Berkeley, April 15 – Reporting from the amorphous front lines of Berkeley after an afternoon counter-protesting the “Hate Speech Is Free Speech” rally.
I woke Saturday morning and knew I needed to get downtown to oppose the Hate Speech rally.
This wasn’t my kind of event – a lot of standing around listening to people exercise their freedom of speech by yelling at each other, punctuated by interludes of frightening mayhem.
But I recall – the rise of fascism in Italy and Germany was accompanied by street thuggery of this sort – belligerent rallies and parades, shows of force and dominance intended to cow all opposition.
Knowing that the rightwingers specifically targeted Berkeley and the Bay Area, I had to be present. I wish I knew the perfect response (see below for some ideas). Since I didn’t have a proposal, I figured I needed to show up and support those who did, even if their plan included chaos.
Quick Street Lesson – generally your intuition can tell you when and where violence is about to erupt. Keep your eyes open and be prepared to move quickly. Keep an escape route open (best – keep near a corner where there are multiple escape options). Stay close to calm-looking people. Move as a group.
Black Bloc, Antifa, Anarchists – Who Are We?
Although the expression Black Bloc seems to have given way to Antifa (“anti-fascist” with an echo of “Intifada,” a Palestinian youth uprising), the call to the counter-protest suggested wearing black or grey – as opposed to red, white and blue. I pulled out my Dia de los Muertos T-shirt and headed downtown to join in.
(One doesn’t necessarily “join” the Black Bloc. One can dress appropriately and “join in.” I’ve been a fellow traveler since the 2011 Occupy Oakland protests. We have some tactical disagreements, but for the most part I appreciate their determination and gutsiness.)
Lacking any preparation, affinity group, or even a clear idea what to expect, I figured I better take my guitar, which has been through a lot of protests and knows how to stay cool.
I stuck a post-it with a few song ideas on the side, but wound up singing just two songs the whole time, over and over: We Are the Rising Sun and Harvest Chant (Our Hands Will Work For Peace & Justice).
Not that anyone could hear unless they stood right by me, thanks to the incessant drone of yelling, bleating air-horns, and periodic explosions of fireworks and smoke bombs. We even got pepper-sprayed by some random fool (the police later denied any involvement, and for once I believe them).
Perhaps a thousand total people in Civic Center park and surrounding streets (displacing the historic Farmers Market), split into three groups:
– 200-300 rightwingers attending the “free speech” event – overwhelmingly white men
– 300-500 black-clad lefties intent on disruption – a diverse bunch
– random Berkeleyites, photographers, and even a few intrepid Farmers Market booths (which somehow survived getting engulfed in the melee).
– oh yes, and the cops, who kept a low profile (they eventually arrested 21 people, all or most away from the action – I didn’t witness a single arrest)
Some of the rightwingers were scary. In a rally that already had several dozen beefy but disciplined monitors, there were an alarming number of free-floating thugs. It’s easy to see how Trumpism encourages this sort of public belligerence.
We’re talking a few dozen bona fide thugs. When they charged the Antifa crowd, we scattered, but easily regrouped and often had them half-surrounded. If this is the most they can muster, we can write them off as ugly loonies. If they’re the tip of an angry iceberg, it’s scary.
Over several hours, repeated scuffles broke out, but there were also long periods when people settled for yelling back and forth and throwing water bottles, firecrackers, and bagels(!) at each other.
Interestingly, the violence from both sides seemed fairly directed. Amid repeated bursts of fighting there seemed to be a rough sense of “engagement” – those who wanted to fight were mostly sparring with others who wanted the same. I was often near the action without feeling in danger.
Our Team – Meet the Antifas
Okay, I hate to binarize things. But this really was like a sports skirmish – two opposing teams with the cops acting as referees (“There will be no weapons, no smashing windows or cars, and no prolonged assaults.”).
Overall the Antifa crowd was a good-hearted bunch, a diverse mirror of the East Bay. A majority seemed to be men, but there were plenty of women and other genders. Most were young (20-30?), with a sprinkling of ageing hippies.
I ran into a half-dozen old Peoples Park comrades including Andrea from Rebecca Riots, a great 1990s folk-rock trio. I taught her Rising Sun, and we must have sung it a couple of hundred times amid varying degrees of chaos.
At one point our Antifa crowd marched past a row of rightwing monitors. I brought up the rear, singing Rising Sun, and started calling to the row of rather intimidating-looking monitors, “Come on, guys, sing with me!” It earned me the only round of applause I got all day.
Both sides lobbed fireworks and smokebombs so often that people stopped flinching when they went off. Our whole crowd had to flee around a corner at one point when someone released pepper spray that had us all coughing and choking. I felt thankful that no one escalated to an actual bomb or weapon.
The low point – a few lefty hot-heads threw rocks and even a bottle. Others of us shouted and booed. Someone yelled, “They’re just going to throw them back at us!’ and it seemed to convince people to knock it off. (I saw a rightwinger pick up the half-broken bottle and carry it to a trash can rather than throw it back – a victory for civilization!).
Our lefty crowd lacked cohesion, and as time wore on our numbers thinned. Luckily so did the rightwingers, and after one final burst of ugliness that chased us downtown and left several people bloodied, the steam seemed to go out of the fighting. People continued yelling, but the shoving and punching eased off.
We happened to be in the intersection across from the downtown Bank of America, and as the energy ebbed for a moment, I stopped my song and started yelling, “Why are we fighting each other? Fuck the banks!” It seemed to get a bit of traction, so I yelled it a few more times: “Fuck the banks!”
Two rightwing monitor-types walked over and said “What about the banks?” I explained that we’ve had successful bank protests in SF, and suggested that maybe we could all team up and shut the banks down some Monday morning. They seemed intrigued. I asked them to share the idea with their cohort, and we shook hands before parting.
This was around 3pm. The total crowd had dwindled to 100 or so people milling around the intersection of Shattuck and Center, arguing and talking. After a few more heated conversations that ended in handshakes, I called it a day.
Where Are the Clowns of Yesteryear?
If the rightwing is so brazen as to parade their hate-speech and rallies in the Bay Area, I feel called to show up and make a counter-statement.
I wish that opposing their hate didn’t take the form of yelling and throwing things.
Watching the ugliness and chaos, I wondered – where are the stilt-walkers and puppeteers and clown-anarchists of yesteryear?
Mostly evicted and gone, of course.
But the inspiration remains. A well-timed intervention by an affinity group of clowns and puppeteers might have eased this day’s tension much earlier.
Any spark of beauty and creativity would stand out and perhaps provide a thread to draw the energy in a more productive direction.
An account for those who weren’t with us physically
By Jen/Baltimore Reclaiming
Photos by Rosemary Warren/TheVerge
Staying together with a group in a crowd so thick you couldn’t get your bearings required a whole lot of logistics negotiation, but that isn’t what stayed with me about being with Reclaiming at the Women’s March in Washington, DC. What stays are the many magical things we witnessed.
Most of us started at the Tacoma metro station in Maryland, where we boarded a train that had a celebratory atmosphere. It felt like the subway in Boston on First Night: virtually everyone in the car was going to the same event, happy and expectant, and ready to connect. I spoke with a group of four young women in matching orange sweatshirts clearly purchased for the occasion. Three also had orange ski caps; they explained that the fourth didn’t need one because her hair was already red (and I mean fire engine red, not Irish red). I complimented their color choice, lamenting that everything related to women was always pink and saying that it was too bad the march byword wasn’t “nasty woman” rather than “pussy hat.” Two of the women promptly lifted their sweatshirts to display t-shirts that read “nasty woman”!
photo by Rosemary Warren / TheVerge
There were women, and some men, all around us – young urban dykes, Midwestern-appearing housewives, senior organizers who’d seen it all before, little girls out on their first political adventure – all shiny cheeks, open hearts, and excitement. Coming home on the same subway, I realized that I had no memory of that trip in — how long it had been, what stops we passed – just the people and the sense of a beginning.
When we reached the stop we were going to get off at, we couldn’t because the train didn’t stop. There was no room for us to debark onto the platform. So, along with many others, we got off at the next stop. And there, going up an escalator, looking down at the people still on the trains, the people on the platforms, the people on the escalator opposite, and looking up at the people on the platforms above, I realized that this was not just another protest march. This was bigger. Much, much bigger.
We arrived at our meeting place later than expected (and having found two – count them: 1, 2 – portapotties, with a line over two hours long). We gathered a couple more people, and I think that brought us auspiciously to 13! We did a quick circle to connect with ourselves, one another, the land, and spirits, and headed out into the flow of people towards the Native American museum where it was all supposed to start. We moved slowly, surrounded by throngs and throngs of people, using teal scarves to keep track of one another, following a square drum held high (later that day the drum would acquire a sigil), or keeping a hand on each other’s shoulders or jackets so that we didn’t get lost. We were propelled forward by the beat of our drum, which shaped the energy of our small group and of the larger one as well. Total strangers approached me and thanked me for the drumming.
Photo by Miriam Nielsen / TheVerge
Finally we realized that we were not going to be able to make it to the rallying place so we stopped, found a slightly more open area, and sat down. This was perhaps the most crowded part of the day and what struck me was how incredibly calm the crowd was. Among a million people (and yes, that was the estimate of the District’s emergency services), it was quiet enough to speak in modulated voices, like two women over a kitchen table. And people were gracious, saying things like, “Would you mind if I cut in front of you so that I can rejoin my group?” and others replying, “No, please do.” I actually lay down on the granite and took a nap in the middle of the churning crowd, completely comfortable and secure.
I was awakened by a troupe of people with a drum leading a chant: “He’s a fascist; he’s a racist; we won’t stop until he’s replaced by a real revolution.” These splendid people were doing what they had come here for. None of us could hear what was happening at the rally, so we simply proceeded with our work, with groups emerging and falling back, contributing, witnessing others, being inspired, pooling energies. There was constant motion.
Eventually we got up to see if we could move into a position that was more connected to the main march. We found a group of marching people and joined it. After a while it became apparent that this was not the march proper, but a spontaneous march, of people who had come to DC to march! At that point we broke off and found a spot of lawn, just as a gorgeous contingent of nurses in red pussy hats marched by and I started to understand the hats. They weren’t just pink. They were orange, red, purple, or of that kind of yarn that fades from one color to another. Some were knitted, some crocheted, some made from fleece. One was being knitted on the metro as we rode in! Some were beautifully knit, some lumpy and hadn’t been blocked, and a few store bought. Some were floppy and worn to the side like tams, and one woman I saw had her ears front and back rather than side by side so that they looked more like horns. I loved that the hats were made by different hands. They served to identify small groups whose hats had been made by the same person and at the same time they stood for our mass intention. I even came to love the bubble gum pink ones when I saw a particularly bright fuzzy one on a six-foot man.
We decided to do a spiral dance on our square of lawn, chanting “Let it begin with each step we take, and let it begin with each change we make. Let it begin with each chain we break, and let it begin every time we awake.” We were joined by people around us who seemed quite swept away by the energy, even giddy. Our drummers showed their chops and I was thankful for them for the umpteenth time that day.
After the spiral dance we split up into groups and my small group decided to make another effort to get involved in the heart of things. We made it to a place where we could see and hear a videocast of the rally. Amy Schumer introduced Madonna, who was awesome. I loved seeing this amazing woman of my generation speak so well. When she started singing I had a really odd reaction of, “wow, she sings really well for a regular old political organizer like us.” lol.
By that time it was past 3:00 and we realized that the rally had run really long. We’d also finally been able to get a few texts through and heard that the march had been canceled because the mall was so full of bodies that no one could move. The street where we were was clearing out and it looked like time to go home. But soon we realized that the march had started and we were in the middle of it! Toshi Reagan was playing and I felt like I was at the Michigan Women’s Festival, but here we were in Washington headed toward the Washington monument. I realized that I was feeling great, despite hours of being on my feet and being jostled. The massive energy field that the march had created kept me feeling well physically and nurtured me emotionally as well.
All day long there was the constant entertainment of the signs. I loved the artistic ones that had been donated and made available as downloads before the march; these beautiful signs created the march visually: women of different ethnicities over the words “We the people” and the statements of our values superimposed over the American flag (“In our America, All people are equal, Loves wins, Black lives matter, Immigrants and refugees are welcome, Disabilities are respected, Women are in charge of their bodies, People and planet are valued over profit, Diversity is celebrated”). And then there were these:
“They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”
“A woman’s place is in the resistance” (with a picture of the young Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia)
“Then they came for the Muslims, and I said ‘no way, mother fucker!’”
“Not my president”
“my body, my rights”
“No son santos, no son putas, son mujeres”
“Love your mother” (with a picture of the earth)
“This pussy grabs back”
“Cheeto in Chief”
“Get your tiny little orange hands off my rights”
“Women’s rights are human rights”
“Girls just wanna have fun-damental rights”
“I’m a feminist. What’s your superpower?”
“I can’t believe I still have to protest this shit”
“Fight like a girl”
“The future is female”
“Build bridges, not walls”
“Men of quality do not fear equality”
“Still we rise”
Some of my favorites were handmade:
“I know signs. My signs are great. They’re terrific. Everyone agrees.”
“Ctrl Alt-right Del” (With the “alt-right” surrounded by a circle with a line through it)
“No hablo Trump”
I saw a woman in her 70s or 80s with bright eyes and a beautiful face and deep crabapple-doll lines that looked more like sculpture than wrinkles; her sign simply read: “wtf America.”
I also encountered a young woman, naked to the waist with black crosses over her nipples, who’d painted her sign onto her body: “Still not asking for it.”
Then a miracle happened. As we were cutting across the parade to sit down and rest, I felt a hand on my shoulder and lo and behold! we were reunited with the larger group. Now reunited with all but three of our people, we let ourselves join the energy of a drumming group for a while.
When we got up to continue our march, we found that the street had emptied out. Trash was blowing across it like tumbleweeds. For the first time that day we could see landmarks and get our bearings. We kept marching and came across a group of indigenous people chanting and drumming and witnessed them for a while.
We reached the Washington monument and turned the corner to head for the White House. It was probably around 4:45 or so when we got there and stopped for snacks and then decided to close out our circle. A second miracle: we planned a ritual in 5 minutes and did it in maybe ten! Then we all went across the street to pee properly in portapotties.
At dusk, we decided to head for the nearest subway, and as we walked across a square of lawn in front of the White House, we encountered snow fences, hundreds of feet of them, covered with the people’s posters, six feet high, layered, reaching out onto the lawn. A grand collage envisioning a just world and the power to make it. The monument glowed, the White House twinkled, and the sky was a burnished pink. As darkness descended around us, I realized the extent of the spell that had been cast that day. This piece by Jen from Baltimore Reclaiming.
When I woke up Saturday morning, my very first thought was, “I don’t want to live in this world.”
But as I pulled my weary, sore body up stairs and towards bed late in the evening, all I could think about was how much beauty there is in this world, how much potential.
In between: a sea of pink knitted hats with kitty ears, sassy anti-Trump-pro-women slogans, kids in wagons alongside drummers and dancers in the streets of downtown Oakland and San Francisco. The Women’s March.
I’m not really suicidal by nature, being a bit too attached to my own life (and especially being there for my two year old daughter) for martyrdom. Usually even in notably messed up situations I can find something to laugh about or that strikes me as intriguing or ironic.
But, like with many Americans who were sideswiped by the election, it’s been a hard couple of months. Too often I’ve found myself in something akin to a trauma response, with dark, heavy thoughts that push their way into my mind even when the details of my personal life are sunny and bright. And whenever anyone takes a stab at a Trump joke, I simply sigh.
It just doesn’t strike me as a laughing matter.
During the lead-up to the election, therapists and psychiatrists across the country started reporting that clients who had made great progress in working through PTSD and trauma from sexual assault and domestic violence were backsliding into panic attacks and depressive episodes. After the election, my friends in facebook world plastered their screens with contact info of suicide prevention hotlines and emergency centers.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Donald Trump makes us crazy.
I remember, watching the numbers slowly trickling in for Trump on election night, and thinking terrible thoughts. I was completely moored over by fear?—?sure that nuclear apocalypse was in our future, or at best, slow-but-certain complete climate catastrophe. In those two seconds of utter mental and emotional overwhelm, I couldn’t think of anything I could do to protect me or my daughter from the horrific future I saw before us.
That adrenaline-filled moment of desperation subsided into a gray film of lethargic despair and denial. For months. I called my congresswoman every couple of days to urge her to oppose Trump on every cabinet pick, show his taxes, keep the most essential provisions of the Affordable Care Act, all of it. I kept hoping that the recount, or the electoral college, or, most recently, the CIA with their dossier would save us from this mess at the last minute
My heart hung on the slim hope that somehow it could all be undone, and we’d literally wake up from this nightmare.
Then on Friday Donald Trump gave the worst inauguration speech in American history and was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, obliterating even that tiny sliver of light.
Which meant waking up, Saturday morning, in a world where a man who had courted public favor through sexism, racism, Islamaphobia and lies had become President of the United States. In the first couple hours of his reign he took steps to take away my healthcare, removed all references to climate change and LGBTQ rights from the White House’s webpage, moved to defund Planned Parenthood, and rolled back interest rates for struggling homeowners.
I felt flattened with despair, nearly disassociated, as I walked downstairs and made my coffee, heated up leftover hashbrowns for Brie in the toaster oven, cut a few slices of apple for myself. I couldn’t wrap my mind around my own existence, or that my sweet little baby girl, within a world where Donald Trump would be elected to arguably the most powerful position on earth (even with the caveats of how questionable his “victory” was, and how much intervention and foul play seems to have been involved). Again, it was less that I wanted to harm myself or anyone else, and more that I couldn’t see any way out of the situation I’d found myself in and couldn’t tolerate the idea of staying in it.
Then I joined the 3–4 million people who marched in the streets around the world yesterday to oppose the lies and the hate that Trump represents?—?and the visceral truth of that opposition, of the beauty still alive and kicking in this world, came rushing over me as I made my way down the streets of Downtown Oakland with Brie’s warm, trusting hand in mine. The gray that haunted my consciousness all these months melted beneath the gleaming sunlight shining on tens of thousands of pink pussy hats, strollers with rainbow flags attached to them, men and women and everyone else chanting “Women’s Rights are Human Rights.”
If in the morning I couldn’t see any way out of the situation we’d found ourselves in and couldn’t fathom how to stay in it, by the afternoon, both seemed clearer. We can still get out of this?—?not by avoiding a Trump Presidency, but by collective opposition to his policies and proposals. And we can find the strength to stay by joining together, my knitting cute hats and hanging out with our kids, by drumming and singing in the streets, by being part of an upwelling movement for change and justice.
I’m also wary of my own emotional response what’s happening in the political sphere now. I can’t tell if Donald Trump is the most masterful Reality Television producer of all time and in our everyday reality we’ve fallen under his spell, or if he’s an utter moron blundering his way into power who has simply managed to make a few good plays.
But after yesterday, it occurs to me that there is the distinct possibility that his speeches, his tweets, even his cabinet picks are all masterfully designed to energize and blind his supporters while completely demoralizing people like me.
I’ve been telling my Trump-supporting in-laws, neighbors, coworkers this whole time that they’re being gaslighted?—?tricked into believing Trump cares for their interests while laughing his way all the way to the Federal Reserve and position as Chief Diplomat and Commander-in-Chief of the country.
But what if we’re also being played? Gaslighted into tepid, lethargic despair? History has shown us that that generals at war will use mental and emotional tactics on the citizenry of opposing forces to subdue them into submission. A lot of the time, Donald Trump seems barely intelligent enough to tie his own shoes and mostly-intelligible at best when he speaks, so it can be hard to envision him masterminding this kind of sly military strategy on his own people. On the other hand, his moral turpitude shows that it’s not beyond him.
Either way, with the Inaugeration behind us and the things that are important to us –healthcare, reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, the climate?—?at stake, I know that we can’t allow ourselves to slip back into depression and defeat. The Women’s Marches around the world have proven that the power really is in our own hands.
“Feeling energized and mobilized. Resistance isn’t futile anymore,” one of my friends, who I never even saw at the march, wrote later that day. “I never thought I’d feel so alive the day after Donald Trump was elected,” another friend said. “It’s like I was just on the best first date in the world. All I can think is, when are we going to get together again, #womensmarch?”
The Oakland Women’s March
That’s the question on everyone’s minds. We’ve tasted freedom and promise again after a winter of anxiety, fear, and depression, and we don’t want to go back. It’s empowering to march in the street for a day, even more so when you realize you’re one of millions. But real change, especially of the size and scope that we want, comes from sustained effort. As Guardian writer Micah White says, there’s no clear route from our feminist rage to political power.
“What comes the day after?” White asks us. “Without a clear path from march to power, the protest is destined to be an ineffective feelgood spectacle adorned with pink pussy hats.”
That’s the work before us now, figuring out how individually and collectively we can go forward from this historic day into ongoing, effective political influence. On the other hand, it’s clear that the work has already begun. And for many of us, for whom the past several months have been a grey blur of anxiety, depression, overwhelm and grief, yesterday was also the beginning of healing and waking up. We were able to reclaim our sanity, and walked away with hope and determination to create a sane world once again.
Here are a few words about the Pagan Cluster at the Counter-Inaugural Friday and the Women’s March Saturday.
For Friday, read Jes’s admirable piece at Gods and Radicals (it’s the first of seven reports from different people and different cities). We began at Union Station singing “We are the new world we bring to birth/ A river rising to reclaim the earth!”, sang “We are the knife that cuts the spell / By sacred flame and holy well” as we marched, and ended at McPherson Square with “Let it begin.”
Saturday about a dozen of us also sang “Let it begin” as part of a spiral dance that drew in three to four times our number from the crowd. It’s hard to describe being part of the march of half a million people, so here are some pictures.
First, our sigil, inscribed on a home-made from one of SpiralHeart’s beloved dead:
This was our banner as we navigated the crowds.
Up the Metro escalators:
And in the crowd:
Finally, a shot of the many signs left on the wall around the White House:
A thousand people joined a colorful and buoyant march through San Francisco on Tuesday, November 15 – an international day of solidarity with those protecting water and land rights around the Dakota Access Pipe Line (DAPL).
Over a hundred risked arrest, blocking the street and entrances around the Army Corps of Engineers’ office on Market Street, a major down thoroughfare. Police declined to make arrests, and news arrived that the ACE had issued a statement at Standing Rock accepting the need for “additional discussion and analysis.” (See UK Guardian link below for news updates).
After two hours blockading, the marchers, led by Indigenous groups, marched back to Civic Center to complete the day’s activities.