The Subtle and the Surreal
Reflecting the intentions of organizers (not to mention serious Canadian border-control issues), rallies in opposition to the FTAA were intended to be distributed in nature: activists were encouraged to organize protest in their own cities, and in so doing bring the critical subject of globalization to places that hadn't yet made the corporate headlines with protests.
In Denver, preparations were made for an ambitious march through the city; starting at a major city bus station (to protest the privatization of transportation systems), proceeding to the corporate headquarters of our 'public' gas and electric utility, along by the regional headquarters of Enron Corporation, then down the city's central plaza about eight blocks to the main city library. Libraries, of course, are just one of the vital public services which is endangered by WTO/IMF/NAFTA/FTAA 'austerity' policies.
Sometime around the marchers' arrival at the headquarters of Xcel Corporation (our 'public' utility) at started to become clear that there were police all around. These were initially few in number, and mostly kept across the street, or drove by with obvious frequency. And they were subtle, talking with passersby pleasantly, letting them know jovially what was going on with the rabble across the street.
The march down Denver's downtown plaza street, the 16th Street Mall, was the high point of the day: the demonstrators, from very 'civil' looking people with cell phones all the way to black bloc kids with their faces covered, were upbeat, and filled both sides of the Mall.They passed out fliers, showed kindness to the many homeless which call the 16th Street Mall their home (that is, until they're rousted out by cops every couple of hours at the behest of shopkeepers). Their chants shook the tall buildings around them, No one on the Mall today failed to hear and see exactly why they were there.
It was interesting for some to note that every block they passed had a paddy-wagon parked at the corner. After a couple of blocks they could see that it was in fact the same paddy-wagon, placidly moving along, block to block, keeping them always in sight. At least one motorcycle cop was along at all times, of course; and always police cruisers, rolling serenely through every light they had to stop for.
After a time they came to the Denver Public Library. Everyone stopped here to relax. A few people spoke, several video cameras were rolling, and it was here they saw the only appearance of corporate media coverage of the event: the local ABC affiliate, widely criticized for its atrocious coverage of even local news (let alone national stories, which of course no local news outlet gives a crap about). The ten o' clock news has not yet aired, but this correspondent is certain the coverage will be as unflattering to the demonstrators as possible.
Everyone had their signs, they had their FTAA chants at the ready, and yes, they were well - informed about trade policy; yet a surprising number of these protesters did not know about the terrible violence taking place in Quebec City at this very moment. This is at once reassuring and disturbing: for it shows that they weren't merely being fashionable, having seen something they identified as 'cool' on TV. Yet they were also unaware of the intensity of the struggle surrounding this pivotal fight which is being battled out in Quebec City, which they were there to express solidarity with. Had they been, there may have been a more potent aspect to this rally.
The time came for everyone to head for Sunken Gardens Park, about six blocks south of the library. Food not Bombs was giving out good soup and better bread there, and everyone had worked up an appetite. Since my car was parked back up in downtown at my building, I split up with the marchers and headed back to my car.
I got about one block north of the library when my jaw dropped. A huge number of police were waiting for the demonstrators! Numerous police cruisers, that paddy-wagon we had been watching, horse-mounted jackboot-wearing cops, bike cops, cop SUVs, nearly blocking Broadway! It occurred to me quickly that the protesters were headed south, and these cops were either preventing them from going back into downtown (which they were done with anyway), or - more likely - were idiots who had showed up too late to do anything about a crowd which had already dispersed and was making its way to Sunken Gardens Park. I was just too curious, though, so I had to ask them.
"What's going on here?" I asked.
"We're expecting a bunch of protesters here."
"Are you aware that they are gone?" I replied.
"Ah, there's more coming. Move along, now."
So I did, and made my way back to my car, and from there to Sunken Gardens.
With a major spring storm making its way into the city, the hot soup was much appreciated by all who were there. Everyone sat in the grass, eating socializing, exchanging the kind of great stories which can only be told by activists. And the cops started to arrive again, still keeping their distance in the sinister way we have come to expect. A fair number of them, too.
Time for some fun. It was arranged for everyone to sprint off in all directions at once, and confuse the trailing cops as much as possible. Everyone made their separate, whooping departure, and ended up about five blocks away. Here was a small museum which had opened its doors to us: and there was music, and Russell Means was there (so I was told because I never got to see him). Before everyone broke up for the evening, there was still the matter of our police friends, who were now nearly blocking yet another major street in their effort to keep the demonstrators under their passive yet watchful eye. This street was a one-way street, so a simple plan to annoy the cops was hatched: people walked a few blocks up the street, let the cops slowly catch up to them, then sprinted back down, and made them scramble to side-streets to follow!
Yes, it was a fun time under increasingly crappy weather; and if the organizers were not terribly well organized, we forgave them. If the crowds after the big march seemed a little light, we could attribute it to the weather and not let it dampen our spirits.
But as I drove away, I couldn't help but feel as though a part of what was going on had eluded us. We were running up and down the street, laughing, and I'd bet that the cops were having fun shadowing us, too (although they were clearly ready for a fight if the demonstrators had shown them the slightest inclination). Two thousand miles away in Quebec City, the scene is tragically different.
Reporting for Angka-Ghetto Networks.