Sunday, February 5, 2012

friends and allies

I arrived to the Guerrilla Potluck late—had to wait for the pumpkin bread to cool—but nobody seemed to mind and many were really excited to get some hot food on such a chilly night. I like it when I am surrounded by people who are smiling at me.

Unfortunately, since I was late I missed the early police-negotiation stage. We weren’t allowed anywhere near the Waldorf Astoria, where HRC was honoring Goldman Sachs. (Imagine every time I type “Goldman Sachs” a Greek chorus hisses and spits.) The protest milled around on the traffic island for a bit, but a cop told us we needed to cross the street and none of us felt like arguing much.

The police had cordoned off a space for us to protest on the opposite side of Park Avenue. Because I’m sure the folks we were trying to get to hear us could totally do that over the traffic noise. Really. Ha ha.

That was frustrating. Not that I wanted to shove posters in stretch limo-riding people's faces. But what’s the good of a protest if they can’t hear us? It’s the sound of one hand clapping.

So what I experienced, after the pumpkin bread distribution, was:

Many chants. The ones I remember are: “Feed the needy, not the greedy”  “Who’s in bed with Goldman Sachs? HRC!” “Hey hey HRC, Where is the equality?” “HRC your time is near/ Fake inclusion won’t work here” “Everybody pays their tax/ Everyone but Goldman Sachs”

…I was there because of the Goldman Sachs connection, but had no other reason not to support HRC before I went. Got chatting with a Radical Fairy (a group of activists I had never heard of, but I looked them up and there they are), and he told me that HRC removed “transgender” from legislation they were trying to get passed.

Dude, you don’t throw some of your marginalized constituents under the bus just so your slightly less marginalized people get a bone thrown to them. Where’s the solidarity?

As I said to that guy, that’s the nice thing about Occupy, it’s really streamlining my budget. So many non-profits who won’t be getting my $10 any more.

I handed out a couple of tiny tents, which were also greeted with smiles. How can you not love a tiny tent? One person suggested I put a tent on a car, and I stopped and thought about it, but after my tongue caught up with my gut instinct I said, "No. I'm just an ally..." What I tried to get across was that I didn't want my message to get privileged over people whose lives are negatively affected by HRC and what it does and doesn't do. But I don't think that's what came out of my mouth. Frustrating not to be able to articulate my gut into nuanced language. This is why I prefer to be a human mic in these situations. Tell me your words and I will shout them, but please don't expect me to be able to speak my own. That's what writing is for.

 Because we were on the sidewalk, there were also a line of parked cars between us and the traffic. Being short, I often had difficulty seeing over the cars so I wandered towards one side to see and be seen more clearly. I have understood that we aren’t to block the sidewalk during peaceful/non-aggressive protests, so I positioned myself on 6 inches of curb, my back to a huge potted plant, and on the other side of the plant was a good 6 to 8 feet of open space.

I was really surprised to have a cop approach me (Me!) and ask me (nicely) to move. I was genuinely confused. There was a gentleman (er, dressed like a big baby with a plastic doll) to my immediate right, so it wasn’t like I was drifting away to foment dissent elsewhere. Apparently, he wanted us to stay in the area of sidewalk that the metal barricades had delineated. Since there was no metal barricade at my back, I was not in the area that we were allowed to protest in.

Just as I was about to possibly escalate the situation, someone behind me started chatting about the bread and I was complimented right out of that conversation. When I was done, the cop had drifted away and was talking with other cops who I hope were saying that it wasn’t worth it, let the crazy loud people shout themselves hoarse. Clearly we weren’t going to stop the dinner from happening.

Later, I tried to cross Park Avenue to get to where the post-protest/chill-out area was. Specifically, I chose that moment because someone else was going, and I’m shy. Besides, there were a lot of cops and y’know, solidarity and shit. Another guy decided to come with us, so the three of us went to the corner and proceeded to cross. Third person had long legs and strode out in front of us. I didn’t have anything with me but my pink floral backpack, but the first person had some white balloons and other protest paraphernalia.

Third person made it to the traffic island in the middle of the avenue before the light started to change; a cop approached the two of us and honestly without thinking I just headed for behind him. New Yorker instinct took over, get out of the way of the cop. But then he turned to include both of us and told both of us to cross the street on the other side.

The light was changing, so I would have to either sprint past him (baaad idea, said New Yorker instinct) or stop traffic if I really wanted to argue the point. I don't want to cause that kind of scene, and the first person who I was supposed to be walking in solidarity with was saying, "Come on," and encouraging me to cross the way the cop wanted. In the end, I followed her because she was the one who wanted to cross and if my goal really was solidarity, then I should stick with her.

However, I can’t get over that interaction with the police. It’s a public street, a public sidewalk, and we were headed for the “privately owned public space” that was on the corner diagonally from where we started. Two streets had to be crossed, and technically it didn’t matter which street we crossed first.

But… I felt quite upset about it. I was kind of brittle and high-pitched the rest of the evening, and when I got home I cried. I hate confrontation. I hate it when the cops make it clear that if I wasn’t in obvious solidarity with protestors (like the first guy with the long legs who got passed without raising the cop’s attention and later apologized for not waiting for us—he didn’t “look” like he was a protestor, so he got through), my freedom of movement would not have been curtailed.

I don’t have a snappy ending for this post. I’m sorry. I’m upset. I don’t like that the cops are getting in the way of me protesting the vampire squid that it is Goldman Sachs. I don’t like that I’m interacting with cops, not representatives. Not anyone who will listen who has any power to stop injustice and selfishness.

Banks got bailed out, we got sold out, and the main stream media keeps claiming that Occupy is over. You know what? It’s cold, we have jobs, we have to spend time finding new places to meet and talk and learn from each other. Why should we spend hours outside the Waldorf Astoria when they can’t and won't and shan't hear us? 

One gentleman made it into the building with a livestreamer and did speak briefly, but I'm not sure who heard him or what he said.

The only time they heard me was when three of us left the protest for the subway together. We walked east to Lexington, and then north—and suddenly we were behind the Waldorf Astoria, and there was a small group of smokers huddling for velvet and sequined warmth and no police separating us from each other.

Then the three of us shouted.

I know the shivering smokers heard us, because the woman in the sparkly dress curled her lip.

I wish I had a radical fairy to out-sequin her at that moment, but all we had were our lungs. We danced away and underground, though, and no cops stopped us. And hey, I made some new friends who will cross streets with me. I think that’s a win.

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