As a series of flash bangs shook my body yesterday in Portland I wondered two things: 'Why did the Portland Police decide to put families (whom they allegedly protect) at risk by firing harmful gases, semi-lethal projectiles and deafening, trauma inducing sound grenades in the middle of a peaceful demonstration, while simultaneously canceling the march from the back, denying access to the disability truck and splitting the marchers into scared bunches without a clear exit or end destination?' Shame on the City of Portland. The second thing I wondered was, 'Who gave you, Black Bloc, the right to put my body in harms way by your actions?' Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting property is more important than people-in fact I am consciously weeding out the word from my language-especially in regards to land management, but I do think we need to have a serious conversation about tactics. When I first heard the phrase "Diversity of Tactics" I thought, 'huh, yeah that sounds good.' We can all poke at the beast from different sides with sticks of our choosing, but when I realized that actually means that we don't have to come together and decide on a course of action that protects people who are at heightened risk for arrest (and possible deportation or torture), I rethought the term.
In the Bay Area for example, I see folks organizing their own direct actions in concert with the general protests. While we might not know that an action is going to go down if we are not core organizers, there are trusted security there that are aware of the general plan in order to keep everyone else as safe as possible. Among other strategic actions in the Bay, activists in San Francisco used people power to block the ICE garage from shipping people out yesterday! Now that is something I find worth defending. Yes, the Black Bloc isn't responsible for police violence, the police are, but the bloc needs to be more aware and take responsibility for actions that will most certainly put others in danger.
At Standing Rock we stood together on the front lines and that shit was scary. I still suffer from PTSD which gets triggered after a day like yesterday in Portland. But what was different about Standing Rock? We all agreed to be there, in full understanding of the consequences. We prepared ourselves with supplies and had medics standing by that also consented to our tactics. We all agreed to support our brothers and sisters as they risked arrest by not forgetting about them. Free Red Fawn! We went there with prayers in our hearts and when those prayers wavered because it is really easy to hate a cop, we were encouraged to sit down, to feel the earth and re-focus our purpose. OUR. PURPOSE.
Some say that the Bloc just exposes pre-existing State violence and police brutality. But I ask the Bloc, 'Who are you trying to teach? The babies? The glitter bloc that can't necessarily run away quickly from a police barricade? Our black and brown brothers and sisters at the front of the march?' Surely they had no idea that police violence existed until the Black Bloc pointed it out. Thank you Black Bloc. Or are we trying to start a revolution? Cuz if that's the case, we need the numbers. Personally I'd rather organize with someone who asks me first whether I support their tactics and listens to me when I offer my concerns, shows me their face, and times their actions appropriately. Does the Bloc even need to be related to a march? In fact if they weren't, I think I'd probably be more likely to support them.
As a Street Medic, not only am I concerned about my own safety, I've chosen to take on the extra responsibility of caring for the people around me. I can tell you that people were near tears. I think about trauma a lot and in particular, the trauma and re-traumatization caused by State sanctioned violence. This violence as we all should know by now, disproportionately falls on the backs of black and brown folks. No, the Black Bloc didn't force the marchers to disperse in less than five minutes while surrounding and dividing several city blocks creating an unsafe situation for everyone. That was the Portland Police.
Sure we can debate the efficacy of a sanctioned march as an organizing tool, or whether we even have the time to debate in this urgent time. However, there is no part of me that feels like what happened yesterday challenged the State or the Trump Regime let alone got us any closer to an end to Capitalism or Fascism. What I predict from yesterday's march is that it further alienated many people from the Black Bloc. Which is unfortunate, because obviously some of these masked-primarily white males are willing to throw down for the cause. As someone who does support the theoretical idea of anarchism, while simultaneously believing that it isn't attainable on a large scale in my lifetime, I find it hard to understand how these tactics benefit the whole. I ask you Black Bloc, 'Who do you protect? Who do you serve?'
In conclusion, I leave you with the words of one of my favorite writers from the very well organized EZLN movement, Subcomandante Marcos, who wrote,
"I should confess something to you. When I laboriously climbed the first of the steep hills that abound in these parts, I was sure that it would be my last. I wasn't thinking of revolution, of high human ideals or a shining future for the dispossessed and forgotten of always. No, I was thinking I'd made the worst decision in my life, that the pain that squeezed my chest, more and more, would end up totally closing off my increasingly skimpy airway, that the best thing for me would be to go back and let the revolution manage itself without me, along with similar rationalizations. If I didn't go back it was only because I didn't know the way back."
1. Our Word Is Our Weapon: Selected Writings, Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, 2001. pp 214-215.
One of the most amazing things about participating in the Standing Rock water protection movement is the commitment of all of us to non-violent direct prayer ceremony and action. Sitting here right now it is hard not to fuel the rage that is building in me, directed very pointedly towards the orange bag of hot air sitting in the Oval Office. I know many of us are thinking, if only we could pop that foul balloon, everything would be ok, the EIS wouldn't be revoked and native land wouldn't again be subjected to the desecration that has been the signature of U.S. colonialism since inception.
But if there is one thing that this election has taught many of us, it's that there are some very major wounds in the heart of this project called America. Yes, I use that word knowing full well it seeks to subsume the land north and south of it, to presume front and centre. The thing that is so fascinating about a black hole is that it is a force you can feel but cannot see. Maybe it's not the best analogy for what is happening in our government right now because they are all right there. Yup, all those white men are very visible, but if you imagine that this is a gathering of force that is visible but yet untouchable, perhaps that is closer to the heart of it. How many of us truly truly believe that with enough calls to our senators we can actually get the little orange hot bag of air to shift a policy like the Dakota Access Pipeline? If I search my heart of hearts, that is not the way.
Direct action at the pipeline site has become almost impossible due to the blockades and approved military force. We saw on November 20th what the North Dakota police force is willing to do to peaceful protectors of Mother Earth. I was there. I felt the sting of the gas and I will forever hold a pain in my heart watching as icy water was sprayed at my brothers and sisters of all ages in below freezing weather conditions. I was there when flash bang grenades shook our bodies. I was there when Grandmothers were arrested and sacred objects smashed. I too could not sleep because low-flying planes loomed overhead and they robbed us of the night sky with their wasteful bright lights. I saw young people worrying about their post-traumatic stress, their eyes puffy from pepper spray, dance and smile when beautiful music was gifted to the camp. I was hugged by a Grandma who fed thousands of people each week because she knew her gifts were necessary to nourish our spirits. I saw small bags of herbs sent from all over the land by those who know how much we needed to be healed. I read cards from young children who understood better than the government how much water means. Perhaps because they still remember the sacred water that held each of us for nine months.
So this is a time of joy and mourning for many of us. The resistance is not over by any means, nor did it even pause in celebration for the mandated Environmental Impact Statement. The government of the U.S. has broken or left unfulfilled so many treaties with the indigenous peoples of this land that until the last piece of pipe has been pulled from the ground, we believe not words, but actions. So I ask each of you now, to remember what you hold sacred. That bird that wakes you each morning, that river that you make pilgrimage to each summer, that tree that holds you when your heart is broken, that rain that makes the morning smell of life itself, and the rainbow which beams after the darkest hour, an overarching miracle. These parts of the whole that we keep close to our hearts, the love that we have is what brings us such sadness and anger in times like these. As we gathered to pray tonight in the Square, an Elder reminded us that if we forget this love, if we give in to the ease of anger, we have been transformed, that we are no stronger than those we are resisting. So tonight please try to see your anger, your sorrow as a tiny drop in the ocean of your love. Hold firm to that love with a strong heart as we move deeper into a time which tests us. We are being challenged to get more creative, to be more ingenious, more open and most of all, more loving. As the great love poet Pablo Neruda wrote, "Podrán cortar todas las flores, pero no podrán detener la primavera." (You can cut all of the flowers, but you cannot stop the Spring from coming.)