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Free radicals (continued)

Time for another Tea Party

Monday, July 26. The Bl(A)ck Tea Society opens the Convergence Center’s doors to the media for the first time. Only a few people are there. The most interesting thing I see is a note posted in the center’s entranceway:


The party in the first part

— the disenfranchised, oppressed, and rebellious,

Hereafter referred to as THE PEOPLE, desiring permanent divorce from the party listed in the second part;

all federal and civil officers, private security officers, ‘agents provocateurs,’ law enforcement officials

hereafter referred to as the STATE, citing irreconcilable differences, bar ALL agents of the STATE from entering the Convergence Center under any and all circumstances.

A little after 1:30 p.m., the "End Police Brutality, Prison Abuse, and the Patriot Act" march comes barreling down Boylston Street, a motorcycle fleet of police officers in tow. Technically, the BTS holds the permit for the demonstration, but a coalition of activist groups (the Green-Rainbow Party, Homes not Jails, Anarchist Black Cross Boston, and the Mystic River Green-Rainbow Action) is actually sponsoring it. Led by a banner declaring (A)NARCHY IS FREEDOM, GOVERNMENT IS SLAVERY, the crowd of about 250 heads from Copley Square toward the FleetCenter. They intone, "Whose streets? Our streets!" They chant, "Bush and Kerry are the same, only difference is the name!" They raise their fists and cloak their faces in bandannas. When they pass state policemen clad in riot gear, they scream, "Take off your stupid gear, there is no riot here!" At one point, a blond guy in a Superman shirt is surrounded by policemen; the crowd gathers around him and yells, "Let him go!" The cops do, the local television cameras swarm, and the protesters shout at the news anchors, "Scavengers! Media parasites!"

As the marching protesters turn corners along the parade route, cops of all shapes and sizes wait. There are cops on motorcycles and cops on bicycles. There are cops on horses, cops on foot, cops with angry barking dogs, cops flying above in helicopters. But although they’re omnipresent, they’re restrained. They don’t lunge when the crowd yells, for example, "Fuck police from Boston to the Middle East!" They don’t even sneer.

Tuesday, July 27. The "Really REALLY Democratic Bazaar" is supposed to represent the Bl(A)ck Tea Society’s "visions of a better world." In this better world, there’s no war, no Bush, no Kerry, no corporations. So here, radical cheerleaders in hot-pink bandannas decry capitalism: "Capitalism does not work! Capitalism: who does it hurt? Everybody!" Women in sports bras hit a blow-up George W. Bush punching bag in the face. In place of traditional carnival games, there’s "Pin the Money on the Budget" and "Knock Out Oppression," in which players toss beanbags at cans representing forms of oppression. There’s even a mobile compost toilet on display, urging people to GIVE (A) SHIT FOR THE REVOLUTION.

"I know that a three-day or a four-day protest isn’t going to change anything," says Ben Hansen, a 19-year-old from Ohio wearing a T-shirt that reads KILL THE RICH. "In four years, they’ll still be doing their thing. But this gives us a chance to get together, talk, socialize, exchange ideas, and figure out what we have to do to make things better."

Again, cops are everywhere. Policemen on horseback organize in trios: one on the hill by the statue, another guarding a Boston Common entrance, a third stationed by a bevy of media trucks. They leave clumpy trails of horse manure in their wake; next to one dung pile, someone has left a cardboard sign that reads THANK THE PIGS.

In a kind of symbolic muscle-flexing, the cops descend on the open-air market in shifts. At 2:45 p.m., 31 motorcycle cops roll through the bazaar. At 3:08, 17 bike officers pedal down the paved paths. At 3:15, 10 cops in riot gear stride along the fenced perimeter of the Common. And all afternoon, a single buzzing Coast Guard helicopter hovers above like a mechanized mosquito, often drowning out the event’s sound system.

Finally, singer-songwriter David Rovics issues a call to action from the stage. "Those of you who want to lay down on the ground and spell ‘fuck you’ to the helicopters," he announces, "head over to the medic tent." Forty or so people arrange themselves from head to toe, forming seven letters on the ground. Eleven people morph into an "F"; 10 bodies become a "U." More people join them, filling out the phrase. As the helicopter looms above, the 50 or so participants raise their middle fingers at it. It flies by twice, then disappears. Everyone cheers.

A few minutes later, the copter returns.

Wednesday, July 28. On the Day of Action’s eve, I slog over to the Convergence Center and plop down in a chair. The crowd is thinning out; about 50 people idle about, yet there’s an uneasy strain to their conversations. The room is a blur of snaky dreadlocks, shaggy beards, and sideburns; it smells like unwashed travelers. One guy’s face looks like it’s been attacked by a piercing gun. Another man’s shirt reads MY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS KILLED COWBOYS.

"Calm down," Andrew says into a crackling walkie-talkie as he rushes by. "Everything’s cool."

"I’m about to be a convicted felon," a jittery guy tells a girl. "I just got a court order to turn over a DNA sample."

A smiling child with a bulging cotton diaper, perhaps one among the next generation of Emmas, crawls toward me and disappears under my seat.

I overhear that Dan was detained earlier in the day. No one wants to talk about it here. Tomorrow, an article in the Boston Herald will report that he was walking in front of the Convergence Center when cops descended on him. His parents supposedly asked the police to pick him up. Apparently, he wasn’t 21 or 22, but a 17-year-old runaway from Newton. I really liked Dan; he once offered me peanuts.

"This movement doesn’t want to win," says a guy in a scully cap to Frank. "I want to win."

Frank wants to win too. "So far, the poll is whether or not there’s enough maturity in the community to pull off all these actions," he says. "It all depends on what happens tonight and tomorrow. We’ve been saying that the New England community is mature enough. And we’re hoping that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy."

page 4  page 5 

Issue Date: August 13 - 19, 2004
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