Eerie calm through streets suffuse with the stubborn hiss of street-sweepers and small-hours traffic-light rhythms. Here and there bundles of homeless cocoons in corners and on bus-station seats—but everything else empty. The unlikely ghostliness of between-time.
Bicycle scouts on patrols through side streets, on lookout for a police convoy, its handful of black city-busses, headlights dark under streetlight glow, with two empty school-busses for detainees, and several K9 units. Hordes of blue boys in full riot gear; elbow pads, kevlar vests, gas-masks, bandoliers of tear gas and flashbangs—a teeth-armed contingent of bullies with billy clubs.
Watchers at each intersection, verbal signal-fire system of shouts and Internet feeds; while in the square, crash-course drills on legal and safe responses to police activity, a human chain ready for defense of the protest encampment.
Another hop of the police caravan.
Another burst of minute-by-minute updates.
Another interminable wait.
“Almost like intentional fraud in book-keeping. Unnecessary overtime.”
Our ripple of quiet laughter at the not-quite joke.
Stacks of empty pizza boxes, testament to the generosity of local businesses in response to confiscation of our butane stoves. Fire hazards and violation of something-or-other. Overwhelming optimism in the air, that long-buried feeling of the goodness of things, restoration of faith in fellow man.
Word games on the sidelines, pockets of students at their books, an aging raconteur from the old days, from before the web.
“So much communication now. Internet in the sixties? My god, if only.”
Cops at Main. No action. #peoplesprotest.
Ready every1? Legal hotline in marker on your skin? #peoplesprotest.
Safety and peace to all my brothers and sisters #peoplesprotest.
“Maybe not tonight. Too strong for them.”
“Or maybe an attrition strategy? A wolf cry? Until too sleepy?”
Shrugs all around.
A guy with a guitar in methodical movement through the lines, jug of cider vinegar ready for anyone in need.
For the tear gas.
Intimate intellectual discussions on civic rights and effective responses to police interaction. A few in a huddle over drafts of resolutions to City Council, and manifestos—too strong?—manifestos for inspiration of the rest of the world.
Vocal communication relays, sentence-by-sentence echoes for dissemination of information over noise and distance, in preparation for pandemonium. Majority inexperience and uneasy energy, with stolid support from a precious framework of reliable information holders and practical knowledge sharers.
Caravan on the move! @peoplesprotest warning warning!
Caravan in idle along 3rd #peoplesprotest.
On the move, on the move! Cameras up, masks on @peoplesprotest.
5 blocks. On their tails, on way back @peoplesprotest
Message circulation. Around the world, eyes wide, video feeds on and busy.
Sickening whupwhupwhup of helicopters, spotlights heavy; splashes of incandescent oppression, a rip through the face of civil reality.
Castoff board games, chain of elbows around the medical tent, a double line across the street. Our street.
“Our right to peaceful protests.”
“The cops, our brothers. Just people, like us.”
Words of wisdom, words of comfort and reassurance, words of sweet bravado. Overhead, whupwhupwhup of helicopters, ravens over the battlefield, ready for the bloody pickings, ready for death.
“No profanity! Not our reason, not our way.”
Bottles of vinegar from hand to hand, generous splashes on bandanas and particle dust masks, desperate attempts at teargas safety. Tang of vinegar over dull richness of excrement, of porta-potty chemicals, and the smolder of body odor and stale tents.
A siren whoop.
First flashes of blue lights around a corner.
City block of menace, vehicles slow through the night. Wary of booby traps.
A halt for dismount. Flood of on-foot police, in loose formation with shields low and weapons lower, for now. Still distant, with diesel engines in reserve.
“Enough!” the scream of a veteran in utility duds, open across his chest, heavy with medals. “These are civilians!” His hoarse cry, on camera for the world. “Why violence? Against peaceful protesters? Against your brothers and sisters, citizens like you, of this country!” Indignation in waves, infectious energy and passion, the strength of experience and service. “Fundamental human rights,” tension in his finger against his chest, indignant and on simmer. “Service and protection.” We, in orbit around his gravity, an echo of his words. “Pro-teck-shun,” his bitter reinforcement.
In continuous unison, rustle of uniforms and clack of high-impact plastic. Boots on asphalt, a slow stamp toward protesters with signs on strings, after official carry-stick bans for our safety.
Down the street, a lava flow of formation, a broad strip of pavement between two armies.
Night breeze through tarps and makeshift shelters, constant targets of police action. No camps in public places. No overnight freedom of assembly.
Phalanx of fearful but steady citizens, weaponless against the imminent onslaught. Students arm-in-arm with vagrants arm-in-arm with single mothers arm-in-arm with overqualified and underemployed youth arm-in-arm with nine-to-fivers with work-ready alarm clocks in empty bedrooms.
Faceless uniforms, an array of deliberate movements, safe behind masks and helmets, badges and orders. The thug fist of oligarchy.
Song from the people’s midst, a single clear voice of peace and togetherness, a slightly off-key ballad, stark against the coppery fear of the unarmed many against the murder-sanctioned few.
“CITIZENS IN OCCUPATION OF THE AREA WITHIN JURISDICTION OF SECTION 409, PUBLIC PLAZAS. AFTER EIGHT PM, REMAINDER IN THE AREA, REGARDLESS OF PURPOSE—A VIOLATION. TO YOUR HOMES, PLEASE.”
Our grim reply: “Whose streets?”
Deployment. Solid living machine against defiant human wall. Eyes across no-man’s-land, a meeting of resolve, grim realization of humanity on both sides, distinct only because of uniform and paycheck, and divine directive of control.
Supportive voices, with love even for cops, hopeful still for peace.
“You, the people! Cops the people too!”
“Service and protection. Please!”
“Your pensions and benefits also empty! Same team, same team.”
A stir of resolve; tension through the crowd.
Thoonk! slow arc of smoke, clatter of steel on pavement, hiss of CS gas.
Bated breath. Hovering silence.
Blast of spotlights behind silhouette lines of apocalyptic troops.
“EVERYBODY OUT. CITIZENS TO YOUR HOMES,” the bullhorn still agrowl, still hopeful; woeful misestimation of resolve. Service and protection of the rich and powerful, ignorant of the plight in the trenches.
Video cameras and smartphones up high, all manner of signs in air.
A slipper in the streetlight, narrow no-man’s-land of concrete and road paint; just inches apart, human chain and riot shields. Sneakers toe-to-toe with boots.
“Peacefully!” screams from calm intellectuals and laid-off teachers. “No violence.”
“Same boat, us and them! Please, peacefully, everybody.”
A banner overhead: Police: pink slips away from The People.
Behind the human chain, by the kitchen tent, an angry few with bricks, ready for hand-to-hand defense of our right to peaceful assembly.
Official surge forward, clear plastic human battering ram fifty wide and ten deep.
Thoonk! of teargas canisters, hot spirals at citizens’ feet.
Eyes wide, we the people under headlight glare. We the defaced masses, in frozen terror and rigid refusal against the ire of the system. Churn of individuals elbow-in-elbow, a sum greater than its parts, headlong into chaos. Uniforms and nightsticks against indignation and terror.
Whupwhupwhup overhead, blast of spotlights, red glow of flares.
A mantle of smoke, sounds of gags, coughs, sobs. Poisonous glow of streetlights. Shrieks and whistles, chants and songs, air thick with cordite and the alien heat of volatile aerosol powder.
From the protesters, plastic cups of paint, yellow and red, in vivid arcs toward the cops. Splashes of color, artistry against the State’s monochromatic oppression.
Clatter of telescope batons, the push of protection and service, the jostle, the struggle for balance, arm-in-arm, jaws tight. Our chain still strong.
Thoonk! of teargas canisters, whupwhupwhup of helicopters, tears in red eyes, vinegary bandanas over faces, the press of riot shields. Volunteer medics at the ready, shades of doubt. On one side, grim whiteshirts with radios and scowls, and on the other, a congregation of hecklers and chanters.
“Shame! Shame! Shame!”
“Ze good Germans!”
“Love for po-lice!”
Equal force along the line, advancement and resistance in neutral.
Another sharp order.
And then the batons.
This is an excerpt from a seditious forthcoming novel with no verbs.