…wherein Jake misses most of A31, attends a rock and roll concert, and stays up quite late
August 31 was dubbed A31, the Day of Action. Anti-RNC activists had called for this day to be filled with surprise acts of civil disobedience, so this looked to be one of the craziest days of the convention.
Ironically, it was one of the most laid back days for me. First of all, most of the folks planning these actions were keeping their plans secret (why would you want to give police a chance to shut you down before you start?), which made it nearly impossible for me to observe the protests to write about. Secondly, I had to spend the second half of the day setting up for, and tabling at, the Axis of Justice concert, and I couldn’t let my quasi-journalism get in the way of that. Therefore most of my day was free.
I was only aware of two planned actions: the War Resisters’ League “die-in”, and the Fox News “shut-up-a-thon”. The former was going to be an anti-war march ending near Madison Square Garden, at which point the protesters would lay down on the ground as though dead, and refuse to move. They publicized this well in advance, so it was destined to end in arrests. I didn’t quite understand the logic of that decision.
The “shut-up-a-thon” was a dig at Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. If you’ve paid much attention to the behind-the-scenes stories about the man, you’ve learned that he often yells at the guests he doesn’t like, demanding that they “shut up.” So hundreds of activists went down to Fox News headquarters in New York, and shouted “shut up” at the building. Not particularly illegal, but I don’t think they had a permit. Funny stuff.
I got up in the morning and decided to head over to Bryant Park. It’s a nice shady area in the middle of the city, with trees, grass, and, surprisingly, wireless internet connections. I sat down at a small outdoor table to try to catch up on my update backlog. I was barely there 5 minutes when a Billionaires for Bush troop showed up. They pushed a bunch of the tables together to, covered it with a tablecloth, and held an elite tea party in the park, filled with satirical snobbish talk about the poor and their beloved tax cuts and such. Although I did find this particular protest a bit tacky. As do most public parks in large cities, Bryant Park had quite a number of homeless folks whiling away the time there. And sure the Billionaires mean it satirically, but I thought that insulting the poor in plain view of truly poor folks was a bad call.
Shortly after, I headed over to Union Square. I’d been invited to lunch by one of those activist acquaintances we make over the internet but don’t usually ever meet (she turned out to be taller than I’d expected). I wandered around the Square (which was supposed to be the site of mass civil disobedience in a few hours). It was lined with cops, of course. Some group was giving a press conference, but the volume on their microphones was so low that I couldn’t make out what they were talking about. A man on stage held up a handwritten sign which said something like “Stop protecting union bosses! Rank and file workers need to speak and vote too.” Maybe that was the theme, or maybe he’d just snuck onstage and no one had noticed.
Nearby, artists from the Beehive Design Collective were displaying an enormous black and white mural they’d created on a large cloth, depicting all sorts of issues regarding free trade, globalization, corporate power, and genetically-modified foods. One of the artists was giving a guided tour of the mural, showing a small audience the various images and explaining their significance.
My favorite was a single man in a dapper suit some yards away, simply holding a sign that said “Satanists for Bush.” A somewhat perturbed conservative tried to question the “Satanist” about why he would try to associate the devil and the president, but the “Satanist” was a verbal genius, and talked absurdist circles around the guy. “Well, our group has literal intentions, based upon their figurativeness. Literally figurative, I guess you’d say, but in a figurative way,” and so on. Until he reached his abrupt conclusion, “well under Bush, we think that we’ll see lots of fire and flesh-ripping, and we’re thankful for that.”
After a late lunch, I was ready to head over to the Knitting Factory, the site of our concert. After running a frantic errand for a friend (you can’t free arrested protesters if your cellphone battery dies!), I caught a super-crowded subway train to the venue, multiple bags of Axis-related stuff hanging off my person.
The venue was a hell of a lot smaller than I’d expected. There is a Knitting Factory venue in Los Angeles too, but it’s much larger (and trendier, I imagine). I met up with Indira, one of our long-time Axis volunteers, and we hung an Axis banner and set up an info table in the bar area. We were joined by Educating for Justice, Music for America, and Not In Our Name.
Quite a show. I didn’t know half the bands, honestly. Outernational, the Naked Trucker, the Nightwatchman (Tom), Steve Earle, Boots Riley, Serj, Saul Williams, a handful of odd political film shorts, and Spearhead. The show lasted quite a while; I don’t think headliners Spearhead even took the stage till at least 12:30am, and then there was a big ol’ jam session after that, with an extended rendition of Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand up”, featuring rap breakdowns by Boots and Michael Franti, and some great horn solos from the Outernational guys.
I get word that lots of people were arrested today. I put a notice about that on our table, along with info on how people can donate to the arrested activists’ legal fund. I also give a note with the info to Tom to read onstage. He forgets to.
It seemed like a good show, but I was stuck in the bar for most of it, so I can’t say for sure.
Lots of folks seemed interested in Axis. Let’s just say that activists can be a… chatty bunch. I ended up talking at length with folks from Amnesty International, International Concerned Family and Friends for Mumia Abu-Jamal, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting, a handful of filmmakers, some folks from a Canadian TV station, and some guy who talked and talked about the way that hallucinogens are going to save mankind and the world (serves me right for admitting I’d heard of Terrence McKenna).
And after the show, Tom insisted that we hard-working Axis folks join him and some of the performers at a Chinatown restaurant called Wo-Hop. It’s 3:30am, good time for some fried rice, I guess. Indira and I took a taxi over, and not knowing the actual address of the place, the driver took us all the way to the street’s beginning so we could try to find the place by name. I’m pretty sure he did this simply to take our money.
Wo-Hop is a 24-hour basement-level Chinese restaurant that apparently has a bit of a following (I saw two guys wearing Wo-Hop t-shirts the very next day). Indira and I joined our posse, which had lined up tables stretching the entire length of the place. About half the performers from the show were there, as were their girlfriends, as was old-skool punk icon Jello Biafra. I wasn’t starstruck, but Biafra did play a significant role in my political education in high school. Biafra, Chomsky, Gore Vidal, Abbie Hoffman, Lenny Bruce, Frank Zappa and William Burroughs were pretty heady stuff for 16-year old Jake. I’ll just say that it was bizarre to see his croaking-trumpet drawl come out of a human being, even more so when the human being is sitting down the table from you, badly ordering moo goo gai pan.
I noticed something which I now realize is fairly common in social gatherings among musicians. Most of the musicians are male. They don’t bother introducing their girlfriends to anyone, and the girlfriends are uncomfortable and don’t talk much. This turns the event into heroic men talking and laughing while most of the women sit huddled quietly, waiting to go home. I don’t like it.
We ate and left. We stood outside, saying long goodbyes (well, not me. I’m antisocial and rude). Several Chinese men from a nearby shop were chatting and laughing, until two got angry at each other and tried to kick the shit out of each other. One of the women from our party came up to me, “Hey, I’m Veronica, but you can call me V. I liked your ‘Day Zero’.” [on the Axis website I posted a pre-convention report explaining who I was and what I’d be doing. Before the first day of the protests, so I called it Day Zero. Apparently she liked the concept] I thanked her, mumbled something about something, and she was off. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said, and hopped in someone’s car. I’m still not sure who she was (and hell, was her name Veronica or Victoria?). Ah, compliments from mysterious women at 4 in the morning.
Indira and I shared a cab back to midtown by a driver who seemed determined to scrape the side of his car along something—anything—at high speed. By really ridiculous coincidence, it turned out that Indira was actually staying directly across the street from where I was. I should have been blown away by such an unlikely occurrence. I wasn’t. Too jaded or overloaded or something.
Made sure to hit my head on the bunk above before collapsing into bed.
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Jake vs. the RNC: Day Five]]>