying and delaying and delaying on this appointment. We were all organized
for Anne Kronenberg. At the same time the delay in the appointment was happening, the police started doing shit that they hadn't done in a long time.
All of a sudden there was this police presence in the bars. They were coming in and
hastelling people on Castro Street. I myself was asked for ID sitting on my stoop in front of
my apartment building and just weird, petty, bullshit harassment that we hadn't seen from the
cops in several years. And then a group of police ofﬁcers off duty invaded a lesbian bar off
Geary street called Peg's Place. They went in and beat up a number of women there including the owner, Linda Demaco. People were just really tense and
really pissed off at the police. Also the trial was going on of Dan White. The general
impression of the District attorney, Joe Flavis, who that he was not perusing the case
aggressively. Others talked of the complexion of the jury ending up all white, mostly Catholic,
all straight older people. There was not a black person on the jury or a gay
person. So the stage was set.
About two weeks before the riots the riots, which was May 21st, I was on Castro street. It
was a weekend in which the Milk Club leadership had gone for a retreat up here at the river and
I didn't go. I was hanging out on Castro Street. There were these patrol specials, rent-a-cop
type guys, and he was arresting somebody for putting up a ﬂyer up on a telephone pole. I was
standing right there. I started yelling, "Why the hell can't you go and prevent crime or
something? How many rapes and murders are going on and you are arresting this guy for
putting up a poster?" A crowd began to gather to prevent the arrest. It was just amazing
because it was a sunny Saturday afternoon on Castro Street and all the boys were out with their
shirts off. This poor rent-a-pig just suddenly found himself surrounded by hundreds of pissed
off fags who began throwing bottles and cans and cigarette butts. He had to call in
reinforcements. Finally they had several cops. The police withdrew down 18th street. We
strolled in the street and people began cheering and laughing. Some people threw bottle rockets
out there windows. So I knew then. He was going to get off and there was going to be a big
riot and that Harvey would love it.
The day of the verdict, Jones recalls: “I was sitting in my apartment on Castro street. We were
watching the news or getting ready to watch the news. I think it was about four o'clock. It
came across the screen on the television: "Dan White Convicted, Details at Five." And my
phone began ringing. I don't remember, I think they said what the verdict was. My ﬁrst
reaction was that I got violently sick to my stomach. I don't know what the blend of emotions
was and part of it was just disgust. (Voice changes.) I just couldn't believe it, (whispers) how
outrageous, such a slap. It was like someone spitting on Harvey's grave, spitting on all of us.
It was just so clear what had happened. This all American asshole cop, Irish Catholic from the
old guard San Francisco. There's no proof of it, never will be, I believe and most people
believe that Dan White was manipulated by the Police Ofﬁcers Association. I don't think you
could ever prove any kind of conspiracy or ever make any kind of real case for it but I don't
care. I still think there was one and I think most people at the time believed that too. It was a
coup-d'Etat. He took out the head of a city government and the leading gay progressive ally.
Mayor Moscone had forged the coalition that is now the progressive coalition in San
Francisco. It was his novel idea to bring trade unionists and homosexuals together, feminists
and environmentalists, Hispanics and blacks, an unusual idea then.
Cleve Jones So I went into the bathroom and puked and the phone started ringing.
Everybody came to my house because my apartment on Castro had been an organizing center
for many of the demonstrations for the last couple of years. So they came over to my house.
Someone came running up and said that there were news cameras on Castro Street and that
they were looking for me. I went and found Don Martin and Phyllis Lyon. We arrived at the
corner of Castro and 18th at about 5 or 5:30, still light out. The thing that was several months
prior, I had decided to celebrate Harvey Milk's birthday, May 22nd, on Castro Street. I had
permits from the police to close Castro Street, put up a stage and have this enormous party. I
had booked Syvester and other fabulous acts. People were really focused on me. The
reporter said, "Well tomorrow is Harvey Milk's birthday and it would take permits to hold this
party on Castro Street. Is that when the reaction will be and I said, "No, I think the reaction
will be swift and it will be tonight."
As I was doing this I was focused on the reporter and answering the questions and looking
at the camera and the rest of it. Then when the interview was done, which only was about three
minutes, I looked around and the crowd had tripled. What had started as a knot of people
standing around me and Don and Phyllis and this camera had tripled. It was now a couple of
hundred people. One thing I will never forget was scanning the crowd and seeing someone
whose face was so twisted with rage that I didn't even recognize him. It was Chris Perry who
was the President of the Gay Democratic Club. Chris, himself, is a very mild mannered fellow.
I couldn't imagine that his face would look so different, so enraged. He had a sign; it said,
"AVENGE HARVEY MILK."
Then I told my friends not to let anybody march down Market Street until I got back. I ran
up back to my apartment to get my bullhorn. My apartment was packed. People were
shoulder to shoulder. All the rooms, the kitchen, the back porch were just packed with people,
everybody just white with anger, very, very strange. We got down to Castro Street and there
were now about ﬁve thousand people. I'm not very good with crowd estimates but a large
crowd was blocking trafﬁc. People were honking their horns. But it was unlike anything I had
ever seen before because in the past these gatherings had been, no matter how political the
purpose was, it was always very gay, this odd blend of humor and sarcasm and camp that gay
people employ but this time (Laughs) there were no smart remarks, no fancy dress. People
were just fucking furious, a very, very different feeling. So we marched.
John Cailleau The day the Dan White verdict came out for his murder of Supervisor Harvey
Milk and Mayor Mascone I had just gotten out of the gym or something and was on my way
home at the MUNI station over at Castro and Market street when I saw a group of people
waving something, saying, "Lets go to city hall." They were going to do something about it.
The march to city hall is something that is not a secret but it is not widely talked about. I saw
there was some potential not for some fun trouble but some dangerous trouble when I saw the
kind of energy of the group coming down from 19th street and Castro
Cleve Jones There was still some light. And we marched on Market Street. All I remember
really of this was to keep people from running, to try to slow it down. I ﬁgured that the death
penalty coalition was already at city hall and in fact they were and had already set up a sound
system. So as the crown swarmed down Market street I hopped on the back of a friend's
motorcycle and went ahead of them down to city hall. I met people from the Death Penalty
Coalition and said, "Hi, have you got a sound system?" They said yes and they had a generator
so they had an independent power source and they had put up the cables going up the stairs but
they hadn't secured the front area. So as the marchers arrived, people immediately pressed up
onto the stairs right up against the city hall doors.
At this point the police became really alarmed and sent in a line of ofﬁcers in riot gear up
onto the stairs to try to come between the demonstrators and the building. This point there still
had been no violence, no rocks thrown, only shouting. The police, as they came up onto the
stairs, knocked over the generator, knocked over the sound, no intentionally because in the rush
and the chaos and the press of all these people, the generator was knocked over. Actually, I
think the generator had to be moved because it was going to fall or something. So the result of
all this chaos was that there was no sound system and I really had the only bullhorn.
I was just so confused and angry myself. For the ﬁrst time, I found myself taking this
position that my emotions were taking me one way and my brain taking me the other way. I
gave some laim remarks. I don't even remember what I said, something like, "Lets not be
violent. Lets on be violent." I'm not a violent person but I felt violent. Then the bullhorn got
passed around. Everybody gave basically the same line: We don't want to be violent; Dan
White was violent; the police were violent. we're gay people; we don't want to be violent. And
non of it was really working cause the crown was just seething. And then ﬁnally Amber
Hollibaugh, she's currently in New York City doing AIDS work, she's a fabulous glamour and
dyke, ﬁlm maker, a wonderful, wonderful woman, she got up. I don't remember anything she
said except the one sentence. She said, "I think we oughtta do this more often!!!" (Laughs.)
Hank Wilson It was also very scary, they beat us up and all that stuff but it was worth it.
Image wise, we knew this was being ﬁlmed and we wanted that image of us saying we don't
have to just take this shit. We are going to ﬁght back so then we did. And it was very scary
too. I remember being totally petriﬁed of police once we left the civic center area. They were
hassling people and they were beating people up. I remember being isolated and losing all the
people that I knew cause we were all going in different ways and then being totally terriﬁed
until I got back to the Castro. I came from around the Tenderloin; the police were going
through the Tenderloin hassling people, basically driving people off the streets. I came back
here and then went back there.
Cleve Jones My most vivid memory of the whole night, I think, except for the moment when
I got pushed as far as east of McAllister, Powell Street, I ended up down at Powell and
Market. Market Street was trashed down from Powell Street to Van Ness. And I ran into Bill
Kraus, who was a wonderful man who died of AIDS early in the epidemic. He was Harry
Britt's right hand man. At one point we were at Market Street in front of the Bank of America.
I saw him and we just started laughing at each other. (Emotional laughing.) It was so weird. I
said, "Bill, have you ever broken a window?" And he said, "No, have you?" I said, "No. Not
since I was a Cub Scout," and we were looking at this bank window. I said, "Well, do you
wanna?" And he said, "God, just once in my life I'd like to throw a brick through a bank
window." I said, "Go for it Bill. Go for it." He picked up this rock and throws it as hard as he
could and it bounced off the window. So I'm falling down on the sidewalk laughing at him and
I said, "You nelly thing, you can't even break a window. Let me show you how its done." So
I pick up another rock and throw it as hard as I can at the window and it bounces off. So we're
both just rolling around on the sidewalk just laughing in the ﬂames and smoke and sirens all
around us and we're just laughing at the fact that we're too nelly to break a window with a
brick. And then this big butch bulldyke comes running around the corner, picks up one of
those big garbage cans and threw the whole thing smashing the window right in and then
reached in and set the curtains on ﬁre. So we all looked at each other, "Shit, lets get out of
May 18, 2012
It had been a great week for solidarity work and court support. Two cases were thrown out when the city could not support their claim that protesters had done anything wrong.
Monday morning, we had spent all morning in court supporting those charged with offences such as breathing in public, trespassing in a park zoned for 24 access and standing on the sidewalk. Many from the Occupy Broadway affinity group were there, as were several others affinity groups. Some of our friends face some real time, so make sure to try to accompany your buddies to their jury trials this fall gang. Lets stack the system and let them know we're all watching. We have to stack the courts with our bodies and push our cases so the city is so overwhelmed, it can do little more than dismiss their claims against us.
It is clear that Occupy is having an impact. On May 15th the New York Times would report: