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Bike Block NYC recap F-15

by Green Monkey Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2003 at 9:07 AM

NYC protest news

Bike Block NYC recap F-15

By Green Monkey

My impressions of Feb. 15th 2003...

What an incredible weird mixed up emotional day, yet I was so impressed and amazed with the turn out. It truly was incredible. I started my day on a bike, exactly where I wanted to be. No fix gear, no Viking helmet, no obvious markings to instantly profile me as a demonstrator. The idea was to be stealth, mobile and able to move freely about the streets.

The set-up was obvious this time, especially cause this demo was going to be right in my backyard. We were all being set-up to fail, to look bad, to react and to make the demonstration look bad. This is what the city wanted. First they told us we couldn't have a permit to march, a rather unheard of demand due to the fact that people have marched for all kinds of things from police brutality causes to the klu klux klan. The reasoning was security. Their favorite word besides, "terrorism". They told us we were on high alert, you know that system that Tom Ridge and Ashcroft cooked up to scare everyone with their color scheme. Code Orange is like a game of simon says, where suddenly we must rush out and buy duct tape or iodine because of a miscellaneous tip from some unknown Al Qaeda suspect, in some secret bunker. Suddenly its justifiable to have advanced military hardware laden police officers stationed in front of the half price ticket booth in Time's Square, as if some disgruntled Taliban will blow himself up cause he can't get tickets to Totally Modern Millie. And what are they planning to due with those assault rifles? (By the way on average police officers only fire their pistols in training twice a year)

So, simon says, we are on high alert...which later started to become a big joke to the point where even Mayor Bloomberg thought buying duct tape was ridiculous. High alert means most people won't question the massive amounts of troops in time's square and never link it to the fact that Feb 15th is combing up and is supposed to be the largest protest in the world, with simultaneous protests in over 300 cities.

The media tells everyone, this is a bad time to protest. That it makes sense to only give the expected demonstrators a permit for 100,000 people. That porta-potties are a security threat, that 2 tents is asking too much and that there is a need for the largest barricade system known to man. This I saw coming and had instant flashbacks to every kind of demonstration I've ever attended in New York.

New York loves the pen. Its all about macho control of the people. New York would never resort to the military look of riot cops like we see in DC and Seattle. Thats not their style for officer Vinne pots-and-pans. Besides, NYC has the numbers...40,000 police officers, the sixth largest army in the world. So put everyone in a pen. Block off their access to move freely, tell them you don't know where to enter. Show people empty barricades and then tell them their full. Tell people to walk 10 blocks out of their way only to find other cops to tell them to walk 10 blocks the other direction. This is how the NYPD operates. This is the denial of our civil rights, this is not courtesy professionalism and respect, which all police cars have written on them and is the code of conduct that the po-po expects the people to have as well. I am not here to bash cops, they are robotic by nature and only follow orders from above. So voice your complaints to Mayor Bloomberg who may be too busy flying his helicopter to Bermuda.

Enough about that, the stage was set. This did not deter 500,000 people from coming to NYC. Neither did the freezing weather. What this event created was the the need for people to respond to the city's denial of our rights to assemble. To make people want to march, to move freely about the streets that belong to us.

Oh no...simon didn't say.

So around 9:30 I was in the city. I picked up a nextel from Comm. I figured I'd be on a bike and could help with communications for the whole demo. They had an RV as a command center and about 12 people on walkie. But someone forgot to charge the batteries so we all resorted to cell-phones. Then Brandon and I rode bikes around the city and did a quick scout. I saw a huge police presence in Time's square so I felt confident that no Al Qaeda would be getting into any Broadway shows or eating at the WWF restaurant. Whew. Then we buzzed by the library steps at 42nd and 5th. This was about the feeder marches. Because the city was too cool to allow free assemble, everyone decided that getting to the demonstration should be more of a big deal. So 67 feeder marches were created from every point of entry to this city. Low Eastsiders, anarchists, Reclaim the streets, puppets, students, labor, WBAI listeners, gay and lesbian community, people of color all streaming into the city. The Library was getting full and it wasn't even 11:00, the time people were supposed to get their. Cops tried to push everyone back and not allow them to be on the library steps. So you aren't supposed to be in the streets and you aren't supposed to block the sidewalks. So the police wanted everyone to just keep moving. This failed and soon 5 or 6 thousand people were filling up every inch of public space.

So we rode back down to Union Square. We had to be there by twelve cause we were going to help lead a critical mass style action which we called the BIKE BLOCK. I mean how perfect. A huge demonstration of the war for oil...why not be on a bike. We made flyers to make the connection about reducing oil consumption which had useful facts on one side and the messages..."Stop the war for oil, we are the alternative, we are not blocking traffic, we are traffic."

By about 12:30 we had 50+ bikers. Now we were a little worried about how to react. I had just witnessed the youth block being pounced on by the NYPD for taking the streets. That was a big no no. The cops wanted everyone to stay on the sidewalk, and to get to the barricaded protest not built for enough people, in single file fashion. Well the students didn't react well to this authority and took the streets, which green-lighted New York's finest to bring in 5 busses, hundreds of riot cops and a squadron of horses which would later be used to trample people and send them to the hospital for illegally being in the streets. I got the cell phone report that the student march was broken into smaller chunks but was proceeding North on schedule and planning on hooking up with the library march.

So the bikers decided to obey. We would stop at red lights and not attempt to take the whole street. Which 50 bikes can do easily. So we rode downtown, then across 8th street and up 3rd Ave. We didn't really have a goal and our originally planned route had already changed. We had no police escort.

The people seemed to really dig us and we had no agro reactions from SUV road rage pron drivers. We started to get reports form our buddies at Reclaim the Streets. We wanted to hook up with them because, they had built a sound system, created this Mardi Gras carnival block theme and had some slogans about, "giving up war for Lent." Also we knew they would be fun and mobile and didn't want to go anywhere near the barricades of 49th and 1st Ave.

So the mass of bikers went up Madison Ave. and heard RTS might be at 60th and 3rd.

When we got to 57th Street it was a mess. A good mess though. Cars were backed up and thousands of demonstrators were crossing the street, peacefully and obeying the city ordinances. Thousands of riot cops kept a close eye on them in case some spontaneous street assembling broke out and then they might have to crack a few skulls. This is when our group decision making skills came into effect. Suddenly we became a mobile affinity squad and our first goal was to decide how to cross the flowing river of humanity.

We crossed, went up a few blocks and went East. No RTS. What we found was more cars backed up, going nowhere and tons of tons of people. And it seemed like most of them didn't want war. So after a lot of negotiating we decided to say the ride was over and that we would reconvene at Columbus Circle at 3:00pm We had heard there might be an attempt to demonstrate in Times Square and we didn't want to miss another chance for Bike Block to get some glory.

Well we didn't actually split up. The bikers just couldn't get enough so we just kept riding around. One white shirt cop (a sergeant or someone who can give orders like make the horses attack) was very jealous of my mobility to ride a bike. In the middle of the streets he told me to get off my bike and walk it...Wait a sec. This is for my safety? To walk my bike in the middle of the streets. I laughed at his feeble attempt to instantly exert authority...I did get off my bike for a second cause I knew how trigger happy these dudes were and I didn't want to demasculate him in front of his young officers. Earlier a cop tried to tell us we had to wear helmets..which we laughed at because NYC state law says you do not need a helmet if you above the age of 14. I always find it hilarious when cops make up laws on the spot as if people don't know their rights. My advice is to know your rights.

At this point our numbers were dwindling but we did manage to pick up a double decker unicycle who was happy to be part of our alternative energy posse.

Then we headed back up 3rd ave and at 50th street things were very interesting. I saw kids on top of a truck in the middle of the street. We had the streets. A Korean band was jamming on the side walk. Thousands of people were in the streets, not moving, not being allowed to move. It seemed as if the city under estimated the number of people who don't want war. Hmmmmm. Then I realized that motorists were stuck. I felt bad. really. I talked with this one woman, she seemed ok, I said I was sorry about her wait and looked around to see if there was anyway of getting out her out. No chance. This is were a lot of things dawned on me. If the city had granted us a permit to march or placed us somewhere where we could freely move Central Park or gave us much more...this wouldn't be happening. They would have put in the route in of the demo in the papers, broadcast it on the radio. People had no idea this was going on. I guess the media felt like ignoring this whole affair, so the city paid the price. People were all stuck in traffic for hours. Did the police comply with the situation? No. The choose to take an aggressive stance and place riot cops in front of us and hold up traffic and block demonstrators and not tell us if we could move or not. They had no answers.

Everyone just decided to dance. Our group locked up our bikes with an agreed notion from years of protest experience that this could get really good. I mean everyone needed a tension release. I took the opportunity to climb on top of the Frito-lay truck and get that high angle video shot I've always wanted. The roof of the truck was caving in a bit and all its inhabitants wondered if collapse was eminent. I don't think it mattered. Everywhere me an my camera looked was a sea of demonstrators and this wasn't even the legal assemble point where demonstrators were told to go...or not depending on the cops mood. After some good video opps. I jumped down, ok it had a little to do with the fact that cops had moved in and told us too. Then came my biggest fear. Being stuck. It seemed you couldn't go forward and their were too many people to go back. A cell phone call from Brandon alerted me that we had less then an hour to get to Columbus Circle for Bike Block round 2. I moved towards the front and duct out of the row of riot cops just in time. Later I was told the horse crew of officers moved in and used these massive animals to violently trample the crowd. Also their were reports of pepper spray.

Still no RTS, no carnival block, no sound system. We all shared the various food in our bags, regrouped and hit the streets in numbers, including the guy on the unicycle...I was really amazed at how many of us were together again.

We got to Columbus Circle and re-regrouped. This time we picked up a few newbies and some guy in an orange jumpsuit who had a blue jean jacket with the words Chicago Critical Mass. Hmmm? Who was this stranger? All I noticed was he had a certian keen energy, like he was harnessing the protest, a leader, an instigator someone you get an instinct to point the video camera at cause shit is going to happen in this guys orbit. I learned this from other critical masses, like a time in Portland when a guy had the words: "One Less Car" tattooed in huge letters on his back.

Its about 3:30pm and here is our latest operation: Ride into Time's Square and connect with Reclaim the Streets. We had heard a rumor that Times Square would be a mecca of after-official-protest activities. Since people were getting denied access at so many points into the pens and lied to, and harasses and run over by horses and maced, and followed and video taped and arrested for the savage and brutal crime of walking in the streets, people were a little agitated. For some strange reason, this had no effect on people. Not too many people went home, instead they just sort of marched in the streets in groups of about 100-200 and had many more confrontations with New York's finest. Weird huh? You would think all the repression would make people turn-tail and run, but not today. Today was a day for people to express themselves.

We heard reports that Times Square wasn't quite happening yet...there weren't enough people, RTS was eating lunch (sorry guys, I had to go there) We staled a little and then said...fuck it.

We rode into Times Square on 47th and Broadway and everyone started cheering, like the star quarterback had just entered the game in the 4th quarter and the home team was down by 6. 47th street was the dreaded half price ticket booth and Al Qaeda could be near. The cops countered by closing off the streets as much as they could as if below 47th street was filled with demonstrations...we later learned this was a big facade. The were however lots of people on the sidewalks and the bike block sort of green-lighted a little reclaiming of public space. People danced, wrote "No war" in blue chalk, carried a cardboard coffin that had the words "R.I.P. democracy." The chant..."Who's Streets? Our Streets filled the air like a cry for battle." Often in this situation, critical mass types will hold up their bikes in defiance like an explorer jamming a flag in the ground and staking their claim. These streets belong to the people and we are here to dance upon the concrete carpet. Our orange jumpsuited friend held up a bicycle with the saddle in his mouth and no hands as like a trained seal balancing a ball. I have never seen anything like this. The cops were amused for about a millisecond but the dance went on. Not enough people took the streets and we could see a line of riot cops forming. This was our cue to mobilize. Put that bike down, saddle up, the sheriffs here...move. Let the protest happen, bikes need to keep moving.

We split and the cops cleared the streets.

We regrouped. I found out the balancing bike act was performed from: "Travis Hugh Culley" author of the book the Immortal Class which Brandon had finished and recently given me to read. Its a book about messenger culture in Chicago and how someone goes from being just a biker to learning about issues of public space and becoming a bike activist. This guy was off-the hook. He had such energy. He chanted at the crowd, almost preaching to them. He climbed up on a NYTimes delivery truck and pissed off their drivers who reacted by shoving him off and attempted to drive the truck into our parked group of bikers. I wasn't sure how to react to this, but it was entertaining in a weird confrontational way. Critical Mass deals with this on a regular basis. How to balance between getting your message across and dealing with road rage. Often it is dealt with by the handing of a flyer or a calming speech to try and de-escalate a hostile situation, but, hey, maybe they do things differently in Chicago. Either way, Travis was way cool and needed a ride. He came to NYC with little change and no bike. We naturally gave him a lift and traded it for some snacks and an on camera interview.

It was getting late. Cops were starting to loose patience. The official march was long over and spontaneous snake marches were just beginning. Winding through the city. Samba bands, drummers, mohawked punks and people...all they wanted to do was march. No property destruction, no burning flags, no targeting evil fast food chains.

We decided to do comm. We called cell-phone numbers and used nextels and found our friends digitally at other marches. Our new goal was to try and link groups of was the least we could do. My legs ached. I had forgotten to drink water. But this was still exciting.

Earlier, Travis got arrested. He had lied down in the street for about 15 seconds to make a statement to cars. Then popped back on my bike rack. We rode up town and then two cops told him to get off and arrested him. I asked them what the charges were, they said, lying in the street...disorderly conduct. That is normally a summons. But the cops were mighty pissed off today and needed no real excuses to pinch another person and get them off the streets. I can't blame them either. I'd be mad too. If I had to do such a shitty job like denying people their constitutional rights and be told to run them over with horses and not let them go to the permitted assembly point.

One march was heading up 6th ave. Taking the whole street. The cops moved in and started to arrest people. A young girl was forced to the ground by two officers and one cop had difficulty arresting a 70 year old man in a tie die. One person un arrested themselves with the help of two people and this white shirt got so pissed he smashed someone's megaphone, or maybe it was police property. It was just your usual show of force. Then a black undercover cop SUV rode by and flipped me the middle finger...that must be the professionalism the cops are always talking about.

Well the sun set. The streets were cleared. We heard things were still going on, but there was nothing.

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