Thursday, August 17, 2000
Los Angeles Times
City Streets Make Radical Vacation Spot
Thousands stop whatever they usually do to join in something bigger. Their
reasons are as varied as their causes.
By HECTOR TOBAR
From the back of a flatbed truck packed with loudspeakers, puppets and
assorted protest signs, two guys from East Los Angeles have lived this week
like their own Magical Mystery Tour.
They've seen actors dressed like "billionaires" mocking the wealthy.
They've seen drummers and dancers and a huge cardboard "nuclear missile"
rolling down Figueroa. They've seen 500 teenagers march an entire block in
"It's surreal," Carmelo Alvarez said as the truck rolled through
downtown. "In real life, you never get to do stuff like this."
Alvarez and a friend who goes by the name of Menoman have been
providing a mobile stage and sound system for the protesters, working for
donations. As of Wednesday afternoon, they had parked their truck at 10
rallies and marches, driving back and forth across the heart of Los Angeles,
from MacArthur Park to Pershing Square to Staples Center, taking it all in.
What they've witnessed has been part rage, part comedy, a mishmash of
causes joined together by a common spirit, the sense that America is losing
its way in a sea of money, power and superficiality.
As protester Charles Poper put it while hitching a ride on the truck
along Wilshire: "The world is in jeopardy. Humanity is in jeopardy. We need
to slow down and stop looking at profits and the bottom line."
Poper is a bus driver for the Orange County Transit Authority who took
a weeklong vacation to hang out downtown with the protesters, to feel for a
few days the joy of collective action, the unique rush you get when you're
standing with a thousand people all yelling the same thing.
"Whose streets?" starts one chant repeated at nearly every protest.
Untold thousands of people have made this week their radical vacation.
They've taken days off work or called in sick to join in one march or maybe
several, picking from the smorgasbord of events listed on protest Web sites.
"This is a movement, a real beautiful movement," says Lisa Ferguson,
37, a videographer and writer working at the Independent Media Center. "I'm
just moved to the point of tears at least three times a day. The spirit is
that of a collective. We're all sharing."
Ferguson is the daughter of jazz musician Maynard Ferguson, who was
"one of the first people to drop acid with Timothy Leary," the '60s guru who
urged his generation to "turn on, tune in and drop out," she said.
A child of the older generation of radicals, Ferguson sees something
different in this one: "It's not just a replay of the '60s. They've figured
out what the mistakes were. In the '60s it was very hierarchal, very sexist.
There were a lot of egomaniacs." The media collective she's working with
this week couldn't be more different.
"They do everything by consensus. They try to make sure there are no two
white men in any level of power."
The idea of shared leadership and consensus comes in large part from
the anarchist movement, a 19th century ideology that's found a new life on
the cusp of the 21st.
"Anarchism is about not forcing anyone to do anything they don't want,"
said Marcus Page, a 34-year-old puppeteer from Tacoma, Wash. "It's all about
Of course, there are a few anarchists on the streets of the city this
week who don't see their movement as one that should avoid violent
confrontations. They are the ones who seem to be on the fringes of every
protest, young men and women dressed in black, huddling in tight groups,
deigning to grant interviews with the "corporate media."
Other activists here have been treating these radical anarchists like
the troubled little brothers of the movement--they want the angry youth to
feel "included," a part of the family, but also worry about what craziness
they might unleash next.
It was possible to see this dynamic at work Tuesday night at the
"Queers and Allies Action March." As the demonstration reached its finale in
front of the Federal Building, a group of black-clad youth drifted away from
the main body of protesters toward the edge and the line of police officers
blocking the street.
One of the "security" volunteers for the march held out her arms to
direct them away.
"OK, guys," she said in an even voice. "We're just making a circle.
Please, let's make a circle."
The "Black Block" wasn't into making circles. But they didn't do
anything violent either. One of their members simply took out a piece of
chalk and wrote a message on the street, words directed, apparently, toward
the media: "Focus on the real issues."
But what are the real issues? Global warming? Police brutality?
Fluoridated water? The death penalty? Bicycles as an alternative to fossil
fuels? All those causes have been addressed this week by protesters, many of
whom have gone to jail for their beliefs.
What is it, exactly, that unites this kaleidoscope of activists?
Think of them as the anti-power crowd. They are the antimatter that
orbits around the fat cats wherever they might assemble--be it Seattle,
Washington or Philadelphia. And, this week, Los Angeles.
He Was Born to Protest, but He Will Sit This One Out
By MARC FLACKS
Los Angeles Times
August 17, 2000
If the police used profiles to predict who is most likely to protest
the Democratic National Convention (and who knows, maybe they do), I would
probably be a perfect fit.
Besides being youngish, bearded, left-of-center, an academic, single
and socially connected to many who are demonstrating at the event, I have a
family history of political activism.
My grandparents were blacklisted in New York during the McCarthy era
for their involvement in the labor movement, and my father and mother were
two of the founders of Students for a Democratic Society. In fact, because
of my folks' involvement in SDS, I am myself literally a footnote in the
history of the notorious Chicago convention of '68: At least two memoirs of
that event relate the story of my mother wheeling me in a baby carriage
through the chaos of Grant Park, daring the cops to "tear-gas my baby!"
While I am now 32 years old and a bit too large for a baby carriage,
this is not the main reason I have not been at the demonstrations at the
Staples Center. Am I too busy? Well, yes and no. I recently moved to the
L.A. area to begin my new job as a professor of sociology at Cal State Long
Beach, so I do have quite a bit to do to prepare for the coming semester.
Still, like some other professors who have been seen among the protesters, I
could probably justify going in the name of research or in the interest of
gathering material for teaching my courses.
Am I afraid? I'd be a liar if I said I wasn't intimidated by the LAPD
in full riot gear, or by the "anarchists" in bandannas who seem to be
spoiling for a fight for fighting's sake. But I've been arrested before,
been punched in the head more than once and have survived mosh pits and
other dense crowds of sweaty people.
Am I apathetic? By the standards of my activist family, a little, but
not by the standards of most Americans, since I'm actually watching the
convention on TV.
On the other hand, protests and demonstrations are acts of dissent,
statements of one's disaffection with mainstream politics. And while they
often entail profound unity among protesters, they sometimes, for that
reason, can be interpreted as expressions of disunity with, and anger at,
those who are not protesting. Call me complacent, but at this moment in the
history of the country and my life, I do not feel a burning need to loudly
proclaim my dissatisfaction with the government, the political process,
corporations or even the Democrats.
Strangely, given my background, I don't feel much affinity with the D2KLA
protesters, even though I share their passion for democracy, human rights,
protecting the environment and equality. Maybe it's the puppets.
Perhaps it's the Democrats themselves who are to blame for my
unwillingness to protest their convention. The creation of good jobs,
support for young working families and the fostering of national unity are
precisely the achievements the Dems are touting this week. President Clinton
said on Monday night that he had been "waiting over 30 years" to see the
hopes and dreams of the 1960s come true. It was the same hopes and dreams
that propelled my mother--however ill-advisedly--to offer me as target
practice to the Chicago police in '68.
The realization of those dreams (even if only partial) is in my case a
more effective deterrent to protest than are pepper spray, rubber bullets
and batons. I guess you could say, then, that I've been waiting over 30
years too--almost my entire life--for the opportunity not to protest at the
- - -
Marc Flacks Lives in Long Beach
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