The Democratic National Convention
night I got on the LA subway at the Vermont and Santa Monica station. The platform
was crowded with a type of people I don't usually see riding the tube. One couple
was typical, a bandanna on the head of a long haired scruffy white dude, his water
bottle hanging languidly from his hand. The girl was slouching up to him and they
clasped so perfectly that I had to admire them. I figured that they were going
to the same place that I was: down to the Staples Center where a protest area
had been set up in the vicinity of the Nation Democratic Convention. Tonight Rage
Against The Machine was playing a free show and as the subway neared downtown,
it began to fill, crowded with grunge type kids and better dressed people on their
way past the show to get home.
I got off at the Pico station and
I could hear the band off in the distance. I found the official demonstration
area where I saw my first large group of Police. They stood surrounding the entrance
to the area and I looked at each one, checking out what kind of weapons they were
carrying and I noticed that each had lots of plastic handcuffs strapped to their
belts. Once I got into the place I ran into the Cacophony society who had arrived
dressed as Zombies for Gore and they were splattered with cherry jello and fake
guts. The mood was festive and I made my way closer to RATM. One song that they
did was basically a refrain of "fuck you" and fingers were held in all
directions, some toward the stage, some toward the Staples Center. I looked up
at the balcony of the Staples and I could see well dressed delegates watching
us. I saw about 20 minutes of RATM and while the next band set up I started looking
for the more radical fringes of the crowd.
The crowd was diverse: ninja type
anarchists, all in black commando style clothes, some of them sporting medic patches
and carrying bottles of maalox and water, an antidote to tear gas. People dressed
in costumes, carrying banners and shouting slogans wended their way through the
crowd . A huge puppet of Ralph Nader waved its arms around and people stood against
it and had their pictures taken. So many signs I couldn't even read them: End
The Genocide in Iraq, No Genetic Engineering, Free Mumia, Animal Rights, Solar
Power, Pro Choice, No Choice, States Rights, Nader For President, Jews For Jesus,
Legalize Marijuana, Buy American. Groups of three or four people sitting on the
ground, earnest white college kids, black clad bandits, tired old farts. Every
combination of camouflage possible. Paramilitary style radicals, dirty cross country
travelers, white rastas, black rastas. Old hippies, new hippies, old punks, young
punks. Vegans, rock and rollers, people in barefeet, people with lace up boots
to their knees. Flag bearers and flag wearers. It was easy to meet anyone you
wanted to, everyone had an agenda and was eager to talk about it. Regularly dressed
people wandered around looking lost, all they wanted was a concert and a concession
stand. Vendors snaked their way through the confusion, popping up to hawk T shirts
and warm bottled water. And it went on and on, thousands of people walking, running,
yelling. It was medieval in its carnivalesque whirl.
As I stood talking to Christine from
Holly Matters I saw a group of people starting to yell at the cops and throw water
bottles over the 12 high fence that surrounded the whole demonstration area. I
went over and stood off to the side watching as these mutants began throwing heavier
stuff at the cops, spitting and screaming. The frontman for this mass was a tall
American Indian, dirty and extreme. His anger was true and his hatred for the
cops drove him to slam up against the wire and pull at it and his strength made
the section of 12 foot fence bend in and out. The police gathered in front of
him on the other side of the fence and stood with their tear gas guns pointed
at the Indian dude and his group. Suddenly there was intense energy, bodies whirling,
quick fast movement, a coughing pepper rasp in the air and the Indian was dragged
backwards, his hands to his face. The anarchist medics were all over him so fast,
pouring the white liquid on his face while he washed his mouth with a Crystal
Geyser bottle. Back at the fence everyone was wearing bandannas over their mouth
and noses , some with slogans on them. I knew I needed one too and I found one
in the dirt and when I turned it over it read "Free Mumia" I put it
on and circled the stage of action.
By this time the crowd was throwing
metal signs over the fence and the police were scuttling together, some of them
genuinely afraid, others tasting the delicious flavor of a potential fight. Other
police filmed us as we raged on our side of the wire. Countless helicopters flew
above us, some hovering in one spot while others circled with their spotlights
illuminating sections of the crowd. Groups of the demonstrators were brightly
lit up for a few moments then the light would shift away. The sound of the helicopter
engines added to the noise and confusion. The Indian was back and his crowd had
gotten much bigger. At least a hundred people were caught up in the frenzy, one
man with a megaphone was yelling through it right into people's faces. They would
try to back away from him but the closeness of the group wouldn't let them move.
Some men stripped to the waist and went skanking through us like a slam pit. Groups
of black op anarchists worked their way through the crowd, pointing at areas that
needed more activity. Pressed up against the fence was a combination of spitting
protesters and onlookers. The police grouped closer together, most of them with
their tear gas guns up to their shoulders and pointed at us. People with cameras
up to their faces banged into each other as they all tried for the best shot.
Tear gas was coming through the fence and after I saw its gas plume cut through
the crowd, I went over to smell it as it dispersed and sense the void in the crowd
that it made. Debris was flying through the air, off in the distance and right
overhead. Some of the shit hadn't been thrown hard enough and rained down on us
at the front. Men and women worked their way through the crowd, some telling us
to take it to the next step and charge the fence, others yelling be cool. By this
time a lone madman had climbed to the top of the fence and straddled it, swaying
on the boundary between the Democratic National Convention and Us. His face was
drenched in tear gas, I'll never know how he hung on and he was eventually joined
by another, hunched over and fetal they clutched on for long enough to become
silhouettes as the sun set behind them. As it began to get dark piles of trash,
protest signs, water bottles began to be set on fire and I saw people picking
up the trash too, eco terrorists who were trying to clean up. At this point a
voice came over the PA and I realized that the second band, Ozomatli, had stopped
playing. It was the police chief who basically gave 3500 people 15 minutes to
get out of the demonstration area by way of two narrow exits. Or risk arrest LA
409. As people began to leave I made the decision to stay as long as I could avoid
injury. The crowd thinned out a little, people scuffling through the trash toward
the exit, diehards refusing to leave circling around each other. A mood of daring
expectation and dread: something had ended and an unknown was about to begin.
Not knowing about the North exit where
most people had gone, I opted to go out the way I came in and joined the crowd
heading out the East side. I stopped in a sheltered spot trying to see what the
cops were going to do then decided to join the huge crowd at the North end. As
I hiked through the sporadic groups of protesters still in the off limits demonstration
area I could hear guns firing and screams, deep thuds echoed off the surrounding
buildings, sounding like drums or fireworks. As I crossed the parking lot I saw
a group of police on horses, two abreast coming directly at me. I checked my back
and when I turned around they were much closer, galloping across the parking lot.
Some split off to attack groups of lingering protesters but most of them stayed
in one large group heading towards me. I knew that they were probably not going
to enter the narrow passage I had just left so I ran back and stood off to the
side as they went past. Thunderous and sweating, they stormed by and I saw one
hippie guy with his hands up in the air get smashed against the concrete wall
as the horse broadsided him. I hadn't seen the troops on foot behind the horses
and abruptly the entrance to my area was filled with police in riot gear shooting
rubber bullets and tear gas at us. No warning, no use anyway. The crowd began
to run, a frantic terrible scramble right towards rows of police standing two
deep. They were in rows off to the side of the passage so we could actually still
get out. The cops were concentrating on the people still in the passage so I circled
back and stood behind the cops who had now joined ranks and closed off both ends
of the passageway although they were still letting people through. I heard yelling
and curses, shotguns firing; people holding their arms and saying amazed, I got
The main police force seemed to be
over at Figueroa and Olympic so I was free to wander the open streets, sirens
wailing in every direction and as I wandered I came across pockets of police who
were standing by, squadrons of motorcycle cops all relaxed and having no idea
I think of what was going down. It was bizarre to have left all that mayhem by
just turning a few street corners. I tried to find where the crowd had gone but
all I came across were small bunches of demonstrators and ordinary people. Groups
of skaters rattled by men and women in business suits. Bums asked demonstrators
for spare change, never considering why anyone would have a bandana across their
face. As I walked up 7th St. I was encountered a large group of cops in riot gear;
they filled one end of an intersection and stood at least ten deep. They stood
tense and in formation, waiting for some signal that would send them all into
action. I walked up close then crossed the street, leaning against a lamppost
to study them. Without warning they all charged down the street I had just come
up, shouting in unison, giving themselves courage and scaring the shit out of
anyone they were running toward. They began attacking the people who had been
behind me, I could hear the familiar gunshots and screams. Several other cops
walked toward me, slapping their batons in their hands, it was obvious that I
had to go.
After aimlessly walking around for
a little while longer I went to Hank's Bar at the Hotel Stilwell to meet up with
some friends who I knew weren't there. There was no bartender in sight but two
old men sat at the bar watching TV as it showed the melee I had just come from.
I looked for myself on the TV, saw me in the slampit by the wire, then began to
look for the bartender. She showed up and poured me a big Jack Daniel's with a
water back. It was strange to see the angry Indian pulling at the fence again
and as the newscaster came on, one of the old men began to pound his fist on the
bar. "America is a great county" he shouted and slapped his hand down.
Some people I knew came in but they were completely reluctant to talk about what
they had seen and done. I tried to speak with them but what I really wanted was
more action. I watched the TV to try and find out what was going down and saw
that most of the demonstrators were now on Olympic and Figueroa, not very far
away from the bar. I put on my pack back and left, smoking as I walked.
When I got there a large crowd was
there yelling at the delegates as they left the Convention. Protesters were giving
the finger yelling "Shame" and showing them the rubber bullets the police
had shot. Radicals with black bandanas over their faces shouted and leapt in the
air like trout. The mass boiled around in the street and sidewalk, shouts and
curses were coming from every angle and water bottles began to fly through the
air towards the cops. Finally the police captain announced that once again LA
409 and we would be arrested if we didn't disperse. As the crowd began to reluctantly
thin out the media swooped in and interviewers and film crews roamed the crowd.
I was interviewed by a teenage kid covering the convention and as I told him what
I had seen and done he wrote notes on his pad so quickly that when I tried to
read his lines they just looked like long scribbles. He looked at my face but
his eyes were focused on some point behind me. During this whole ordeal the camera
had been everywhere, as soon as anything started the cameras went over, the Indian
at the wire, dumb fistfights between drunks, the lines of police, pictures of
people taking pictures of people taking pictures. Tourist style travelogues and
anarchistic documentation. Everywhere people had their digicams and home videos.
TV news reporters speaking into mikes with lights on their faces backed through
the crowd as their film crew followed them.
As I walked to the subway I could
sense the struggle going down on Olympic but I knew I had no way to get over there.
Overhead helicopters whirred through the air, the sound of their rotors thudding
the air as they hovered directly over us. The atmosphere changed from danger to
quiet as I joined the crowd of delegates as they made their way to the hotels.
Some were carrying signs that read "Thank You Bill Clinton", loot from
the convention, and packages of giveaway bullshit. Well fed and walking with the
satisfaction of the self righteous, they looked at me strangely; I realized I
still had the Free Mumia bandanna across my face. I folded it and put it in my
pocket to save for the next time I would need it. And I knew I was going to need
Tuesday morning I went to the Rampart
Police station for a demonstration against police brutality and corruption. I
stood in the blazing hot sun watching protesters blocking the entrance to the
station get dragged away. There was some sympathetic clapping as the first few
were hauled into the station but that soon wilted in the intense heat. I read
the graffiti style banners and wandered aimlessly through the crowd, feeling sheepish
and wrong because I didn't agree with their protest, I live in Rampart Division
turf and I know how fucked the police have it on the streets. I went back home
and painted until about 6 o'clock when I decided that I'd done enough and it was
time to go back to the Staples Center. This time I brought my skateboard, to use
not only as transportation but also in case I needed a shield or weapon.
After getting out at the Pico subway
station I felt a little self conscious but soon adapted to my new role as skate
anarchist. I skated around looking for a crowd but the streets were remarkably
empty so I went over to the designated protest area across from the Staples center.
As I approached I saw that the area was pretty much empty except for a small gathering
of people holding aloft signs and listening to homeless rights activist Ted Hayes
speak from the stage. They disbanded shortly after I joined them and I followed
an aimless march around the parking lot. People were grinning and laughing and
the mood was entirely different than the day before.
I was looking for more action than
that so I skated around the nearby downtown streets until I gave up and headed
back to the subway station on 7th and Figueroa. Once again I was in crowds of
delegates returning to their hotels from the Convention and I sat on the curb
watching them as they walked and carried their goods. I began to feel disgusted
and boarded the subway. There had been no action and I felt let down. Being on
the almost deserted streets that had been the site of so much aggro the day before
was a strange sensation and I wondered if anything was going to happen again.
I slept fitfully, tossing and turning in the heat.
Wednesday I left my house with John
Tottenham at about 4 in the afternoon. After leaving the train at Pico we began
to make our way to the demonstration area but were turned back by the police who
would give no explanation and only cursory instructions about how to circumvent
the blocked streets and reach our destination. As we approached the parking lot
we saw a huge crowd filling the intersection of Olympic and Figueroa. We had come
across the remnants of a large march through downtown that had gone from Parker
center back to Staples. The police had cut the crowd in two, and were surrounded
in the intersection by the split crowd. I was amazed that they would allow themselves
to be surrounded, the police stood back to back, swinging their clubs and looking
nervously at the hundreds of demonstrators that faced them. I pushed my way to
the front line of my group, losing Johnny in the crowd, and I saw hundreds of
police in formation filling Olympic in both directions from the scene. As the
two halves of the crowd grew closer, hemming in the police in the middle, the
police captain got on his megaphone and said that we would all be arrested, LA
409 again, unless a representative of the demonstrators came forward to negotiate
a way for the two crowds to meet.
It took ages for anyone to come forth
and in the hot sun tempers began to flare. Some people began to scream at the
cops while others would try to speak conversationally with them. If anyone got
too close the cops pushed them away. It seemed that the cops were under orders
not to speak with us. In my crowd there were several agitators with megaphones
who began to encourage the crowd to take action. What action wasn't clear, to
rush the cops and hook up with our brethren across the street, to vote, to legalize,
to boycott? What did they want from us other than to agree with the constant "Fuck
the Police"? Just as the tension reached a high point, the police suddenly
pulled back and the two mobs met, shaking hands, bumming cigarettes, backslapping;
there had been no point in the agitation other than for the two sides to hook
up, beyond that there was no plan.
Then through the crowd came Ted Hayes,
dressed in his red white and blue outfit, followed by his bodyguards. "Back
to Parker Center" he was yelling and soon a large contingent began to follow
him. And here is the madness of crowds: as we began to walk, all of us together,
a destination took shape. We were on or way to Pershing Square. Unplanned, no
permits, just go. And so the crowd of several thousand began to move up Figueroa,
chanting unintelligible slogans, hoisting aloft signs that made no sense; the
skate anarchists, the eco terrorists, the homeboys and the Aztecs. The ice cream
carts followed with their bells ringing while in the crowd Latino vendors were
selling warm water and red white and blue trumpets and balloons. White men and
women handing out flyers, people in ski masks skating in and out. Bicycle terrorists
rode slowly alongside, jumping curbs and saying nothing. As the march gathered
momentum the police had no choice but to clear the streets for us. They were a
block ahead of us most of the time, stopping traffic and then lining the streets
watching us as we coursed down the streets toward Pershing square.
Suddenly I heard the sound of pounding
against sheet glass windows and looked over at a Latino guy banging his fist against
the shop windows. An older hippie looking guy forced him to stop, the kid grinned
and shrugged. In the midst of the crowd I saw a taut young man who held his fist
aloft, yelling and shouting as he linked arms with the people near him. This was
Mear One, a graffiti artists friend of mine so I made my way over to him and marched
Then off to the side we saw a hand
raised, a hand that made the thumbs down sign, a businessman on the sidewalk showing
his disapproval of what we were all doing. A lone vigil, his distaste so evident.
Marchers began to spit on him, some threw punches but he was protected by another
one of the older hippie moderators. He actually shielded the businessman's body
from the blows and spit, thrown water bottles and kicked trash. My friend Buck
came over with his police scanner and cel phone "The cops have surrounded
us, they're on full tactical alert" he murmured but the police took up positions
on the edge of the park and hung back. What to do, what to do? A stage was hastily
set up on the top of a flight of stairs and speakers began to rant. Mostly they
said "Fuck the police" and the mike would get passed to someone else.
If nothing else, everyone could have a chance to address the huge crowd. Inarticulate
hip hoppers grabbed the mike like they would at an open freestyle rap show. Chuck
Hauter and I sat by the main group on the steps, shaking our heads in disbelief.
Mear One strutted on the fringes,
I could tell he wanted to get up there, he would nod or shake his head vigorously
at what was said, Finally he dashed up and grabbed the mike but confronted by
such a large audience he spoke quickly and nervously. He preached education and
unity but abruptly gave up the mike to a woman who began to shout about sisterhood
and women's rights. I was bummed out by the speech I heard these people using.
It was raw, full of "fucking" and "shit" and "you know
what I'm sayin" and the inarticulate delivery made me sad. I left that main
throng and walked around the park. Groups of people were crashed out on the grass
like at a picnic, listening to the speakers and various individuals that roamed
the park espousing their particular cause. I saw a small crowd gathered around
the thumbs down business man who had followed us into the park.
He was flanked by two policemen as
he stood there, not saying a word with his thumb down raised high in the air.
He was enduring spit and humiliation, rage and insult as he stood immobile, his
briefcase at his feet. People beseeched him, speak, speak, but he said nothing.
The crowd grew larger, treating him as a hostile curiosity, the lone dissenter.
He must be made to pay for his independent thought, what was wrong with him? "He
just wants media attention" a black lady announced matter of factly, "Ignore
him, c'mon lets all leave". A few people agreed and left with her, looking
over their shoulder at the businessman as they walked away. I sat at his feet
for a long time, the only one that near who didn't have a camera. I watched him
closely, he had no fear and no doubts about the righteousness of his stance. I
spoke to him gently but he would say nothing. A demonstrator knelt on the ground
next to me and held a megaphone to the businessman, offering it up to the guy.
He held it patiently, quietly, asking the businessman to use it, please use it.
The guy just shook his head.
I finally left and went over to get
some food at a sandwich shop. Inside were cops and demonstrators waiting in line
together, some joking with each other, some mutually distrustful. I ate quickly
and left after watching a diabetic shoot up insulin right in front of a cop, just
daring him to ask or say something. I went back to check on my thumbs down guy,
by this time I felt a certain respect for his courage and I wanted to see what
was going down, I passed a Latino guy sitting nervously next to two huge banners
that said "Fuck the LAPD". A lady cop was photographing the sign, shaking
her head in disbelief. Across the park I could see the businessman still standing
with his thumb down, a good sized crowd gathered around him. Just then I saw two
friends of mine, Buck and Yuki and I made my way over to them and we decided to
go to the Independent Media Center and check out the news coverage of what was
going on. We had a friend working down there, Jennifer Joos, and she could give
us a full tour of the place.
At the Media Center I got a press
pass which allowed me to wander through the hastily set up offices and interview
areas. I was very impressed with the energy and intensity of this alternative
scene, they were collecting video of the various demonstrations throughout the
day and assembling all the news reports together to broadcast on-line. People
worked feverishly at their terminals and the mood was festive, food and drink
were provided and the whole show was going on around the clock. People were crashed
out, asleep on couches next to tables full of reporters arguing and shouting.
It was total bedlam, but organized. I went downstairs for a drink, another Jack
Daniel's and began to check out the various booths. Hemp popcorn, human rights
abuse hotlines, homeless shelters, free Mumia. I began to feel faint after my
long day and I went out on the fire escape on the 6th floor for a smoke. I saw
the part of the downtown skyline closest to the Staples Center bathed in red white
and blue light with spotlights swiveling across the sky. It was beautiful.
Earlier in the day I had seen an American
flag burned at Pershing Square. It wouldn't catch fire and finally some hip hop
guy wadded it up and held his lighter up to the fabric. Cameramen two deep surrounded
the sputtering flames, clicking away and crabwalking around trying to get a better
angle. I wanted to scream "This is your flag too, don't burn it. Take your
flag back, don't burn it". But I didn't dare, one guy who felt the same way
I did had made a desperate lunge through the crowd to rescue the flag, he was
punched and kicked and cursed. He was despised and pushed away. I saw him later
wiping the tears from his eyes as he sat away from the crowd, alone and no longer
hated, just forgotten. I gathered my stuff together, threw my cigarette butt off
the fire escape and headed back to the subway. I could still make it home.
Thursday Bob Rue and I met at my house
and headed over to the subway station. I had heard on the radio that there was
going to be an open drum circle in the demonstration area while Gore made his
acceptance speech inside the Staples. We boarded the train along with a few grungy
kids carrying guitars and drums that were obviously going down to Staples like
us. As we rode, I constantly checked my backpack making sure I had water and something
to cover my face with; Bob was pretty nonchalant but had brought along an "Anti
Nowhere League" shirt for some reason he wouldn't explain.
As we hiked from the 7th street station
we passed numerous people leaving the area. Discarded crucifixes made out of styrofoam
were all over the place, sticking out of trashcans, thrown on the sidewalk and
street. Interspersed with the people handing out radical agenda flyers were shills
from the various restaurants nearby. One person would hand you instructions on
how to start your own political party, the next would shove a menu in your hand.
The following block had small white cardboard coffins scattered all over the sidewalk
and stuffed into garbage cans. As we crossed the street in front of the Pantry
I saw an empty 5 gallon plastic water bottle someone had tossed so I picked it
up and began pounding on it with my fist. I just beat on it as we entered the
protest area and made our way across the parking lot looking for the drum circle.
The idiots and assholes were out in
full force, one guy dressed up as Uncle Fester from "The Addams Family"
with lit up lightbulbs in his mouth was holding up a sign that said "Uncle
Fester For President". I told Bob "They'll show that asshole on TV but
not these guys" as I gestured towards a crowd of people protesting the economic
boycott of Iraq. Onstage some Sistah was putting it down, power to the people,
right on. Certain areas of the crowd seemed to hold the promise of some action,
groups of anarchist ninjas ran amongst us, dashing from one place to another.
I heard drums and headed over to the general area where the riot had begun on
Monday, up by the fence closest to the Staples Center. The crowd was pretty much
made up of the same people I had seen all week, Black Block kids, white rastas,
tie dyed mumbling hippies, skaters, people on cel phones.
When I got to the drum circle there
were about ten people pounding on different sizes and types of drums. I stood
off on the fringes and began beating my 5 gallon water bottle, getting into it.
People saw me with my street style anti-drum and began clapping their hands and
singing. There were neo-hippie girls dancing along with gypsy looking lunatics
who were obviously tripping. Badass homeboys stood with their arms crossed over
their chests. Arrogant assholes with cameras shoved their way into the circle
of drummers to get a better shot. The crowd began to get dense as more people
came over to sway or chant or watch. Someone picked up the carpet at the center
of the circle and dragged it over to the fence . When we made it up there I realized
that we were playing for an unexpected audience: the cops on the other side of
the wire. As I pounded my water bottle I could see some cops were edgy while others
were enjoying it, at least they didn't have their teargas guns up. The ground
was littered with discarded protest signs, Stop NAFTA, Start the NHP. The drumming
was reaching a peak, the groove was happening, people began to yell and chant.
Everyone's excitement grew and our sound got louder and louder.
I looked up at the Staples Center
and I could see Delegates and cops watching from the balcony. The crowd began
to bellow at them, chanting some spell, some wordless roar. It peaked in a boisterous
rant, hands waving and pointing at the Delegates, like a climactic musical orgasm.
Then just like that, it was over and for a moment everyone there stood panting
and eyeing each other. At that moment a bearded guy rushed up to speak with the
leader of the drum group. A march to the jail, Twin Towers, was being organized
and would we please, please get the drums out into the crowd.
While they began to discuss this I
wandered off and sat down to watch the crowd. I could tell that something was
happening to everyone, there was some sort of collective aim sluggishly beginning
to motivate people. I walked around beating my drum and keeping my eye on the
North exit of the demonstration area as people began to congregate there. Ted
Hayes was in full effect, highstepping through the mob, shouting and stabbing
his finger in the air towards the jailhouse. One of the main protest organizers,
a tough looking blonde lady, shouted through her megaphone, "We're marching
to the jail, its a long way so you gotta be committed to doing it". There
were answering shouts and the crowd of people around me began to move North, not
yet a march, just groups of people sharing a common destination.
I saw Bob waiting for me up at the
Pantry and we took off with the tide of people that was beginning to move up Figueroa.
As we progressed he and I laughed at the massive lunacy of it, thousands of people
all stomping towards someplace we did our best to avoid most of the time: Jail.
I heard a wild rapping sound behind me, a big deejay action, the sound of pumped
up Bob Marley and drums. I turned around to see what the hell was approaching
and I was surprised to see a flatbed truck inching along off to the side of the
march. An old hippie guy with a long grey beard strode in front of the vehicle,
warning people out if the way. A crew of musicians and speakers covered the back
of the truck while a big sound system blasted out reggae music and shrill blabbering
by a some soul sistah. She was exhorting the marchers to keep it up: Who's streets?
Our streets! Who's streets? Our streets! I began to pound my drum in time to the
chant, shouting and yelling the mantra. Although the marchers managed to keep
together fairly well, there were thin spots where the faster marchers were pulling
away from the rest of the crowd. At one point there were two fronts: the line
leading the whole march and another line of people with joined arms a block back.
People ran through the crowd, some yelling speed up, others saying slow down.
Off in the distance I could see police
lights flashing, a long line of sparkling red and white light that stretched across
Figueroa. Some of the marchers began to panic and began to run back through the
crowd. Then the police that were blocking our progress started up the street,
a phalanx of motorcycles headed north and the cops on foot moved off to the sidewalks.
With a roar the march moved forward again. The police had given up the idea of
trying to direct the march's direction and they were up a block or two ahead of
us, stopping traffic and sealing off the street. The truck began to pull forward
again and the drummers on the flatbed began to beat an enthusiastic rhythm, helping
us maintain our pace. I continued to beat on my water bottle, sometimes along
with the beat coming from the stage, other times blending in with whatever beat
I could pick up from the various drum groups in the crowd. Bob and I maintained
our position at the front of the march as we went underneath a bridge, The acoustics
were tremendous and the marchers chanted and howled as they passed under the overpass.
Long after we exited the area we could hear the noise as the rest of the marchers
behind us passed through it.
By this time we were approaching Sunset
and the noise as we progressed was awesome. Thousands of voices, some chanting
slogans together, some individual rants and shouts. We passed Union Station and
the people on the truck began giving instructions on how we were to arrange ourselves
and get ready for whatever was going to happen now that we were at the jail. Off
to the side people handed out water bottles and I could see steaming pots of stew
with piles of cups and utensils behind them. The truck pulled around until it
faced the huge crowd while vast numbers of police stood massed in front of the
jail, across the street from us and behind the last stragglers as they arrived.
We were effectively surrounded.
People wandered around with no real
sense of purpose, we said we were going to the jail, now here we were and what
was going to happen now? Small groups sat down and formed little circles, people
just talking and sharing cigarettes. A big black dude took the mike onstage of
the truck and launched into a story about his motherfuckin' brother who had died
at this motherfuckin' jail coz of the motherfuckin' cops and motherfuckin' system.
On and on he rambled, the crowd growing restless and distracted. Once again the
phrase "Fuck the Police" rang out and I looked over at the hundreds
of black uniforms surrounding us and I wondered how stupid anyone had to be to
chant that slogan right now. I went to get some of that food, vegetarian and delicious,
while one of the drummers took the mike and tried to lead us all in a recital
of Bob Marley's "No Woman No Cry". It was so useless and going nowhere
that Bob and I decided to split as soon as the cops would allow us out of their
perimeter. They finally drew back and we left, walking past fire engines and ambulance.
One truck had its window open and a fireman hung his arm out, high fiving marchers
as they headed back. We decided to take the subway but when we got to the door
of the station, a guy pushed out yelling that the trains had all been stopped
and we had to get where we were going any way we could. By an incredible stroke
of good luck Bob and I and another
dude grabbed the first cab to appear and we were on the freeway heading back to
Hollywood within minutes.
As we drove away I looked back as hundreds of people arrived at Union Station.
I was surprised that the police would take away one of the only ways for people
to leave the area, stranding thousands. I looked forward again and began to talk
to the cabdriver. I asked him if he knew what was going on and he said no, he'd
just started work and the boss had told him he'd get a lot of rides if he went
by the demonstration. He was gonna vote for Gore even though he didn't think that
it was gonna make any difference. He just hated the way Bush had such a shit eating
grin on his face most of the time. The cabdriver was pissed off that Bush seemed
to think he deserved the presidency.
As I got out of the cab back where
I had parked my car, the cabdriver grabbed my arm and said "I know my vote
don't mean shit and I'd like to have gone with you guys on that rally but I have
a wife and kids. I guess all I can do is vote and I'm damn well gonna do that".
Right on brother. Still pumped up with energy from the experience Bob and I drove
around looking for a bar that would have a TV on with the news and we ended up
at Club Tee Yee. Sure enough, the TV was on, broadcasting news from the DNC but
there was nothing about our march. Disgusted at the media blackout we sat stirring
our drinks then Bob shouted "Look!". On the screen was the Uncle Fester
asshole we had seen earlier. "I told you that's all they'd show" I said.
"Fuck that shit" Bob grumbled. Fuck that shit indeed.