Monday, August 13, 2018

Make America Kind Again: Reflections on August 12th #ShutitDownDC #AllOutDC #OneLove! #KnowYourRights

Scenes from August 12th in DC. 

A year ago in Charlottesville.
Why is planning to livestream the Nazis for hours in DC today while they celebrate Heather Heyer’s murder? Why not livestream anti-fascists instead?

"GETTING LIFE at the queer dance party!! Fuck Nazis, celebrate love!! "

Sometimes all it takes is a phone call or a personal email to get someone to come to a rally.
Checking my email an hour after getting off the plane from London, I saw an message from my buddy Monica inviting me to join a creative bloc in DC to counter-protest the alt right rally scheduled for Sunday.
On August 10th, she wrote:
“I would not exist today if my Polish grandfather hadn't escaped from a concentration camp and hid on a ship headed to New York City.
Nazis are still around- different name, same ugly thing. They are having a rally in Charlottesville and DC this weekend, on the anniversary of Heather Heyer's death, the young activist who was run over at the last big white supremacist rally. In 2017 several US states tried to pass bills which would protect drivers who kill protestors. Thankfully all those bills died on the floor but some frightening anti-protest laws did pass. If you don't use your rights, you lose them. #KnowYourRights
I won't strongly encourage you to join the protest because it could be dangerous. But if you are willing and able, if, like me, you can use your white privilege to stand up against hate, fear and ignorance, there are ways to get involved this weekend. Stay safe, friends. in solidarity and love”
I’d spend the next two days mulling over going.
Sure, the rally could and would be fine without me and I was tired from travelling.
But this is my country too.
And I happen to love the country, the place that calls the Statue of Liberty home, the one that supports freedom of assembly, diversity, and democracy, not the country that says not today, get in the back of the bus, immigrants not welcome, forget about slavery that the alt right supports.
The US is a very, very young country.
Still an amnesia grasps it.
We forget about the historic fights against fascism that our grandparents fought, or the civil war our great great grandparents fought, whose lessons seem to elude us generation after generation.
As Charles King puts it:
“…slavery was not only our nation’s original sin… racism that justified its existence is responsible for so much evil that followed, including the racist backlash we see today. Anti-semitism, sexism, hatred for immigrants and toward the LGBT community all come from the same cloth. But racism remains the key shaper of our current political misery.
Walking around in Rome, we were somewhat terrified to come back to the US that seems unable to learn from its history, dooming itself to act out the same traumas over and over again, unable or willing to remember of learn from them.
If you can’t remember you are doomed to repeat the past notes Freud in remembering repeating and working through.
But sometimes its better to fight it out than stay home.
Don’t mourn organize, right?
On Saturday, my friend Cleve Jones, who founded the AIDS memorial quilt, wrote:
“Tomorrow is likely to be a very ugly day in Charlottesville, Washington DC and possibly other places, as right-wing white nationalists take to the streets. There is no doubt in my mind that our country is in deep trouble and I am often overwhelmed by anxiety and outright fear for our future. But it is important to remember, even as our screens are filled with images of hatred and ignorance, that the vast majority of Americans are NOT fascist sympathizers. We are better than this and we will prevail. Stay strong, stay together. Love one another and defend our democracy.”
Sunday, I took out a sharpie, wrote down the telephone number for legal aid with a sharpie, and got in the car to join the action, fighting for that image of what is right in the US, as many of us have done so many times before.  

“ON August 11th - 12th, a group of racist alt-right, white nationalists will be holding a march and a rally in your city,Washington DC, our Nations Capital. WE WILL NOT LET THESE BIGOTS HAVE THE RUN OF OUR CITY!

On the same dates and at the same times, we will all gather at the same locations to peacefully confront, protest, discourage, and publicly denounce everything that they are about! Their main event is scheduled to begin at 5:30 PM on the 12th of August so we will gather at 5:00 PM. Their event is scheduled to end after a march and a 2 hour rally of speeches. We will stay until every single one of those hateful S.O.B's have fled our city!

Every city in this country has issues with race relations and Washington DC is no stranger to it's racist citizens. But We also have a very long and proud reputation of Civil Rights activism and meaningful protest. We are the epicenter of many great and righteous movements. The passionate, fearless, kind-hearted, loving, compassionate, tolerant, and peaceful citizens of this city will be once again uniting to voice our concerns and unease at the notion of having these cancers to humanity present in our back yard. We will be heard! They will hear us. The whole world will be watching.

Please join us for this ever so important event in American history. Bring your bull horns, posters, family and friends and let's show these bigots that they are not welcomed here in DC!
A rally was scheduled for noon to last all afternoon that I hoped to get to.  And we’d march to Lafayette Park where the alt right rally was taking place.”
Driving I thought about the dozens of previous trips here, parking in Union Station, as I do every time I drive instead of taking the bus.
The taxi cab who brought me from Union Station to the rally cheered me on: “Go remind them this is wrong. When I first came to the US it was paradise.  Everyone was welcome.  Now, I don’t know what has happened.”
I arrived as the march was just getting started, strolling about taking photos, and greeting friends, including Paul Davis, who helped organized all the actions to save the affordable care act last year.
A man was carrying a sign declaring: “Make America Kind Again.”
Might have been the sign of the day.
Another sign quoted from Martin Luther King’s Nobel Prize Acceptance speech:
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality...
Marching to Lafayette Park, cohorts of socialists and Black Lives Matter activists, Quakers, young queers, and countless others marched on hand.
“Stop Pretending Your Racisim is Patriotism!!! #OneLove!”
“Love, not hate, that makes America great” chanted the crowd.
“Hate has no home here, Black Lives Matter!”
“Get up, get down, take this Nazis out of town!”
“No borders, no nations, stop the deportations!”
One man was carrying a sign referring to the old Dead Kennedys song: “Nazi Punks Fuck Off,” declaring: “Nazi Trumps Fuck Off!”
In the middle of it all, the crowd started singing the old freedom “Stand By Me” as a homage to solidarity. Its something we need deeply today.
“We are not afraid,” declared two black men walking arm and arm.
“We are not afraid.”
The alt right were walking into a fight.
While most of the crowd appeared ready to maintain their commitments to non-violence, many were also ready to pop a few Nazis if they had a chance.
“We are many, they are few. It starts right now.  Its up to you!” chanted the socialists.
“Black Lives They Matter!” screamed everyone. “I love being black.  Whose lives matter? Black Lives Matter!”
“No Nazis No KKK, No Fascist USA!”
By the time we got to Lafayette Park, we were completely separated from the alt right rally.
Monica and Jessica suggested there was about a one to 500 ratio of alt righters to counter protesters.
“There they are!” laughed one women, pointing to a dozen or so white people across the park, who the police had escorted by way of the subway.
In San Francisco, Fred Phelps protested Randy Shilts’ funeral and the police did nothing to protect him.  He had to run away into a van because he was being pelted with eggs.
I wondered why the alt right were getting a police escort.
Certainly, everyone has a right to speak out.
But if your views are so extreme – hostile to communities of immigrants, queers, people of color – that you put your life on the line for saying them, it might be time to rethink things or at least to face the communities you are threatening. But none of that was happening. The DC cops were standing, separating the groups with a fence.
We can’t get to them from here, noted one woman I was speaking with.
Walking out of the park, a couple of young activists offered free cold water bottled.
“Free snacks for solidarity,” said their sign.
Thanks so much, I said to them. I really appreciate it.
And kept on walking over to Pennsylvania Ave and 17th, where the Antifa were lined up, dressed in black, with gas masks. Singing, “Solidarity Forever” they waited on the corner in front of a sign declaring, “It Takes a Bullet to Bash Fash!”
“Anti fascists in the rain,” they chanted, looking like they are getting amped up for a football game, ready for a fight.
Everyone was milling about getting ready for the alt right rally to exit.
“Those statues are the reason we are in this shit today,” noted one man, referring to the Confederate statues still up around the US.  In Germany its illegal to put up Nazi swag.  In the US, we accept statues of those who support slavery who lost our greatest war.  “We were too soft on the South after the Civil War, just getting back to business.  And now we’re in this boat.”
A commotion ensued with everyone rushing up to the black block in the middle of the square. They are dangling a confederate flag, chanting, and starting to burn it. The whole scene reminds me of Iran 1979, militants burning flags. 
"Any time, any place, punch a Nazi in the face."
“Spread the love,” note a couple of black activists. “Spread the love everyone.”
“If you use violence you are just as bad as them.”
I walk around and my eye catches Lisa Fithian, the veteran direct action trainer.
“We kindov missed an opportunity here,” she laments. “We could have stopped them even getting to the park.”
We talked about why they would never depart from this exit, in a direct confrontation.
Cop sirens start blaring.
The Antifa crowd start to light flares shooting them in the air, with lots of smoke and cracks, creating a spectacle.
“You are protesting the wrong people,” notes one black activist. “The police are staying calm for now.”
It looks like they are going to escort some people out.
“They are getting an escort,” a couple of activists wonder, screaming at the cops.
They plug their ears.
I run into Monica, Shay, Charlie and Jessica, friends from New York.
You missed the queer block dance party, notes Monica.
We chat about the day and gradually find out the activists have left via subway.
Two dozen were escorted to the action on their own subway and left the same way.
The blockades were theater.
I hope the left can stay creative with more queer dance parties and images of abundance and affirmation.  For a day, it looks like the alt right were not united or able to mobilize.
Tyrants thrive on secrecy.
Without it, they were not willing to show up.
Lets keep on mobilizing, making them too ashamed to show their faces.
Monica gave me a hug as I left.
I remembered the first protest zap when I met her here in DC in fall of 2002 during the anti war mobilization and she was dressed like a clown.
Its been a lot of actions since then.
And we’re all still out in the street, riding the ebb and tide of history, hopefully helping make America kind again.

Lisa Fithian reflected on the day:
Today about 10,000 people turned out in Washington DC to say no to Nazi's. Only about two dozen Nazi's showed up and needed an escort by DC police to get anywhere. Why are the police escorting Nazi's? The people were clear... "You are not welcome here. It was a good day - no one hurt, no one arrested. We completely overwhelmed them. It felt great to be out in the streets with so many people from all walks of life standing so strong. So glad I was here! Another world is possible and we are making it everyday!

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