j23

sacramento 2003

action report/fieldnotes

amory starr

three months before the cancun WTO ministerial, at which third world resistance to biotech is a huge stumbling block, the US Department of Agriculture invites ministerial delegations from 180 countries to a tightly controlled meeting with biotech companies. only 75 of the countries accept the invitation (123 of 540 invited delegations) and the EU pulls out at the last minute.  activists come from the whole west coast. there were 9 of us from fort collins plus a member of our community who now lives in the sacramento area. we also traveled with some denver folk. these are my fieldnotes and observations. they contain some experiences and ideas from other members of the affinity group, but are neither comprehensive nor fully collective.

 

the mobilization wasn’t huge, but it was mostly uncontrolled by police. even the permitted march was apparently seen as a threat, and was attacked by police. the message and focus of the protests was very clear at all times, with great art, lots of leafleting, and informed activists talking, talking, talking about the issues.

            there were awesome affinity group actions, fantastic infrastructure, much less vanguardism than recent actions, security culture didn’t completely take over, and there was a very high level of solidarity and street smarts! multi-day actions are often poorly planned and are always exhausting, but this time they gave people from various cities repeated opportunities to work together, and this resulted in a sense of connection and the development of working relationships for the future. according to folks from our group who were there, the last big action at Monsanto on Wednesday was very bonded and emotional.

            it was the best direct action structure i’d witnessed since a16 (dc 2000). (but i’ve never been to an OCAP action.) many north american manifestations have either: {a} failed to plan anything, leaving it all for affinity group actions planned overnight once people got there [cinci tabd 2000, ftaa qc 2001, dc sept 2001], or {b} planned only permitted actions in advance resulting in grumpy direct actioners [dnc la 2000, wef nyc 2002]. this time we arrived to a very well worked-out framework: for Sunday there was a quadrant system for direct action clusters. and for the rest of the week, affinity groups were able to adopt sites that had already been fully scouted by the sacramento organizing team. this enabled at least six really great affinity group actions to take place. (saturday ge trees action at expedix, sunday mandella garden occupation, monday die-in in delegates’ path, tuesday cascadia summer ge trees action at uc-davis, tuesday safeway action, wednesday monsanto action).

            not a single window was broken during the week, so it was interesting to see the media totally disabled from accusing the black blocs of violence (all the photos of black bloc and police confrontations showed a bloc sitting on the ground holding hands). even the grafitti said things like “eat organic”! sacramento locals were interested, good humoured, patient and friendly while we blocked traffic. they read our manifestoes, came out to watch and have conversations, and we didn’t meet a soul who likes biotech! even one of the prison guards at Rio Consomes  was a broke gmo farmer! 

            we also learned a lot within our affinity group. we did more intensive legal support than before, including the whole bonding out process. we did two affinity group actions, one included scouting and collecting materials. we brought our puppets, and saw what a big contribution they are. we also talked a lot about how the group was working and started to recognize that going to these actions is a week of opportunities to be accountable to each other. increasingly, we’re seeing that one of the things that’s really radical about these actions is exactly that, figuring out how to be accountable to each other in a whole series of settings.

            we had a breakthrough about how we had been conceptualizing authority. where we had been using the word ‘fascist’, we started using ‘mother’. at actions, people are taking responsibility for themselves in some very intense new ways (courage in the face of intimidation, harassment, and violence) on very little sleep and sort of lose their normal abilities to take responsibility for more mundane things (packing lunches, getting themselves up in the morning, avoiding parking tickets), yet the mundane things often affect the group and our ability to do what we came to do. we had been allowing people to take authority over particular moments like getting everybody into the cars, but we were also constantly rejecting the necessity of that role, calling them a “transportation fascist”, as if it was an egotistical character disorder. acknowledging that these roles are actually necessary because most people need to be focused on the action, rather than the mundane stuff, we legitimized these roles and started to call them “transportation mother” or “morning mother”. having people really be in charge of these roles also frees up the folks to whom these roles tend to fall by default, allowing them to put their energy into other stuff. we even talked about bringing with us someone entirely green (perhaps one of our parents who is supportive but doesn’t want to be in the streets) to be our “house mother”, who would grocery shop, cook, clean up the house, answer the land line, and videotape the tv news while we are in the streets.

            many of us were frustrated by intermittent individualism and feeling like we weren’t really an affinity group. the prospect of limiting the trip to groups or sub-groups that had worked together before was not appealing to anyone, because there have been so many cases of people joining our group for mass actions as their first political action (or their first contact with our activist community) and some of those people contributed a lot and went on to become part of the community. through a series of late-night discussions, many of us also agreed that rather than being exclusive, a small collective should develop a basic structure and everyone should have to agree to that in advance. the point is distinguishing between stuff that’s important to develop inclusively and democratically —our action— and stuff that’s like the basic foundation of group functioning that ends up sucking a lot of group resources…stuff like sticking to the buddy system, out of bed 1.5 hours before time to go (people constantly underestimate how long it will take them to meet their individual needs in cramped quarters and do not leave time for collective needs like navigation and getting puppets into the truck), participating in affinity group meetings (this time we didn’t have a single one!), parking legally, drug & alcohol policy... we feel that accommodating individual proclivities like laziness and wanting to go on dates is too much burden on organizers.

            we learned about some new roles, such as puppet master (er, puppet mother), who makes sure that all the nuts and bolts are in place (and organizes repair work) before the puppets are grabbed out of the truck 5 minutes before an action with arms and legs falling off, and media analyst/archivist, who liberates a stack of newspapers each day, has videos ready to tape the tv news, etc. we also started thinking about some distinctions about how the continuum of legal support should relate to the degree of individualism of the arrest situation. snatches, mass arrests, harassment, and arrests related to planned affinity group actions have the most right to group legal support resources.

check out the following media stories: Sacramento News & Review: http://www.newsreview.com/issues/sacto/2003-06-26/news.asp, and the two big Sacramento Bee stories: http://www.sacbee.com/content/business/agriculture/story/6912642p-7862172c.html, http://www.sacbee.com/content/business/agriculture/story/6907512p-7857044c.html, and of course our own indymedia: http://www.biotechimc.org.

saturday

our first caravan arrived on friday and our second on saturday. most of us attended the teach-in all day saturday at sacramento state, which included community agriculture alternatives and two sessions on food/technology/war (the same companies sell war, trade, and food). several speakers emphasized that there are fewer farmers than prisoners in the US. they emphasized that in the US we’re losing 4,000 farmers a week because they are tricked into buying technology. “66% of biotech is sold in the US and it’s not functioning. the model is destroying rural life and ecologies here and we’re exporting it.” Ignacio Chapela said “we mortgaged our environment and culture for a small increase in yield.” someone even mentioned a study which showed Monsanto soy to be 4% lower in yield.

            according to a Food First study, pro- vs. anti- gmo discourse is covered 7:1 in the mainstream media. the contamination of Mexican corn was covered in Newsweek International, but Newsweek US didn’t have a line! the story seems to be that the contamination has won: “The genie is out of the bottle. stop whining and eat it.” so somebody said “that’s why we have to take direct action to get it into the news.”

            Drinah Nyirenda emphasized that the logic for gmos being necessary to solve hunger is ridiculous. “Putting more food in the supermarket will not solve hunger.” he explained that what has intensified hunger in africa is “1. marketing/commodity boards have been replaced with private traders…it’s easier for them to buy from large importers than many small farmers. 2. privatization of government banks that used to provide credit. with no buyers, now farmers just grow for their families and send able bodies to the maquillas…why would seed make a difference when farmers have no market and no credit to buy any inputs? gmos have nothing to do with hunger!” african delegates are so outraged by biotech that african delegates issued a statement at the Rome FAO meeting “we object to our image being used to push biotechnology…” [Statement from all the African delegates (except South Africa) to FAO negotiations on the International Undertaking for Plant Genetic Resources, June 1998] Nyirenda also argued that “it’s racist to say that people are incapable of producing their own food.”

            apparently, there were three goals for the sacto meetings 1) sell biotech and market it in the name of the world.  2) precision agriculture, without people 3) challenging european right to regulate. it’s not about the wto or hunger, it’s about the right to regulate.

            Starhawk also spoke at the teach-in, connecting the analysis with the actions to come. “what is non-violent direct action? why are we taking it?…they are killing the soil for profits. no value higher than corporate profits. they tell us “if you go along, we’ll feed the poor”...they say “a rising tide lifts all boats.” they’re unclear on economy — and tides. tides rise and fall, that’s what it means to be a tide…as the promise breaks down, they get us by threats or fear. we’ll get you or the terrorists will get you…so you don’t ordinarily break into your neighbor’s house, but if the house is on fire and the door is locked and there is a child inside, then you are probably going to do it…similarly now there is a clear and present danger. we must take strong and peaceful action to stop it from going on… direct action is action that directly confronts oppressive power. non-violent does not mean non-confrontational…oppressive power works because it has our compliance…there is no public debate, no voice, promoting their agenda without public education…direct action makes people pay attention to the issue by raising the costs. so people at least worry about should they be discussing it. exposes the violence and power that underlies the system. violence doesn’t look like executives sitting around conference tables, but the decisions they make can be immensely violent. GMOs are not considered a weapon of mass destruction… in our action we try to embody the alternative in organizing and action… in solidarity and service with the people on this planet who have the least.”

            saturday night spokescouncil was held at the seiu hall and was packed with about 300 activists. lisa fithian started off by saying that the justice for janitors strike was settled before the manifestations began because the city was worried they would join forces with us. the city told the building owners to settle. the janitors got full family health coverage.

            we prepared for sunday’s action for which three goals had been developed in previous spokescouncils: 1 “welcoming the delegates” 2 “disrupting the proceedings” 3 “transforming the space into what we want to see”. five “non-violence hallmarks” had also been agreed to, posted, and published: “1. we will use no violence, physical or verbal, towards any person. we consider speech or acts that are racist, homophobic, or sexist to be violent. 2. we will carry no weapons. 3. we will not bring or use any alcohol or illegal drugs. 4. we will not destroy property. 5. we will respect the rights of all people.”

            unlike recent actions, it didn’t seem that starhawk and lisa fithian were entirely running the show. they weren’t standing at the back whispering to each other. starhawk sat as a spoke, away from the facilitators, and spoke for the pagan cluster. she identified herself. lisa fithian was one of the facilitators, didn’t identify herself or say why she was so important. none of the spokescouncils included the police and media exclusion announcement, and it turned out that journalists had in fact been in the meetings. a couple of the facilitators introduced themselves and identified their organizations, but never explained why they were running the meetings. they did refer to some of the framework having been developed “in previous spokescouncils”.

            fithian also read an interesting draft agreement that she said been developed by labor, religious, and black bloc groups: “we are different, neither allies nor greatest enemies…we will be together and in solidarity…we will protect each others’ bodies and rights…do not put other people at risk…do not turn people over to the police….do not let people within our groups interfere with other groups…respect work of medics, legal, indymedia…share food and water…support anyone who is injured…respect other groups’ projects’ time and space…do not negotiate with the police on behalf of other groups.”

            the meeting split into four working groups attached to physical quadrants off of the convention center (each about 9 square blocks) in which each quadrant cluster should make action along the three goals. this action framework had been planned at previous spokescouncils. we chose one of the quadrants, which was very welcoming, and we met with them.

            there was really an incredible amount of police presence in the neighborhood. our host, who had been volunteering at the welcome center, told us that the volunteers had been having a good time counting all the different types of vehicles the police were using to patrol the area, bikes, motorcycles, vans, paddywagons, unmarked crown royals, regular cruisers, helicopters, suvs, armored vehicles… plus all the undercover vehicles, including a fancy convertible!

sunday

after a morning meeting, our cluster met up at 1 pm and took a zigzag route along the sidewalk to the meeting point at 15th & N. then we moved as a rogue march into our quadrant. we circulated through our quadrant for hours, with police trailing but not getting aggressive. then we met up with another cluster, combined, separated, recombined. the whole time we were just taking streets, snake marching through the traffic, turning when the cops blocked our path, but staying in the quadrant. eventually people got bored of this, and when a call came through, the actions moved toward a community garden at 14th & P around 4 pm

            after years of struggle against the city’s redevelopment agency which wants to put condos on the beautiful 30-year old block garden full of fruit trees, community groups have been banned from setting foot in the Ron Mandella garden. the j22 garden occupation had been planned for months. one guy did a tree sit while others locked down in a circle, and others installed permaculture. once they were in, calls went out to the larger action to join them in support. when we got there, about a thousand people surrounded the garden, clustered at the gates. police arrived slowly. soon the larger march lost interest in the garden, refused to form a soft blockade, and headed back towards downtown. the people at the garden seemed disappointed. i started to feel that the march was fickle. bored downtown, bored at the garden, not willing to do any real work like figuring out how to really support the garden.

            the delegates are supposed to attend an IMAX film at 6 pm. we pass by the heavily guarded IMAX theater and circle through nearby streets for a while. i wondered why we didn’t just shut down the intersection at IMAX the first time we went through, but then i understood that maintaining mobility until the actual time of the event meant less chance we’d be cleared away already. while bike and motorcycle cops block traffic along some nearby streets, the only police presence following the march is a lone squad car, from which an officer repeatedly reads “i am officer blah blah. by the powers vested in me by the citizens of California i declare this an unlawful assembly and order you to disperse. if you do not disperse you will be subject to arrest. you will also be subject to non-lethal weapons such as tear gas, pepper spray, concussion grenades, electrical devices…” but he had no backup at all, none of the other cops seemed to be working with him. so we just laughed at him. an activist with bullhorn responded to the officer’s speech every time with “the citizens of California can speak for themselves. they do not need to be represented by the police.” the cop even tried to follow us as we snake marched into traffic down a one-way street, and got stuck in the oncoming cars. (he finally had to back out.) diva said “this poor officer has lost his affinity group.”

            eventually we headed back to IMAX to greet the delegates. as we approached, another group came from the garden. running is one of the cool new things that people do a lot. so the two groups ran really fast toward each other and then everybody embraced and celebrated. this is part joy and part making sure the two groups don’t get divided. this combined force snuggled up to the barricades so the delegates would be able to see us. it seemed like a pretty chill setup. the police had their line and we were well behind it, with puppets and so forth. but then they decided they didn’t want the delegates even to see us.  they cut off the alleys and the streets and pushed people north and west away from the theater while also encircling us from behind. some people escaped before we got encircled. the remaining people, about 150-250, were on the sidewalks trying to exit but were denied exit. it was kinda crazy because they encircled us and had tazers out, so it wasn’t really like they wanted us to disperse. then they started doing snatches. rice master from our affinity group and 13 other people were arrested snatch-style and everyone else was eventually let go. this snatch-style arrest of random non-high profile people is a European tactic. as far as i know, a new tactic for US crowd control. it frightens people because they learn that they can be grabbed for no reason. (previous reports of snatches in the US were generally high-profile organizers.)

            encircling, frightening, and then slowly releasing people was successful in dispersing the group, which made our way back to the welcome center to eat and then to the Washington neighborhood center for spokescouncil. the media team announced that we had made national news. ABC had explicitly connected sacto with the breakdown of the Egypt pre-ministerial. so resident bush had to give a speech about hunger and poverty in the third world. 

            after spokescouncil we got the news that the police were arresting everyone at the garden and a lot of people were really upset and ran out of other meetings to go down there. there was a rumour that they had encircled and were arresting even the onlookers, but this turned out to be false and they only arrested about 24 people. unfortunately just as the garden arrestees arrived at jail, rice master and the others from the afternoon were on their way out. the incomers were dejected by the lack of opportunity for solidarity. at 4:30 in the morning, rice and others were dropped off with $2 each in a remote part of town.

            sunday night on the way home, one of our cars, containing the jail support person and all the ids (stashed under the floor mat) got pulled over. the driver’s id was under the floor mat. when he told the officer it was there and reached for it, the officer thought he was reaching for a weapon. we were detained for about an hour by 7 unmarked cars representing 3 police agencies, they illegally searched the car, which had action maps an our “van packet” (jail solidarity handbook, medical info, list of events for the week, maps, all of the contact info for our legal infrastructure…) sitting on the back seat. but they didn’t ask us any questions about the action or our roles. everyone else had to come down to the road to pick up their ids, and the driver was charged with a traffic violation called “possession of too many ids” (we’re not sure this is a real law) but was not cited for anything that justified the traffic stop or established probable cause for the search. despite having been trained well, none of us managed to say “we do not consent to this search” because we really didn’t want to antagonize them. we’re pretty mad at ourselves about that. we realized that we could have said in a friendly way to some of the officers we were talking to “hey, could you just make sure it goes in the record that we didn’t consent to this search?”

monday j23

monday was the permitted march, starting at 1 pm after a long rally at the west steps of the capitol building. despite the permit, there was heavily armed police presence along the entire route, lots of riot gear, including a pretty prussian blue mini-tank, an armored vehicle guarding starbucks (robocops with big guns on top taking menacing postures), the weird green guns, and harassment of people at the back, including an elderly lady, a guy on crutches, and two people in wheelchairs. the march peacekeepers were good, legal was there, and com was good. at one point cops tried to snatch david solnit, who was in a huge puppet. they took him down to the ground, tried to tazer him (people heard it but seem to think they missed), and confiscated his bullhorn. people gathered around, grabbed him, and were successful in preventing arrest. folks gathered to shout “shame”. this was one of many instances of people being really heads-up and having strong solidarity in the streets.

            after the march people were hanging around in the park and you could just feel that it wasn’t over. before long there was a “run” (some of the black blocs did a lot of running during the week) in attempt to get out of the park without being blocked off by the cops. they didn’t quite make it, although someone we knew was right up front and thought they could have. there was a standoff for a while and then people sort of melted back into the park and hung out on the grass. the permit was over, but people didn’t want to leave. there was a lot of energy still. we were standing around and suddenly saw about 10 bicycle cops heading diagonally across the grass. then the first one turned slightly and in a moment they were encircling this little circle of black bloc kids sitting on the grass. people were really alert; immediately there were about 500 people surrounding the circle of cops! they weren’t expecting that! it was awesome. people were packed in really tight, shouting “shame” and “let them go”. there had been a line of non-robo state troopers (brown uniforms) protecting the capitol building, but i didn’t think they would move off the building. i kept looking at the other side of the park to see if more robos were coming. suddenly the line of brown moved to encircle the larger group of protesters, i jumped through the line as they had a hard time closing it quickly, but most of our group was trapped inside. so then there were two circles of cops, both sandwiched by protesters. mainstream tv was caught between the inner circle of riot cops and the browns, and we could see a big video camera held up in the air and pointed right into the inner circle of the kids surrounded by riot cops. before very long at all both lines of cops got pulled off! it was a nice victory. one person got arrested, i think not from the bb group, and i don’t know the circumstances of that. also they tazered some people in the inner confrontation and, as shown in a lot of photos, pretty aggressively attacked a woman outside the inner ring who got in their faces saying “shoot me, those are my kids”. some time during this mess, space albatross said to a sheriff “you need to control your officers,” who responded “i’m trying to!”

          the cops pulled out of the park and everybody relaxed for real. food not bombs showed up with one of their buffet-bike-trailers to feed people. at 4, the pagan cluster started taking off their clothes and turning into mud people. they were maybe headed for the ribbon cutting of the biotech tradeshow set up for the delegates, but they didn’t say where they were going. the brown cops were amused, peered curiously into the circle, and then followed us languidly out of the park. there were only a few bike cops for the first few blocks as the cluster took the streets and headed down the K street pedestrian mall. but when they turned north off the pedestrian mall, suddenly the police were arriving so fast we couldn’t keep track of them. 10 motorcycle cops, 10 more, 10 bicycles, 10 more motorcycles, blaring their sirens. it was very sudden, intense, scary convergence, particularly since there wasn’t much that they were responding to. there were only about 100 people in the pagan group and they were moving along west on I, not blocking anything, so it was weird that they got so much more attention than the larger, roving marches had before. then there were about 6 suvs and vans and the armored car, all with robocops riding on the running boards. but they didn’t even unload before they turned south and sped off east on J street toward some other conflagration. the pagans got corralled and pushed north, eventually into a park where they negotiated with the police that anyone who wasn’t naked wouldn’t be arrested. folks loaned the nakeds clothes, but one guy wouldn’t get dressed and he was arrested, dragged naked across the asphalt. later a mudgirl wearing pants and post-its on her nipples was arrested on the K street mall, right across the street from the theater where the Food First debate was to take place.

            three of us had gotten separated from the larger group of pagans, and as we tried to catch up found ourselves walking down a pretty empty block. we were approaching a bevy of police vehicles from the rear. normally they leave you pretty much alone behind their lines if you are just a couple of people, unless you get too close to them. we were still about a block off, across an intersection from them. suddenly three robos break out from the group and are walking toward us. at first we thought “coffee run”. then they seemed really purposeful crossing the intersection toward us. they passed another guy who we thought they might be headed toward. we looked up and down the block — nothing they could be headed for, except us. the guy they had just passed motioned us to get the hell out of there. we turned and started walking, looked back, realized that walking wasn’t going to do it. we started jogging, then running. there wasn’t a big group to join, or anywhere to hide. no open coffee shops or anything. we ran about six blocks. we kept passing other police guarding buildings or directing traffic. they saw us running and smiled, but didn’t move. we thought any minute the inter-agency radios would start working and some group of cops would pull up or come off their guard positions to grab us. we needed to get out of sight. finally we found a café on the K street mall right next to where the Food First debate was to be held. before long there were 20 robo cops in formation right across the street and another vanful a few yard away. they had just arrested the post-it notes girl, but after doing so had left an aggressively heavy guard for an educational event. we put on bandanas (not knowing yet that they had been declared illegal earlier in the day) and got a quick escort into the debate.

            we talked to some folks who said they had done an affinity group action, a die-in, and the delegates had to step over them because there weren’t enough cops to move off their line to do anything about it! this action never seemed to make indymedia. i’m still not sure where it took place or where the delegates were going. it was around the time of the supposed ribbon-cutting at the trade show.

            at the debate there was a dumb USDA guy (David Heywood), a dumb guy from CropLand — i’m always amazed that the status quo doesn’t ever come up with any new arguments! they just keep repeating their ridiculous, simplistic mantras. they also had a sweet-voiced Irish apologist who argued that biotech has nutritional benefits (Maratina Mcgloughlin). in response to her, Silvia Ribeiro (ETC, Mexico formerly RAFI) said “well that was a nice vision of biotech, now let’s talk about reality.” she said that all the talk of nutritional benefits and benefits to hungry people and small farmers are a cover for the reality which is that there are 4 main biotech crops, 91% of which are owned by Monsanto. 96% of biotech is grown in the US, Canada, and Brazil, 100% of which is devoted to insecticide and herbicide-tolerant designs.

            Amadou Kanoute, an African, argued that “we are being presented as the reasons for the need of biotech…the US is oversupplied. production is on the rise, consumption is falling…2.5 billion people in the EU want mandatory labeling. they are not ready to buy it. why grow things that you cannot sell? this has put Africa on the map…200 of 800 million hungry people are in Africa. this is presented as the place to use biotech to keep people from suffering…they are giving it free and then they’ll be asking us to pay in 15 minutes…this is not demand driven and it’s not cost effective…there are alternatives to handle stryger [an invasive African weed, which results in a lot of crop loss], but alternative results are not publicized…it is not poverty focused. it only affects 30% of producers, while it is small-scale farmers who feed the population in Africa. GE is “poor-washing”. images of the third world are being used to sell.”

            while they were talking about hunger in South Africa and Bt cotton, rice master said “and they eat cotton in South Africa, right?” later Ribeiro said “we in the third world do not want to be fed by pesticides. we prefer food, in general.”

            Anuradha Mittal, Food First made some sharp connections: “hunger is a very complicated issue. 78% of developing countries reporting child malnutrition are exporting food…but it’s not a matter of poverty. 36 million americans are starving… in Africa AIDS medication is withheld if they won’t buy biotech. and then we see the creation of a police state in sacramento...”

            Mittal, Ribeiro, Kanoute and Nyirenda  had all emphasized this issue of the colonial psychology of biotech. Mittal said “we in the third world are quite capable of thinking for ourselves…” and Nyirenda had called it “racism” to imply that people cannot make their own decisions about food. the sac mobilization direct action crew had also taken up this concept and one of the media messages they had emphasized was “food sovereignty” (for which no good rhyming chants have been developed yet), the assertion that all people have the right to determine for themselves the production and distribution of their food. 

            at that night’s spokescouncil, david solnit facilitated a planning session for the next day’s actions. he started with a brainstorm, then organized those ideas to make decisions first on elements (things that people are interested in that could be part of any —or most— actions, like mobility or sitting down and holding space), then on locations, then on timing. it was a good breakdown of how to do the tactical part of planning. he used voice votes from the whole room, not spoke votes, to get decisions on these issues. at some point lisa fithian aggressively burst in to insist that we could do several actions, not just one. we settled on not marching together, but convening, dispersing, and reconvening on a series of locations. the convention center at 10 am, the jail at 1:00 pm, and the garden at 4:30 pm. at some point someone suggested that we needed to free not only the ministers but also the corporate media, who, apparently, had been kept locked in the press room and weren’t allowed to leave the building or interview delegates.

            i thought the facilitation seemed less vanguardist than usual. solnit did judiciously and anti-democratically exclude from the “location” decision any sites suggested in the brainstorm that he suspected might have affinity group actions already planned (two did). but the other movers and shakers were seated where they didn’t have his ear and at least had to shout for attention. a few times he didn’t let them speak, other times he let them interrupt, sometimes he put them in the stack. starhawk, of course, got to speak as often and for as long as she wanted while ordinary people were rushed and cut off. although from my perspective it seemed like a big improvement because it wasn’t the usual crew whispering behind the facilitator and speaking whenever they wanted, it definitely didn’t sit right with people new to the scene. someone new in our group (and new to activism) reacted strongly to the authoritarian process and asked “by what process were these people elected?” and a girl turned to us and asked “are those people in charge of us?” and “why is that girl [doyle] being so mean to people who want to speak?”

            toward the end of the spokescouncil, the door got locked from the inside, police outside were rattling on the door and shining a spotlight in the windows and people got really nervous. solnit never addressed this by getting and sharing information from security, he just tried to keep the meeting going. starhawk went to the front and said something awesome about not giving in to the police attempts to frighten us. at one point solnit said that nothing had changed outside, then someone whispered in his ear and he said “actually the presence is increasing” but when we got outside all we found was that the 10 robocops had moved from across the street to outside on the sidewalk and were being expertly harassed by a bevy of self-appointed legal observers. so either he didn’t have good information or he was busy trying not to care about it, but when the bigshots started leaving out the back door i felt betrayed that they had information they weren’t sharing and were making us sit still without being able to make either informed or collective decisions. i felt i could handle the fear as long as everyone was sticking together and sharing what they knew, but i lost it when that changed.

tuesday

some of us did the 10 am convergence on the convention center. others got word of an affinity group action and eventually most of us ended up at an action at the so-called “Life Sciences Building” at uc-davis. the killer tomatoes, the ge tree people, several awesome affinity groups were there, apparently it was organized by Cascadia Summer. two folks, pacific yew and port orford, had suspended themselves with climbing ropes inside a 4-story stairwell, weaving their ropes through a fancy DNA sculpture, and then u-locked their necks together. space albatross, from our affinity group, had u-locked himself to the banister next to them. they locked down sometime around 2 pm.

            the cops managed to completely disrupt business in the building, preventing people who work there from going in or out. eventually they kicked everyone out except one medic and one legal observer, and they hung a sheet when they cut the guys down. they refused to let them bring themselves down. there were no injuries. the three were arrested at about 6 pm. at first police said they’d “cite and release”, then they said they would take them to the jail, but they wouldn’t book them. but when they found out that the guys weren’t giving their names, suddenly there was a felony conspiracy charge, an ever-changing set of 2-4 misdemeanor charges, and $10,000 bail each. the guys held solidarity, which they said helped a lot with morale. the police tried to break them. the jail was kept really cold and they were denied blankets. (it was so cold that one of them went on “suicide watch” because he learned that he could get a blanket that way.) they were able to call us a lot, so they did every few hours. it was pretty grim at first. the legal team couldn’t get a lawyer in until morning, which surprised everybody. 

            see photos and stories at: http://www.biotechimc.org/or/2003/06/1315.shtml and http://www.biotechimc.org/or/2003/06/1303.shtml.

wednesday

pablito and firefly met the bus of folks coming from sacramento to davis for an undisclosed action. this group marched…to Monsanto!, where it took 3 federal agencies to guard the unpopular company from 50 activists picnicking in a community garden across the street.

            the rest of us did scouting, collected materials for our guerilla garden action, jail support, and stuff like that.

 

thursday

the arraignment of the uc-davis arrestees. they didn’t give names (even when the police thought they figured out one of the names). they looked really strong! at first we were sad that they were all chained up, but then we realized they were chained together, which was an aid to their solidarity.  and, having been separated, they were glad to be back together then we met with the lawyer, spent time on the debrief, emails, and web updates, and made the signs for our guerilla garden.

friday

this morning, before the tedious process of bailing the three activists out of jail (mad max is now an apprentice bail bondsman), we left something behind in sacramento. we planted a guerilla garden on one of the corner plots in one of the intersections in the neighborhood between the welcome/convergence center and the Washington Center (medic area/fnb/spokescouncil). we had noticed that some of the corner plots were barren. wednesday, we scouted all the corners from C to F between 12th and 16th to make a list of the barren ones. we eliminated all which weren’t entirely residential and one which was entirely shaded. we asked staff at the nearby boys & girls club if they wanted the kids to participate or if they wanted it put on their property. they said they were fine with us doing it as long as it didn’t involve their property or the kids. then driving past the other corners, bling had a good feeling about one of them and went and rang all the bells in the building. she talked to a guy who was excited to take care of it and to encourage local homeless folks to eat out of it.

            so friday morning before it got hot we pulled up with plants, jugs of water, seeds, some inadequate garden tools, laminated signs. asked another neighbor if we could use his hose. scratched around the very dry soil and eventually got all the plants in, watered them in, spread some mulch a little too thin, talked to some neighbors, including a guy who seemed to be doing his morning rounds, checking out the neighborhood on his bike. he invited us and all our friends to garden, exercise, and drink beer in his backyard. other passersby were excited about the garden (the signs got their attention). when we apologized for bringing so much police presence into their neighborhood, two people said “no, actually i thought it was interesting.” Here’s a link to photos and the imc report: http://www.biotechimc.org/or/2003/06/1254.shtml

            the signs in the garden read:

edible corner: please eat and care for me!

What you see here today is an outgrowth of the biotech ministerial protests occurring in the city of Sacramento, June 2003.  We the activists believe that while it is important to make clear to the proponents of biotech research and genetically engineered food “solutions” that we reject their methodology/philosophy/ argument/public relations/media manipulation, we are currently and always actively engaged in offering community-based solutions formed of our own approach. We can feed ourselves!

Edible landscaping is the best way for urban soil to render a full and diverse edible crop within the confines of one’s community.  Edible landscaping plots can be large or small.  Here on this corner, we’ve planted a mix of annuals and perennials.

This is a permaculture garden. It is designed to imitate a natural forest, but is entirely edible to be more useful to people. Keep adding plants and seeds — some will take root. Then stop by to snack!

 

back home

it’s hard to go to sleep tonight in an empty room.

even though i dreaded sleeping on the floor, too much walking, having to rush my makeup…

now i’m used to waking up in an activist den,

meaningful work demanding nudges and pleading to get up,

courageous friends at smile’s reach in all directions.

but on further thought what’s really wrenching tonight is having to let go of the collaboration and trust.

every problem was collective — and solved that way.

every decision, every logistical maneuver, every action was shot through with manifest and necessary trust,

some longstanding, some hard-wrought, some built in the moment with a long look, a nod, or some unexpected initiative.

this trust feels great, feels like?…being human — and gosh i don’t get much of it, even in what is a pretty conscious, functioning community here at home.

i think i want a lot of things, but how much better can life really get than that space of trust…and our clarity about its importance