By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The stage seemed to be set for the now-familiar police tactic of mass arrests, used both in D.C. last April and during the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. Police began pulling journalists, at times forcefully, from the group, and pushed all other protesters, who were gathering in the surrounding intersection, onto the sidewalks, where they stood angrily waiting for buses to arrive to haul off their captured companions. D.C. Metropolitan Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer, always eager for a photo op (in April he could be seen wrestling teenage protesters to the ground himself), was at the scene, but refused comment when asked why his officers had charged the crowd.
Within a few minutes and apparently without any foreknowledge of what they were walking into, a band of several thousand demonstrators, filling at least two blocks -- the JAM and Million Voter March groups, who, marching from Dupont Circle, according to one protest organizer, ”just happened to walk up on the mass arrest“ -- arrived from the north on 14th Street and began chanting, ”Let them go!“ Overwhelmed by the sheer number of protesters, the police dissolved the line separating the captive anarchists from the rest of the crowd. After a few minutes of tense confrontation, during which officers tried with limited success to keep demonstrators on the sidewalks, the entire crowd marched off, joining forces on K Street and chanting triumphantly, ”The people united, will never be defeated!“ A few miles away, George W. Bush pontificated about courage and compassion and the duties of citizens to be neither spectators nor subjects.
Elated by its victory and unexpected release, Black Bloc marched behind a banner reading ”Whoever They Voted For, We Are Ungovernable,“ heading for the parade route, joined now on all sides by thousands of others, including five wearing papier mache caribou heads in solidarity with Alaskan wildlife, and a gentleman from Boston, his heading poking through a hole in an enormous butterfly ballot, who asked to be called Chad. At one point two anxious-looking Bushite couples en route to the parade found themselves in the midst of the crowd. One black-garbed marcher politely offered a pamphlet to one man, who ignored his offer, staring stubbornly ahead as if being pestered by a persistent panhandler. At the same time, another protester spray-painted an anarchist ”A“ on the back of his wife‘s fur coat and slipped away unnoticed.
Chanting ”Whose Streets? Our Streets!“ the crowd stormed through a checkpoint at Seventh and Pennsylvania with little resistance from police, filling the Navy Memorial plaza, across the street from the imposing Corinthian-columned National Archives building. Two lines of riot police closed in behind them, but soon filed off in rigid formation.
Protesters bid them adieu with a serenade of the Mickey Mouse Club theme.
For the next hour and a half, the crowd milled about in the frigid rain, teenage protesters drummed on overturned trash bins, sandal-clad environmentalists mingled with Boy Scouts and Secret Service agents, Radical Cheerleaders danced beside bleachers brimming with blanketed Republican ticket holders in yellow slickers and, inevitably, furs.
The police action did not begin again until three protesters climbed the 8-foot cement base of one of the plaza’s two enormous flagpoles, unmooring strings of naval banners and, to wild applause, raising the black flag of anarchism. The cheers had not died down before about six Park Police officers in full riot gear, eager to protect our military emblems from insult, surrounded the flagpole, reaching up to grab at the anarchists‘ ankles. One by one, the three protesters dove over the officers and into the arms of the waiting crowd. Police, now guarding an empty flagpole, charged the crowd, which successfully pushed them back into the street.
In the midst of the melee, two anarchists earnestly debated religion with a middle-aged man clutching a Bible and a sign reading, ”Pray for Revival,“ but even that island of calm disappeared when police reinforcements arrived, tackling demonstrators, trying to drag their prey back to police lines as protesters struggled to rescue their friends. Two undercover cops, who had been posing as parade-goers, began grabbing randomly at people, one of them spraying protesters in the face with a small canister of either pepper spray or Mace. Both were immediately mobbed by the crowd, and had to be pulled to safety by uniformed officers in riot gear. Protesters linked arms and, chanting ”Shame! Shame!,“ pushed even the riot police back into Pennsylvania Avenue. To shouts of ”Whose country? Our country!,“ an upside-down American flag was raised beside the black flag. Police made no further efforts to take them down.
By now it was well after 2 p.m., and the parade had started a mile or so to the east. While Black Bloc marched behind the bleachers, chanting, ”What do we want? Class war! When do we want it? Now!“ to an audience of fur-clad Bush supporters smiling nervously and waving miniature Texan flags, protesters spread throughout the parade route had already begun to jeer the presidential escort. By the time Bush’s limo reached the Navy Memorial plaza, another scuffle had broken out between police and activists. Apparently believing he had seen a knife, a plainclothes officer tackled a protester, who was quickly aided by the crowd. The riot cops moved in once more and, just as the plaza again turned into a mosh pit, with protesters and police alike pushing and swinging, the presidential motorcade drove by, Secret Service agents jogging beside it. Despite the tumult, the cry went up: ”Fuck you, George Bush!“ Someone hurled an orange, and a tennis ball bounced off the limousine‘s shiny black roof.