Friday, October 07, 2005

Journal Entry: Inaugural Protest, Jan. 9, 2001

Jan 19, 2001
I arrived at U of M early (wanting to allow extra time so I did not miss the bus, and hung out at the student union for a couple hours before everyone showed up for the bus). I didn’t know anyone, but planned to make friends on the bus. I sat by myself in the first open seat, hoping someone would sit next to me, but no one did (which later turned out to be quite nice b/c I could sleep easier). The girl who had organized the trip, Julie, introduced herself and told us to make friends on the bus.
I made friends with the people sitting around next to me. They turned out to be MSU graduate students in philosophy, 4 guys and one girl, all on a doctorate track, and all fitting the stereo-type of a bohemian philosophy student, from their dress to their appearance to their talk of coffee shops. Very friendly people though. I got to know some of the other bus people at various stops.

At one McDonalds stop I ran into the Anarchists from Philadelphia, who we had stayed with at the YWCA. There were 3 of them I recognized, and they recognized me as well, although I ran into them just as my bus was leaving so I didn’t have time to talk long to them. They told me that their group had all made it back safely, although they had known several of the people arrested in the puppet house raid.

We arrived in DC early Saturday morning. We parked out in the suburbs, and the plan was to ride the Subway into downtown. Even the subway was really crowded, with protestors and republicans all trying to get on, and although Julie had wanted everyone to stay together as a bus, we soon got split up. I was able to stay with my MSU friends, and we made it into downtown successfully.

I was dressed, by the way, like a non-protestor after the experience in philadelphia with cops harrassing protesters. I had on a collard shirt, a sweater, and a tie, and was complemented by several people on how much I looked like a Republican.

I followed the MSU students to the place where the legal protest was to take place. We arrived and found the area blocked off by police barricades. A couple people were addressing the crowd on megaphones, telling us how the police where denying our rights to get to our permitted protest. Then, after a while, appearently the police started letting people through, but so slowly I couldn’t even tell the crowd was moving at all until I would go back up the hill and see that indeed people were getting through on the other side of the fence.

There was a large anarchist contegent, dressed up in full gear with flags and everything, that ended up getting bored and leaving. I wondered frequently where they had gone, and what had happened to them, until messengers came in on bikes to tell tales of the Black Bloc being in trouble. According to the messengers, the police had surrounded the anarchists and were preparing to make arrests, and had beaten a couple kids.

One of the guys from MSU and I went to check things out, with the others staying behind. Once we got to the intersection (a few blocks away) most of the excitement was over. The police were clearing out the last bit of the street, and the MSU guy was worried and told me that we should go, but I pretended not to hear him and pretty soon we both realized that as long as we stayed on the side walk the police didn’t care. A few Anarchists walked up to the police with an upside down american flag which they proceeded to burn.

I would later learn that the anarchists had been marching in the streets w/o a permit, and also, as in Philly, dragging anything into the street that they could so as to further obstruct traffic. The police had forcefully cleared the street, but a march by NOW had coincidentally intersected the police/anarchist battle, and the anarchists had appealed to NOW to stay. The police had formed human barricade separating NOW from the anarchists and keeping the rest of us from on the sidewalks and off of the streets.

The rest of the MSU students showed up. We explained to them what was happening. One anarchist ascended the traffic light (which was actually on the sidewalk), and waved an anarchist flag around. Then someone handed him an American flag, and he burned that from up top of the street light. Then someone else handed him a sign, I forget what the sign said but something political, which he displayed from the street sign to the cheers of the crowd. Then, when he attempted to come back down, the police moved in to grab him.

We were all in the park that was at the corner of the intersection, and we were upset that the police would move into the park, which we felt was our territory after being kicked off the street. The anarchist would move down, and the police would push people back away from the street sign so they could grab this kid when he came down, and the kid would go back up, and the anarchists would call out “Black bloc, black bloc,” to urge everyone to form together. Eventually the kid stage dived into the crowd, where we was quickly swallowed up. The police tried to muscle their way into the crowd, but everyone formed into a tight formation. (Including myself, for it was at this point that I ran over to lend my body to the crowd, actually placing myself quite close to the police, though as usual away from any real danger). The police gave up.

The NOW march had by this time gone away from the police barricade and was continuing down the street a couple blocks away. Someone called out that we should join them, because there were no cops over there, and pretty soon everyone had left the park and we were heading towards the march. The cops didn’t pursue us, and pretty soon we were all marching in the street again (although granted these streets were not busy, so there was no real threat to the police). There was some debate over which way the march should go. A couple people were quite vocal that we were going the wrong way, that we should turn right if we wanted to get to the inaugural parade. To which others replied that the plan was to go to the Supreme Court.

The march at one point was passing from a side street to a main street. Most of us took the sidewalk, and there was a bit of confusion when we crossed over another mainstreet. A couple people (including the girl from MSU) tried to temporarily block traffic so that the march could stay together, but the march was so disorganized and so spread out that this proved to be a difficult task. Then, when the anarchists came through, they marched right through the middle of the intersection anyway, staying on the main road. People began to yell, “Off the sidewalk, into the main streets.” The MSU gang and I were sort of cautious. The march was disorganized enough that there was no real hiding in the masses, and we stayed on the streets, but would retreat to the sidewalks at the first sign of police. The police, however, never really attempted to block the march, seeming to just let everything go.

One funny moment, a republican couple was unfortunate enough to intersect the march, and one of the marchers followed them, shouting about Gore getting more votes, and did this until they were obviously annoyed and despite their yelling at him to leave them alone.

As we approached the inaugural route, everything was blocked off by police barricades, however there was only one or two police men at each intersection. The Anarchists suddenly broke through one of the barricades and began pouring through. Initially, the MSU gang and I quickly backed away from the situation, certain that the police were not going to permit this and that heads were going to be cracked. However, seeing that the police were not doing anything, we joined the flood, and were able to get right up to the inaugural parade, or as close as anyone else was permitted to get at least (the actual parade was blocked off by a separate set of barracades and police.

Here we waited in the rain for a long time, periodically chanting different things. The anarchists soon got bored and left. We booed all the buses as they went by, full of people heading to the actual inauguration (an event one needed tickets for). When the parade eventually did come through, we booed and flicked everyone off, and chanted “Shame, shame, shame.” The parade would later go by the permitted protest, where they would receive more verbal abuse. It was quite satisfying, and we ruined the inauguration for the supporters.

After the parade, the protest was pretty much over. We went to the subway, but it was so crowded I told the Msu kids I would come back later. I went and checked out the permitted protest, which by this time had largely disappated as well. On the way back, I talked to a recent U of M kid (whom I recognized from the bus) who told me about the further adventures of the anarchists after they had left the parade. They had taken over a Navy park, replaced the american flags with anarchists flags, and when the cops had tried to arrest them they had stage dived into the crowd, whereupon the cops tried to muscle their way into the crowd again, and the anarchists chanted about non-violence and where able to shame the police into stopping.

Got on the bus, went back. We picked up some additional people on the way back, so I ended up sitting up front on the way home.

No comments: