It is Oct. 25th 2011. I am leaving a coffee shop mildly frustrated they close at 6:00pm. I arrive at Lake Merritt to view the sunset. The beauty is breathtaking and silhouettes a city bound in unrest. 6 helicopters hover over the city, a plane circles and I realize the Occupy protestors have met the force of eviction. On my bike I seek them. I pass 20+ police motorcycles as I meet a multitude occupying the intersection of 14th and Broadway. I found fellow CIISer’s present. I was greeted with alliance and encouragement. The adrenaline exuding from bodies was palpable.
People wear masks that look threatening and concealing. I later learned this action has everything to do with the protection from tear gas. I witness a woman poring vinegar into protestors bandanas. Vinegar is an acid and neutralizes the extreme base chemical composition of the tear gas.
The crowd is anti-authoritarian. The protestors move in waves of confrontation against the line police have built. The police are the only bodies present to confront. The police loud speaker the warning to disperse. We are illigal. “You have 5 mins to vacate the area!” The voice of the sergeant is direct, clear, and distinct… “We will use force.” The subtleties in his voice speak his silent hope: he prays that his job not be done. He prays for our compliance. Shame is shared and he has the armed power at his command. So… we march again. And then we return. I have a slice of pizza.
So many cameras. The lights from a helicopter beams down with a foreign presence – the surveillance is all encompassing. I witness the marching crowd return to the police line. The spirits of confrontation mount and everyone can feel the surge of intensity. Huge, loud booms erupt… the release of smoke… Screams, terror, concern, fleeing. A sea of people move hastily toward me. It was truly amazing to witness the shout of “WALK!! WALK!!” over and over. Wisdom and care know no boundaries…
I experiencing tear gas for the first time in my life. I bore witness to citizens in peaceful protest flee from a line of police in full riot gear. I learned how effective tear gas is. The paradox of ‘tear’ gas is not lost. Our bodies are in pain and the power of tears will heal, but for all our humaness we have not the tools to cry together – so we fight. I write and my head throbs from the poisonous air I consumed. Everything in your head burns… burning, not tears.
On my bike I felt safe. I am mobil and fast. Everything was a spectacle. I prayed for all present. This is my United States. We are divided.
I bare witness to working class officers experiencing the shame of tear gassing their neighbors. I bare witness to privileged and under-privileged youth channeling an unnamed rage against non-corporeal entities. It is both protest and nihilism, social auto-immunity and the loss of the “American Dream” becoming consciousness.
I was on the opposite side of fence with the officers a mere hour ago. Now I sit in a coffee shop. In a dance with key strokes… and there… to my right are two Oakland police officers. We are together consuming caffeine. Praise the Lord.
For about 30 minutes during the protest I ate a slice of pizza. I had already experienced the tear gassing. I sat in front of a glass window, watching protestors, the police in riot gear holding their ground and the whole event pass before my consuming gesture like a live reality tv show. This is America. “How was the protest?” “Good! I had a slice of pizza.”
God Bless America.