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by Anna Kunkin
Monday, Nov. 10, 2008 at 10:29 PM
Something really strange happened in the street last night. I don’t know if it was due to the “whiteness” of the crowd, to the fact that there is money in the gay community which potentially gives it power, or maybe it's the fact of the incoming president elect Obama with his promises of “something new”. I don’t understand and can only guess. But the fact is ….the cops backed off last night, and in all scores of demos, anti-war protests, pro-immigrant rallies, and every other kind of social-justice activity I have covered and participated in I have never seen that happen.
All the cops that I asked afterward told me that it had been “pre-arranged” to go that way….but it doesn’t make sense. If it was pre-arranged, why the gauntlet of cops controlling the people coming up from the Metro at Hollywood and Highland, obviously to keep the protestors separated from the tourists? (A ploy that didn’t really work since so many tourists broke through to participate in and document the protest with their cameras.)….If it was pre-arranged, why was Hollywood Blvd. turned into a parking lot of police cars all the way from Highland for at least two blocks west to keep people from crossing the street? If it was pre-arranged to let the demonstrators have the street, why was there so much effort to keep them from having it? Why did the police march down the street in military formation and then form a blockade several lines deep in a completely intimidating tactic if the end plan was to back down?
I don’t know. What I do know is that there was a stand-off in the middle of the intersection that lasted…maybe a half hour, maybe more; and that some people sat down in the street in that valiant sense of a battle that is worth fighting; personal decisions being made to act out true civil-disobedience with the risk of actually being arrested. Hearing about that, I was sure, as a seasoned observer of these things, that the arrests were about to start …and I waited for the chants of “Let him (or her) go” to start from the heart of the crowd. When I didn’t hear it, I thought that maybe this Gay crowd, new to “arrests in the street solidarity", wasn’t yet aware of this tradition….but then it occurred to me that maybe no arrests were being made! I still don’t know. I never saw or heard of any, and nobody I asked had either.
And then suddenly there was a void…..a space opening up, and the crowd, with a roar, surged into the street! The cops had simply, as somebody put it, “Caved”. Unreal! I just stood there for a beat, stunned, looking around, trying to figure it out. But there it was. Right in front of me. The cops simply, on cue, backed off and gave up the street.
And then the word came that the breakaway march that had started in Silverlake after the scheduled demo there, was now just a few blocks away on Hollywood Blvd. Thousands of people marching on impulse and without an official permit, all the way from Sunset Junction to Hollywood and Highland.....maybe 5 or 6 miles. And with a shout the Hollywood crowd took off to meet it. So this was Saturday night in Hollywood and tourists and club goers in their mini-dresses and hot-pants, along with the typical street characters all became a backdrop to this march of thousands. The march moved with a sense of joy and purpose; drums beating in the streets, while the walls to the clubs pulsed from their inner sound systems. There was the sound of cop bullhorns, ordering people to get on the sidewalk and let the approaching crowd move through. For about a minute there was a hesitation, a slight confusion as people, obeying orders started to move to the curb; but then there was a sudden irresistible impulse; a surge of power; and with a huge roar the two crowds raced towards each other. And embraced. And danced. And turned together and headed en-masse back to Highland. And with this, the efforts to keep the march and protest limited to Silverlake where it would be isolated and ignored by the larger population were thwarted. The permitted march morphed with its uncontrollable numbers into something much more. This is Democracy in action. And the cops can create the story that it was planned to go this way, but it was a complete impulse to go to Hollywood in the first place; so there’s no way they could have made the decision ahead of time. They were simply forced to take this position. It was either back down or have a bloodbath. And with the shadow of McCarthur Park over them, there's no way that could happen. This is proof that sheer numbers make all the difference.
And then, even though they had completely lost control, the cops still had to exert power and make known their presence. Did they have to regain “face” after their completely unexplained retreat? Who knows? But now, for no apparant reason, they formed another gauntlet and wouldn’t let people get on the Metro to leave. This childish move meant that thousands now had to walk almost a mile back to Vine Street to the next stop! Kid Stuff! Some kind of weird exertion of power just because they could. I wonder who gives orders like that….and if some of the cops don’t wonder about what they’re doing. When I got a chance to ask some cops about it the next day at another rally, the response was something like...."don't worry about it; we know what we're doing". ?????!!!!
But the people just grinned knowing that they'd won this battle...and that walking the extra blocks due to the cops pouting was no big deal. Let them have it. So with tired feet we marched back; past the people in their club duds standing in lines oblivious to the marchers, past the cops sitting at sidewalk tables taking their coffee breaks thinking about their overtime, and all the junkies and whatever other Hollywood characters that typically line the Boulevard sidewalk at midnight on Saturday night.
One more march, one more protest; and yet, there is a different feel; something that I felt last week on election night when I saw people dancing in the streets for the first time. Is it due to the promise of this new upcoming administration? Are people finally waking up and getting a sense of what “Democracy” really means? Will we now insist on equal rights and justice for everyone? Will we finally reach our potential?
It’s up to us. Spread the word!
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