Ryan Harvey

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Some Thoughts and Reflections on Today’s Militancy

In Uncategorized on November 1, 2011 at 6:46 pm

A cop car in Oakland after being lit on fire, graffitied, and smashed after police violence cleared Oscar Grant Plaza. May 1st, 2012. Originally published May 2, 2012.

I have been very critical of street-militancy in the recent past, in various contexts, and I have also been very supportive of it in others. A few years ago I wrote Are We Addicted to Rioting?, a piece that generated an intense online debate and won we a lot of new enemies (some people called for me to be physically attacked, other stooped to name-calling and, of course, making fun of my music). Others emailed me to thank me strongly for “finally saying something about this” issue, and for having the guts to state publicly what many had been thinking for a long time.

Many others, I should note, disagreed with my critique strongly but expressed no personal animosity towards me, which I respect. Debate is critical, and the way in which I was attacked for simply disagreeing with folks I identify with was a bit of a shock.

I have been meaning to write a more lengthy piece re-visiting that article, but haven’t yet. Obviously, I wouldn’t write this piece the same way if I wrote it again (because I don’t agree with everything I said in it, because I could re-word many things to make my case better, and because three years of conversations spurred by the article have evolved my thoughts on the subjects discussed in it). That said, I stand by the fact that I wrote it and that I made my case publicly, as I support open debate and criticism. Below is some thoughts spurred by my experience with May Day in Oakland, and conversations around recent demonstrations within and surrounding the Occupy movement.

I think that ground that has shifted as of the birth of Occupy and the Arab Spring have created new contexts from which both militant and peaceful protest have enjoyed a newfound popularity.

Recent attacks against banks (a Wells Fargo, for instance, was hit with Molotov Cocktails in Seattle on May 1)  and, in some areas, police cars/facilities (2 police cars were lit on fire in Oakland on May 1), have, in my experience from both conversations and from internet chatter, have been fairly popular amongst not just militant anarchist friends, but from many people in general. Attacks against banks right now make a lot of sense to a lot of people, since the banks have destroyed so many lives and enjoy almost no reprisals (when done in ways that don’t endanger allies).

In Egypt, dozens of police stations were burned down, as well as countless military and police vehicles and equipment, after the police killed demonstrators in Tahrir Square. This was a key part of the revolution, this escalation and willingness to fight back emboldened people to take further actions that were required to achieved the otherthrow of Mubarak. That said, the emphasis on mass non-violent struggle (as opposed to the all out militancy that has led to civil wars in the past) was avoided, leaving violence and militancy as a tool to use when needed but not abused or obsessed over.

Context is critical, and keeping popular views in mind is key to movements growing. Seeing Oakland’s militant contingent operate yesterday was pretty cool: it’s very diverse compared to any I’ve seen, pretty on-target/focused, and folks in Oakland (like the janitor who had to clean up the glass from one of the banks that got smashed who I talked to) hate the police for their actions especially in the past few years (Oscar Grant, etc). Almost everyone I talked to in Oakland blamed the police for the violence, and were not confused as to why, for instance, cop cars would be lit on fire. But If folks in a city like Baltimore, which is very similar in many ways to Oakland, tried to mimic their tactics, it would probably fail completely to mobilize people. Oakland has a specific context from which the current anger is emerging, as do all areas. Importantly, anarchists really came out in solidarity with Oakland youth after the Oscar Grant assassination, which forged ties that have carried into the present. This context is really key to understand the militancy of Oakland.

Attacks against small business (even Gentrifiers), such as in San Francisco two nights ago when a militant protest smashed shop windows and car windows that they perceived to be “upper-class”, pissed a lot of people off, including fellow anarchists and Latino radicals. A lot of those within militant circles come from these same class backgrounds, and in San Francisco they attacked the property of individuals from the 99%. A lot of poor folks have nice cars too, folks, and actions like this hurt this movement, and they say to me that some people just wanted to smash car windows cuz it looks cool.

I saw Latino organizers from the 4,000 person march from East Oakland get up in the faces of Black Bloc folks who they thought were going to endanger their march earlier in the afternoon and quite militantly tell them to not fuck up their march. And before that there was a near fist fight between communists and anarchists in the middle of Oscar Grant Plaza, after both groups had taken the streets together to push the police off the block. The argument/fight, while I’m sure I’d side with the anarchists in it when it comes down to it, had some classic mob-mentality type bravado in it that lends itself to a general self-righteous internal culture that has emerged time and time again within militant anarchist (and other) circles. Such self-righteousness (which of course also exists within fundamentalist pacifist circles), breeds that type of culture that auto-justifies any actions taken by a group and encourages a closed-minded mentality and even hostility towards outside and even insider-criticism.

Something obvious to most people I spoke with is that Occupy Oakland has been unable to mobilize the numbers it did during the first port shutdown, which was in many ways also a response to the police violence that left Scott Olsen with a broken skull. Some I spoke with point to the escalation of property destruction and the responding to of police violence with force as key factors, while others say the militancy is fine and exciting, and point to the general energy-level nationally of Occupy and the psychology of movement waves as the main factors. Often large events are followed by years or smaller events, that grow steadily and pace themselves for longer-term transformations. I saw this in Barcelona’s Indignados movements recently, when their encampments disbanded and their movement shifted to new tactics/strategies, the outside perception is that they lost power. But they haven’t, they are just being grounded by the reality of their situation, as the mass days of June gave birth to a new movement.

Critical questions need to be asked about tactics as they relate to movement participants (the same questions need to be asked about all tactics, pacifistic ones and militant ones), and about the when/where/whys of such tactics: are our numbers growing or shrinking? Is this related to tactics or the ways in which they have been utilized? Are folks communicating with allies? Are there forums/ways to discuss such things that will help bring folks together around understandings? Is militancy being used because it is catalyzing popular anger or meeting goals, or is it being used because it feels good/look cool? Is “non-violence” being used because it is affective, or because those with idealogical attachments to it are calling for it?

These questions are very important to ask to spur conversations around the effects of how we carry out protest (and it should be noted that both non-strategic militancy and boring, go-nowhere peaceful protests tend to drive many people away when they consistently fail to achieve substantial changes, and that violence/non-violence are less a factor than popular understanding of the direct/successes of methods used.). In my experience, people care less about moral considerations than about the usefulness/effectiveness of actions.


Occupy Wall Street: Report from the Times Square March

In Uncategorized on October 20, 2011 at 12:33 am

To participate in and observe what is happening in New York could serve as a pivotal experience for anyone who is feeling moved by the wave of protests and revolutions moving across the world right now. The bus trip is up to $35 round-trip and it’s well worth it.

After only a week back in the U.S. from a tour of Europe, I took a second trip up to Wall Street last weekend to participate in the mass global day of action on October 15. I was feeling too inspired by my previous trip and by the knowledge that hundreds of protests were being held that day in Chile, Argentina, Spain, Italy, Greece, Ireland, England, and most places in between.

All these protests were globally linked by their shared resistance, but rooted locally in their own respective battles against the forces of an international corporate financial system that has drawn some of its final lines between itself and those who unwillingly make it possible.

When I arrived at Liberty Plaza, the site of the massive sleep-in occupation, there were already thousands of people there. It took so long to get through the park because of the sheer density of the crowd that I opted to head early to Times Square. There, at 5:00 pm, was the big event of the night, dubbed “Occupy Times Square”.

En route I found out a massive student assembly was beginning to march from Washington Square to the big rally. I caught up with them just as they were stepping off and I ran up and down the crowd a few times to shoot some footage and snap some photos. Folks were packed on the sidewalks, being escorted by thousands of police officers along the whole route.

After a few minutes of documentation, I marched alongside many others.

At some point, I began to feel something I hadn’t felt in a long time, as a bitterness I have worn for years was pushed aside by the spirit of the people. I was re-animated with participatory energy. I was excited, not just to be in the streets again, but to be part of a movement that was erupting with power. There was hope, but not a hope based on illusion or blind faith, a hope based on a commitment to follow through on something that seems to be working, at least for now.

I was chanting, clapping my hands, and becoming part of this movement. To feel that energy again was amazing, because that was the energy that pushed me into getting involved in organizing for social change, that led me to write music and write articles like this, that led me to the many organizations I have founded or participated in, and that led me to make or being making personal changes in my life as part of my own individual struggles against injustices I have done to others or that have been done to me. And looking around to see that others were sharing in that energy gave me more hope, because they will take that experience home with them as I took it home with me a little over a decade ago when I was first stepping into the streets.

Mid-way through the march, a man rolled up to an intersection with 100 plastic buckets, each containing a set of drum sticks! He just started handing them out to whomever wanted one, so I grabbed one and many around me did the same. From that point on, energy just grew and grew. There grew a massive beat that sustained until we dispersed hours later.

Arriving in Times Square was a massive celebration. The contrast of the immense power displayed by the billboards and lights and our power as a movement of people filled with rebellious joy was surreal.

We celebrated because we had won. We said we would march unpermitted with thousands of people to the center of entertainment and corporate consumer symbolism in the financial capitol of the world, and we did. This was the goal. Unlike other actions where the goal might be to shut down an intersection or blockade a business, this one was purely internal. The goal was to recognize, celebrate, and build our power as a movement. And we did all three of those.

The internal dynamics of this movement, what it does and means to its participants, is one of its key strengths. It consistently brings people in, and allows space for both agreement and disagreement, challenges and celebration, and a willingness to revise and reassess its own declarations.

One of the beautiful things about this internal focus is that rallies and marches don’t begin and end with monologues by celebrities, professional activists, or the same small group of leftist speakers who have giving similar speeches for about a decade. Instead, because the city will not allow amplified sound, those demonstrating are forced to turn inward, to look at each other and interact. They make up chants together, give impromptu speeches to small groups, sing songs, or just get to know each other.

This “mass” contains many small nuclei, which is why this movement feels so powerful. Its participants are actually empowered by both the thrill and the challenge of holding leadership and being integral parts of the culture of the demonstration.

Towards the end of the rally, a young man came through on another person’s shoulders and gave a “mic-check”, to which the crowd responded with a massive “mic-check!”. This is a way of making an announcement, a call-and-response method that emerged as result of police not allowing bullhorns or amplified sound. Instead of debilitating the movement, however, this has actually empowered people further, and has created an environment where anyone can address the crowd, and people listen closely. Once the crowd was attentive, he announced that a mass assembly would be held after the rally at Washington Square, back where we started, and that some folks were going to be discussing “taking” that park as well.

Though there were a number of arrests during the action, few knew. The crowd stretched so far back from the front, where the arrests took place, that we hadn’t much insight as to how significant the situation up front was. What we did know was that the crowd was quite big, up to 10,000 by my estimate.

If you looked closely, you could see on the faces of the police that they knew that this was just the beginning of something that will continue to grow. They knew that things were only going to get bigger and more interesting. Perhaps some wondered if and when they would have to make a choice about withdrawing their labor from repressing this movement…

After the march there was a mass arrest right up the street from the square, where over fifty people were said to have been arrested for who knows what. As we attempted to support those arrested, the police pushed us a bit and moved us off of the corners. We slowly dispersed after the arrest buses left and re-converged at Washington Square for the mass assembly.

I have never seen a meeting as large as the assembly at Washington Square, not in my twelve years of attending meetings and mass protests. It was well over 1,000 people at the height, using full consensus process and an open “stack”, meaning anyone can speak. After 2 hours or so, the crowd agreed to meet in “break-out groups” to discuss the strategic value of taking Washington Square that night. After much discussion in smaller groups, the crowd reconvened as a mass and began again discussing the idea. 1,000 people doing this, participating, observing silence during the meetings, and doing call-and-response echoing of every sentence, is something amazing to witness. And it says something about the immense level of participation and collective-power in this movement.

Police began surrounding the park as a ranking officer announced via bullhorn that we would have to leave by midnight or face arrest. It was then about 11:30, and the crowd was still in the process of making a decision. Just before things could have gotten tense, at about 11:50, the crowd came to consensus; it was not of strategic value to take the park tonight, but perhaps it would be in the future. The decision was reached to reconvene the next night and to leave for now. To the disappointment of the hundreds of cops that had taken up positions around the park, we left.

Many marched back to Liberty Plaza downtown, others scattered to other places around the city to catch some sleep. When I arrived the next morning to the occupied plaza, there already thousands of people there again, full of energy and discussion, and there were some new features that participants had built.

A “think-tank” had started, where people were urged to write down their desired goals for the movement, their political beliefs, and the issues they feel need to be addressed in this country and in the world. Then, the think-tank organizers will categorize them and host discussions on main topics of interest. When I was there, there were twenty or so folks discussing health-care.

There was a new schedule, giving folks a glimpse at the week to come. Behind that, folks had established a silk-screening assembly-line where anyone could give a shirt or piece of fabric and get their own “I Am The 99 Percent” images.

Up on the steps, there was an amazing hip-hop poetry session going on, led by a team of radical hip-hop artists from the Bronx and Brooklyn. Many of those performing had been in the mass assemblies, had helped clean the park, and had been participating in the occupation.

There is so much more to be said of what is happening in New York,  but one must see it to really understand it. So, as I said in the beginning, go to New York!! Even if you are doing work locally or participating in your own town’s “occupation”, go. It will be a good learning experience that you can bring home with you, and it will inspire you with the culture of possibilities that has emerged over the last month there. And bring your friends, relatives, and co-workers.

If you can’t go yourself, help a friend go and make sure they give a good report-back when they return…. Because it will help spread the spirit of this movement where it needs to go, to small locales around the country and around the world.

Voices from “Occupy Wall Street”

In Uncategorized on October 14, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Brief Introductions to Some of the Many People at “Occupy Wall Street.”

ROB – A plumber working on the new World Trade Center buildings. He came out to walk with a sign at the park on his lunch break. He is in the Local 1 union.

“This is all truth out here, it’s just gotta be voiced…. You can’t go wrong with the truth…”

“Everybody’s angry right now, you can see it. But I think these are all good people, nobody wants to hurt anybody…”

DOREEN She is 66 and lives at the Fulton Senior Center in Chelsea. She has just come from housing court over a dispute with the city over rising rent of her public housing. She is organizing elderly and disabled folks in her center and in their community to come down next week to support the occupation.

“My interest is one, unemployment in New York, because it effects everybody. Two, I’m a senior and there’s all sorts of cutbacks coming into play in January… They are going to eliminate a lot of care that people need… The next thing I’m afraid of is that they are going to remove the lunch program in the center and the home-lunch program.”

“So far I have not seen a great deal from seniors or about seniors in this movement, and that’s why I am talking to folks at my senior center.. They are coming for their own personal reasons and also for the community… The last I heard there’s 400 cities involved now, and it will be a lot more. I don’t believe that this can end, I don’t think it can end until people are not hungry anymore… The number of people I see here is baffling!”

ROBERT From Harlem. He heard about the occupation on the radio and he and others from Harlem have begun mobilizing to come support.

“I’m down here because I don’t like what the government is doing to the small people of America. First, the bank would loan you money to buy a house they knew you couldn’t afford, then they would take it from you, foreclose on it. Then second, they are spending billions and billions of dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And third, these kids have to pay this high tuition for schools, and then there’s veterans that come back and they’re sleeping under the bridge… We need to get rid of that.”

ANTHONY A Longshore worker with ILA Local 1588 in Bayonne, NJ. He has come to support the occupation and to try to mobilize more ILA members and longshore workers to participate. He is also part of pushing the ILA to take on more social justice issues and he fights against corruption in the union.

“I’m here to support the occupation, to the show that the occupation has some union support… We’re against corporate greed, and we deal with these issues on a daily basis, so we are sympathetic with the cause here. Most of these sings here we support. That’s what we’re about.”

EDDIEA World War Two veteran, he says the social movements of the 1930s pushed the government into providing more support for working people, and that we need similar changes today.

“This is a wonderful time, to see so many people come out and fight for economic and social justice… I hope this movement develops into a broad peoples’ movement so it will have more of an impact on the whole political process.”

“People are waiting, they are looking for a way to join in struggle. It’s a hard process, but this is what makes it so beautiful. It creates the opportunity and the environment for broader struggle.”

UNNAMED She is 19 years old, a student from Buffalo, NY studying in the city.

“I’m here for a change in the heart of the people and in the heart of the government. I think there’s a lot to be done here to reach the type of balance we need in American, and in the world, but we need to start with ourselves.”

GIL Born and raised in Brooklyn. An Iraq veteran who served in the U.S. Army.

“I’m here because there are no more jobs here, they are all being shipped overseas. There are no jobs. I’ve been searching hard for the past 2 years for a job and I cannot find a job. I’m in college right now in hopes that I might find a job when I get out… Ever since I came back form Iraq, I realized that is is not worth being the Army, the pay but also fighting for these guys to get richer off oil and exploitation… I want these wars ended.”

“People are realizing that we can say something, as opposed to just dealing with the bullshit and sucking it up, cuz that’s what they want, for us to suck it up… So that was one of my first goals was that this becomes more popular and more known, and that people speak up against all types of injustices. I want to see people realize that there’s an issue and that there’s a problem.”

ALAN – A 48 year-old born and raised in New York, he is a shop steward porter with SEIU’s 32BJ. He works in Midtown Manhattan.

“We’re on strike right for better wages and for a contract nearby, but this is a broader issue. Workers, we need to stand up to the corporations that are ripping us off… Out here in the park, I hope everything goes well for us, but we need to fight.”

February 27, Occupied Capitol Building, Madison, WI.

In Uncategorized on February 28, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Also see my photos from February 26February 25 and February 24!

February 24, Occupied Capitol Building, Madison, WI.

In Uncategorized on February 25, 2011 at 11:26 am

Dreaming of a New Power in the Middle East

In Uncategorized on January 30, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Originally published by Baltimore IndyReader

Solidarity Rallies in DC Stand with the Egyptian People’s Movement

Hundreds of people gathered in Washington D.C. Saturday  to send a message of support to the Egyptian people. Currently, the Egyptian people are into a nearly one-week-long peaceful rebellion against the 30-year dictatorship of Hosnei Mubarak.

Saturday’s protesters also gathered to send a message to express frustration with the White House’s refusal to take a strong stance against the Mubarak regime and the Egyptian security forces.

The demonstration was organized mostly through Facebook by an ad-hoc group of Egyptian students in the area. The demonstrators gathered at the Egyptian Embassy before spontaneously marching to the White House. A group, already assembled there, cheered as the marchers arrived.

A large Tunisian flag stood side-by-side with an Egyptian flag at the center of the rally, symbolizing the bond between the people’s movements in both Egypt and Tunisia.

The crowd numbered as high as 500.

It was made up largely of Egyptians and people from other Arab nations. All expressed hope that the Tunisian, and now Egyptian, spirit would replicate across the Middle East.

And it may. The rebellion that brought the Tunisian government down almost overnight has inspired the Arab world to action. And while Egypt has been the most significant example, major demonstrations have also been ongoing in Yemen, Jordan, Syria, Algeria, and more recently in Sudan.

In front of the White House, Tunisian, Libyan and Saudi men and women described their hopes to see the revolution spread across the Arab world. “I’m with everyone from Egypt, or Saudi Arabia, or Jordan,” a Palestinian woman told me. “And I’m telling them, it’s coming. It’s coming, although we have to be patient. God willing, we will change it.”

Women’s voices were dominant at the demonstrations in DC, a reflection of women’s participation in the recent Middle East uprisings. “Women have been major actors in these revolutions,” a young woman told me. “It’s incredible. This defies every stereotype of the passive Arab woman… They’re out there, young and old, every race, every religion, fiercely fighting for their rights and the rights of their children.”

As DC demonstrators gathered chanted and cheered, Egyptians deified yet another curfew in order to continue their street presence. Reports came out this weekend that the Egyptian military has been deployed.

The military, however, has so far refused to repress demonstrators. In some cases, soldiers joined the demonstrations. A report from The New York Times describes a group of armored military vehicles that, “…moved at the front of a crowd of thousands of protesters in a pitched battle against Egyptian security police officers defending the Interior Ministry.”

The soldiers allowed demonstrators to take cover behind their vehicles.[i]

Many believe that the success or failure of the protests in Egypt will be determined by whether the soldiers’ shoot at the crowds or not. So far, they have refused.

In Tunisia, two weeks ago, soldiers refused to fight against the popular movement. The dictator then fled. The same fate fell on Slobodan Milosevic, in the movement that toppled his regime in Yugoslavia, in 2000.

With the police dispersing, people across Egypt have been arming themselves with improvised weapons in order to protect their communities against street violence and looting. The reports were described by some gathered in Washington today as the work of Mubarak’s gangs.

“They are paying people to ransack, to intimidate,” an Egyptian woman told me, asking to remain anonymous for fear that her family in Egypt would be targeted. “They are working for the NDP (the ruling National Democratic Party),” she said, “The violence is against the Egyptian people.”

Others I spoke with were frustrated by the double-standards of the U.S. government. “Often the U.S. expresses its support for democracy, but when it caters to its individual interests, it becomes reluctant to express the principles which sometimes it says it stands for,” a young Egyptian man told me, explaining Egypt’s role as an ally to Israel and the U.S. government’s unwavering support for its policies.

A young woman expressed frustration with the same double-standards. “Mubarak is a dictator, and I don’t know why we are not calling him that, and I don’t know why we are continuing to be passive with the regime in Egypt,” she said.

At the end of the demonstration today, a young Egyptian woman asked the crowd to sit and observe a moment of silence for those who had been killed in the streets of her country.

“They could have stayed home, they could have lived a normal life,” she said, her half-gone voice full of emotion, “But instead they went out to the streets to fight for their freedom, for the freedom of all of the Egyptian people.”

A Tunisian man told me he was there because, “Tunisia is free. Egypt is free. And God willing, next time it’s going to be Algeria, Libya. It’s going to be Syria and even Saudi Arabia too.”

The whole world is watching Egypt right now. The results of this movement could have enormous effects on the politics of the Middle East and the ability of the U.S. government to continue pushing its Middle East policies.

[i] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/30/world/middleeast/30-egypt.html?_r=1&em…

How Afghan Poppy Eradication Efforts Are Helping the World’s Largest Heroin Dealers

In Uncategorized on January 27, 2011 at 8:33 pm

Originally published by Truth-Out.

It has long been known inside Afghanistan that heroin dealers in high positions benefit from the United States and Afghan governments’ counternarcotics policies.

Now the American public can get a glimpse. US embassy cables published recently by WikiLeaks expose the insider opinion that Afghan officials are using poppy eradication teams to weed out the competitors of major traffickers with whom they are linked.

The leaked cables follow previous observations, investigations, government reports and testimonials by former contractors that say eradication efforts have long been corrupted and misused, and that Afghan officials have consistently thwarted any serious attempts at stemming the heroin trade.

The US and Britain began the operations in 2002, with the Afghan government acting as a silent partner and contractors like DynCorp pulling security. The theory was that if the Taliban was to be defeated, it would largely be through removing their access to the heroin industry and its associated taxes and bribes.

But many of the people who were and still are responsible for the eradication program are corrupt officials in the Afghan government, most of whom are just as involved in the heroin economy, if not more, as the growers they are targeting.

Indeed, instead of hurting the Taliban, the operations, in the words of former US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, were “driving farmers into the hands of the Taliban.” [i]

It was for that reason that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has stepped back recently, giving the Afghan government the reins in order to give the programs an “Afghan face.”

Consolidating Power

But there’s more to NATO’s shift than farmers running to the Taliban after having their livelihoods destroyed by eradication teams.

US embassy cables written in 2007 and leaked this December suggest that poppy eradication teams have been used by warlords and other powerful provincial leaders to consolidate power.

In one cable leaked recently, former commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan Gen. Dan McNeill tells US Office of Drug Control Policy Director John Walters that “eradicators are only going where the local power brokers allow them to go.” [ii]

The cable then identifies corruption among some of the major players in eradication efforts, like former Kandahar governor Asadullah Khalid, who Royal Netherlands Army Maj. Gen. Van Loon accuses of eradicating “only those fields not controlled by powerful people in the Province.” [iii]

In the 2002-2003 poppy growing season, a Center for American Progress (CAP) and Center on International Cooperation (CIC) report stated that the eradication campaign was “generally targeted against the more vulnerable [farmers] and that the crops of the wealthy and influential were not destroyed.” [iv]

The report explains that these eradications happened “in the absence of any prosecutions or even stigmatization of warlords and militia commanders allied with the US-led Coalition but known to be involved in narcotics.” [v]

In his 2007 book “Opium Season,” Joel Hafvenstein writes of the 2005 eradication program, making similar observations. “The powerful landowners and traffickers were insulated from eradication by the system of debt,” he says, “and by their ability to buy off the enthusiastically corruptible police.” [vi]

He describes Helmand Province, where “virtually every government institution was led by a trafficker” as an example of the eradication campaign’s hypocrisy. “The police do not bring tractors to their relatives’ fields, or the fields of people who pay them,” a colleague told Hafvenstein, “and the commanders’ own poppy is never hurt.”[vii]

It’s not just farmers and international observers like Hafvenstein who know that targeting one person’s poppy over another person’s poppy is a confusing strategy. On SOCNET, an online forum for contractors and former military members, former DynCorp contractors’ posts explain the anger born from these targeted eradications.

“What would piss me off is to drive miles and miles through beautiful poppy fields, as far as the eye could see and watch them go by … only to pull in to some pathetic farmer’s field and chop his down and essentially ruin him,” wrote one.[viii]

In response, another former contractor who served in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007 explains similar confusion. “I was one of the guys behind the guns flying cover and I never did understand how the decisions were made on what field got cut,” he wrote.

“It also seemed that the chosen fields were almost always hard to find and deep inside other fields that would not get cut.”

Karzai’s Kingpindom

Shifting responsibility of the eradication program to those working directly for Afghan President Hamid Karzai has opened new doors to corruption.

Take Kandahar for example, where President Karzai’s heroin-trafficking half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai holds ultimate power.

According to the same 2007 leaked-cable sources, Gov. Asadullah used Afghan police instead of civilian workers to perform eradications, “which further damaged the already corrupt reputation of the police among average people” and “allowed Asadullah to pocket the funding he had been given to hire local labor.” [ix]

“Opium Season” describes the “occasional” run-ins between police. “In most cases,” Hafvenstein and his team were told, “the police sold this contraband on to Helmand’s most powerful kingpins.” [x]

When Afghan counternarcotics officers and American Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents raided Governor Sher Muhammad’s mansion in Lashkargah in June 2005, they discovered “the largest single cache of opium the DEA had found anywhere in Afghanistan,” Hafvenstein writes. “Sher Muhammad coolly replied that he had confiscated it from drug traffickers, and was only storing it until he could dispose of it properly.”

The excuse worked, and Muhammad continued as governor. When the growing season exposed his clear refusal to cut heroin production and poppy cultivation, British officials pressured President Karzai to take action against him. His punishment was a seat in the upper parliament of Afghanistan.[xi]

But this isn’t just the observation of an author – the embassy cables openly admit that the eradication teams are not targeting the major trafficking networks.

“They [US military officials] recognize that going after corrupt officials may be too difficult, given the delicate tribal and other balances needed to keep the Afghan government generally intact,” says former US ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald E. Neumann, “but they hope to use the increasing connections between traffickers and insurgents to their advantage.” [xii]

The Sydney Morning Herald reported last year that “there is a growing belief in the south that those working for the government are more actively involved in the trade in narcotics than the Taliban.”[xiii] This belief lines up well with United Nations (UN) statistics and observations by government officials. [xiv]

The Taliban’s Minor Role

When the Taliban banned poppy cultivation from the late 1990s up until 2001, prices rose and the Taliban profited because they had stockpiles to sell. During the growing ban, the market thrived, and the rest of the industry continued with business as usual.

A leaked 2009 Congressional Research Service Report looks at this development in some detail. “This strategy would reflect a desire by the Taliban to use their ‘monopoly’ position to maximize profits, i.e. restrict supply by restricting cultivation; drive prices up dramatically; and sell from an extensive supply of stockpiled opium.”

Those stockpiles, the report says, reached up to sixty percent of the opium crop, according to the UN.[xv]

The document also says that “according to US drug enforcement data, the price of a kilo of opium in Afghanistan and bordering regions has jumped almost tenfold from $44 per kilo to between $350 and $400 per kilo” in 2001, and “UN officials report that the price has jumped as high as $700.”

“While the livelihoods of poppy farmers are hit by the loss of opium yield,” said Mohammad Aliyas Daee and Abubakar Siddique in an article from May of last year, “declining supplies are pushing opium prices higher.”

“This is expected to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in bonus profits for drug lords and the insurgents who have stored hundreds of tons of opium,” said Daee and Siddique. [xvi]

And while, according to the UN, Afghanistan’s total estimated drug trafficking revenue is about $3 billion, the Taliban’s share of profits was only estimated at $125 million as of 2009.[xvii] This means the other nearly $2.9 billion must go to either corrupt government officials or other warlords and drug networks.

In an article in The Globe and Mail, two western officials said about 50 to 70 percent of weapons making it into the hands of the Taliban “arrive in the country by road, facilitated by corrupt figures in the Afghan government.”

This statistic, the article says, “shatters the image of Taliban hauling shipments of guns and ammunition through snowy mountain passes, as usually portrayed by NATO leaders; instead, many insurgents apparently find it more convenient to buy supplies from corrupt authorities.” [xviii]

US officials talk a good game to the public about the Taliban’s links to heroin, but rarely do they admit the extent to which their closest allies are involved in the industry.

These cables show some of their real understandings, and what insiders, investigations and UN statistics have already suggested: that the Taliban is just one fish in a sea of heroin traffickers, and that when targeted eradication efforts are employed by the Afghan government, they increase the profits of major drug networks linked to those in power. This in turn increases the price of opium and heroin, bringing those networks huge profits.

Understanding such economic incentives suggests that those lobbying for eradication as a policy may be linked to those who benefit from the rising price. These lobbyists represent the world’s largest heroin dealers.

If the path out of Afghanistan for US forces is paved by teaming up with those who are now consolidating power through the international heroin market, we are opening doors to future wars, and those wars will be fought both internationally and in the streets of the United States.

[i] Richard Holbrooke, U.S. Policy in Afghanistan. U.S. State Department Council on Foreign Relations. December 15, 2009.

[ii] WikiLeaks.

[iii] WikiLeaks.

[iv] Barnett R. Rubin. “Road to Ruin: Afghanistan’s Booming Opium Industry.” Center for American Progress, Center on International Cooperation. October 7th, 2004.

[v] Barnett R. Rubin. Road to Ruin: “Afghanistan’s Booming Opium Industry.” Center for American Progress, Center on International Cooperation. October 7th, 2004.

[vi] Hafvenstein, Joel. “Opium Season,” 2007. Lyons, Connecticut. p. 214

[vii] Hafvenstein, Joel. “Opium Season,” 2007. Lyons, Connecticut. p. 214

[viii] SOCNET.

[ix] WikiLeaks.

[x] Hafvenstein, Joel. “Opium Season,” 2007. Lyons, Connecticut. p. 257

[xi] Hafvenstein, Joel. “Opium Season,” 2007. Lyons, Connecticut. p. 312

[xii] WikiLeaks.

[xiii] Lynne O’Donnell , “Afghanistan opium poppies hit by mysterious disease.” Sydney Morning Herald. May 13, 2010.

[xiv] Hafvenstein, Joel. “Opium Season,” 2007. Lyons, Connecticut. p. 312

[xv] WikiLeaks.

[xvi] Mohammad Aliyas Daee, Abubakar Siddique. “As Afghan Opium Blight Spreads, Farmers’ Lives Wilt,” Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, May 18, 2010.

[xvii] UN Office on Drugs and Crime. “Addiction, Crime and Insurgency: The Transnational Threat of Afghan Opium.” October 2009.

[xviii] Graeme Smith, “Afghan officials in drug trade cut deals across enemy lines.” The Globe and Mail, March 21, 2009.

Hidden Histories of Baltimore County

In Uncategorized on December 19, 2010 at 8:41 pm

Strikes, Evictions, and Loch Raven’s “Lost City”

This is one among several essays I have been writing about some of the people’s history of Baltimore County, where I grew up.

Growing up in Baltimore County, you learn to find the interesting things that lie between the strip malls, suburban housing developments, and golf courses. You find spots to skateboard, a bench to hang out on, maybe a friend has a pool you can get in.

Eventually, you get arrested for loitering somewhere and learn that, without spending money, there’s really nowhere for you to hang out with your friends here in corporate America’s boring playground.

Given this fact, the big destination for many of us, a refuge among the boringness of Suburban life, is the Loch Raven Reservoir, a massive lake that drains through the Loch Raven Dam into Baltimore City’s water pipes.

Though it’s illegal, everyone and their dog goes swimming here, and it’s not rare to come upon forty or fifty people hanging out on the rocks by the water. Others hike the trails, find spots to smoke a little pot, or build jumps for their mountain bikes.

The folks from the Blair Witch Project even filmed portions of their movie at Loch Raven. That might be our big claim to fame.

But in the woods surrounding the water, there are some interesting pieces of history that often go unnoticed or unappreciated and, though they are not as mysterious as the Blair Witch, they may be a bit more interesting.

And their legacy is very much alive today.

You may have come across old stone houses in the woods, or the dug-out remains of a basement or well. Maybe you’ve found artifacts of some other time or taken the side trail off Old Bosley Road that leads through the woods to the Merryman cemetery.

Maybe you’ve heard the legend that there is a town submerged beneath Loch Raven’s waters, as some have who believe that scuba diving will yield amazing images or a sunken city.

Well, this is partly true. There is a town beneath Loch Raven, or at least, the remaining foundations of one, but don’t expect to see it; it was dismantled almost one hundred years ago and anything that might remain has been covered with that many years of mud and silt.

Plus it’s only under a couple feet of water, so save the scuba gear, because you’d only need a snorkel to go digging in the mud there. But visibility is probably less than an inch.

However, a self-motivated explorer can easily find some of the remains on the hill overlooking the old mill town and identify, with the help of photographs from the county library, some of the structures that remain. There’s a fully intact set of brick steps, covered in ivy, which is a pretty cool thing to come across in the middle of the woods.

The steps led up to a large farm house, one of many in the town of Warren. The town’s five-story textile factory and its associated structures used to stand right north of the current Warren Road Bridge, just east of Cockeysville.

Warren was a major textile employer, producing sails, tents, awnings, and other cotton duck products. It employed up to 1,000 people at its height, and became a major industrial hub for Baltimore County.

Along with Warren, parts of the Phoenix factory town and other small industrial sites, farm houses, and others homes were raised to make way for the flooding waters of the Gunpowder River, shortly after the turn of the last century.

While good work has been done by local historians to resurrect some of the stories of life in these towns, they has often focused on the well-off, the “gentlemen,” and the stories told to historians and writers by the descendants of factory owners or managers.

The stories of the working people who built the town, harvested the stone for the houses, and cleared the area after its condemnation have not yet been adequately compiled.

As a laborer, a social justice activist, and a grassroots historian, I became interested in Warren. I wondered what the story was behind the condemnation proceedings that helped clear the town out, perhaps if there had been resistance to these proceedings, if the people had tried to save their town.

I read on the Baltimore County Public Library’s website that there had been a successful strike at the Phoenix Mill in 1853 for a ten-hour day. I wondered what the story was behind that, and to what extent organized workers played a part in shaping the culture of Baltimore County.

The details of these stories are scattered in various archived-documents, books, photographs, and newspaper clippings, and I attempted to find some of them. I stopped short of knocking on doors to dig through people’s family archives, but that may be where the real stories lie.

With these scattered details, I compiled a partial narrative of some of the hidden history of this area of Baltimore County and of some of the battles fought by working people here.

The land that surrounded Warren was formerly hunting grounds for various native tribes including the Susquehannok, and was the home to much wildlife, which was killed with the Susquehannock after European conquest.

With the Europeans came slavery, and the land that surrounded Warren would later host numerous small slave plantations.

The extent of slavery in the area has not been well documented, and references to Africans and African Americans at Warren are few. But photographs from the early 1900s show numerous African Americans in the town.

John Thomas Scharf’s history of the area describes a event after the Emancipation Proclamation, where a “stampede of slaves” left the neighborhoods by the Warren Factory” and headed down the York Road.[i]

Warren’s existence very much relied on southern plantations before emancipation. In the early days of the 19th century, cotton produced on the large slave plantations of the southern states was shipped up to Cockeysville. From there, mule teams would haul the materials down to the factories at Warren and Phoenix on what would become Warren Road.

The factories at Warren and Phoenix, eventually both owned by the infamous Warren Manufacturing Company, were typical small towns of early industrial America, with feudal and paternalistic employment schemes, exhausting hours, and tight-knit families. Life in them was very much controlled by the owners of the mills.

The company often employed entire families, “including children ten years old.”[ii] Children were employed “as soon as they were able to do anything,” according to historian Evelyn K. Wieland, who interviewed factory owners and mangers in the early twentieth century. [iii]

Days started at 5:00 am, with twenty-five minutes for lunch. At 5:00 pm another twenty-five minutes was given for dinner, and work continued until 8:00 pm.[iv] According to local historian Joanna A. Santos.

“In the early 1800s children labored 10-14 hours per day in the mill. When the hours of child labor were limited, the employers got around it by giving short rest periods during the day but, during these periods, they had to remain at the mill.”[v]

In the 1820s, men working at these mills made between three and six dollars a week while women and girls only made a dollar seventy five. Out of this, one twenty five had to be paid in bond.[vi]

Due to this organization of labor and life, families in Warren were generally very close to one another. “This was really understandable,” says Santos, “when you consider the fact that most of the families had been living and working there for generations and were often related.”[vii]

The company houses here were built with stone gathered in the woods nearby, and rented out for $.50 per room per month. The people bought goods at a general stores also maintained by the company, so, as Santos says, “the poor wages [the company] did pay came back into their possession in rents and purchases.”[viii]

Multiple occurrences of natural and economic disaster caused the profitability of the mills to fall, and they were sold numerous times. In once case in 1834, a fire put almost the entire workforce out of work and the mill was subsequently sold.

By the 1870s, Summerfield Baldwin would purchase the mill and run it until it’s watery demise in the early 1920s.

Workers at the mills under Baldwin “were never overpaid nor given very much leisure time,” Summerfield says in his interview with Wieland, “but they were happy in their ignorance, knowing nothing else.”

Wieland found that “it was the practice of the owners to bring into the work people with small children, so that they grew up in the mill and were favorably conditioned to it.”[ix]

Up until 1912, Wieland says, no accident insurance was available at the Warren mills.

“A worker, previous to that date, could be badly injured or even killed, and neither he nor his family could demand any compensation whatever. There were three to four accidents in the mill every day.”[x]

Not surprisingly, labor unrest resulted from the harsh conditions workers were subjected to in the early days of the mills.

As the industries grew around them, textile workers across Baltimore County organized for better wages and working conditions. Alongside them, workers from other factory-towns across the country did the same.

In 1845, 5,000 young women struck at several textile factories around Pittsburgh for a ten-hour day. The strike failed at the time, but within a few years a ten-hour law hit the books in Pennsylvania.

The ten-hour law was often ignored by factory owners, who managed to find ways around it. This caused another strike in 1848, where women workers “rushed to the gate, tore off the boards, fell upon a detachment of Allegheny police, and captured the factory.” This strike reasserted worker power in the Pittsburgh textile factory-network and forced employers to recognize the ten-hour day.[xi]

According to Philip S. Foner’s history of the U.S. labor movement, the ten-hour movement mutated in the 1850s in the hands of “middle-class reformers and political figures.”

In 1853, for example, all factory workers in Media, Pennsylvania, won the ten-hour day “by joint contract between the employer and the employed.” At a mass meeting to celebrate this achievement, the workers appointed two of their leaders to make a tour of the New England states to lecture on the need to build strong unions and adopt collective bargaining procedure in the struggle for the ten-hour day.[xii]

The problem with these types of agreements, from a labor organizing perspective, was that power was not built and held in the hands of the workers, but was just written on paper as a mutual interest agreement. And many workers in early industrial American didn’t see a “mutual interest” between them and the barons who ran the factories.

While other organizations, like those in New England, refused to go along with these tactics and continued building power among the workers, it seems the Baltimore County labor movement of the 1850s fit into the former category of employees working in good faith with the factory owners to achieve a mutually beneficial work-pace.

At Phoenix, workers organized for a ten-hour day and also held temperance meetings (an anti-alcohol movement). A series of “eminently successful” temperance meetings were held at the factory throughout October, November and December of 1853, where many people were said to have “taken the pledge.” The sobriety movement was closely linked to the labor movement, and the two often acted in concert.[xiii]

In mid-December, Phoenix and Warren cotton workers joined workers from throughout Baltimore County and went on strike for a ten-hour day. At the time, workers in the Phoenix mills worked up to 13 hours a day, like those at Warren.

The Baltimore County Advocate agreed with the strikers:

If the mills will not pay by running ten hours a day, let them stop! But they will pay. We understand that the mills on Jones’ Falls have adopted the ten hour system, and we hope that those on the other streams in our county will follow their example.”[xiv]

But only in Phoenix would the strike be a success. On Tuesday, January 9th the ten-hour day was initiated there, and it was celebrated at a temperance celebration that Sunday in the town of 150 people.[xv]

Phoenix joined other towns throughout the country that won the ten-hour day in the early 1850s and helped build the foundation of the labor movement to come. Foner sums it up:

It united the working class – skilled and unskilled, mechanics and factory operatives – and created a strong tradition of organization. Although many workers had not yet benefited by the ten-hour day by the time of the Civil War, the movement for the ten-hour day in the years of 1840-1860 was responsible for a distinct reduction in the number of hours normally working each week. By 1860, ten hours had become the standard working day for most skilled mechanics and unskilled laborers other than factory workers, although their working hours had also been reduced. [xvi]

Political action in the county continued through the Civil War years, especially after the Emancipation Proclamation. In January of 1863, at the same time of the Emancipation “stampede” at Warren, a crowd of about fifty Baltimore County residents drove to a toll-booth along the Washington turnpike road and, in protest, refused to pay.

The gate operator locked the gate behind some of the protesters and refused to allow the others through. The Baltimore County Advocate reported:

The entire party then deliberately proceeded to tear up the posts, pull down the gates, &c. They then carried the dismantled superstructure to Gwynn’s Falls, near by, and threw it overboard.[xvii]

The industrial boom and the end of slavery, with the economic chaos that followed it, ushered in a new era for social organization. The 1860s and 1870s saw a steady rise in organizing among working people, both in their communities and at their jobsites.

Workers at Warren would be part of this, pressing again for the ten-hour day. Bruce describes well the conditions that led to the wave of strikes after the Civil War:

“Vicarious gore was a breakfast staple in those days. It came with the morning newspaper. When a man was caught in a machine or showered with molten iron or brutally beaten, every moan was rendered, every contusion, fracture, laceration and disfigurement described with a painter’s feeling and a surgeon’s vocabulary… Mine explosions were routine, factory mishaps normal and railroad accidents a matter of course. Even without the assistance of the internal combustion engine the Machine Age had begun to munch on its victims.”[xviii]

It was in this context that a second strike in 1874, in the midst of a national depression and in the context of a growing labor movement, was launched at Warren. This time the workers would win. Their victory included a limited work-day for minors and a ten-hour day.[xix]

The strike of 1874 was not an isolated incident, according to historian Bruce V. Roberts, but was tied to a wave of unrest stemming from the changing economy of industrial America:

The old citywide trade unions were outmoded when the postwar spread of railroads turned the whole continent into one big economic arena. Skilled workers met the new situation by organizing national craft unions, some thirty of them by 1870 with a membership of about 30,000. [xx]

But the depression eroded many of the small craft unions, and squeezed wages across the country. Unions fought back with strikes in the textile, coal mining, and cigar making industries.

But many of these strikes failed and union membership was driven to a new low. The collapse of the unions, according to Bruce, “exposed Workers to the full shock of hard times.” Daily wages fell by at least twenty-five percent between 1873 and 1876, and unemployment affected well over a million workers.[xxi]

All of this, including the County-wide strike of 1853 and the subsequent strike at Warren in 1874, can be understood as some of the small roads that led to the great rebellion of 1877, which began in the railyards a few miles south of Warren in Baltimore, as well as in the railyards of Martinsburg, WV.

It would become the country’s first nation-wide strike and would see federal soldiers sent into American cities to repress strikers. And it would radically alter labor relations in the United States.

While much has been written about the Baltimore rebellion in 1877 and of its far-reaching impacts in the City, much of Warren’s hidden history would drown with the town as the water of the Gunpowder River, backed up by the Loch Raven dam, swallowed it in 1923.

The flooding of the town and of the land nearby was full of controversy and social action as well, and the final legal framework established to clear the towns of their inhabitants would pit poor Baltimoreans against major developers almost one hundred years later.

In the late 1800s, The City of Baltimore, growing from the industrial boom and facing an increasing population, looked north to find water reserves. The planners agreed on the large valley system in the small hills north of Towson, along the Gunpowder River, where a small reservoir already sat.

The City began buying properties there as the century closed, and by the beginning of the new one, they turned their attention to the town of Warren. The entire town would have to go.

A secret deal struck between the Baltimore City Water Board and Summerfield Baldwin was made in 1908, following a first attempt in 1906. In the agreement, the City Water Board agreed to purchase the mills and other company-owned properties of Warren for two to three-times their value.

But the deal didn’t stay a secret; it was widely exposed in the Baltimore Sun and a massive controversy arose, which found its way from the neighborhoods to the courts.

Residents of Baltimore and Baltimore County organized to vocalize their anger at the deal. A meeting of members of the East End Improvement Association met in Patterson Park on November 27, 1908 and condemned the decision:

“Several members contended that all the facts should be brought out and that the association should not commit itself until the Council committee finishes its investigation.”[xxii]

A few days later the Northwest Improvement Association met and almost unanimously passed a resolution condemning the deal.[xxiii] The Southwest Baltimore Improvement Association passed a resolution opposing the deal as well. The Sun reported:

It was said by the speakers that it was wrong for the officials to enter into a deal without the knowledge of the people, and they had offered a price unusually great for the property.[xxiv]

One angry Baltimore wrote a letter to the editor of the Baltimore Sun:

The corporations are given valuable franchises that they would pay large sums for if proper methods were pursued; they pay dividends on millions and taxes on thousands, and apparently the more watered dividends the less taxes, and the people sit complacently at home waiting for the official strangler to come with his noose and, if not take away the actual life of the wage-earner, to take the shoes from the feet of his children and the raiment from the back of his wife.

…Our present water supply would be entirely adequate in all probability were water meters installed, at least until such time as we were protected by the bonding of those to whom we entrusted the spending of millions that come from but one source – the men, women and children who actually produce something – those whom we see in the early cold winter mornings, in rain or shine, in snow or sleet, who plod along to toil and produce that which makes our country its wealth, and without which there would be no millionaires, no multiplicity of office-holders seeking to find ways in which to secure the pap available in the spending without control (by bonded auditors or otherwise) of the vast sums collected from the hungry and toward which the rich barely contribute the widow’s mite.[xxv]

Another Baltimore resident wrote in the Sun that the Warren Deal was “the worst bungled piece of business in the history of Baltimore City.”[xxvi]

“What is the much discussed Warren Deal?” another wrote. “An arrangement made for the taxpayers without their knowledge and approved without their consent.” The writer continued:

They said the Warren mill owners were afraid the workmen would stop if they found out they were to be employed for only two years in that locality!

Are workmen ever employed for a longer time?

Not often.

Do the people believe this was the reason?

Of course not.[xxvii]

Similar statements came from bankers associations, politicians, and other assemblies of the people of Baltimore and Baltimore County.

In one response to the secret deal, Democratic State Senator John Charles Linthicum spoke words that ring especially true today, with the Wikileaks website publishing previously secret U.S. Embassy documents outlining the secret, and often illegal, dealings of the United States and its allies:

“I am unalterably opposed to secrecy in public affairs. I do not think office-holders serving the public have any right to keep from the public matters in which they are interested. I have always fought in the Legislature for publicity and have fought for the printing and publication of all bills introduced in the Legislature, because I believe publicity in public affairs is the great bulwark against fraud and corruption, and believing this to be the case, I cannot understand, if this agreement of purchase is a good thing for the taxpayers, why it should have been kept secret until after the voters passed upon the loan.”[xxviii]

After years of deliberations, public discussion, and testimonies, it was determined that the City’s Water Board did in fact break laws, which caused some of its members to resign and others to stubbornly defend their position.

But an agreement was finally reached with the Warren Manufacturing Company to sell their properties to the City, a decade and a half after initially attempting the deal. The City purchased the Warren Manufacturing Company, both the Warren and Phoenix Mills and their associated properties, for $1,000,000.[xxix]

Out of the litigation stemming from the initial controversy came a new law for Maryland, the Right of Eminent Domain (Chapter 117, article 33 A). This law allowed Baltimore City to condemn some of the properties at Warren after the owners failed to meet the City’s desired price.

According to Wieland, “there was so much opposition to the bill that a clerk of the court had been bribed to send to the Governor the won version of the bill when it was to signed.”[xxx]

The tale of displacement at Warren has been lived by people all over the world, where business interests for the supposed greater good are held high above the rights of people to their homes and communities.

The same Eminent Domains law used to clear out Warren would be used at the behest of Johns Hopkins and a coalition of private-developers in 2003 to throw almost 1,000 people out of their homes in East Baltimore.

But unlike the residents of Middle East, who formed a large coalition of neighbors and fought a rather epic grassroots battle against the Hopkins “vampire,”[xxxi] the people of Warren put up little organized resistance to eviction and condemnation.

“There was no concerted resistance among the adults,” says a former resident, according to documents cited in a 1989 Baltimore City Paper article. “There was nothing like the organizations you have these days… people were unhappy, but they had no choice but to leave.”[xxxii]

According to another resident, “some people were upset, naturally. They had worked in the mill all their lives. Others just took it in stride – as progress, you know.”[xxxiii]

Adding insult to injury, wealthy landowners were paid much higher sums per acre than poor folks were. The Ridgely family was paid $225 an acre where others nearby were only given $50 per acre.[xxxiv] The Matthews Estate, which owned land on which the new Paper Mill Road bridge would be built, received over $1,000 an acre.[xxxv] Land purchased from Robert Garret, the president of the commission in charge of deciding which land to buy and for how much, received almost $2,000 an acre.[xxxvi]

As they fell into the hands of the City, the factories, mills, houses, and other structures of these towns were taken apart in piece by workers and sent off to be re-used. The rest was cleared out or just left in the woods nearby.

Workers began arriving to take the town apart and begin raising the dam in the spring of 1921, some walking all the way from Baltimore. The dam would be the largest architectural feat in Baltimore County at the time.

The workers would live in racially-segregated tent-cities on site, and would do the grunt work of the dam-raising; mostly mixing, pouring, and finishing the concrete, and building the elaborate forms needed to hold the massive weight of it.[xxxvii]

On March 28, 1921, a one-hundred acre forest fire hit the camps, started accidentally by workers making coffee. Firefighters and camp workers extinguished it before it caused too much damage. [xxxviii]

While construction of the dam began to the south, residents of Warren and other areas in the north of the reservoir project were still fighting to get their fair share from the displacement they were facing. Residents in East Baltimore would fight for similar concessions from Johns Hopkins and the City of Baltimore in the early 2000s.

On July 7, 1921, a “large delegation of residents of Warren” demonstrated at a hearing at the Baltimore County Commissioner’s office, calling for the county to abandon plans to demolish the bridge across the Gunpowder River.[xxxix]

Residents argued that they would be cut off from the cemetery where their families were buried, and many would be cut off from their church services. The New Era newspaper reported;

“It was stated that such action [demolishing the bridge] would leave a large number of people isolated and some would have to make a detour of as much as eight miles to reach Baltimore. [xl]

In response to this pressure, the County sued the City, pressing for an injunction to stop any further flooding that would “destroy or render impassable, in whole or in part” any public roads or bridges in the County.[xli]

The City responded with further threats of condemnation, this time of County roads and bridges.[xlii] A few weeks later, the City proposed that the County, with City funding, should rebuild any roads or bridges that would be affected by the flooding.

The county refused, upholding their injunction against further flooding. A week later, the County won their lawsuit, bringing the residents of Warren what they had demanded. The City would have to build new bridges and roads to replace those they would destroy before they could continue flooding the area.[xliii]

Warren residents then compelled the County to relocate the Warren school, and the Ridgely estate offered to donate the land needed for it.[xliv]

While all this was happening, the City was busy obtaining land in the area at the threat of condemnation.

In January of 1922, the City initiated condemnation proceedings against several small property owners at Warren and Phoenix. The Baltimore Sun wrote at the time that the City had said it had been deemed impossible to agree with the owners on a fair price.[xlv]

Considering how the City originally had agreed to pay the Warren Manufacturing Company more than twice what their property was worth, it is absurd that they pulled out condemnation proceedings against people for small, couple-acre properties.

In the end, very little condemnation occurred at Warren, though the threat of using it led many to sell their homes quickly, lest the price go down in a court proceeding. And that the city began flooding the area before they had finished purchasing all the properties, did essentially force people from their homes.

The flooding began on April 11, 1922, slowly backing up 23,000,000,000 gallons of water into the former towns of Baltimore County, while the City still had properties to buy and had still not completed purchase of the Phoenix Mill.,[xlvi]

“The homes were the last ones to go,” says former Warren resident Wilton L. Howard in a 1951 Baltimore Sun article. “But when the wreckers got around to breaking up the houses, even the diehards had to leave.”[xlvii]

He describes some residents being “ankle-deep in water” before leaving, stubbornly refusing to leave the town they called home.

On April 6, 1923, the Baltimore Sun announced the disappearance of the town of Warren under 20,000,000,000 gallons of water.

The residents of Warren would then be dispersed across the region. Some would settle in the textile neighborhood of Hamden in Baltimore, others would go to mills in the surrounding areas.

The story of Warren of Phoenix, and the areas surrounding them, seems of little relevance to the rest of the world. Who cares about two small towns in Baltimore County?

But when viewed in the context of the wider struggles for better working conditions and wages, and for human rights in times of human displacement caused by the overseers of a shifting economy, it becomes a microcosm of a much wider story.

Whether it’s a small village resisting the construction of a World Bank mega-dam in India or China, or a community in an impoverished community in the United States fighting against corporate-led “development,” these stories constitute a different version of history, one told by the trials and tribulations of regular people.

And just as the ruins of Warren can be found still in the woods surrounding the “lost city,” so too can the ruins caused by the policy of Eminent Domain that led to Warren’s condemnation can be found in the abandoned row-homes of East Baltimore, or in the stories of thousands of former residents who, like those of Warren, were displaced throughout the Baltimore area.

Giving voice to these stories can help us stand for what some of us today call “The Right to the City,” wrestling control of communities, workplaces, and municipalities away from those who would abuse people and putting it into the hands of those would to serve their interests.

Or better yet, putting that power into the hands of those who live the daily experiences of the City.

[i] Scharf, John Thomas. History of Baltimore City and County, from the earliest period to the present day: including biographical sketches of their representative men. L.H. Everts, The University of Michigan, 1881.

[ii] Pamphlet. Warren Reunion, 1922-1972. April 22, 1972. Towson Public Library archives, Baltimore County – Communities – Warren. Article #10.

[iii] Wieland, Evelyn, K. An Economic History of Warren, Maryland. Manuscript from the Baltimore County Public Library archives, Baltimore County – Communities – Warren, Article #1. No date, but seems to be the original document on which so much history of Warren has been based. Derived from original interviews with mill owners and residents.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Santos, Joanna A. Warren, Maryland: Gone But Not Forgotten. May 26, 1972. From Baltimore County Public Library archives, Baltimore County – Communities – Warren, Article #9.

[vi] Kolakowski, Ann Eichler. Warren, Maryland. From History Trails of Baltimore County, Vol. 39, Number 4. Baltimore County Historical Society, Summer 2008.

[vii] Santos, Joanna A. Warren, Maryland: Gone But Not Forgotten. May 26, 1972. From Baltimore County Public Library archives, Baltimore County – Communities – Warren, Article #9.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Wieland, Evelyn, K. An Economic History of Warren, Maryland. Manuscript from the Baltimore County Public Library archives, Baltimore County – Communities – Warren, Article #1. No date, but seems to be the original document on which so much history of Warren has been based. Derived from original interviews with mill owners and residents.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Foner, Philip S. History of the Labor Movement in the United States: From Colonial Times to the Founding of the American Federation of Labor. International Publishers, 1975. New York, NY.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Temperance at Phoenix. December 10th, 1853, Baltimore County Advocate.

[xiv] December 17th, 1853, Baltimore County Advocate.

[xv] Temperance Celebration—Phoenix Cotton Establishment-Beneficial Improvements. Baltimore Sun, Jan 14, 1854

[xvi] Foner, Philip S. History of the Labor Movement in the United States: From Colonial Times to the Founding of the American Federation of Labor. International Publishers, 1975. New York, NY.

[xvii] A Turnpike Gate Destroyed. January 31, 1963. The Baltimore County Advocate.

[xviii] Bruce, Robert V. 1877: Year of Violence. Bobbs-Merrill, 1959. Chicago.

[xix] Kolakowski, Ann Eichler. Warren, Maryland. From History Trails of Baltimore County, Vol. 39, Number 4. Baltimore County Historical Society, Summer 2008.

[xx] Bruce, Robert V. 1877: Year of Violence. Bobbs-Merrill, 1959. Chicago.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] For Thorough Investigation. November 28, 1908. The Baltimore Sun.

[xxiii] Warren Deal Condemned. December 3, 1908. The Baltimore Sun.

[xxiv] Condemns Warren Deal. December 5, 1908. The Baltimore Sun.

[xxv] Things That Need Investigation. December 6, 1908. The Baltimore Sun.

[xxvi] Does the City Want Warren? December 9, 1908. The Baltimore Sun.

[xxvii] Catechism for the Young on the Warren Deal. December 13, 1908. The Baltimore Sun.

[xxviii] Senator Linthicum on the Deal For Warren Company’s Property. November 17, 1908. The Baltimore Sun.

[xxix] City Aquires Towns at Dam for $1,000,000. January 6, 1922. The Baltimore Sun.

[xxx] Wieland, Evelyn, K. An Economic History of Warren, Maryland. Manuscript from the Baltimore County Public Library archives, Baltimore County – Communities – Warren, Article #1. No date, but seems to be the original document on which so much history of Warren has been based. Derived from original interviews with mill owners and residents.

[xxxi] Hummel, Phillip A. East Side Story: The East Baltimore Development Initiative. University of Maryland School of Law. Date unkown (but after 2007).

[xxxii] MacSherry, Clinton. Village of the Damned: Warren Sinks into Baltimore County History. Baltimore City Paper, January 27, 1989.

[xxxiii] Ibid.

[xxxiv] City Purchases 1000 Acres in County for Extending Its Water System. August 6, 1921. The New Era (BCPL newspaper archives).

[xxxv] Loch Raven Deals Near Completion. May 22, 1922. The Baltimore Sun.

[xxxvi] Loch Raven Water At Highest Level. May 23, 1922. The Baltimore Sun.

[xxxvii] Work Soon To Begin On Loch Raven Dam. April 23, 1921. The New Era (BCPL newspaper archives).

[xxxviii] Workmen Start Fire; Spreads Over 100 Acres. April 2, 1921. The New Era (BCPL newspaper archives).

[xxxix] Warren Residents Protest Loss of Bridge. July 9, 1921, The New Era (BCPL newspaper archives).

[xl] Ibid.

[xli] Country Sues City to Halt Flooding of its Roads. September 17, 1921. The New Era (BCPL newspaper archives).

[xlii] City Files Demurrer in Lock Raven Case. October 1, 1921. The New Era (BCPL newspaper archives).

[xliii] City Must Replace Roads Before Flooding Old Ones. October 29, 1921. The New Era (BCPL newspaper archives).

[xliv] To Relocate Warren School. April 6, 1922. The Baltimore Sun.

[xlv] Water Board Moves to Get Warren Land. January 5, 1922. The Baltimore Sun.

[xlvi] Flooding Begins at Loch Raven. April 12, 1922. The Baltimore Sun.

[xlvii] Howard, Wilton T. …The Town of Warren Flourished. Baltimore Sun, September 9, 1951.

Coming Back to Miami

In Uncategorized on December 6, 2010 at 6:35 pm

An FTAA Protester Remembers

Many of my friends say they will never go back to Miami, and I never thought I really would either. But something always drew me there, a need for closure, a need to see with my own eyes the city that pushed my anxiety over the edge. So I finally followed my feelings and took myself there, almost exactly seven years after I first went.

I followed the same path that took me there before, stopping in the lovely town of Lake Worth where I went swimming in the same spot that I had in 2003. I played a show this time around at the Night Heron Community Activist Center to a room of mostly younger folks and some of Lake Worth’s older anarchist community organizers who I had met back on my first trip here. I stayed at their place that night and we reflected on old times and caught up on recent ones. They had gone to Miami in 2003 as well.

In the morning I drove down to spend an hour in Miami. The highway reminded me of when we had left the demonstrations, when we had hid underneath the seats of the mini-school bus that folks from Asheville had come down in. We had received reports that the police were pulling over anyone who looked like they had been part of the demonstrations and arresting or attacking them. After seeing what they did to us in the streets and hearing about and seeing some of the aftermath of what they had done to us in jail, this was all too real of a threat.

My exit was quite a contrast to the month before, when I had arrived in town starry eyed and energized by the eight months of discussions and planning that had gone into the demonstrations. Arriving early, I would be part of the crew that would be responsible for facilitating folks arriving in town, telling them how to get around, where resources were, and how the schedule was going to look.

We were also tasked with making some of the most important decisions of all; where to start the un-permitted morning march on November 20th, where to go afterwards, and how to interact with the larger permitted AFL-CIO march.

The headquarters for the protests, the Convergence Center, was an old manufacturing warehouse of sorts in Overtown, a historically African-American community north of downtown that was facing massive gentrification and the displacement, evictions, foreclosures, and police repression that made it possible.

When I got to town there was a small circle of chairs in the Convergence Center and nothing else. I took the big broom and swept the massive amount of dust out of the dirty old place, while a friend from Baltimore who I had rode down with set up a massive tarp above the parking lot to shelter the free kitchens that would soon be organized there. We would eat our meals for free thanks to the wonderful folks from Seeds of Peace and Food Not Bombs, who would cook almost non-stop for the duration of the convergence under this tarp-system.

After cleaning the space it was time to get to work. We held multiple meetings a day in a small room off of the main one, aided by a lovely amount of thick Cuban coffee. There was much to be done, and each of us would basically take a huge project into our hands and add more people to our groups as they arrived in town.

Some would work on the larger logistical questions; setting up the medical space that would soon be rented downtown, finding place to obtain food, making sure everyone had housing, and coordinating media inquiries.

I had read up on the Free Trade Area of the Americas, even reading through the agreement itself, in order to be able to speak to media and to folks in the communities we’d be in as we prepared for the big day. This came in handy when I arrived to find that we had not yet produced any flyers or information sheets to hand out to folks around town. Obsessed with spreading information, I took the project up with a new friend, and we would build the Outreach Committee up to ten or so members.

A few of us would stay for a night in an upscale section of South Beach with one of the committee’s family friends, where we wrote two flyers, one for the community and one for local businesses. The general theme was “we are not here to destroy your city, rather, we are here to defend local businesses and people against the corporations who want to ruin you”, to summarize it bluntly.

I took the master copies out to Liberty City, an impoverished community a few miles from the Convergence Center. The printers were anti-Castro Cubans, the kind that the media and many others had told me would hate our message and presence in their communities. But I like people regardless of their politics, and I calmly told them what I needed and we talked a bit about the statements on the flyers. A bit to my surprise, they were not only supportive of the cause, they gave me a discount on the printing and wished me and the others luck. People always reassure me.

We printed the flyers in both English and Spanish and began setting plans for handing them out. It was a dangerous job; the police were arresting people already, and it was two weeks before the start of the first protest. Our first mission was to establish contact with every local business in the “Red Zone”, the area downtown slated to be the epicenter of the demonstrations. We drew a big map of the Red Zone and assigned groups of people to a street to flyer. The odd man out, I would do my route alone, but of all the folks there I felt like I was the most comfortable downtown, as I had been walking around in disguise there for days scoping things out.

My confidence was soon broken. Having finished most of my route and encountering almost full support and appreciation from local shop owners for coming to them to counter the media lies that we were coming to light their stores on fire, I dipped into a coffeeshop to deliver a flyer to the manager.

As we spoke, I noticed two bike cops outside the doors looking in at me. Nervous, I took a break in the bathroom to see if they would leave. Nope. I walked out the door, which one of the cops politely opened for me, forcing me to walk underneath his massive arms. “What’s in the bag?” he said with a smile, followed by a sarcastic “Welcome to Miami”.

Caught in the act of living up to the democratic processes of the country these men were supposed to be upholding the laws of, I decided right away to be up front with them. “Read the flyer, we are not here to fight you. We’re here to demonstrate and spread a message”. Though we were there to disrupt the meetings, I wanted them to know there was not some personal vendetta. I knew they had been told crazy stories that we had burned down buildings in Seattle, that we were going to shit in bags and throw it at them. This had been written in the papers.

They had already read the flyers, at least I assumed as much, because they held in their hands a stack of them. They had followed me along y route and taken them back from the shop owners! Unbelievable. A wasted effort I suppose, but at least I had the interactions that would build trust with the local community.

I somehow escaped arrest, not without providing my ID, social security number, personal information, and being subject to a full illegal search of my bag and person. I almost got arrested when I refused to tell them where I was staying, which they insisted I would have to tell in order to not be arrested. They pried, but I resisted, and they settled down. I was lucky, around the corner six people from our flyering teams were being arrested for the same infraction. Miami-Dade County had passed a law a month before we came making it illegal to walk in groups of more than five.

Returning to Overtown, we assessed who had been arrested and how many had been detained. It was about half of our group. The stakes had been raised, and we could either retreat or counter it. We decided on the latter, devising a mass outreach day where we would invite dozens of people, television cameras, and lawyers to join us and give every person downtown a flyer. Though six more arrests came from this, the 3,000 flyers we got out and the stance we made was important not just for those we connected with, but for our own morale and dignity.

As November unfolded, edging us closer and closer to the 20th, the reality we were facing began to reveal itself the way a massive hurricane moves across a radar in real time. And like the hurricane, the main day of violence would have an eye of calm. As the signs to come were read a collective feeling of fear enveloped almost everyone on the ground, but we were too far into our plans to make any significant changes. Nor did we want to. We would deal with whatever came at this point, we were there and the police were there too. And though the whole world was not watching, key people in it were, and folks from social movements across the world were depending on our efforts in Miami.

We brought about thirty people with us down from Baltimore, and thankfully only a few of us would be arrested, two on major felony charges that would later be dropped. One of our vans was pulled over a week before the demonstrations, and though no one was arrested, the police stole all of our shoes and many of our other possessions. The two were arrested in the same van the day of the main protests, driving into town from their campground. They were followed at length, then pulled over and charged with possession of a deadly weapon for having Leatherman multi-tools in the van. “Welcome to Miami”.

The “Oh Shit” feeling started to solidify one evening as I rode the elevated train back to where I was staying. Below me, a massive military convoy of armored vehicles and dismounted riot police drove slowly down the main streets of leading into downtown Miami, practicing the maneuvers they may employ in the coming days. Fire hose trucks, armored personal carriers, the “MRAV” sound machine, SWAT trucks, and more crept slowly, flanked by two hundred or so foot soldiers who would be the main front of the operations. Arranged almost artistically congruent, it was hard to tell if they were actually practicing for themselves or if their rehearsal was an intimidation-performance meant for an audience of me and the few dozen others like me who had arrived in town early to help organize the infrastructure. More signs of things to come.

The small home where I stayed belonged to an old Communist couple in Little Havana who were very paranoid about anyone, especially the police, knowing they were housing demonstrators. Our friend had come to Miami months ago to start laying the groundwork for the demonstrations, and had met these nice folks at an art opening. They had agreed to host whomever needed a place, and we joined a dozen others who found safe haven here, at least, for a period of time.

One morning my close friend and I, who were almost inseparable for security reasons throughout the weeks we were there, left the house to head to the Convergence Center. At the end of the block a police car waited the way a cat waits for a mouse to come out from behind the stove. We swallowed slowly and walked into the trap. Expecting arrest, we were lucky to get away with strange intimidation; the car began following us at walking pace. Turning onto the sidewalk to cross through the park, we thought we’d leave them behind, but they jumped the curb and drove through the grass the whole way through the park, right behind us. It only ended when we entered the train station.

This was the atmosphere as we approached the real scary moments. Total intimidation and paranoia was the norm. There was almost nowhere you could go near downtown or in Overtown without disguising yourself as a tourist, and even that didn’t work most of the time. It was just luck if you made it to the train or wherever you were going without detainment or arrest, or worse. After the protests, independent journalists and legal observers would be robbed by undercover cops pretending to be street criminals, their brand new tasers giving away their true identities. Bail money, videotapes, and rolls on film would be taken.

The final days leading up to the protests were the most intense. Huge meetings were convened in the Convergence Center, some complete with arguments between those who had been on the ground and those who had just arrived. Some expected more to be done for them, not understanding the vast amount of work there was to do on the ground. Miami, unlike many cities that have hosted similar demonstrations, did not have the infrastructure to handle it yet, and though a robust coalition of community organizations was active in the area, they were not active in the mass direction action/civil-disobedience portion of the convergence.

Others argued that those like me who had arrived early were making decisions undemocratically, centering around our decision to march from the only park in downtown that wasn’t where the AFL-CIO would march. We had agreed to not bring police heat to their march, where retirees would be joined active workers in opposing the anti-worker neoliberal agenda of the FTAA negotiations. The park was the only option that was near a train station. We couldn’t risk people walking long distances in the morning and getting picked off before we could reach a mass.

This split eventually manifested in two separate marches, one starting almost a mile away from downtown in Overtown and consisting almost entirely of an anarchist Black Bloc, a group of folks in all black wearing masks to conceal their identities from the police and often from each other. This was a last-minute decision that proved to not be the best idea. Their march never reached downtown.

The other march would host a parade of puppets, a marching band, and a more diverse group of folks. This march would also consist of many anarchists, as almost all of those who helped organize the convergence and many who came to participate identified with anarchist or anarchist-like politics. Both marches were un-permitted and anticipated a lot of problems from the police.

The idea was that the two would converge somewhere downtown and join forces. This, of course, never happened. The Black Bloc was stopped almost right away and faced police violence. People were beaten, tased, and arrested. They were generally scattered in all directions to find their way downtown.

The main march downtown started an hour late, at about 8:00 am. We wanted to disrupt the meetings inside the Inter-Continental Hotel and we did not hide our goals. The idea was to get up to the 2-mile “anarchist-proof” fence that had been erected around a section of the Red Zone. Once there, different groups were to try to pull off different attempts at getting through or over it, to create a siege atmosphere that would hopefully cause disruption. A few months earlier, a massive demonstration in Cancun had brought another World Trade Organization summit to a standstill, and groups had collectively pulled the fence there down with massive, hand-woven ropes. We intended to follow up on their success.

But without the Black Bloc and the many militants in it, we did not stand much of a chance at getting through the fence. They were the ones with the plans to do it and our march was not really prepared for that. The fence-plan centered around the Black Bloc and the associated Padded Bloc, a group of anarchists anticipated to be up to 300 strong who had built padding to protest them from police violence. This group never materialized, in fact, I only saw maybe seven people out in padded gear. Some got picked off on their way into Miami and arrested by the FBI, others were too scared to come out into the streets that day, others had their padding taken during detainments in the lead-up to the 20th.

The walk into downtown was like sticking your hand in a bush that you know has an animal in it that is going to bite you. Everyone knew it was going to be bad, but to turn back would be a defeat for the worldwide movement we were a part of. For most of the march, there were no police to be seen. Where were they? I had seen the night exercises and we knew 40 million dollars worth of weapons of equipment was purchased. When would they strike?

We walked rather quickly down towards the FTAA meetings and the fence that protected them from the people’s movement. The marching band got the crowd dancing, while the few of us in the front who were tasked with making the directional decisions freaked out over what to do. But as it turned out, the police would be making all the decisions and we would simply follow the only turns they had planned for us to make.

We ran into our first police line two blocks from the Inter-Continental, on a side street that we had been ushered down by an approaching line of riot cops. Walking peacefully up to the line, the police almost instantly began beating the shit out of us. The people linked their arms and tried to hold their ground, but the thick wooded bats fractured their arms and collarbones, cracked their skulls, and broke their line. The folks behind them would take up the task and the process would repeat until we turned around to find another street to walk down. Many people were badly injured here.

There is something about hearing human bones break and watching people helplessly try to stop it that leaves a mark on you. I watched terrified as friends I knew, some whose names I never even knew but who I had been in numerous intense demonstrations with before, made attempt after attempt to hold their ground. Turning, we were trapped by walls of riot police. The only option to exit the beatings was opened up when a police line faded back allowing us access to Biscayne Boulevard, a street we never anticipated reaching. The way they let us out there freaked us out, because at this point we knew it was all part of a plan for us. But it was the only way to go.

At this point our march had been split by one of the police lines and was stuck back downtown. I got word over my radio that people in that half were being tased and beaten. The taser was perhaps the weapon we were fearing the most, though the fear that live rounds might be used was also in our minds. We had faced stun guns before, but never the high-powered tasers that shoot two-inch barbs into your body and electrocute you at a much higher voltage. A week before, the Miami-Dade Police had killed a man with one of these same tasers, and they had killed far more people with tasers than any other police department in the country. We were fearing similar outcomes at the protests.

The vast Biscayne Boulevard was completely empty of cars and was blocked off completely to the south by the famed security fence. Behind the fence, a few hundred riot-police stood ready for any tricks, and above it cherry-pickers with riot-police armed with various types of munitions pointed guns into the crowd hovered over us.

There was a strange few minutes there were nothing seemed to happen, and me and other organizers huddled up to try to make a plan, but I had given up at this point. We were trapped and there nothing we could do. There were perhaps 300 people with us, and another 300 trapped behind a police wall a few blocks away. Up the road, there were another few hundred in the Black Bloc march. A block north on Biscayne the AFL-CIO marchers and begun to fill the amphitheater where their rally would begin.

Then the violence resumed. The largest wall of riot-police I had ever seen came slowly around the corner, showing no signs of stopping their advance. A group tried to get a rope with a grappling hook attached up on the fence, and they were quickly repelled by tear gas, concussion grenades, rubber bullets, and countless other projectiles. They scattered. There was no hope in approaching the fence anymore.

The massive wall of police resumed the bone-breaking assault on the peaceful crowd, brutally beating people over their heads and shooting them at close range with heavy projectiles. Occasionally, someone would be dragged under the police line and attacked. Usually they would be arrested, but sometimes they would somehow make their way back out.

Every few minutes police snatch squads would appear from behind the police lines and grab someone, or they would appear from within our ranks; undercovers disguised as demonstrators. In one famous incident, a snatch squad was beaten back by anarchists who pulled on their friend while another jump kicked a cop in the chest, and they managed to free their comrade who was facing the abuses of the Miami jail.

This was the extent of the violence used by our sides, and this one incident is probably the height of it. The rest of the time, we peacefully tried to hold our space and were just attacked. After being pushed a block or so up the road, we managed to settle for an hour or so and the police held a line well above the fence.

The whole morning episode lasted no more than an hour or two, and it was still early. We slowly dispersed, some joined the AFL-CIO for their morning march, others retreating to hotels or the few restaurants that were opened. Most of downtown Miami was closed and boarded up. Some went to try to find the remnants of the Black Bloc march and re-group with friends for the afternoon; it had gone out on the radios and in the streets that we would re-group at 4:00 for a second attempt at disrupting the meetings.

I got some food with a hundred or so others who lined the sidewalks and tried to make sense of the day. After checking in with some folks, I was taken by a friend who had rented a hotel room right on Biscayne Boulevard. The hotel lobby was full of police, and we managed to get in the elevator without any interaction. Upstairs we watched the news and saw the absurdity that was the corporate media’s version of the events. “Violent protesters” had attacked police downtown, who had responded with reasonable force in order to “maintain peace”.

Out the windows of our high perch we watched Black Bloc disguised police officers walk through the wall of riot-police below, high-fiving officers and they took their masks off. These undercovers made up the snatch-squads and would later try to perpetuate violence in the streets. Their job was to make sure the protesters came off us violent and that “ringleaders” were arrested, framed, and charged. No one arrested in Miami were found guilty of anything and many later would win major settlements against the police.

As the afternoon gathering approached, we went down to the streets and enjoyed an hour of calm. The union march had begun arriving back at the amphitheater and musicians like Tom Morello, Billy Bragg, Boots Riley, and David Rovics were entertaining the crowd in between speeches. They would soon be driven out of the amphitheater by tear gas canisters fired directly into it from the streets.

I remember clearly the events that unfolded that afternoon. A small group of people had gone up to the police line, jumpstarting the afternoon action. Almost an hour before the gathering was set to really start, this group stood at the line peacefully, just to be present. As they set up this space, me and a hundred or so others came to join them and see what was going on at the police line. Why not?

I was on the east side of the street, about a hundred or so feet from the center of the police line. It was there that something happened, and from what I understand it was a group of either provacateurs or protesters who intentionally “created a situation” that instigated the police. The violence began like a car accident; explosions of concussion grenades were accompanied by the cracks of dozens of guns firing wooden dowels, rubber and plastic bullets, and paint balls to “mark” certain demonstrators.

Me and the people around me immediately turned to flee. We had seen what happened in the morning and no one was about to try to stop the police line from advancing. As I turned, the woman next to me was smacked directly in the mouth with a rubber bullet and the blood the poured from her mouth splashed on the street at my feet. I felt the bullets blow past me and heard them hitting others, some who fell. Medics rushed to their aid helped escort them to some sort of safety, if any could be found.

The police began slowly marching towards us, beating their sticks against the shin-guards to create a terrifying beat. The police line was nearly ten officers deep and stretched hundreds of feet across the wide boulevard and up through the park. I have seen anything like it since. A thousand or more police against a few hundred unarmed demonstrators, nearly off of who were running away terrified.

It was around this time that a journalist who had come to tell the story of the “violent demonstrators” was hit the eye with a plastic bullet, which lodged itself next to his temple. Edging on death, our medics would rush him away from the advancing police line. He would soon lose his eye and go on to become an outspoken critic of police violence. Our brave medics would be scarred by their experience in Miami, but their selflessness in these times would be remember by all present.

One of these medics stayed at the house as me, and that night I saw him removing his shirt in the kitchen to reveal the ten giant rubber bullet welts that had been left on his body. “How the fuck did you get all those”, I asked him. “When everyone was running away, I was running in”, he said. Our medics rushed toward the guns to rescue those who fell or to aid those who were pepper sprayed or injured. The police would fire at them for fun, or to set an example that no one was safe here.

The firing continued and I decided to seek safety in the Amphitheater, which at this point was being guarded by AFL-CIO marshals. They were keeping folks from leaving for their own safety, but some wanted out so they could participate in the events unfolding in the streets. I watched a friend of my punch one of the AFL-CIO guys to get out, because his friends and comrades were out in the streets and he wanted to be there with them. It got a little crazy in the entranceway, but we were all in this together. It was not taken personally… we were all terrified.

I got in with my friend and walked to a safe place. It was not a minute before the first tear gas cans flew into the rows of seats, and we again fled to the entrance way, trapped between the advancing police lines and the tear gas inside.

Unknown to me at the time, on the sidewalk leading up to the amphitheater at this point my friend Mike was being held down and ased by multiple cops. He would later describe thinking that he was going to die, and his terrified screaming would be captured in a photograph published online. He would withdraw from political action for years after this incident, his trauma deeply affecting his outlook on the world.

This happened to many people after that day. Scared, traumatized, defeated, their lives were put in perspective by the fear instilled by mass violence. And justifiably, they reconsidered the costs.

As the police line pushed north we were able to negotiate an exit plan from the amphitheater. The police blocking our path allowed us to walk to the train, and escorted us there. It was terrifying, and most of us were nervous that it was a trap of some sort. But it wasn’t, this time, and we were able to leave. Up the street, demonstrators were running through Overtown from the approaching police, and more injuries were being incurred. Residents of Overtown were letting people into their homes and yards to lend a hand.

I went straight to the Convergence Center to get more information on arrest numbers and who was injured, and to see if anyone had died. It was not a far-fetched thought, and thankfully, no one had.

The Convergence Center was madness. A constant fear prevailed, where every thirty minutes another rumor that the police were preparing a raid caused a state of emergency. These rumors were not bred from paranoid demonstrators as much as they were caused by cops massing up nearby. Strangely, the center was never raided.

I remember one incident at this time well, but I don’t remember if it was the 20th or 21st. I was in the Convergence Center with a friend from the Anarchist People of Color group, APOC, which had been hit pretty heavily both in the lead-up to Miami and on the streets. In New York, a fundraiser to send APOC members to Miami was raided by police and people were beaten and arrested. On the streets of Miami they were disproportionately targeted, and in jail the reports said that they were being tortured.

That night a mutual friend rushed into the center and told my friend she needed to come outside, that an APOC member was out there and needed support. She grabbed me, since I felt comfortable enough outside the gates and since she didn’t want to wander out there alone. We were led around the corner to a man hiding in the boarded front doorway of the building. He was a strong looking guy, probably in his mid-20s, a guy who looked like he could handle a fight. He was broken and crying. He had just gotten out of jail and was clearly really fucked up from it. His head raised to my friend and she embraced him, then turned to me and said I should leave, and I did. I never found out the rest of that story.

This was the scene the next two nights at people tried to make sense of what had happened, find their friend, or figure what they needed to do to get out of the city. A rally outside of the jail on the 21st was attacked by police and many more were arrested and injured. The abuses inside of the jail are awful, and survivors of the arrests have testified to being beaten, forced to be naked, sexually assaulted, tortured, and raped. I was not arrested and cannot speak to the experiences of those who have, but a zine put together a few years ago called “The Miami Model” details some of these stories from first-hand witnesses and survivors.

That’s how my story in Miami ends. We left the evening of the 21st, not interested in staying around any longer. Other friends stayed to do follow-up and see folks out of jail, but having spent weeks there in the lead-up and having a ride out, I took it. I was disillusioned, tried, scared, and confused.

I think in Miami we took the bait. We were given a fence to get over, and we went for it. The decision to do that was not based out a real politically strategic goal; it was more like “well they did it in Quebec in 2001 (I was there), so that’s what we’ll do in Miami”. And our somewhat militant rhetoric and approach did not help us in the end, it gave the police the “evidence” they needed to bust heads and get away with it, which they did. And we were not ready for the trauma, including some folks who have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which stemmed from the demonstrations. We left Miami weakened and scarred.

Miami was a nightmare, and I had been a major part of the facilitating it, though I don’t blame myself for anything that happened. It was a violent learning experience in how to approach situations of mass state-violence.

I learned that when the cops have the political and economic capacity to whatever they want, it’s best to utilize that in a way that’s smart and effective, to not just knee-jerk respond. In the future, I learned, we should put more thinking into demonstrations and take seriously the risks involved in facing organized violence. Because it’s for real.

I summarized some of the major lessons I learned in two recent writings of mine. One is Are We Addicted to Rioting, which I wrote last year, the other is the last part of First Hand Account of the DNC/RNC Protests, which I wrote in 2008.

Questions for the Tea Party

In Uncategorized on September 2, 2010 at 11:25 pm

I have 5 key questions for the Tea Party today. They are as follows:

1. The Boston Tea Party is among the largest and certainly the best known acts of political sabotage in U.S. history. Does the Tea Party support anti-imperialist sabotage? That would be sweet.

2. The first person to die in the American Revolution was black. His name was Crispus Attucks. He was fighting what’s called an “occupation”. This is when one country goes into another and tries to control its political and economic decisions through force or the threat of force. The British did this here and in half of the word.

Are you opposed to this? If so, why do your main candidates and officials support the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan? Some of the laws overseen by American officials in Iraq are quite similar not only to those instituted in the 1930 Anglo-Iraqi Treaty with the British when they were occupying Iraq, but also to those instituted across New England in the 1760’s under the British.

3. Every other capitalist country in the world has a government or pseudo-government health-care system that covers everyone. What’s socialist about following the steps of the other major capitalists?

It’s worth nothing that none of the other major capitalist powers are burying their futures through war spending. According to USA Today, the combined Iraq and Afghan wars cost about $1 trillion, 464 billion over a ten year period. The evil Health Care bill is slated to cost 848 billion over 10 years, and that’s according to Fox News. The Afghan war alone costs almost the same as the health care bill. So, war or health care?

4. Unlike the democratically elected and widely popular “dictators” of South America who happen to be the first wave of presidents in the region that weren’t installed after a violent overthrow backed by our government (your beloved Reagan and Milton Friedman included), our allies in Iraq and Afghanistan are, in fact, undemocratically seated.

You may not have paid attention to this, but “Prime Minister” Nouri al-Maliki lost the last election in Iraq but refused to leave, and he remains in power today. It has caused violence to escalate there as factions that had made peace with him have threatened to resume fighting. In Afghanistan, massive election fraud has been overseen, but Hamid Karzai, who was first appointed by the U.S. before winning a highly questionable “election”, remains in his seat. His presidency is threatening stability in Afghanistan almost as much as the U.S. presence, then again, without U.S. troops he would not be president.

5. Barack Obama is not a socialist, he’s a liberal. Socialists would probably fight Wall St. instead of pandering to them. He’s also not a fascist, as some of your “tea baggers” have suggested. Fascism is not usually something accompanied by black presidents. Rather, it is often accompanied by white mobilization with racial overtones or overt racism, hostility towards immigrants and “foreigners”, increased military spending based on an exaggeration of external threats, and increased domestic security targeting those who disagree with government policy or those otherwise deemed a threat.

Do we have this? I agree. Who oversaw hid new era? Was Bush a secret socialist who promoted these pre-fascist conditions to help Comrade Obama carry the evil plan through?