Tue, 15 Oct 2002
So after sleeping for 17 hours Friday night, and spending the rest of the weekend at the ACCRC building computers for Afghan schools, and plotting with Evan on how to unwire treesits in Humboldt County, I did what anyone else would do in the same circumstances come Monday morning, namely, slack off totally and waste more time than I really dared hacking with ua on the ultimate X-Chat auto-op script. (Google, please take note!) The script, which had previously been a mere ugly hack on my part, has, in ua's capable hands, now become a thoroughly over-engineered monstrosity. This unnatural obsession quickly led us to InvisibleNet, which obra (of RT fame) described as "like it could be for IM what PGP was for email". I mean, Diffie-Hellman key exchange! End-to-end encryption! Chaffed traffic to thwart analysis! Seamless integration with existing IRC clients! K-R4d!.
"But that's not what I came here to tell you about." No, I wrenched myself away from the prospect of toying with InvisibleNet in a desperate attempt to try to get some work done, and then finally compromised by spending an hour after work pooting about with the GIMP making an 88 x 31 pixel icon for this website, in spite of the fact that this site has no images whatsover in the basic design. Myself, I like to let the typography speak for itself, but I know a lot of you 'blogger types like little graphicky doodads, and I do appreciate the sentiment of those of you who are willing to risk being associated with my little crackhouse on the web here. So I hope you'll forgive the icon's thematic pun on the name of the site -- after all, you might even say it's the bomb!
So, on Friday morning, I (as promised) engaged in civil disobedience at the San Francisco US Federal building, in the presence of a couple hundred fellow demonstrators. About 46 people submitted non-violently to arrest in attempt to halt the operation of the building that morning in protest of the congressional resolution to grant the executive branch effectively unlimited license to wage a potentially unjust war on Iraq. My sincerest feeling is that, even were such violent action reasonable and perhaps just in the first place, the United States has, bluntly, no business unilaterally deciding to assume such colossal risk of wholly innocent life. And I have sufficient doubt in the justice of any form of violence, such as it is. Bombs on Iraq, I fear, will not obviously prevent bombs here, and it will more likely only provoke them.
I'm not exactly sure how I didn't get arrested. I had no shortage of opportunity, and sustained several inconsequential injuries from police manhandling. A group of us stood, and, when knocked to the ground, lay in the driveway to the building's underground parking lot entrance. Around back, away from where the TV cameras had been, the SFPD arrested four dozen people seated in front of the entrance through the police barricade, then seemed to give up on arresting people or indeed trying very hard to get employees through the barricade. People danced around, chanted, played drums. A brass band -- the Brass Liberation Orchestra, no less -- marched around.
If we'd had only a few more people in the street, no one would have gotten in that building, versus the few determined employees that snuck past or climbed the police barricades, usually with the assistance of the police. Sometimes the police assistance turned violent, when a particularly aggressive or desperate Federal employee would try to muscle their way through the thicket part of the crowd. But those aggravated souls weren't the worst of it, either.
No, one could appeal to the police, but they could assume professional impassivity and resist interaction. (I found it most convenient to mutter "Ouch, that hurts," when being dragged or otherwise handled, because it did.) The violent employees likewise had been somehow antagonized out of treating the protesters as fellow human beings - in part, perhaps, by the actions of the protesters, no doubt - and so their role was a known quantity, sort of, or at least one knew what to expect. No, the worst part was far and away the poor employees who were probably a little alienated by a crowd so obviously hostile to their employer, but working stiffs, you know, people with desk jobs who certainly want this ill-fated war no more than the rest of us.
"Go home," I tried to say, "We've closed the building. Have a long weekend in honor of the war."
"Do you even have jobs?" the reply, in a defensive assault on our integrity. (And a chorused "Yes!" of dozens of voices in response to that.) Worse still was, "I'm on your side, I work for the Civil Rights Administration, and you're keeping me from doing my work!" Oh, hell. These people are on our side and they suffer for our actions. "Go home," I tried to say, "No employer would make you suffer for showing up to work in the midst of this." But you could see that the nicest of them weren't really totally comfortable with that, and moreover there we were inflicting this on them. That was the worst.
Easy for me to say, I guess. I didn't get injured and wasn't even arrested. But I have to say that those two prospects bothered me a whole lot less than alienating ordinary people who believe in justice in at least in theoretical sort ofway. A young woman that I met at the protest described facing the police (or the cold concrete) as "nothing compared to what people have to go through in other countries," referring, of course, to the numerous places in the world that a person could be shot outright for doing what we were doing there.
Am I some kind of Darwinian fuckup for hewing to the notion that humanity has long been able to wipe itself off the planet, that our only escape is to conquer our violent simian instincts with reason, wisdom, and compassion, and that toward that end we must first personally resist resorting to violent assault, potentially even in self-defense? I can't claim self-defense were I to retaliate against police brutality in a street demonstration -- not that I would -- but if I wanted to lay claim to things like the justification of self-defense, I should have stayed far away from there, rather than deliberately interposing myself between ordinary citizens and their daily duties. In other places -- Ecuador, perhaps? -- we could be shot outright.
What did I expect to achieve by doing this, exactly? A media circus and a show of resistance to the plans of our nation's rulers. When voting and letter writing and faxing and phone calling and public speeches and independent media and thousands upon thousands of people at rallies all round the world fail to root our government's actions in some semblance of justice and compassion, what then is the thinking person's alternative? How the hell do we stand firm against the institutions and yet embrace the individual people within them? There are a million other ways we might try -- what else can we can drum up to bring us closer to the world we want?
Oh, God. Please forgive me for the rantiness. Of course, you can see the pictures and the video for yourself at SF Indymedia and particularly: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5. See if you can pick my sorry ass out of the pictures.
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