Friday, September 25, 2009

Going out with a bang... last day at the G20.

This whole week I’ve been wondering, on and off again, about why I’m here.  Today I finally found out the reason.

We left around 11AM for a unpermitted feeder march hosted by the CMU kids about climate change.  We’d been hoping to do our theater piece downtown earlier that morning, as a sort of distraction action for a banner drop, but as many things are here, things did not go as planned.  Flexibility.  That’s one trait that you either have, or cultivate, as an activist.  No banner drop, no theater piece, but no worries.  We decided to pack all of our props into our backpacks and bring them with, just in case.

The Climate Change march was perfect — there was a host of kids with marching drums there, keeping the beat and enlivening the energy, and for the nine zillionth time I found myself wishing desperately that I had brought a lighter drum.  Jason and I did bring a drum, but we kept it in the tent, because its deceptively heavy for its small size.  In fact, after all of the running around in the streets from the police yesterday, we’d lightened our packs considerably for today.  We didn’t expect too much trouble, even with the less-than-legal marches that we were doing here and there, but even so it seemed like a good idea.

So, the kids kept beat with the drums while other students dressed up in hazmat suits with signs that read things like “Climate Change, FAIL” and “There is no Planet B” on their chests and backs.  I brought the canary in his cage out again, and many of us dressed up in our finest banner-capes that read things like “community,” “change,” “power,” and “grow” set against brightly colored backdrops.  Infused with this kind of creative, bright, quirky energy, we set off from the campus towards downtown, where the larger permitted march was to begin.

Although the Climate Change march held a much different energy than the Black Bloc march the day before, it soon showed that it, too, had claws — like the claws of some sort of brightly colored rainforest-living bird of prey, stretching its wings as it clambered through the neighborhoods of Pittsburgh.  We started on the sidewalk, took one lane of traffic, then a second, and eventually the whole street.  This, of course, brought the cops.  They spent some time zooming up and down the farthest left lane of traffic to clear it in their cars and vans, sirens going off, but other than that seemed content to let us go where we were going.  And so, we did.  We swelled through the poor neighborhood, where our chants were met with enthusiasm and warnings (or blessings, depending on how you look at it), “Don’t let them stomp you!”  We swelled up into downtown past the University of Pittsburgh, where the cops had used tear-gas on the students the night before in order to clear out the dark courtyards, and called for them to join us.  “It’s our future, it’s your future, come out, come out.”  “Off the sidewalks and into the streets!  Off the sidewalks and into the streets!”  Most of them stared at us with confused, or even excited, looks on their faces, but did not step off the curb. 

No matter.  We kept going, grooving to the drum beats, holding our ground with our three lanes (which, even though one lane was open, pretty effectively stopped traffic.  Most of the drivers seemed good-natured enough about it, although more than one expressed their angry frustration with loud voices and lewd hand gestures).  It felt so freeing, to be marching without lines of riot cops everywhere, to take the streets with our voices and feet, to truly manifest the ideal of freedom of expression in a menagerie of creative ways.  And that creativity, that abundance of diverse voices, grew exponentially once we reached the rest of the march.  It was astounding.  There were all kinds of people there: labor union people wearing hard-hats and t-shirts; Code Pink ladies with their cute fuchsia dresses and gray hair; a whole host of Tibetans with flags and traditional garb; hula hoopers for peace; a motley group with a huge white dove puppet; you name it, it was there.  I saw quite a few signs about universal health care, specifically single-payer health care, as well as ones about climate change, jobs, and economic class issues.  Seeds of Peace came, too, renewed and ready to serve the thousands — literally thousands — of protestors who had come.  It’s hard to say how many people were there, but most of the estimates that I heard were about 8,000.

Once we stepped off, we filled the streets for blocks and blocks.  At the front of the march was a group (I never found out who they were) carrying flags for hundreds of countries, all fluttering in the breeze that occasionally graced us with relief from the hot humid day.  Behind us was the Black Bloc, huge and intense and powerful in a way that I’ve never seen them before — all consolidated like that, I felt like I finally understood them in a way I never have before.  Their energy is proud and strong and direct, like a lion shaking its main, uncowed.  Sometimes they would shout things like “Basta aqui capitalista,” a short chant that gathered power very quickly; other times, the traditional “Who’s streets?  Our streets!”; or, amusingly whenever the cops were around, “You’re sexy, you’re cute, take off your riot suit!” 

As we made our way further into the downtown district, the police presence doubled, tripled, quadrupled.  I thought I’d seen lots of police before, but I have never seen anything like this.  Obama recently ended the summit with a speech that commended how “tranquil” this meeting was, but with 6,000 armed police officers, one can only imagine that would be the case.  One fellow on the news said that the last time Pittsburgh had as many on-the-ground troops present was when the President sent in the national guard to suppress the Homestead Revolt in the late 1800’s.  They were four and five rows thick down every block, armored heavily with rubber bullets, pepper spray, tear gas, rifles, dogs, sound cannons, batons, the works.  Every bank had a line of national guard out in front of it, and as we approached a new intersection we would encounter SWAT humvees, tanks, the black LRAT vehicles with their sound cannons, platoons of bike cops and mounted cops.  Even saying this cannot convey to you what it was like — how can I possibly convey what 6,000 fully armed, armored police officers is like?  It feels like marching through a tunnel of hot, bubbling, bristling imminent danger.  Nah, too abstract.  It feels like your insides are being pressed in from the energy of it, as if the walls were closing in on you.  Nah.  I guess its not something you can really get from reading about it.  Maybe some of these pictures will help.  At any rate, it was way more police than one would have imagined for a permitted march, or really for anything short of an invasion of extra-terrestrial beings. 

At one point a couple of us decided it was time for a yummy espresso break, and went off from the mid-point rally in seek of it.  The only thing open downtown — quite literally, the only thing open in the most bustling part of the city, in spite of whatever economic woes the g20 was there to address — was a Dunken Donuts.  This, in and of itself, is a sad sad thing.  Nonetheless, that’s the way it was, so I was forced to put my inner coffee-snob aside and just do it.  On the way there, we saw a group of cops motivating towards one part of the street, and decided to go take a look.  Coming towards us, solid and proud but in a totally different way than our masked companions, marched a band of protestors from Africa.  There were about 20 of them, coming very intentionally and illegally up the street, another feeder march for the big permitted march.  Like the student feeder march, the police were leaving them alone — but in a much more potentially volatile area, nearer to the convention center, and near all the centers of finance that the powers that be were so determined to protect.  I watched them with quiet awe as they chanted and walked up towards us, some wrapped in traditional garb, others holding flags.  They chanted first in a language I didn’t understand, then in English, demanding attention for human rights abuses.  All the while, the police simply watched, even though I knew they very much didn’t want them to go up the street they were on — I overheard one say to another, “If these people meet up with those other guys, the shit is going to hit the fan.”  Even so, they didn’t do anything.  The Africans had a purpose and strength that was palpable.  In that moment, I saw what Civil Disobedience is at its best, at its heart.  I saw the kind of power that I hope that I can cultivate in myself, that I dream of for the Pagan Cluster and the movement as a whole.  It’s the kind of power that cannot be touched by violence, and so does not have to resort to it.  It is as intense as the weapons the police carry and the conditioned hardness of their hearts and humanity.

We rejoined the big march (as did the Africans) and marched across the river, coming as close to the Convention Center on the bridge as we would be at any time before or after the G20 meetings.  Looking out over the railing at the glass-walled building, I realized that although we were still quite far I was actually in eyeshot of some of the most influential, powerful people in the world, and that they were right over there, making decisions that would effect billions of people and animals and other beings.  Somehow, with all of the protests and planning and processing, I had forgotten that was happening — not that it ever truly went away, but it stopped meaning anything emotionally to me.  Standing on that bridge, looking out across the water and to that fortress, I felt it for the first and only time.  Those people have the power to change things so that we either sink or swim, I thought.  There they are, using that power, totally sequestered and removed from all of us.  Even though my day had been wonderful and very meaningful, and that I knew good work was happening, I couldn’t say that what we’d been doing had been very meaningful to those people in that building, those people who can enact legislation and policies that will keep our world from tipping into ecological collapse or that can make healthcare available to everyone.  I was struck in that moment, stung into stillness, curiosity, frustration, awe.  I wanted to tap into my deep magic, to do something that would make a difference energetically and carry to them.  I said a prayer, but couldn’t think of anything beyond that.  And then the march moved on, and the moment was over.

I’ve been thinking a lot about power today, seeing it manifest strongly in many different ways: the creativity and quirkiness of the student march, the uncowed rebellion of the black bloc kids, the violence and ugliness of the police, the collected, unwavering purpose of the Africans, the communal of the permitted march, and the piercing intensity of those at the G20.  I’m not sure what it all means just yet, but I can feel how its impacted me and helped me to question my own innate connection to power and the tribal power of those I’m running with right now.  There’s still a lot to be done with all of this, to be unpacked and understood.  But some of that will have to wait for tomorrow.  Tonight, I’m interested in experiencing the power of connection and love — it’s the last night we’ll be here, because tomorrow we’re heading back home.

1 comment:

  1. Words cannot express the depth of gratitude I feel for your actions and your writing. Many of us in Massachusetts and New York have been following you in Pittsburgh and sending blessings. We are with you in spirit!
    Carol from MA