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Another 1996 Flashback

by Lesley (via Chuck0) Thursday, Aug. 17, 2000 at 11:35 PM
chuck@tao.ca www.infoshop.org

Here is another anecdote from the 1996 anarchist Active Resistance conference. Plenty of other activist stuff happened that same week, in conjunction with the DNC convention. Stuff like the Independent Media Center movement and puppets at protest parades pretty much originated during this hot Chicago week in 1996.

Lesley's Chicago

Well the Festival of the Oppressed was amazing. I'd been dropping by all week to help construct dozens of these puppets. The general story line had been worked out by Wise Fool Puppet Intervention - a team of folks from San Fransisco who had also been organizing dance classes in the mornings. The puppet intervention seemed a great way to express a clear message to the community in a non-confrontational manner.

In the morning of the festival of the oppressed, I went with some folks from Oregon and Washington to hang with the local community kids. We made paper plate puppets and bag masks and did face painting. Lots of people from the eighbourhood came out to have fun and ignore the helicopter circling overhead. After a few hours of fun, we got into formation for the piece and headed into the local neighbourhood, a good mix of local people and AR participants.

So. Maybe I can describe the piece. There was a large tower, maybe 18 feet tall whose sides were plastered with multinational logos like IBM, MacDonalds etc. The tower wore a tie and was controlling the two gruesome puppets of Dole and Clinton that flanked it. Pulling the tower was 30 or so workers, consumers, taxpayers and voters - all with appropriate tags. On either side of the tower strutted large CIA and politician puppets and huge pig/cops mingling with the crowd. Behind the tower came the single mothers (replete with babies), the natural elements like fire and water and animals.

The police presence was very high. From the beginning, we had mounted cop escort. It got heavier and heavier, with all sides of the parade being surrounded. It became obvious that they did not take kindly to this puppet manifestation. They tried to separate the group, but especially because we had a lot of local kids with us, we kept together. They arrested people who looked like "leaders" or organizers and one fellows foot was stepped on by a horse. The horses (poor things) did NOT like the puppets and kept rearing and panicking.

We kept going. At a key moment in the route (a major intersection), the walls of the tower were pulled down, revealing the four visions our core workshops had developed including community gardens, justice, collective bookshops, and a clean environment. Out came the goddess-warriors to dance about.

We made it back to the park and the 200 or so of us had a hungry meeting about whether we should go directly to the police station to support those arrested, or whether we should get the food that Seeds of Peace had made us first. Amazing facilitators seemed to get us to a decision - we would go to the police station. So we did. An even more freaky looking bunch than usual, with face and body paint on top of dreads, dirt and piercings.

At the police station we milled about. The lawyers we had supporting us changed their minds - we should go somewhere else and wait for a bit. So off we trooped to a local tacqueria for veggie burritos and beans and rice. Amazing and cheap place coped well with the 200 or so costumed riff raff we seemed to appear. Then back to the police station where motorists were asked to "Honk for Justice" as we hung out. Regular procedure seemed to mean that many of those who had been picked up wouldn't be released for 24 hours or so.

So I took off with another friend from Toronto, making our way back to the "Spice Factory" the space that we were staying. When we arrived, we noticed paddy wagons around the corner. I mentioned this to the security at our space and not wanting to blow things out of proportion, went to a local pool for a shower and swim (trying to hide the body paint that wouldn't come off without soap).

When we returned to the Spice Factory, only twenty minutes later, a major evacuation was in process. Cops without badges had entered "The Ballroom" the space where food and puppets were created, had pepper sprayed people randomly, taken folios and lists from the walls.

At the same time, over 100 cops had massed around the corner from the Spice Factory. So everything was removed in record time, people were loaded into any moving vehicle and taken to another location. As I was on a bike I had borrowed for the week, I rode with 8 or so others furiously. It was exciting. We didn't know about the macing yet, so it just seemed a big game of cops and robbers.

At the other location, I put my bike into one of the school buses that had been organized so quickly. We were being taken to a "secret location". No names given for a very real threat of infiltrators. We learned that the cops had raided "CounterMedia" the alternative media space and the "Festival of Life" another countercultural event happening in Chicago. In both places, arrests had been made.

At our "secret location", people buzzed with excitement. Convoys were sent out to the Young Democrats Party that various AR participants had crashed. So along they came, confused and somewhat tipsy, dressed in regulation crumpled ties and clutching half full bottles of Jagermeister from the party. Forays were made to the local store and beer was purchased. Dogs yipped. Twenty vegan pizzas arrived and we settled in for a night without electricity, (but with running water!) We tried to keep quiet, but the cops still showed up outside but just sat there, watching us and asking questions to anyone who emerged.

The next morning, our grimy bunch slowly awoke, fringing the big room like the edge of a hippies poncho. A meeting was called to discuss our plans. Many people decided to leave town that day. Those that didn't or couldn't want to leave didn't really want to go back to the Spice Factory. We would be billeted in the houses of the kind folks of Chicago for the last two days.

A casual final evaluation was attempted. So, what did you think of AR? The best, the worst and what could be changed. Generally, people were happy. Well organized, came out again and again. Too much to do. Hard to get involved if you arrived late. Great sense of community. Great food. Good free skool. Too white. Not enough music. Amazing mix of people from everywhere. Great speakers. I agreed. I thought the only main flaw was people not appreciating the organizers enough. They had obviously committed their lives to this for a good long time.

So we cleaned up and headed into the west end again. Over the next couple of days we partied, played anarcho-soccer, evaluated, and relaxed. Ah. Now I'm sick with a

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