Windows, bottles; I squint through hot tears and choke on a warm powdery gas that burns my lungs as I turn and run out of this cloud that sticks to the ground. One, two short,sharp shocks against my back like thudding bee stings; I falter and keep running as I feel what seem to be marbles being thrown at my legs. I turn a corner into booms and shouts; a street medic from out of nowhere pours milk of magnesia over my face, relief. Everywhere people are running.
Five hours earlier,one of my associates and I had decided to go to the Occupy Forum to take in a film and discussion about WalMart because Black Friday was around the corner, and we wanted to brush up on some things. We knew there would be news from Ferguson, indeed we had come to the Bay expecting to cover the actions that had been on call and in a holding pattern until Ferguson Prosecutor McCulloch would go on TV and announce the grand jury's decision.
A little before 7pm, as the movie was being cued up, I began to get the alerts. My phone was vibrating constantly. I suggested we flip on the news real quick and see what was happening in that courtroom some one thousand eight hundred miles from where we now sat glued to our twitters and laptops.
It wasn't good. I was given notice and we hopped on the BART to Oakland.
When we arrived at Oscar Grant Plaza, some one hundred or so people were milling around, holding some signs, and there was a definite buzz in the air; but the group was out of focus, and no one seemed to be suggesting any type of group action even now that we had a group. It was decided to block the intersection.
A marching circle was formed and we held up traffic on 14th and Broadway for about and hour. Then the group swelled to a number that suggested we may get away with a big street march, and this we did, moving along Broadway fairly well-behaved and virtually cop free.
Tweets started coming in about the protesters having taken the 580 freeway, and the pace began to quicken as the group, now some 200 or more hundred strong chanted slogans and rounded Lake Merritt on the approach to the freeway.
Now we saw where all the cops were. There, on the MacArthur on/off ramps were thousands of protesters feeding into a large mass from what appeared to be three large groups.
The Convergence was astounding. That being said, it was only a matter of time before we were forced off of the freeway and into the street, our numbers dwindling as large groups broke off and melted into the city.
At that time it looked about out of steam.
Fate had other things in store for us that night.
As we were going back to the BART station, we noticed the whirly-birds were still very active and quite near. With 50 minutes to spare, we decided to head towards the action and see what was brewing.
Met with the sight of a bonfire and the buzzing silhouettes of people lifting green and amber bottles to their lips; we spread out and then reconvened to report what we had seen. We centered on the fire, drank beers shared by friends and passively observed the scene.
When the tension ratcheted up a notch, the police began the sweep and started popping off rounds. The gas and rubber pellets were met with volleys of beer bottles. Thus emboldened, I attempted to return state property to the police before I was caught in a fusillade of pellets and driven from the scene.
They rushed us block by block until they were satisfied. The details of the night are of such high resolution: 1Liberty against the light of a raging street fire, arm in arm with a former enemy; a chaos of lights and colors, laughter, taunts and cheers; the smiling weary faces-- the things, the people we love, sacred ,profane, private and public---unified in space and time.
A clear distinction. Lines are drawn. Drawing sticks and plots of sand are fought for and bled into. We can show the opponent many more things than our discontent, our unified voice; we can open ourselves publicly with out want of fame or fortune or notoriety. We must meet at the watering hole all the time, sharing our stories of our days and families, yet we must reserve caution against the manipulation of our emotions. The Establishment is attacking us when we are most vulnerable.
We must not so be used.
It feels at times as if we are being used to strengthen them, and it is not because one side or another is “better” than the other so much as it is the fact that we have sides at all. The separation of the people from the State: that somehow, although composed of the people they have become separated from us.
Our own families dissolve into a morass of politics and social templates; the youth scream at the parent, the parent beats the child. Perhaps tomorrow night I will dwell on other things, but this night is spent running, screaming and drinking. A Smart and Final is looted, the rebels empty the beer bottles into their parched throats and toss them at the cops as the cartons are added to the fire.
The town seems to settle as the sun threatens the horizon; streams of white vans carry sweaty cops back to base as bedraggled protesters cluster around bus stops or shamble into the early morning.
The following night we ventured back into the scene, but this time we spent the night following the action, quite literally as we could not penetrate the police perimeters.
Towards the very end of the night there erupted some less than spectacular action that was quickly suppressed. This is in no small part due to the overwhelming number of cops from at least a dozen agencies being on the scene as opposed to the couple dozen of protesters left at the end of the night.
The first night, it seemed cop tactics were focused on creating a front with light flanks, (kettle) and they would soften the area with gas and pellets as they advanced and forced us away. Our groups were loose, but for the most part we stayed together, leaking into side streets as the mobile police units attempted to cut us off or block the streets to force our movements.
The night of the 25th, there was also a freeway blockade, and running chases with the cops.
There were multiple standoffs throughout the city; property damage, arrests, the usual litany of our actions.
What remains to be seen is whether or not we are going to keep pressure on the Establishment by escalating our action and amplifying our message, or if we will accept more crumbs from the table of gradual reform as police brutality and mass incarceration are given more time to develop countermeasures to our discontent.