RNC9: The Last March
Thursday, September 4: Thie is the final night of the convention, the night that John McCain is scheduled to speak. There's also an antiwar march scheduled to begin on the steps of the Capitol-an unpermitted march. We make our way there through a city that has become an occupied zone. There are rumors that police are blocking the bridges, that the whole city will be under curfew from 5 pm on.
We gather up our cluster-only about ten of us. The Capitol is surrounded by clumps of riot cops and the tension is throbbing as speakers on the stage rile up the crowd. Jason and Riyanna are fresh out of jail, and not eager to go back, so they will stay on a safe edge and not put themselves into danger. At least, not if Lisa has anything to say about it-she's snapping at them like a mother dog correcting her pups. She, of course, will snap equally hard at anyone who suggests that she ought to stay out of danger. Juniper and I together can sometimes corral her enough to let us watch her back-but not always. Andy and I have been remarking about how, even though our tactic of choice is to wade into danger and stolidly obstruct it, nothing seems to happen to us. This has held true for both of us, separately and together, in situations much more dangerous than this one. Is it something we do? Will naming it jinx it? How far can we trust it?
A few people in our group are having a moment of panic. Nothing's happened, yet, but all our intuition tells us that something could, at any moment. They decide to go back, and be our support if something does.
I'm feeling the fear, but it's a little bit outside of me. I'm trying to drop down below it, to the calm place where I can get information, or at least, a clear hunch. Is this going to go really badly? If so, do I want to be out of it, or in it, to try and make it less bad?
There are two great instincts that war in the human breast; not sex and death, as Freud maintained, but these: the urge to stay safe, and the urge to get into the action or at least, see what's going on.
For the moment, the second urge is dominant in all of us who remain. The march starts off, and we join it. But we're extra alert. We're looking for the exits and the escape routes, positioning ourselves always so there is somewhere to go.
The march heads up the street alongside the Capitol lawn, and then tries to turn across one of the bridges leading into downtown. The police move in, and block us.
There's a tense crowd of people on the bridge and filling the intersection. Around us are police in full riot gear and gas masks. There's also a group of bike cops, looking slightly underdressed in shorts and gas masks. They've brought in the Minnesota specials-a line of snowplows across the bridge. On them are perched black-masked cops in heavy leathers holding thick-muzzled rifles that shoot rubber bullets.
The energy is unfocused.
Nobody knows quit what to do. It could all fall apart, in a moment, with the
cops attacking the crowd, or it could remain a standoff for a long time. I am
softly drumming, not quite sure what to do, when a young, African American woman
urls and a ring in her lip comes up and says, "Do you know how to sing, 'Aint' Gonna Study War No More?"
I shift the beat,
we begin singing, and soon gather a small chorus that forms around us. A tiny,
round, young black woman in spectacles
steps in front. She has a large voice, and she takes over as lead singer. The chorus grows and a space opens up in the center of the intersection, that is soon filled with riders on bikes, circling around and around, counterclockwise. A young man turns a cartwheel. A clown on stilts appears, out of nowhere, and joins the ride. Suddenly, it's a circus in the street. The mood shifts and becomes almost festive.
My own mood has shifted, too. I've been practicing a more Buddhist-style meditation lately, just watching my breath in odd moments and being present to what's happening. I'm doing that now, breathing and drumming with the bikes and the song and the riot cops, and for no rational reason whatsoever I feel a surge of pure joy.
Two of the cyclists are punk kids covered with patches and graphics that I've seen at spokescouncil. One of them is named Maggot, and I've seen him sitting with his head down, mumbling his comments which always make sense. Now he's on a bike, his head up, smiling.
The young woman in front of me turns and taps my elbow. "Let's sing, 'We Shall Overcome'", she says.
I drum and the others join hands and sing.
"We shall overcome, we shall overcome, We shall over come, someday…"
There's some piece of magic at work here. The circling bikes remind me of our dragon-clad cyclists from the ritual that began this week. Now, after all the pain and the ugliness, the tension and the snatch squads and the media lies, after all the arguments and conversations about violence and nonviolence and tactics and accountability, after the splits between Obama and Hillary and the fruitless arguments about which is more crucial, gender or race, it seems deeply and oddly wonderful to be asked by two young black women to sing the old Civil Rights songs of the sixties here in the face of the riot cops. As if something is truly welling up from the earth, some spirit that knows and values rage but persists in remembering the power in acting out of love.
It's a spell. For just one moment, in one place, we sing in spite of our fear, and the violence abates.
"Deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome some day."
It's been a hard
week. We've seen the full machinery of the violence of the state called out
to quell any semblance of dissent. I've seen friends arrested, beaten, shoved,
nearly trampled by horses, tasered, pepper sprayed, beaten and literally tortured
in jail. We've seen organizers targeted for 'terrorism' and media lies paint
a totally warped picture of what has happened here. They've tried to make us
eel powerless and afraid, and at times, they've succeeded.
But we're here, at the end, still singing.
by Starhawk. All rights reserved.
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