Monday, October 31, 2011
Occupy Colorado Springs is and has been a relatively staid affair. Our biggest marches have drawn maybe 200 participants, and the street corner has been generally host to small crowds and mostly friendly or indifferent passers by. Visits from police have been just that--visits, rather than assaults, even when the HOT Team came to arrest me early in the morning on 18 October, and the intrepid Camping Jack on two more recent occasions. We had to take steps to force them to make my arrest. Many of the core participants at Acacia Park have never been involved in any sort of political processes at all, let alone public protestations. So when several of our number traveled to Denver last Saturday to join a boisterous crowd of around 3,000 souls emotions were high, mixed, and complex.
There can be no denying the nervous air among one van load during the trip to Civic Center Park, directly in front of the State Capitol building, on the western side. Shana expressed open fear, bless her heart, and i suspect she wasn't the only of our number of like mind. Fear was generally dispelled by the excitement of the much larger Denver crowd, though, and as we marched around downtown under clear blue unseasonably warm Colorado skies, past the Mint, the Federal Reserve Building, down the 16th St. Mall where city employees took an unscheduled break to let us pass and bewildered shoppers either stared aghast or waved and grinned in support, up 17th St. past all the towering bank centers, and finally mounting the steps at the Capitol Building in defiance of specific instruction from city and police. Throughout the march, spirits were exuberant as cooperative bullhorn operators traded various, sometimes conflicting perspectives while our horde danced and prated along the sidewalks and streets, and we arrived at the Capitol in high, expectant spirits.
There had been quite a lot of friendly cops along for the march, but shortly after our arrival at the Capitol the armored legion showed up and began tactical operations to expel the somewhat rowdy crowd from its perch. I was there with my 15 year old son, so we pulled back from the danger zone when the announcement was made waving off the "unarrestable." Adin and i observed the obscure scuffling, complete with clouds of gas, from the Park as we waited for the valiant crew of absurdly comical drag queens "manning" the field kitchen to finish the "pimp-ass risotto" we later had for lunch, flavored by tear gas. The cops cleared the Capitol steps and formed a double-lined phalanx at the eastern face of the Park, at the street edge of the sidewalk directly across from the kitchen and the hastily erected camps. The kitchen crew struggled to put a specifically verboten makeshift canopy over their operation, so the police could be sure and find them.
The police blocked Broadway for several blocks and pushed protesters off the street into the Park and stayed in a threatening stance for some 6 hours or so, waiting for the appointed hour of 7:00p when they razed the camps, apparently according to specific orders. The clearing of the street was punctuated by violence , at least some of which was beyond the pale. Photographer and protest participant Andrew Cleres was ruthlessly shot down from his tree-stand while obviously not a threat. Frankie Roper of our OCS group was transported to a local hospital after taking a "non-lethal" round to the chest, though he was not arrested and refused treatment so he could rush back to the proceedings. Cops pulled back to the street after their initial assault and held a line for several hours while listening to protesters preaching various words ranging between, "We love you; you are US," to "Fuck off and die, Pigs!" while awaiting word to move on the camps, which they did at the appointed hour, throwing tents, food, and kitchen equipment into a city trash truck.
The police surrounded the empty camping areas afterward, and maintained their line at the street for some time, continuing to endure some very angry expressions by riled protesters. Around 8:00p they abruptly and rather anticlimactically just left, allowing protesters to claim a victory, of sorts.
Though my observations to follow may well clash somewhat with some attitudes expressed during much subsequent conversation, much of what i witnessed at as close a range as could be was very encouraging indeed. Protesters were extraordinarily courageous in the face of a volatile situation. At odds with some other observers, i suggest cops exercised pretty fair restraint. Frankie and Andrew were both rather overworked in the incidents linked above. Frankie's foot had been rolled over by the motorcycle he then knocked to the ground when the cops jumped him, and police had no way to know that when they got him. He was not arrested. Throughout the day, during which there were only 20 arrests reported, i witnessed numerous instances of very angry protesters attempting to engage police violently. These incidents were mostly handled by the crowd by its moving in to separate the overwrought from the line of cops, and the few moments where things escalated to actual physical levels were marked by a lack of brutality by police, and an apparently strong reluctance to arrest anyone. And again, after executing announced plans to raze the camps the cops simply left the scene.
Among the most exceptionally poignant vignettes of the day was the scene at the kitchen between the clearing of the Capitol steps and its ultimate destruction. The queer high antics persisted in good humor through the entirety of the very tense day, and the line of grateful hungry continued steadily within shoulder-brushing distance of the armored squads; life, joy, and loving community on display under duress. Many protesters repeated the suggestion to police that they are fully welcome to lay down armor and join us for a sandwich and a bowl of soup, and some cops actually did so, braving the incredulous stares of their fellows before rejoining the line. All day, though more so during the march while still in a conversational mood, police expressed support for us protesters, and reluctance to be antagonistic on their own. When they returned at the close of Park hours in much smaller numbers to match the dwindling of our own, remaining protesters knew to clear to the sidewalk and no further incidents took place. By then, new supplies had been delivered by random donors, and a new kitchen was already turning out coffee and chili dogs from an adjusted position at the park's edge.
There remain aroused spirits from many of the variously positioned players in this conflict of Ideas. Many U.S. armed forces veterans are very angry indeed at police seen as traitorous after the incident with Scott Olsen in Oakland, (don't forget to continue to hold Scott in your prayers, if you do that sort of thing); however I, for one, am encouraged by the dramatic differences between what i saw in Denver Saturday and the stuff from my childhood where police would just wade through crowds swinging nightsticks with brutal efficiency at whomever was within range. Further encouragement came from the shift in mood the following day when much of the tension between holders of opposing opinion among our OCS core appeared to simply diffuse on its own in the face of the sheer size and intensity of the action in D-town.
My take: I am immensely proud of all the Occupiers that participated, (including perhaps most especially my son Adin, who chose to stay right up in the thick of things with us all day long), and steadfastly protected those of our own motivated beyond restraint from overstepping propriety. We are ALL one. The human race makes up a group of 100%, even if some of us need to catch up with the notion. We have a long way to go, but we're learning. This thing will continue to be lumpy and chaotic, but we're getting there. Because we have to, no matter what.