Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tears and Tear Gas

Twitter texts transcripts from our Comms people:

12:16 am - Units are responding to hotmetal bridge for reports of protestors gathering.

12:06 am – Student dorms blocked by police with weapons. 

Lots of police need Fuel, can’t find Fuel.  Trying to get Tanker Truck to fuel humvees.

11:51 am – Forbes and S. Craig, protestors breaking out windows.

Police not responding to other calls.  “All units are in Oakland.”


Giving dispersal order – probably 200 people at least there.  Almost entire perimeter is surrounded by riot cops. 


11:00 pm – Radical marching band playing on the steps of cathedral, and riot cops continue to launch smoke bombs at them. 

Gray 2000 Chrysler town and country w PA registration — get the fuck out of there!  The police are looking for you!

And so on...

* * * * *

I didn’t really want to go out dancing when it first came up tonight.  It was a really long day today — the first day we’ve seen chemical weapons (and no, just to end the tension right here and now, the cops did not stick to or even attempt to begin the “escalation of tactics” they mentioned to the press.  They went straight for the gas and this weird sound thing they have that makes you feel unbalanced and confused, followed by rubber bullets).  We set out in the afternoon with a student march from Carnegie Melon University and joined up with a bunch of Black Bloc kids on what Delylah, our medic and spokescouncil rep, was affectionately referring to as “the death march” -- an unpermitted march that involved going down a street with a river on one side and a cliffside down the other.  We had subdivided the cluster into two or three loose groups — the green group, those who desire to stay as safe as possible; the yellow group, in-between; and the red group, those who wanted to wade into the fray and see what’s going on, and yet, because we’re pagans and peaceful, also get out before things got all crazy.

Jason and I decided that we were more yellow than green, and, that decided, tramped off with the college students through an economically disadvantaged area to meet up with the Black Bloc cohort.  I was still feeling ambivalent about that, because it seemed to me that there wasn’t a strong message or intention to what we were doing, and that some property destruction and police violence would ensue.  But, that said, I wasn’t about to sit back with the Greenies while Jason was out there marching around with them, because doing so would be more painful to my psyche than rubber bullets by far. 

It was wonderful to march through the neighborhood: so many people there clearly supported us, and called out to us and honked there horns in support of our message, which although confused, still resonated with them.  Soon, however, the tone changed.  We wove through the streets, corralled here by the cops and then there, and finally being blocked in on two sides and given the order to disperse.  This announcement was followed by a weird, creepy beeping, kind of like a siren but somehow different.  Suddenly, I began to feel very afraid and ungrounded, even more so once I saw the plumes of tear gas up ahead at the front of the march.  Although it felt important to be with the cluster, I realized very quickly that I was almost as afraid of the Black Bloc people as I was the cops — not because I thought they’d attack me, obviously, but because I had heard rumors of many of them wearing football pads and helmets and being ready to physically attempt to take on the police, and I wanted to be nowhere near anything of the sort.  That’s not what I’m about, and breaking windows is not what I’m about.  And I’m certainly not about getting gassed and arrested for them. 

So once the heat got strong (on both sides, for with a crash, the first window — a Boston Market, of all things — was broken), I felt a very strong desire to take off.  In fact,  I was terrified.  The weird siren was going off in my ears and the gas was blowing up ahead, and there were riot cops with batons on both ends of the street.  After a brief debate with Jason, we took off down a side street, leaving the crowds and the cluster behind.  As soon as we emerged onto the next block, however, we saw the march running towards us, followed by another line of riot cops.  Jason swore under his breath and we took off again, attempting to run perpendicular to the march that seemed to follow us wherever we went. 

Meanwhile, people were coming out of there houses to see what was going on — old men, women with children, teenagers with gaps in their teeth.  “Get inside, get inside, there’s cops with tear gas,” we’d say, and they’d stare at us confused, and say, “What’s going on?”  But we couldn’t stop long enough to tell them.  We wove our way through the streets, getting further and further away from where we wanted to go and closer and closer to downtown Pittsburgh, which is where the g20 is actually meeting and is therefore the most heavily guarded area in the city right now.  Jason wanted to cross back towards where we’d come from, but my heart was still pounding from being up there, and I couldn’t stand the idea of going back there.  Eventually, though, it became obvious that we couldn’t go forward anymore, and we had to go back.

It was a trek back, and along the way, Jason and I started to squabble.  He hadn’t been afraid, apparently, and had only left because he’d seen how tripped out I was getting about the whole deal.  At first I was irritated with him, because he’d told me otherwise at the time — but then, as we continued to talk about it, I realized that I’d been much more triggered than I had first thought as soon as the police began to get violent.  I’d thought I was being reasonable, intelligently deciding to get out of there when things looked hot; but I wasn’t acting reasonable, or grounded, or like myself at all.  Every time we’d go over what happened, my story was different.  I needed to slow down, to think things over, but there was no time for that.  We had to keep going, to get back to our friends and regroup.   He kept asking me if I wanted to join the green group so that he could run off with the yellow group and not worry about me, but I didn’t want that.  I didn’t want to be afraid, especially to be overwhelmingly, out-of-my-body afraid.

And so, as we walked, I started to ground out the energy through my feet, noticing each step connecting me to the earth.  I touched the part of my body where I have the feeling of groundedness and the memory of the redwoods at camp anchored into my body, and said the magic word I say to ground.  I walked, and grounded.  We would run into cops, and my breath would quicken until we were safely away again, and then I’d go back to grounding. 

Eventually, we did get back to our friends and made our way (appropriately) to Friendship park, where half of the march had gathered to chill and decide what to do next.  There, I had an opportunity to check in with Lisa, who’s been doing this stuff for a long time.  She knew I was getting tripped out, and promised to look after me and reminded that we were all committed to being safe and unarrested this day, no matter what “color” we were running at the time.  Somehow, between grounding out the energy and her support, I found a measure of my courage again.  It was only later that I learned that the strange sirens I’d been hearing were sound cannons — devices that play a subsonic noise that disrupts the equilibrium of your inner ear and causes you to become confused, disoriented, unable to think straight or move easily.  Although some of the fear and feeling of overwhelm was my own, and brought about by the reality of the violence of the situation, I had also fallen pray to this weird device, which in me disrupted my very though patterns and certainly my energy body. 

Suddenly, the other half of the march — who we had believed to have been cornered by the cops — miraculously reappeared and came sauntering into the park amidst cheers and cries: “Who’s Streets?  OUR STREETS!”  It was amazing.  The last we’d seen of them, they’d been goners.  And yet here they were, reborn.  I felt inspired.  Somehow, these kids had made it through the cops in spite of their many tricks.  We could do this.  I could do this.  And I wanted to do it, to find my voice and not let them cow me.

And then we were doing it.  We swarmed out of the relative safety of the park and headed back down the streets, following the Black Bloc kids as they flowed here and there, sticking with them but not totally immersing ourselves in their doings, which had indeed turned to breaking a couple of windows and such (Elizabeth told me that she thought that at least some of this started with provocateurs).  Flow in, flow out.  Move down this street, move over a block, go back a block because a line of riot cops are blocking the way.  Chant, sing, drum.  Yes, this is what a police state looks like — but its also what those who would live a different way look like, in all that is positive and negative about that. 

Eventually, it was really time to go home.  The march disbanded, we regrouped, and found ourselves a lovely Thai restaurant to nurture ourselves within.  Once there, we got a text from Bash Back, inviting everyone out to a dance party later in the evening. A dance party!  Lovely.  Let’s go.

Unfortunately, the “dance party” had very little dancing in it.  We parked the car on 5th and started heading over, pausing to stop at Caribou Coffee for a pit stop.  As I came out and pushed the doors open, I saw my little crew waiting outside for me looking up the street, where a march had started.  “Oh lovely,” I thought.  “They’re coming to us.”

Then my face fell, and my heart.  The kids were pushing six dumpsters down the street, yelling obscenities instead of chants.  Jason, Delylah, Stan and I quickly moved back along the street, only to be joined by a crowd of college kids who live in the area — the street we were on, apparently, goes right through a major campus.  They led the dumpsters down into the intersection, right in front of a cop van, and proceeded to turn them over to block the street.  And then the smashing began.  A moment later, further down the street, I saw smoke — not tear gas, but the smoke of a fire, of something burning. 

I looked up at Jason.  What I was thinking was mirrored perfectly on his face: The Cops Are Going to Be Pissed. 

Best to get the hell out.

And yet, we did not immediately take off.  There were hoards of college kids everywhere, angry about the windows of their community being broken, and curious about what was happening.  Within moments, the streets were full of cops in riot gear, curious college kids, shop owners, and the smell of burning trash.  We circled around the small plaza where the cops had corralled a large group of protestors — not the ones who had done the window smashing or dumpster turning, but a different group that had earlier in the evening been talking to G20 delegates.   Eventually we stopped at a little wall and hopped on top, along with all of the aforementioned college students and shop owners and restaurant employees and whatnot.  The cops had seemed to control the situation, but somehow, it didn’t seem over.

Probably because it wasn’t.  They brought in the sound cannons, again, and started lobbing tear gas into the courtyards of the university, sending whole packs of college kids screaming and running from the scene.  Then they surrounded the entire campus with riot cops in gas masks, lobbing the tear gas canisters further and further into the courtyards of the university.  Although it was far too late for any classes to be in session, there were still many people around, drunk and partying or studying late or drawn by all the commotion from their frat houses and dorms. 

The only way out was right past the cops, and so we put on our best “these are not the people you’re looking for” auras and, breathing slowly and carefully and grounding down, I followed Lisa and Scarecrow and the rest out through the perimeter of police and back out onto the street.  There was broken glass everywhere, and cars backed up, and “peace” officers of every description moving through the area in lines and packs and tribes, with horses or dogs (I’m definitely noticing that the cops in Pittsburgh love their police dogs) or neither, or bikes.   As we moved away from the scene, I would glance back towards the protestors who’d been trapped in the plaza, and feel a horrifying sinking in my stomach.  I knew, even without being there, that the police were going to be very ungentle with those they’d caught — all 200 some of them, many of them young.  I found myself imaging violent scenes of the whole thing, and tears (natural ones) sprung into my eyes.  I hate the idea of the police beating on, tazering, gassing, attacking all of these kids for breaking windows.  I mean, clearly I don’t resonate or condone the breaking of windows, or of anything, really.  But the truth of the matter is that breaking a window doesn’t warrant a chemical or electric assault on your person.  And often, those they catch aren’t he ones who broke the window anyway.

* * * * *
So now I’m back at Anne’s and we’ve just finished talking about our plans for tomorrow, and I find myself again wondering why I’m here.  It’s rather glamorous, I suppose, to be a traveling climate change activist.  It’s neat to see a new place, and sometimes there’s even a sense of adrenaline and excitement about it.  But tonight, like Tuesday night, I wonder if it really does any good and if there isn’t some more direct route to saving the world, one that doesn’t involve so many cops and so much violence.  That part just ain’t me.  It ain’t me you’re looking for, babe.

I’m so tired that my eyes are closing as I write this, but I don’t want to sleep just yet, because every time I close my eyes, a flash of vision — a line of riot cops — appears behind my lids, almost as if written there.  It isn’t every the same line of cops, and I don’t think about it before it happens too much.  They just appear, trapped in my head somehow.  It’s been happening all day and part of the day yesterday, as well — I close my eyes and there they are, unbidden, demanding something of me.  I’m not sure what — I’m simply sure that’s I’d rather NOT pay the devils too much attention or give up too much of my energy to them, and still here they are with every blink or longer, They live behind my eyelids now, constantly a force in my life.

Think I may need a auric brush down where I get home. 

Alright, I’m done now.  Good night, blessings, lotsa love.

1 comment:

  1. Rivka: I have been posting your links elsewhere, along with my uncensored opinion of the storm trooper tactics in Pittsburgh. I may also post them on Democratic Underground, although I haven't done it yet.

    I'll be SO relieved when you're safe home again!

    Love, Mom