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Some thoughts on State sanctioned violence

Today has been a very hard day.

Since I awoke from yet another violent nightmare this morning, I've been overwhelmed by mental images and thoughts of violence, especially State-sanctioned violence.

Two days ago, the partner of a close friend was hit in the head by a high-velocity teargas canister fired into a group of non-violent protesters in the West Bank. He is still alive, but in critical condition and no one knows when or even if he will recover.

Seeing the photos of him on the ground, covered in blood, brought back a flood of memories.

Images of my friend Brad Will, gunned down in 2006 by government paramilitary thugs in Mexico, push themselves into the front of my mind. The sound of his voice when he was shot, recorded by the video camera he was holding at the time, echoes in my brain.

I also keep thinking about the hundreds, if not thousands, of nameless and faceless victims of similar violence.

I know that the attention that Tristan and Brad have gotten is because they are white American activists. Their skin privilege makes them stand out in a sea of darker skinned victims.

It is not fair, but if we can shine a light of attention on the larger issues; if we can get the mainstream public to pay attention because these victims look and talk like they do, it is necessary to do so.

If what happened to them can make the other victims less anonymous and ignored, maybe their sacrifices are not in vain.

I know that there are tens of thousands of people dying in Darfur, in the Middle East, in Oaxaca, and other small ignored corners around the globe.

Why should the lives of these few people be worth more?

The quick answer is that, of course, their lives are not worth more. However, the sad reality is that because of how our world is, it seems to take the mutilation or death of someone white and from the west to get people to put aside their complacency and think about what is going on; what is being done in our names and with our tax money.

Today is especially hard for me because it is the anniversary of one of the darkest moments of my life. 21 years ago this evening, I almost became one of those martyrs.

After calling the police to deal with the theft of my roommate's bicycle, due to the arrogance and hate of one police officer, I was badly beaten -- first in a public parking lot by 3 officers and then again in the witness-free zone of the strip-search room of Central Booking in downtown Buffalo. The only thing that saved my life that night, other than the fast action of my friends, was the color of my skin.

In fact, the cop that was the ringleader of those that attacked me told me directly that it was my skin that kept him from killing me in the parking lot. "You should shut up about police brutality, let me tell you son, if you were a nigger you'd be going right to the hospital instead of downtown"

A half hour later, when he started beating me while I was being strip searched, I was sure that he had decided that white skin privilege was not enough to keep him from killing me. I was sure then and am still sure now that he wanted to kill me, and for it to be a long and painful death.

I'm not sure what happened. Maybe he got bored, maybe one of the other cops made a comment or gesture that made him think twice about it, maybe he just wanted to take a break and continue after some coffee. After he stopped beating the crap out of me, I was put in a holding cell. It was the middle of a very cold Buffalo winter, and the cell I was put in had all the windows open.

Covered in blood, the spit of numerous police officers, and completely naked, I sat there trying to stay warm and awake -- sure that if I were to fall asleep I would freeze to death by morning and it would simply be chalked up as a crazy accident. Maybe they'll try to make it look like a suicide, I thought as I did my best to keep moving and alert.

My vision was blurred by a combination of factors, they had confiscated my glasses and I had sustained a concussion as my head was slammed into a brick wall by the force of the cop's blows.

All I knew was that I was being held on a high bail, I had no idea what I was being charged with. Later I would find out that I was accused of attacking a cop, as well as numerous other false charges.

I was informed that I would be held for the maximum time they could before bringing me in front of a judge. I could only wonder how many other beatings I would be subject to before I got to see a judge.

I knew that I was hurt badly and was not sure how much more I could sustain before my body gave in, or forced me to fall asleep in the sub-zero temperatures. I was comforted by the thought that from what I had read, freezing to death is a relatively painless way to die.

What I did not know at the time was that because they had officially filed charges against me, it was possible for me to be bailed out before I saw a judge. They put a dollar amount on every charge, add them up and arrive at the amount of money (cash only) that is necessary.

As far as they figured, no one knew I was under arrest -- I was never given the chance to make a phone call. If you think that after arrest you are guaranteed a phone call and that someone reads you your rights, you've been watching too much TV. You only hear your rights if they intend to question you and want to be able to use what you say in court. If they think you'll never survive to make it to court, or if they don't care about using your statements in court, they don't waste their time.

They assessed my situation and acted accordingly. They could do what they wanted, kill me if they cared to and I would be simply another faceless and nameless victim of the System.

Luckily for me, they did not realize that one of the witnesses to my arrest and beating was one of my roommates. Their prejudice would not allow them to contemplate the possibility that a grubby hippy could have friends that could quickly organize a bail fund.

5 hours after being thrown into the jail cell, the cage door opened. When the 3 cops walked in, I knew I was about to die. This was it.

When they handed me my clothes and ordered me to get dressed, I was really confused. Where were they taking me? Why won't they just let me freeze to death? What new torture and pain did they have planned? I was fully prepared to die.

"You've been bailed out, hurry up before I change my mind, your friends are waiting for you downstairs." the highest ranking among the cops said.

My friends and professors had emptied their bank accounts, taken cash advances on their credit cards, pooled together whatever spare change they had lying around. Some of them went to the precinct and demanded I be released. They were determined to not leave without me. They had come to take me home (although I required a trip to the hospital first).

I walked as fast as my bruised bones could carry me, still confused and certain that this was a trick. Get my hopes up and then beat me down again -- I was sure this was the plan.

When I was led to the waiting area and saw two friends, Steve and Diana, waiting for me it did not seem real. It was not until I made physical contact with them, limping out of Central Booking with my arms over their shoulders, that I realized it was over, that I had survived.

We went to the hospital, and then home. The feeling of relief that flooded me when I sat down and Diana made me a cup of tea also has stayed with me. It's amazing how powerful such a small act can be, I still refer to Lipton blackberry flavored black tea as "Freedom Tea" and whenever I get really stressed out I make myself a cup.

I will never forget all sides of that night -- the certainty of death; the violence of the State; the power of community; the love of friends.

When my case came to trial, I was forced to take a really crappy deal.

They were going to convict me of at least one count of disorderly conduct if not more. I had after all, as I was charged with, "shouted an obscenity in a public place in a way that made others feel uncomfortable." The fact that the obscenity was used in the sentence "Why the fuck are you hitting me!" would not keep me from being convicted.

In order to keep my record clear of convictions, I had to sign away my rights to sue the City of Buffalo for brutality and false arrest. Nothing would ever happen to the cops that tried to kill me. There would never be any justice.

This is hard for me to say, but in many ways, I have never fully recovered. It was only a couple of years ago that I finally came to the realization of just how much that one night had impacted my life.

I still struggle every day to move beyond that space in my head; to get away from the feeling that death is waiting for me around every corner; to find myself amidst the emotional rubble.

Each day is a struggle, but each day is a victory. I survived. The reality that white skin privilege allowed me to walk out where so many others had been carried out in caskets has gnawed at my soul.

The guilt, the anger, the shame, the rage have all stayed with me. I work every day to move past it.

Someday, I'll be free.

Thank you

Eric, you're amazing. I'm grateful to you for sharing such a powerful account of your experience. I'm glad you're still with us, continuing to struggle for freedom for yourself and for everyone.

thanks for that

Danny, thanks for the kind words. I'm very happy to have comrades like you in my life.


You know, (you probably do know, I suppose) you've never told me the whole story. Post-traumatic stress is real and really damaging. You don't recover from a beating like that easily, and the injustice of having to give up your right to any recourse is a lot of salt to pour on.

I used to think that hippies were a bunch of hippies and all this talk of "peace" was kind of BS, but I'm realizing more and more that countering violence is really hard work. We are a violent lot, humans. A nasty and violent lot when we want to be. Power only makes it worse. and there isn't some magic pill we can swallow to fix that. I find myself imagining that I am capable of understanding what makes people beat the living crap out of anyone else. I'm not.

not even close to the whole story

Yes, I know that many of my friends have never heard the full story. In fact, this post is not even close to the full story, but an attempt to finally start talking about it and looking at how it effected me and how I react to stressful situations at times.

One of the more comical moments that night happened as I was being brought into the precinct. The commanding officer came over, and seeing that I had obviously been roughed up, wanted to know what happened.

He looked at the arresting officer and asked him, "What did he do?" in a way that for a moment made me believe that he was concerned that I had been unreasonably treated.

The arresting officer looked at the commander and simply said "he was being an asshole."

The commander then looked down at me, and in a concerned fatherly tone asked me "were you being an asshole, son?"

As I started to babble about how I had just been beaten for no reason, that I had called the cops because of my roommate's bicycle being stolen, the arresting officer came up behind me and pulled on the handcuffs knocking me off balance. As I tried to catch my balance and not fall over, which required lifting one leg off the ground, the commanding officer cut me off mid sentence and accused me of trying to kick him and essentially gave the arresting pig the ok to do whatever he wanted to.

For a while, that line -- Were you being an asshole son? -- became a running joke between me and some friends. A fun way of suggesting that things totally out of your control were your fault.

"Man was the subway crowded today"
"well, were you being an asshole, son?

on the idea of privilege

Police Brutality was rampant in buffalo, especially in the African-American community. But one white boy being beat was news.

Some folks at the UB Law School even organized a debate on campus about the topic.

The cop in charge of investigating all claims of brutality was on the panel. Without any sense of doubt, he said to the audience that "all reports of police brutality are criminals trying to get a free ride" or something close to that.

At that moment, I lost my shit like I had never done before and ranted about the reality of what was happening at Central Booking. Why was there no camera to watch the police in the areas they most often are accused of abuse? Why was there no Civilian Complaints Review Board? Why were there no statistics released to the public? How often were people forced to sign away their rights?

I was mid-rant when this photo was taken. The next morning it was on the front page of the Buffalo News (the only daily newspaper in Buffalo).

I'm not all that proud of the image, but it clearly shows the rage that had been created by my experience

The full title of the article was "Police Brutality Prompts Spirited Debate on Campus


Holy shit, i have known you for how many years, and never even got close to the narrative you laid out. I thank you for the account, especially in the larger context of State violence. Since it happens (in our society) to such a relatively small subset of the population, it is easy to marginalize and trivialize. PTSD is the ticking bomb in our culture. Watch for more of it manifesting in random ways. My housemate is an x army ranger special forces, who spends a great amount of time watching war films, as a way of dealing with the things he did to the Sandinistas in the 80s. Interesting watching how he deals with the trauma, from the other end of the spectrum. If i digress, its because you can follow this thread anywhere, its so damn pervasive, and an undercurrent in our so called orderly society.

Take care----A

This horrific account of

This horrific account of police brutality is a story that needs to be heard. I cannot believe you were treated this way by the Buffalo Police Department. I wish you didn't take the plea bargain, and took those bastards to court.

Car accident lawyer

Thoughts on the invisible generation

A little over a month of daily posts and part of me is thinking "wow, that went quickly" and another part is wondering how the hell I'm going to manage to keep this up for another 11 months.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how Generation X has become, in many ways, an invisible generation. We were so much smaller than the generations before and after us that in many ways we seem to get lost in the blur between the Baby Boomers and Millennials.

Nowhere is this more clear than in digital archives of newspaper coverage of activism during our college years. Most newspapers that covered the campus anti-apartheid movement; anti-militarism movement; Central American solidarity movements, etc used freelance reporters. We were worth covering, but not worth the assignment of staff writers.

At first glance this was no big deal. The coverage we got was not compromised by this. But years later so much of that coverage has ended up down the memory hole.

Unless a researcher or student is willing to go old-school and use printed indexes to look up articles, so much of that content is missing from their search results.

I remember when a friend was in law school in the late 90s and I had access to his lexis/nexis account -- I could find hundreds of articles about actions I had participated in during my years at SUNY Buffalo, there was a rich and detailed history of what my generation tried to do and what we managed to get done.

If I do that same search now, almost nothing shows up. My history has been erased.

This happened when the Supreme Court ruled on the case of The New York Times v. Tasini in 2001.

The Association of Research Libraries' history of Copyright Law has some details on the case and the unintentional result

On June 25, 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in the case of The New York Times v. Tasini. In a decisive 7-2 ruling, the Justices upheld an appeals court ruling that the reuse of a freelance author's work on CD-ROMs and in commercial electronic databases without the author's permission constituted copyright infringement. In its ruling, the Court rejected the publishers' argument that a ruling for the authors would have "devastating" consequences, requiring them to delete freelance writers' works in commercial electronic databases. The Supreme Court explicitly noted in its opinion that deletion of the freelance writers' articles was not necessarily the only outcome and that publishers could explore other alternatives. The Justices pointed out that there are "numerous models for distributing copyrighted works and remunerating authors for their distribution" such as the system of blanket performance licenses for musical compositions.

The New York Times now requires permission for electronic republication of works by freelance authors, but this was not standard industry practice until the 1990s. Equally important, implicit in the Court's decision was the recognition that the nation's libraries and archives continue to provide access to the historical record of periodicals and newspapers. In addition, the Court's ruling recognized that certain archival media, such as microfilm and microfiche, do not infringe freelance authors' copyrights. Ultimately, The New York Times and other publishers chose to remove the freelance writers' works, as many as 115,000 articles, from Lexis/Nexis and other full-text databases

I totally understand why the writers were upset; I support their desire to be compensated for use of their content in the new media of the internet. I however fail to see the logic of the Court. How could they ever think that the media giants would do anything but remove this content from digital databases?

Oh well, I guess its up to us to fill in the gap and start to tell our own stories.

Over the next year, I'm going to try to do that. I'm going to try to tell some stories. I know that my memory is not as good as it once was; I'm sure I will forget some people, attribute one person's actions to another, combine some people into one character. I wish I could be more accurate, but those minor failings are nothing compared to letting us remain an invisible generation of activists.

Next week's initial post on this will be a story that touches on 3 Mile Island, the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant and my first political arrest.

Until then, enjoy the photos:



We all live in a nuclear submarine...

Today's post is a long one, so I'm going to start with my daily photo and then get to today's story.
god bless americar?


Looking back, I'm still not sure what was going through my head when I decided to climb the fence, but I did. As a result, my first political protest ended with me handcuffed, packed in a school bus full of other arrested protesters on our way to be processed, joyously singing "we all live in a yellow submarine."

My path to handcuffs started with the drama of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant accident. I think I might have never noticed; I would have never paid attention to the news; I would have continued on with my boring suburban life had the timing not been what it was.

Like many in my generation, I was introduced to the existence of nuclear power by the release of the movie The China Syndrome in March '79. Like most in my generation, it meant nothing to me.

When the movie ended up being mirrored by reality in late March and early April, it did catch my attention but I probably would have not given it much thought if it was not for the fact that it threatened to interfere with my own life.

My Bar Mitzvah was scheduled for April 7th 1979. Some of my relatives would have to travel past the troubled Pennsylvania reactor. There was talk of them having to cancel the trip. As the crisis escalated, there was even some talk of having to cancel the event altogether. No one really knew what would happen if they did not get the reactor under control.

My Bar Mitzvah happened, all the guests showed up. I read from the Torah while radioactive gases were being vented into the air to keep the reactor from blowing up. My life was changed, I wandered down the road less traveled. I now paid attention to the news; I was concerned about politics and the environment. I became an activist.

When I learned that there was a nuclear power plant being built 25 miles from my home, I was freaked out. When I heard that a large coalition had formed and was organizing a protest, I decided to go.

Sunday, June 3rd 1979 was a miserable rainy day. I had heard on the radio (my introduction to WBAI, a station that would become the background noise to so much of my later life) that the protest organizers were going to have a couple of vans at the Port Jefferson and Riverhead Long Island Railroad stations to take people arriving on one or two morning trains to the beach where the protest was going to happen. My bicycle took me through the pouring rain a mile or two to the closest LIRR station.

An hour later, the rain had let up a bit and I was in the middle of a 15,000 person crowd. I listened to some folks talk about how important it was to prevent the completion of the plant; I heard Pete Seeger play for the first time. The energy was amazing. I shouted and chanted along with the crowd. I felt I was participating in history.

10 years later, when I was Production Manager of The Guardian Newsweekly, Pete Seeger showed up to say hi and entertain us as we got that week's paper ready to go to press. I was so in awe, I never got up the courage to tell him this story.

But, to get back to 1979: Just about the time it got brutally boring, we started to march. We marched along beside the fence surrounding the plant. Suddenly, people started climbing the fence.

It took me by surprise, but this was not a spontaneous action -- it was well planned. Some secret signal had been given and it seemed everyone but me knew what to do next. People had ladders, some of them home made out of rope and planks of wood. At another part of the march, what the NY Times called a "militant splinter group" of 20 people "stormed the main gate, removed the holding pins from the hinges and sent it crashing to the ground."

Where I was it was more mellow. Someone put a wooden ladder against the fence, a piece of carpet over the barbed wire and people started flowing over the fence.

I did not think too much about it, it looked like fun. It seemed to be the right thing to do. It was a symbolic but defiant action of resistance and protest.

Next thing I knew, I was over the fence. As my feet hit the ground, I realized that I had no clue what the hell I was doing. I had no plan. "Oh crap, what the hell do I do now?"

Before I could answer that question in my own head, two cops grabbed me and politely asked me to come with them. I was under arrest. I was 13, my parents had no clue where I was and I had no desire to tell them.

The mood on the buses of arrestees -- The NY Times and Newsday reported that over 600 people were detained or arrested -- was joyful. Singing, celebrating, chanting, swaying back and forth rocking the bus on its aged shocks.

When we got off the bus, the reality hit me. I was actually under arrest. They explained to the group that as long as we gave them our names, we would be given a summons and let go. If we refused to give our names, they would hold us on additional charges.

When my turn came, a cop sat me down and asked me for my name. I was terrified. I did not want to be put in jail, I did not know what would happen, but all that paled compared to my fear of my parents finding out -- there was no way in hell I was going to give them my name and my parent's phone number. "Just let me call your parents and they can come pick you up," the officer pleaded with me. I refused. No matter what they would do to me it was nothing compared to what my parents would do to me if they found out where I was and that I was under arrest. My last name is not common, so just that info would lead them to the only Goldhagen in the phonebook and that would lead towards nothing good. "I'm sorry sir, but I will not answer your questions," I repeated.

They were getting frustrated. I was put in a chair facing the corner. I guess they figured that eventually I'd get hungry or scared enough to cooperate. I was probably just about to break when a miracle happened.

One of the people that was on the bus with me, who while being processed heard my conversation with the cops, burst into the holding area with her partner. "Where is he!" "I'll wring his little neck" "I told him to stay out of trouble" he was shouting as she played along trying to calm him down.

Knowing nothing but my first name, they convinced the cops that they were my parents, and that if the police released me into their custody they would certainly teach me a lesson I would never forget. (I can assure you that they did, and I never will).

I think the cops just wanted me out of their way, so they handed me over to my "parents." As soon as we were out of the building, their "anger" turned into hysterical laughter. I had been un-arrested by strangers who now were offering to buy me dinner and drive me home -- along the way getting me stoned out of my mind.

I rode my bike back home from the LIRR station feeling like I was flying high above the roadway. I had discovered a place out of the mainstream where I felt alive; where over the years I would be challenged to learn, develop a clear understanding of the issues and my own political power.

In the years that followed, I testified at two public hearings held by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and continued to participate in the protests against the Shoreham power plant.

Our best point of attack was about evacuation. Most of the people that would need to be evacuated in case of an emergency, due to the nature of Long Island geography would have to either pass closer to the danger zone or somehow be taken by boat across the Long Island Sound.

At one of the NRC hearings, I was scheduled to talk right after the lunch break. The commissioners returned 45 minutes late -- they apologized and explained that they got stuck in traffic coming back from lunch. Instead of my prepared speech, I taunted the panel. They could not even get 3 miles during the middle of the day and they expected it to be possible to move half the population of Suffolk County on those same roads quickly and orderly in a crisis.

Finally, in 1983, the Suffolk County Legislature decided in a 15-1 vote that the county could not be safely evacuated and Governor Mario Cuomo ordered state official to not approve any evacuation plan sponsored by the Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO).

This would all have a happy ending if not for the reality of the Political Power of LILCO. It was clear to everyone involved that they would never ever get a license for the plant. It was clear that we had won.

There was a chance that the structure could be used for some other purpose. However, in 1985 the federal government gave LILCO permission to bring the plant online for "testing." After that, the building could never be used for something else. If it is ever torn down it now must be disposed of as hazardous, radioactive waste.

Then, as a final insult, in 1989 Cuomo and LILCO announced the closure of the plant -- which involved the state taking over the plant and then attaching a 3 percent surcharge to Long Island electric bills for 30 years to pay off the $6 billion price tag caused by the arrogance of LILCO and the NRC.

That day in 1979 was the start of my life as an activist and the beginning of the end of the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant. I'm still active and sadly so is it.

How I Mis-spent My Youth, Chapter 2: June 12/14 1982

This is going to be another long post, so as with my earlier story, today the photo comes first


Reagan was visiting Berlin, we were in the streets in NYC:
"Ronald Reagan don't come home, we'll run our country on our own!"

My friend's father who ended up coming along with us looked at me in horror as I joined in the chant. He was not happy with this segment of the demonstration and wanted us to walk faster so we could get to whatever the next group ahead of us was. Maybe if we walked faster we could catch up to the folks we planned on marching with.

It's only now, looking back, that I realize while chanting about Reagan I had ended up in the middle of one of the anarchist sections of the protest -- a place that would later become familiar and comfortable territory to me.

We got to our staging area/starting point really late, the person that was supposed to pick us up in his van totally flaked out on us -- lesson learned, always have a backup plan. Instead of 6 or 7 people I knew from school driving into the City with the crazy guy in the van, it turned out to be me along with one classmate, her sister and father. He drove us to the train station and insisted on coming along to keep an eye on us.

It was June 12th, 1982, at that time it was the largest protest in US history. Over 1 million people gathered during the United Nations Second Special Session on Disarmament to make our voices heard. Two days later, hundreds of people would be arrested blockading the UN Missions of every nuclear nation in the world, sadly I was not able to make it to the Blockade the Bombmakers event. From what I understand, this was the first in a long history of using more mainstream events to lead into more radical direct action.

We started off much farther back in the crowd than we expected and tried our best to move faster than the group looking for the NFTY delegation (national federation of temple youth, the reform Jewish youth umbrella organization).

As we moved through the crowd, the diversity of organizations built a sense of mass organization.

I'm happy to have been among the crowd; I'm proud that I did my tiny little part of helping to make the event happen. It was the first time I had been around the organizing of a protest. I learned a ton from the people I met who were willing to take a 16-year-old clueless kid seriously.

All I did for the event was make some phone calls and hand out leaflets, but that put me around some really amazing people that changed my life. Sadly I can not remember any of their names. I have no idea who they were, but if it makes any sense I'll never forget them.

During my early activist days, much of my activism and organizing was connected to the Temple Beth David youth group. It was a way of combining what my parents wanted me to do and what I wanted to do. It was a safe place to do political work. If they only knew how much pot and alcohol went along with those youth group meetings.

My first real organizing effort was a campaign to raise money to make the temple's synagogue handicapped accessible. The first stage of that was a system for the hearing impaired. At the time it was cutting edge technology, strange looking headsets that people could put on combined with an infrared transmitter connected to the sound system.

In a way, that was another of my failed attempts to connect with my father. His hearing was bad, damaged during his time in the Air Force in Korea. The Temple Beth David community that he saw every Friday night at services was one of the few places he seemed happy.

In addition to the youth group "activism," I also kept participating in the protests about the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant, and often talked with (ranted at?) people during the youth group events about these other events and the politics related to them. One evening, after the weekly youth group meeting while I was sitting on the hood of a friend's car babbling about politics passing a joint around, someone -- my god I wish I could remember who she was, a friend of the assistant youth group adviser maybe? -- came over to me and said "If you ever want to do more than sit around smoking and talking shit, some people I know are organizing some protests this summer."

A week or two later, I called the number she gave me. A few days later I was somewhere in Manhattan (I think it might have been the War Resisters League office on Lafayette) learning my first lessons about how much tedious and boring work is necessary to make serious things happen. I made phone calls, mimeographed copies of leaflets, and got to listen to some amazing conversations. I think that my favorite (and certainly most educational) moments of being an activist are some of the conversations among brilliant people that I've had the chance to be a fly on the wall for (in the mid 90's as part of my job as Art Director for Tikkun Magazine, I'd have the best of these fly on the wall moments, sitting in on a conversation between Manning Marable, Michael Eric Dyson and Cornel West).

Those conversations in 1982 introduced me to the writings of Saul Alinsky, Karl Marx, Emma Goldman, Gandhi, King, and Malcolm X. My mind was blown. I started seeing connections between my life and these politics; e.g., my father's union being on strike. I started believing in the potential of revolution, massive social change in America, the power of the people over forces of oppression. Two seeds were planted, one of my determination to make things different and the other would germinate into my future cynical grumpiness.

Both of those are important and playing them off each other has helped me be both idealistic and pragmatic. Demand the impossible, expect to be crushed, enjoy anything in between.

another chapter of my misspent youth

Another long post so again the photo this time comes first.

This is one of the stories I referred to a couple days ago -- one of the adventures I had with Slugthang (and lest I appear to downplay her role, let me say that Orna was a star of this episode as well). I can't tell you the exact date, I can't even remember what year it was. 1993? 1995?

This is one of those events that seems to have vanished down the memory hole of the Tasini decision. I know it was reported, I was there, I remember reading the press coverage afterward. I can't find it anywhere.

So, on some day in some year in the early to mid 1990's I step off an AMTRAK train in Seattle and into another story. The cross country train ride was an adventure of its own, part of which is worth a tangent.

[After finishing the first draft of this story, I was reminded that this happened during the height of the Tonya Harding Olympic scandal, so I can definitively say it was 1994]

I was on my way to visit Slugo and Orna in Portland. It's day 2 of my 3 day trip from NYC to Seattle. The plan is for them to pick me up in Seattle and head to Portland for a week or two. As with most of my long-distance train trips around the U.S., I spend most of my time in the lounge/bar car. The sun is starting to set and it's just starting to get to the point where the light outside is less bright than the lights inside the train. The sights outside start mingling with reflections of the human adventure inside the train.

The night before, I crossed paths with a woman I would never see again but who for years would be one of those "what if" relationships. We kept in touch infrequently for a few months afterward. What if I had replied to her letters; what if I had not stopped calling her back; what if we saw each other again?

Oh boy, my tangent is diverting onto a tangent. Let's just say that after our day and a half flirtation she looked up and wondered aloud "I wish it was the 60's when love and sex were less stressful. For example, if not for the way that AIDS has changed sexual attitudes, what are the chances that we'd be finding a secluded spot on the train so we could... well... you know?"

An hour later, thanks to the bar-car bartender's "emergency rations" (stock of condoms) and my comfortable sleeping bag, we'd be answering that question as if it was still 1968.

Anyway, that experience had me feeling pretty good about the world and confident about myself. That plus a few beers leads me from tangent b back to tangent a. There I am, watching the world going by outside slowly morph into the reflection of the world inside. The reflections were just strong enough for me to notice one guy being picked up by his shirt and pushed down the length of the car by someone much larger than him. Hell, he was about twice my size as well.

The violence of the situation was not immediately clear to me, but when I heard the larger of the two say "fucking faggot, I'm going to push your faggot ass off this train" things became all too clear.

Being all hopped up on my own virility and beer, without thinking I got myself involved in the scuffle. I stood up, positioned myself between the two and said to the large fascist gay-basher something along the lines of "hey man, I'm not sure where you come from, but where I'm from this sort of shit just does not fly, leave this guy alone and go back to beating your wife."

He was confused just enough to hesitate before taking a swing at me. His hesitation was just long enough to give two AMTRAK staff time to grab him from behind and tackle him to the ground.

Over the next few hours, as the attacker, the intended victim and I were kept under the supervision of various AMTRAK employees, I would learn the back-story to the mess I had just jumped into.

The guy that was attacked, and the well-prepared bar car bartender were flirting with each other. The fascist and his friends heard them and when the two were making plans for meeting up in San Francisco a couple days later, they decided that it was their red-blooded American duty to bash the queers.

If not for the fact that an AMTRAK employee was involved and made it clear to everyone else who was the aggressor, I'm not sure what would have happened. I might have been the one to be dragged off the train in handcuffs at the next stop.

We get to the next stop and I'm asked to give a statement to the police. The AMTRAK employee and victim of the attack had already given theirs and I was needed to corroborate their story. The cop involved obviously did not want to deal with it and was doing his best to downplay the situation. As I was telling the cop what I had seen, the gay-bashing pinhead sticks his head out of the train, looks at me and says "you getting off in Whitefish (a resort town a stop or two away)? I'll kick your ass"

The cop had no choice at that point. "OK idiot, go back into the train, get your bags and come back. You're under arrest." Then, one of his friends makes a similar threat, this time to the AMTRAK bartender. With an annoyed look the cop says "You too. You're under arrest"

One by one, each member of this 10 person crew of bigots would do something similar. One by one they were taken from the train and arrested. Imagine if you will, a clown car of fascists.

With these two memorable and bizarre nights behind me, I arrive in Seattle.

Slugo and Orna welcome me to town and announce to me that we're not going to Portland just yet, there is an Earth First! demo at the Port of Tacoma the next day and we're heading there first.

That night, we arrived at a house where the final planning for the action was going on. Someone told me we were in Seattle. In different times I would have wanted to know more details. In those days, even knowing we were in Seattle felt like knowing too much.

Plans had been made to blockade the section of the Port of Tacoma where old growth forests, having been sliced into easier to stack boards, were exported across the oceans.

This was during the phase where Earth First! was moving from a focus on back-woods direct action to experimentation with merging their "no compromise" philosophy and public protest. Many of the methods that came out of those experiments would evolve into critical parts of events like the 1999 shut down of the WTO meetings in Seattle.

A few days earlier, a number of 55 gallon barrels had been filled with cement, lengths of steel rebar, and some pvc tubes that would allow people to stick their arms in -- using chains and either locks or (more often) carbineers to secure themselves to the barrels and become a very hard to move blockade.

Still on a total high from the insanity of the past couple days, I looked for a place to plug into the action. I had no interest in the planning, in making the decisions and in some ways I had no place there either. This was not really my struggle, and only peripherally my community. I knew those involved for enough years to put my trust in whatever they had in mind. They knew me enough to trust that I was not an agent or provocateur so I was allowed to participate.

They needed another person to ride in the back of a box truck which would be among the first vehicles to arrive at the gates, delivering the payload of barrels before the security forces had time to figure out what was going on.

As the sun came up the next morning, the caravan hit the road. A mile or so away from the blockade target, the truck stopped and 6 or 7 of us jumped into the back. The truck moved on and we all spent the next 5 or 10 minutes doing our best to not end up crushed to death by the barrels. We had failed to secure them to the sides of the truck and with each turn and hill the barrels slid around. If not for the intense desire among that group of comrades to live to see the next day; if not for the evolutionary gift of adrenaline our friends would have opened the back gate of the truck to a very gory mess of crushed parts.

You can tell a lot about the politics of a doctor, chiropractor or massage therapist by their reaction to an honest answer to the question "how did you initially hurt your shoulder?"

The truck stopped. The door slid open and we rolled out the barrels. Other friends quickly put them into place and the lockdown crew attached themselves to complete the chain. In a matter of moments, that section of the Port of Tacoma was shut down for the rest of the day.

Slowly the cops, with the help of Sanitation and road construction workers, dismantled our blockade and filled a police van with those arrested.

Most of us kept a safe distance, singing and chanting and making sure our friends were not mistreated. A small crew made their way over the fence and to the nearby warehouse and unfurled a banner. The only violence of the day happened as they tried to get back and were grabbed by some dock workers. They all made it back, teaching their would-be captors a lesson -- these hippies hit back.

As the last member of the blockade crew was removed from his barrel, a news crew asked him for a comment. He was a total anomaly to them -- wearing a suit and a Tonya Harding pin. He looked into the camera and with a little quiver in his voice explained that "I'm doing this for my god, my country, and Tonya!" at which point we all started chanting "Tonya! Tonya! Tonya!"

The total absurdity of it all gave one young woman (I think she was 17 or 18) the chance to scramble under the police van and lock her neck to the front axle. Now, the police van was the blockade.

The sun started to set, the arrestees were moved to another van, the axle was removed allowing the young woman with lock still around her neck to be taken away with the other arrested activists and we switched to legal support mode.

Years later, an alliance between these activist and some dock workers would be built; the logging company would go bankrupt due to its shortsighted policies. Clearcutting of the old growth forests continues but has been slowed a bit. This was mostly due to the spotted owl, but it still feels like we had changed the world, even if only just a bit.

bringing a little chaos to Cleveland

Got a long post today, so I'm starting with the photo, then to the words.

At this point in my retelling of past stories, I've hit a couple of walls. Wall one is my own memory. It has taken me a lot longer than I thought it would to get what I feel is an accurate outline of the event. As I started getting closer, I realized that I had run into wall two -- how would the people I was friends with and participated in protests and organizing with feel about me telling our shared stories twenty some-odd years later? I've lost touch with most of them, although I have recently reconnected with some and have friend-of-a-friend peripheral connections to a few others. The vast majority of those I have any current connection to are still activists, but that's not a guarantee that they want me publicly detailing the stupid things we did when we were young.

It seems that the only way over or around those two walls is to accept (and explicitly state) that there is an element of fiction involved. These stories, because of bad memory and respect for those involved can't help but see me combining different people together into one, giving credit to the wrong people -- even misplacing events in time and place to an extent.

So, if you recognize yourself in these stories, yes that's you. My apology if I attributed your actions to someone else and if I get things wrong. Names are changed; not everything is as it was, and at the same time this is exactly what happened.

Please keep in mind that most of these stories are first drafts, very rough sketches of what I hope to someday complete.

This episode is one that was reported by the press, and that coverage can still be found via many sources. As is typical in political protests, the full story never got reported. I guess that's really our own fault, this part of action was planned and conducted with as much secrecy and stealth as possible.

It's 1986 and the issue of Ronald Reagan's anti-missile system -- Star Wars or the Strategic Defense Initiative -- is the focus of a small but healthy protest movement. For me, it was a good way to open a discussion about the militarization of the University, scientific research and society in general. It was never an issue I thought the revolution would spring from, but I did believe it was possible to fuel the movements that could give rise to real rebellion by getting people to dissect this issue.

At SUNY Buffalo, there was a clear local focus to rally around. The University had been given a research grant that explicitly allowed the results of the research to be classified by the military. The contract clearly required that the military review and approve anything published by the researchers. This was not only a blatant violation of the concepts of academic freedom, but was an explicit violation of the SUNY guidelines -- which banned classified military research after the campus uprisings of the early 70s. I'll go into this more in later posts.

One of the core organizers of that anti-SDI protest movement, -- The other Eric, who I think spelled his name with a k -- had been in connection with a group calling itself No Business as Usual. NBAU quickly got sucked into becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of the RCP, but in its early incarnation it seemed to at least have some independence from authoritarian Party-politics. The United Press International wire service's article on the Oct 20 1986 protest referred to NBAU as an organization "based in Berkeley, Calif., made up of religious, campus and political antiwar activists." (source )

The NBAU crowd was organizing a national day of action focused on SDI and one of the primary actions was happening in Cleveland, not around the corner but not an impossible drive from Buffalo.

So the other Erik convinced a bunch of us to go. He rented a 12 person van and as any good organizer would do, he kept asking until people agreed.

I'm not sure it's worth noting that the night before a bunch of us were busy being neo-hippies and had not slept at all when the van pulled up to pick us up. Altered from the lack of sleep and everything else that went along with that night, we jumped in excited for adventure.

The next couple of days were sleep deprived and adrenalin filled; I must have slept for a week when we got back.

We arrived in Cleveland in time for a pre-event organizers meeting after which we headed off to the church basement where we'd spend the night before the protest.

I really can't count the number of church basements I've slept in. So many protests for rather radical issues historically have a strong ally in churches -- especially those located in lower-income urban neighborhoods. This church we were told was a focal point of activism in Great Lakes area during the civil rights and anti-vietnam war movements and had seen such diverse guests as Martin Luther King Jr., Abbie Hoffman and Malcolm X.

At this point, I want to pause to quote some of the press coverage of the next day's events.

Both articles I found that are accessible online without access to a for-pay database are from the LA times.

The day after the protest they gave a one paragraph summary, I think mainly to update the arrest estimate to 300.
300 Protest 'Star Wars'
October 21, 1986
About 300 protesters demonstrating against the "Star Wars" missile defense program blocked streets and sidewalks in Atlanta, Washington, Cleveland and Sunnyvale, Calif. Police said 93 people were arrested. The demonstrators, members of a group called No Business as Usual, said the Strategic Defense Initiative, popularly called "Star Wars," is a first step toward World War III. Police at Lockheed Missiles & Space Co. in Sunnyvale arrested 45 people on charges of disrupting traffic into the Silicon Valley defense plant.

Their coverage the day of the event was a bit more extensive.

Star Wars Foes Carry Protests to Four Cities
Protesters bombed cars with pumpkins to protest President Reagan's "Star Wars" space shield program at a research center in Sunnyvale, Calif., today, while police broke up demonstrations in Washington, D.C., and Cleveland. At least 95 people were arrested in the nationwide action

A peaceful demonstration also was held at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. ...

The lead-off protest by the No Business As Usual Action Network disrupted motor and pedestrian rush-hour traffic at a government office building in downtown Washington. ...

Police said 27 were charged with disorderly conduct, but one was also charged with assaulting a police officer, a felony.

At the Lockheed Missiles & Space Co. in Sunnyvale, 90 to 100 people "used all sorts of tactics to obstruct traffic, such as lying in the roadway and tossing pumpkins from an overpass onto cars," a police spokesman said, adding there were at least 45 arrests.

In Cleveland, police said 23 people were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct at NASA's Lewis Research Center. About 75 to 100 protesters attempted to block traffic entering the main gate and on an adjacent roadway.

There it is, one tiny part of one sentence. What got boiled down to "an Adjacent roadway" was the most dynamic, radical and effective part of the day.

There were no reporters on that roadway, and the police were so embarrassed about what we managed to pull off that they certainly were not going to highlight it for the press. The traffic snarl that resulted effectively shut down the research center for the entire morning, so even if the reporter had no idea what had happened it was worth at least a tiny tiny mention.

And that brings us to the story I'm trying to tell. The story of the adjacent roadway.

When we got to the church, some interesting conversations were going on. As we all started participating, we got identified by some folks as the type of people they might be able to trust. They needed more people to pull off their plan and were very quietly sizing up the people that showed up.

The other Erik in particular impressed someone with his positions and stories. They were further convinced we were the right people when they found out that we had all traveled there together and that we had all known each other for a long time and participated in political actions and protests together. In short, the chance of one of us being an infiltrator or agent provocateur was really slim.

Erik came over and let us know that we had been invited to participate in a special part of the protest. He only had sketchy details, they would fill us in more fully once we had committed.

Maybe it was the chemicals and adrenalin still flowing in our brains, maybe it was the lack of sleep that clouded our judgment, maybe it was the desire to do something more interesting that just sit around at the front gate symbolically blocking the gate until a cop asked us to quietly submit to arrest.

Whatever the contributing factors, we all quickly agreed. We were in. Without knowing what the hell we were committing to, we jumped in head first.

The plan was pretty simple. We were going to block the roadway leading up to the center. The way the roads were setup, it was possible that if we could effectively block that roadway, it could block all possible approaches to the center. Instead of symbolically blocking the gate, we were going to try to keep people from getting to the gate.

While Julie and Jason and Neil went out scavenging for construction debris and rubble (something there was no shortage of in that area of Cleveland), filling the van with one of our most important tools for the next morning, the rest of us planned. We drew maps, time schedules and diagrams; we rehearsed how we would handle the different parts of the action. It was part football practice with plays drawn out with X's and lines; part brainstorm session and part rehearsal for a performance.

I forget if we slept at all that night.

At 6am we're off. 3 cars and a van with about 12 activists about to do something incredibly stupid, but effective -- play in traffic.

There's a section of this adjacent roadway where there are 4 lanes of traffic, two moving in each direction and no shoulder to drive around stopped traffic on.

Rush hour is just starting when we arrive. The vehicles all slow to a stop and our crew of lunatics jump out.

A few of the team start dumping the rubble out, spreading it across the road behind our transportation. While they are doing that, the job for me and one other is to ignite road flares -- and waving them around like the folks you see out the window of a plane as it taxies to or from the gate, jump into a line of 55mph moving traffic and bring it to a halt.

The construction vests we had helped with the illusion that we were legit -- they stopped.

Our transport vehicles can now swing quick u-turns and head towards our later rendezvous point; the rubble crew then spreads our debris barricade across the entire roadway.

Now, this could have been enough to keep things at a standstill for a while, but we're not done yet.

While we were getting traffic to stop, two teams of two people were moving their way down the line of traffic. Once they got far enough away, so that drivers would not see the rubble clearly, they walked over to some of the drivers and explained that there was some road work going on up ahead, but that it was possible to get around the snarled backup by going into the opposing lanes of traffic.

When the drivers looked, they saw us with our flares, waving them in a come this way motion and in a way as if we were directing them back into the correct lanes of traffic.

Why none of them thought "why should I listen to you?," or wonder why the "road crew" did not start with the car in front of the backup or in front of them even, I don't know. Why some of the cars that followed the wave of auto-lemmings into the wrong lanes of traffic were cop cars is beyond me completely.

So, there I am. Waving my rapidly shrinking flares in total amazement that this has played out exactly as planned.

Within 10 minutes, we had 4 lanes of traffic facing each other. 4 lanes of traffic with no where to go, rubble or cars facing the wrong direction ahead, cars stuck in the same mess behind them. The cops finally realized what was going on and jumped out of their cars to chase us, keystone cop style (more than one ended up face down in the mud because they had a hard time following one of us over a 2 foot high barrier.

It was a mess that took hours and hours to unclog.

By the time we were fleeing the cops and heading to our pick up locations, traffic on the interstate, which had an exit that led right into the clogged roadway, was backed up as far as you could see, no one was going anywhere. We had done what we set out to do. As the press said some people blocked an adjacent roadway -- or in other words, we shut it down and got away.

The rest of the day was spent marching around downtown Cleveland chanting silly slogans. Usually I'm not one for the march and chant thing, but I was so charged up from the morning that I lost my voice from shouting so much.

We're the vets of world war 3
Martyrs for stupidity
Won't you come and join our crew
'cause your all world war 3 vets too.

Memorial Day rememberings

as with other long posts/stories, today the photos come first.

the times they have a'changed

Memorial Day 1991 was a major turning point in the struggle for the soul of the Lower East Side. The riot that erupted in Tompkins Square was used to publicly justify a plan already in the works to alter the park and neighborhood.

It became obvious pretty fast that we had fallen for a provocation; that we had played into the hands of the enemy. We gave the City exactly what it wanted.

Now, keep in mind that at that point, riots in Tompkins Square were more a ritual of summer than a rare event -- starting with the infamous 1988 Police Riot. The stakes were high; a lot of powerful people had a lot of money and future political power riding on the economic shift and wave of displacement of long time residents known as gentrification.

The park was the center of activity for those that opposed these changes. The bandshell in the park was rumored to have been built after some racial hostilities in the 60s. The idea, the rumor says, was that by allowing all parts of the community to easily put on concerts, performances and protests those different parts of the community would learn more about each other and possibly even interact and find common ground.

From what I could tell it worked. However, much to the dismay of the powers that be, it worked too well. The different factions and segments of the neighborhood started to realize that not only did they have common ground, but they also had a common enemy.

The park had to be "cleaned up" and closed at night. The bandshell needed to disappear. The City still had a bit of a black eye in terms of how the public viewed the situation around the park. The revelations that followed the '88 Police Riot still lingered in public memory.

If the City could win back the narrative; if they could regain the moral high ground, the plans could move forward.

Contracts to build a 10 foot fence around the park had already been signed; plans to demolish the bandshell already in place -- all they needed was a pretense.

I was at a meeting of the anarchist affinity group I'd been participating in for a while. It was like a scene from Monty Pytyon's "Life of Brian." The People's Front is meeting and someone comes in to tell them that the revolution is happening NOW. Their reaction... "ok, new agenda..."

OK, that's not exactly how it went, but we were meeting at the apartment I shared with my girlfriend and another friend when one of the affinity group members came in and told us that the concert in the park looked like it was developing into a bit of a riot. We all headed out into the streets; the park was only two blocks away.

The rumor -- to this day I do not know if it was true or not -- was that the cops started harassing a homeless man and he decided that with all those anarchists, squatters, housing activists and homeless advocates in the park that he had no reason to take their crap. One thing led to another and soon the bottles were flying and the back and forth surge of cops in one direction and then bottles and activists pushing them back started.

The cops retreated; fires were built; trash cans were overturned and makeshift barricades went up.

The cops went around to all the stores and restaurants still open and warned them that they should shut down. I'll never forget Ray, the guy that owns the small news stand/soda shop on Ave A. just north of 7th street. When he was told to close, he told the cops that the activists were his customers and as long as we were in the street he'd stay open.

There was a strange mood in the air. At one point, someone that none of the neighborhood activists recognized came out of the crowd. Only a few people thought it was strange that he had a crowbar, only a few objected when he broke the locks off the health and beauty aids store north of Ray's.

The gate rolled up and a mob ransacked the place. Even if we won the battle of that night, we had just lost the war.

Eventually a torrential downpour started, the fires went out and everyone ran for shelter.

Public opinion anywhere but in the neighborhood was turned against us. A couple weeks later the park was closed; the fence built; the bandshell destroyed; 14 months of police occupation had begun.

One night after the closing of the park, during a protest a limousine nearly ran down half the crowd. These days, a limo on Ave C and 7th street could be a tourist partying at one of the million hip bars or nightclubs; even someone who lives in the vicinity. Those days, especially on that corner, it meant one thing: some rich jackass buying heroin. The driver of the limo freaked out, and with hundreds of people on either side of the car marching down the street, drove through the crowd. No one was hurt but a lot of people were angry. In a frantic move to get away from the angry crowd, the driver turned down 5th street.

Anyone familiar with the neighborhood would have known to not make that mistake. 5th between C and B is a dead end. The driver stops at the end of the street, thinks for a minute and then turns around, sees the angry crowd and floors it. Luckily we all got out of the way and no one was killed.

There are two details about this event that stick with me. The license plate of that limo (New Jersey, OL519C) and the way the NY Times mentioned this part of the protest under the subhead "Bad Relations With Neighbors" telling the story, without anything but the reporter's outsider assumptions, of how the protest attacked a neighbor, in his car on his way home.

Even among most of the staff of the radical weekly newspaper I worked for at the time, The Guardian Newsweekly, the view of the story followed the official narrative. Not only did I sense a disrespect of this movement but the story was never covered in depth in the paper.

One staff member even referred to that report as she told me of how the demonstrations and activists, who she believed to be crazed anarchists, acted without respect for the people that lived in the neighborhood. When it came to coverage of foreign issues, she knew not to trust the Times, but when it came to issues in her own city she trusted the Times more than the members of the staff that had seen the protests with their own eyes.

Some good came out of this. Alliances were strengthened among many factions in the neighborhood. Anarchists stood side by side with church parishioners, priests, immigrants, artists and even a few yuppies in an event called "hands around the park."

A nightly ritual that became known as "walking the pig" started the day after the park was closed and continued nightly for at least a month. We'd walk around the neighborhood chanting and singing -- a crowd of up to a couple thousand people, followed by hundreds of well armed riot cops.

Those alliances continue to today, but much of what we were fighting for has been lost.

So, on this memorial day, I sat back in the park and remembered some of my comrades in struggle that are no longer with us. Uncle Donie, Presente! Lisa, Presente! Brad, Presente!, Michael, Presente! I remain inspired by your spirits.

photos, Aug 17

Back before we all had cell phones, it was not as easy to keep in touch or get info to a friend. This was especially true if your friends moved frequently or lived in squats.

People used all sorts of methods to get around this: pagers, inexpensive voicemail services, notes on doors, etc..

Around here, we also had Merlin. Merlin was a fixture in the neighborhood, he lived in front of the Con-Ed substation on Avenue A. Everyone knew Merlin and Merlin knew everyone. More than once as I walked by him and said hi, he would stop me to relay a message from a friend.

15 years ago this week, I walked by as he was being loaded into an ambulance. He had not looked healthy for a while. I ran into Blackout Books where some meeting was going on and gathered a crew to go back and gather his belongings off the sidewalk so when he got out of the hospital he'd still have his things.

I forget if it was that night or a day later that Merlin died.

Every year since, someone puts up a memorial on the anniversary of his death. Today's photos are of this year's memorial. Most of the flowers had already blown away by the time I got there.

Some coverage of Merlin from other places:

Leaping beneath the radar.

There have been a few periods of my life where I've done everything possible to live below the radar of "the man." Working short-term jobs, moving frequently, living without bank accounts or credit cards. Living the life of a digital nomad, computer disks and portfolio in tow, living out of my backpack or the panniers on my bicycle.

In the days before the widespread use of the internet, google and social networking websites it was much easier to go off the grid. I'm not sure if I could pull off now what I did then.

Today's story comes out of one of those periods of living life underground.

Greyhound buses at depot - Portland, OregonJuly 1993. I'm on the bus travelling east. It's been a long time since I've been home. I can almost taste the bagels of my imagination and hear the clanking of the wheels of the subway in my mind. I got word last week that the case against the unknown John Doe had been dropped, the investigation ended, the trumped up charges erased.

I've got 3 days on the bus. Plenty of time to sit and think; read and dream and wonder if I'll manage to pick up right where I left off and jump back into the NYC Activist scene of the Lower East Side.

On this side of the trip is Portland Oregon, one of the places that took me in and gave me sustenance and shelter. I've spent time in a few cities and towns on the west coast on this trip. I didn't manage to pick up the amount of freelance work that I really wanted. I've been living very light and survival has been mostly due to the kindness and generosity of strangers and friends. A loan here, a place to crash there, a referral for a temp job that won't ask me too many questions wherever I could find them.

But now, I'm going home. On the other end of the journey is Manhattan, the grit and insanity; the dreams and the dreck.

The journey west was via Train (Amtrak not freight) when my coffers were full from a period of full-time employment. The journey home is Greyhound via a ticket purchased by my parents -- mom called it a loan knowing that I did not want her charity and knowing full well that she'd never accept repayment. The bus is a very different world from the comfort of the train. There's no bar car, no ability to sneak a smoke, few if any interesting conversations -- nothing but monotony. Still, I'm glad to be going home.

9 Months earlier I was living in a nice apartment on Clinton and Delancey, overlooking the entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge. It was a noisy place, sometimes when I was on the phone the person on the other end would ask me if I was calling from a pay phone on the street. The noise of the traffic was intense, especially the trucks who frequently were skidding to a stop at the red light they knew was there but always seemed to think might just be turning from yellow to green just this one time. They would grind to a halt bouncing over the large metal plates that hid the decay that a few years later led to the bridge being partially closed and under reconstruction for years.

At the time of my departure from NYC, my eviction from that apartment was only a matter of time. It was an illegal sublet -- well it was supposed to be a legal sublet leading to me getting the lease but my friend that had the place earlier decided to not follow the instructions from the housing rights organization GOLES (good old lower east side) and screwed my chances to get the lease.

The reality of soon being houseless again, stepping back into my digital nomad persona, was making me think of leaving town for a while.

Now let me point out that I used the term houseless and not homeless. I might not have a place of my own, but I have a community. At times in the past, I'd divided up my time between friends couches, the guest spaces at neighborhood squats, and friends who were travelling who needed someone to watch their space. I spent a lot of time without a place to live, but I only slept outside when I wanted to -- mostly when I rode east towards beaches where you can covertly camp especially if you don't use a car to get there.

The other important context for the rest of the story is that I had been working a full time job doing print production work for a company that put out newsletters for heating oil delivery companies -- a perfect combination of organized crime and environmental nastiness.

I got the job thanks to an associate in the bicycle advocacy/activist community in NYC. He was the editor of the newsletters. The day he had me typeset a story that used a Greenpeace article on the dangers of building new natural gas pipelines as a way of saying "see even Greenpeace thinks heating oil is better than that cleaner burning natural gas" I knew my tenure there was coming to an end. I had been pushed too far; I just could not use my skill for this twisted propaganda anymore. I decided I was going to leave soon (but had a plan that might have allowed me to get unemployment payments). If I had made a couple different decisions I would have gotten what was mine, my unemployment payments. However, I fucked it up and got nothing.

So, the day in question I was all flummoxed over my decision, do I stay or do I go. There was a car-free central park protest, just the thing to clear my mind. I got on my bike and headed over.

At this time, cars were allowed on the central loop road only during rush hour. The rest of the time it was for runners, bikes and skaters. One problem was that the Park cops never closed the entrances and cars would continue to speed around the loop endangering the lives of those using the park for recreation.

Our protest was simple. During the time the cars were allowed, we'd take up one lane and ride really slow. We were legally allowed to take one lane so the cops would back off. At 7:01pm when the cars were no longer allowed in the park, we'd form a line and funnel all the cars out of the park onto Central Park West.

This one night, one car decided to challenge our blockade. He drove slowly into the line of bikes, making it clear that he was going through no matter what.

I had different ideas.

As I watched my friend Mike's bike slowly move under the front bumper, about to meet its death, I leapt (quite literally) into action. Lots of people are shouting, and I'm Flying over the handlebars of my bike. I landed right next to the car. My momentum was moving forward fast and I swung my hand towards the front windshield. My hand was flat open, my intent was to slap the window and scare the driver into stopping the car. But the PTSD kicked in a bit.


Broken car windowEveryone stops, it is super quiet for a moment. Everyone is shocked. Where there was a nice perfectly shaped front windshield a moment ago there's now a fractal pattern of chips held together by some unseen force, the middle layer of auto glass.

No one was more in shock than I was. There was my hand, completely unhurt in the center of a huge depression on the window. I must have been aiming for the driver’s head and not the glass; the glass must have been improperly installed making it vulnerable to breaking.

The Car stopped.

The Driver Got Out.

I reached for my U lock.

A funky standoff indeed.

The crowd starts chanting the license place number of the car as a way of intimidating the driver to back off. We know who you are (or do we).

As the chanting continues, I realize that under the letters and numbers we were yelling was the word "Official." Official plates mean this guy is important, he's in government or some other high level position.

This was the first moment I realized I might be in a situation that I might not get out of. Visions of my police beating in Buffalo flew around my brain and I started to panic.

I was moving slowly to the back of the crowd, starting to plan my getaway.

Bill then came rushing over to me. "Do you realize who that guy is, this is bad, get out of here."

Bill takes off his jacket and shirt and we swap clothes and bikes. I keep my backpack for a few reasons I'll go into some other time.

As we're swapping camouflage Bill tells me to look at the dashboard behind the broken window. Oh shit. Is that? Is that a red siren light? Oh shit. Oh SHIT. Oh, man this is bad. As I'm rambling Bill informs me that he's a Deputy Commissioner of the NYC Parks Department and also a Captain in the NYPD.

I'm out.

Most of the rest of the story is second hand from the folks that lived through the final chapter.

The driver apparently stank like booze and was probably drunk. Lots of folks were still around -- 4 of them decided to stick around until the cops came explicitly to try to file charges against the drunken cop driving the now wounded car.

Of course the cops refused to give a Breathalyzer to the drunken cop, they took the 4 interested in pressing charges to the Central Park Precinct. There they got to fill out accident reports, the first step towards filing real charges. After a couple of them had been given their receipts, the Commander of the precinct came in and tore up all the accident reports (but not the receipts he did not know were already in nervous back pockets).

The tables had turned. The 4 were arrested for disorderly conduct for having been in the roadway legally so they could be hit by the drunk cop.

As the situation progressed over the next week or two, it became clear that all those charges would be dropped if they turned over the "guy that hit the car with the lead pipe" The cops offered to drop the charges if they help arrest the guy that attacked the car. A John Doe warrant was issued for assault with a deadly weapon (a crime more fitting to be charged against the cop in the car if you ask me).

They refused to cooperate. They gave mocking answers.

What was his name? Sven I think... no it was Jose. No that's not it. Homer, it was Homer.

One cop asked my friend for the name of the guy with the lead pipe, he replied that there was no lead pipe. The cop, having watched too many episodes of NYPD Blue, got in his face and asked "well, what type of pipe was it?!"

There was no Pipe!!!

Anyway, after a few liberal types that knew me as a more radical but reasonable activist tried to get me to turn myself in, I decided that all signs were saying one thing: get the fuck out of Dodge.

A week or two later I was on a train from NYC to Chicago, connecting at Chicago for the train to San Fran via Salt Lake and Denver -- One of the most amazingly beautiful sections of train travel in North America.
California Zephyr near Denver, Co. wiki pws
I looked out the windows for hours, got into amazing political debates in the bar car, found out that middle America has some interesting places and people. We wound back and forth for half a day slowly climbing the Rocky Mountains, I was mesmerized by the landscape and wondered how long until I could return home.

The story would end there if not for the epilogue I learned of years later.

The Commander of the Central Park Precinct, the cop that tore up the accident reports and started the campaign to bring the biker with the pipe to justice in order to cover up for his associate’s drunken assault, is now known as the highest-ranking NYPD officer to kill himself. He was due to appear at a commission investigating police corruption and decided to eat his gun instead.

A while after that, the friend who's bike's peril sparked my actions, the friend who still had his accident report receipt when he was told by the soon to be dead by his own hand Commander of the Central Park Precinct, that there was no accident and he was under arrest, was at a family reunion. His grandfather started talking to him about how he was a little depressed; a cousin that my friend had never met was an NYPD cop and recently killed himself instead of appearing at a corruption investigation.

Not so instant karma.

Images from the wikimedia commons. listed in order from top of page down: By M.O. Stevens; Lionel Allorge; Peter W. Svendsen