We did it! Up until the moment we did, I didn’t quite believe we would, but we did!
Went to bed last night thinking, “Yeah, Starhawk, you’ve done this a hundred times, yawn, nerves of steel, sleep like a baby,” and of course I hardly slept at all, adrenaline racing, had to pee a hundred times. Got up this morning ahd rumors were flying around that the Egyptian security forces were blocking the hotels, so we got out quickly. Fortunately I had packed and organized my stuff the night before as that is the part of an action that is most stressful to me. Nothing makes me more crazy than needing to get out the door in a hurry and not being able to find some crucial piece of gear, and I nearly always can’t find some crucial piece of gear, due to that plague of Snatchers that follow me around, hiding my keys, lining their burrows with my socks and decorating them with my ATM cards.
Some of the Canadian delegation who are staying here were saying that police were outside—but that turned out not to be true. I was almost sorry, because Wendy had scouted alternative exits over the roofs of Cairo and what a story that would make! But I was happy enough just to get out and not be stuck inside all day. I can write novels another time.
Lisa had already left for a meeting at one of the hotels—turned out the security forces were blocking everyone into the Lotus, where the main Code Pink organizers were staying, but not the other hotels, including the one where the meeting was happening.
I decided to sit down below, however, and keep watch. Actually I didn’t see the need for going 9 flights up and probably having to walk back down all nine, and sitting in a smoky meeting where I wouldn’t be able to hear anything. There was a chair against the wall near the entrance so I sat down to wait. Actually, Cairo is a great place to people-watch and I had one of the most relaxing little bits of time I’d had here yet, watching the women in their various head=-carves and the men with liquid brown eyes that could have come off an old tomb painting. Eventually people from our march began to drift by, stopping to share news and rumors. One Policeman was watching the hotel, but I didn’t see any signs that groups of them were massing for a raid. But the rumors were flying—the action was on, it was off, the locations was changed, the time was changed..
Eventually Lisa and the women from the meeting came down. The plan was for shcok troops of women to be first out into the streets—for a couple of reasons. The first—the cops are less likely to brutalize women. Not entirely unlikely, but less. The second—to shift those old gender dynamics where the guys do the brave and dangerous things and the little women stay behind. The third—because these women are strong and smart and don’t run ego-dramas.
We began to filter around Tahrir Square. I was following Lisa who moves at a really fast pace. I am a slow walker but when I need to, I can keep up with her and she was in full-on battle mode and nothing was going to slow her down.
We all drifted into the area around the Museum where our plan called for us to gather unobtrusively and then flash-mob into the streets. I wasn’t sure this was going to work. Nobody was sure this was going to work—but it was the plan and at this point that was all we had. The police were out in force around the museum because we had organized this in classic nonviolent mode, openly and not secretly. That was a good thing, because communication has been so excruciatingly difficult when we are trying to simply tell each other something that adding security culture and secret codes on top of it would have made everything utterly incomprehensible to most of us, while the secret police would still have known what we were going to do. There they were…there we were. The clock was ticking—it was almost ten. An officer came towards Lisa, trying to move us further down the road. The traffic opened…and she took the space, running out into the traffic and unfurling a flag. We followed, and suddenly, from all over small groups of people were swarming and collecting and filling the road.
We began to march—for about ten yards. Then the cops surrounded us, and they were mad. They were pushing and shoving people, and I noticed a few run in and grab a guy who was filming with a video camera on a tripod. They had hold of him and were pulling on his camera and others were pulling on him so I ran over to do what I do—which is insert myself into the middle and sweetly get in the way. Between all of us we extricated him and his camera and now people were sitting down to hold the space. And there I was, sitting on the ground staring at the knees of a line of Egyptian riot cops. I had a little Talking Heads moment, you know the song, “And I asked myself…how did I get here?” Then the cops moved in and started grabbing people. They grabbed Michael from the media team and we grabbed him back and finally pulled him in toward us. He was holding his ribs..a woman grabbed my arm and we linked up.
Then I saw Lisa being grabbed by five big cops. They were pulling her away into the police lines and she was lying prone and being pulled by her wrists. I thought, “Goddess, they’re taking her away and there’s too many of them. There’s nothing I can do for her.” And then I thought, “Fuck that!” and leapt on top of her, grabbing her waist and lying over her legs. I can’t actually explain how I did that when usually it takes me ten minutes and a battle plan to get up, but adrenaline is a wonder drug.
Anotther couple of people piled onto me and her. The cops were really mad, but also confused. They kicked one guy and grabbed him really roughly to pull him off, but no sooner did they have him than someone else dove through five lines of police and launched himself onto the pile Every time they got rid of one person, someone else appeared. It was one of the most powerful moments of practical solidarity I’ve ever seen and I would have liked to savor it but almost immediately we were all being pushed, shoved, pummeled and pressed back onto the curb across the street. Our pile of people on the bottom half of Lisa got pushed one way—the top half of her went another and I lost her.
I ended up on the curb smack in front of the lines of cops trying to shove us back, along with a mass of people. I was happy there—holding ground when riot cops are shoving is one of the things I’m good at. Most of the cops looked a bit sheepish and ashamed of what they were doing, but one or two were triggered and angry and out of control. I saw one cop head butt a protester, others were beating and punching people with their nightsticks. They were pushing other people onto the curb and roughly forcing them through the lines into a crowd that was already so tight there was hardly room to move. I saw several of the women I’d trained and I just stayed there and grabbed them and pulled them through the lines of cops into our space. I felt a bit like a midwife, birthing them backwards, into the womb of our community now contained by a circle of cops on a wide stretch of sidewalk. Some of them were frightened, some were exhilarated. All looked happy to see me.
And then the tension eased. The cops formed their ring, we had our space, in the circle of Cairo’s largest, central square, and people were chanting “Free, free Palestine!” and singing “We Shall Overcome.” I looked over and found myself standing next to Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, singing, “We are not afraid, we are not afraid, we are not afraid today.”
Then I saw Lisa, safe and relatively unscathed although she had a hurt wrist and sore ribs. I gave her some homeopathic arnica and Bill Ayers gave her some chocolate. Carrying chocolate—that mark of an experienced activist!
We all felt great about the action. Against all odds, we had done what we set out to do—to say to the Egyptian authorities and the world, “if you won’t let us go to Gaza, we’ll simply start from here and walk.” If you want to stop us, you’ll have to physically stop us—we won’t comply with your orders. And if you physically stop us, then we will have brought Gaza to Cairo—we will dramatize for the eyes of the world the situation that the people of Gaza are in. This pen, this improvised prison in the central square is another annex to the huge, open-air prison that Gaza has become, where a million and a half people live in the most densely crowded conditions on earth, where the Israelis control the borders and decide who can get in and who can get out, rationing out the necessities of life, b;ocking the materials of reconstruction and the means of livelihood for the Gazan people.
So we held the space throughout the day, with songs and chants and drumbeats, with shared food and water and an improvised pee station. I even had a lovely nap in the sun, next to a beautiful French Algerian organizer with luminous green eyes.
And now the New Year has come, and I must sleep! May our new year be blessed with loving friends and strong comrades to strengthen us for all the work ahead the earth and for justice.