San Francisco—it’s not the center of all power in the universe, not the heart of the Evil Empire, not the seat of government like Washington DC, nor the throbbing pulse of commerce and fashion like New York. It’s our own foggy backwater by the Bay—and mounting a demonstration here, you sometimes feel a little far away from the pressure points.
But one thing San Francisco has—great drummers! The smaller the protest, the more you need great drummers to keep up the energy. And graphics—silk-screened, color-coordinated banners sure add to the tone of an action. Often we also have our own brass band, the Brass Liberation Orchestra.
I like to drum for actions. As long as I’m drumming, I believe I’m absolved from screaming and chanting, and can save my rather soft, ladylike voice for other things, like murmuring blissful baby talk to our giant white poodle. If I had a naturally loud voice, I would probably rule the world. But I don’t. That’s one reason I live on the West Coast, where people naturally speak in rather hushed tones and say upbeat, positive things, like “it’s all good!” No one in, say, Gaza ever says, ‘It’s all good.” When I’m in a place like New York City, I’m virtually inaudible. I go into a store to buy a bagel and lox and realize that the people there are only seeing a moving mouth, not hearing any sound at all.
But I digress. We had a good day in the streets today—a few hundred people marching, drumming, dancing, chanting “Our climate is not your business” to a samba beat. We went to the Bank of America, and people sat down and blocked doorways for a long enough time that some of us were secretly contemplating making a deal with the cops, “What can we offer you to get on with arresting these people so we can move on?”
The Bank of America was the scene, some years ago, of one of my all-time favorite actions. On the north side of the bank lies a dark and glacial plaza, the proverbial place where The Sun Never Shines. In one corner of the plaza lies a cold, grim, statue, a black, polished, sharp-edged piece of rock popularly know as “The Banker’s Heart.’ Our Pagan Cluster was asked to stage a magical ritual there early one morning to revive the Banker’s Heart. Our Arts in Action friends had made a giant cardboard defibrillator, and a crowd of a hundred or so of us gathered, chanting “Let the doctor through!”
The police, forewarned, had cordoned off the plaza and guarded the Banker’s Heart as if it were their own. We spiral danced on the street corner and generally kept them amused. All the while, our friends in the Code Orange affinity group were a couple of blocks away, dressed in Robin Hood costumes, infiltrating and disrupting the stock exchange. When we got the call that they were in, we took the march down to support them, swarmed into the lobby, and hooted, hollered and made noise until the cops finally through us out.
I believe it was that action—they are all starting to blur in my mind—where the cops were trying to shut the doors and a few of our folks were trying to hold them open. One of our transgender faery friends was sticking to that door like Velcro. The cops wrenched her off and threw her to the ground, beating on her. I threw myself on top of her—a technique we call ‘puppy piling’ that I had taught so many times in trainings I just did it automatically, forgetting we weren’t in a training and that I wasn’t planning to get arrested as I had a lunch date with my editor. The cops peeled me off and arrested us both, along with a few other people and our lawyer Katya. I don’t remember why they arrested the lawyer.
They took us down to the station and chained us to the wall while the cops did paperwork. Now, Katya was always adamant that the right to remain silent meant you had to remain silent, not gossiping, chatting, or playing Two Truths and a Lie, no matter how bored you got. She did, however, allow the singing of madrigals and the reciting of poetry. My faery friend recited a poem so graphically sexual that even I was blushing, and I’m not exactly demure about such things. The cops, being San Francisco cops, never turned a hair. I gave them William Butler Yeats’ “The Hosting of the Sidhe” and they all dropped their pens and stared. Shortly after that, they let us go, in time for me to make my lunch date.
Today, the cops were low key. They eventually arrested everyone who was blocking an entrance and had managed to resist boredom and restlessness long enough to get arrested—twenty two people altogether. Tonight, everyone is out.
And that’s how we commemorated the tenth anniversary of the big blockade at Seattle.