We Laughed at Danger (and Broke All the Rules)
Memorial piece for Jordan Feder, who died immediately following the Miami police state. A beautiful piece written by a friend and fellow fighter.
It is November 23, 2003. At around 11 p.m. we load into our van, ready to leave Johnston Memorial Hospital in Smithfield, North Carolina and head back north. Morninglory turns to us. Jordan wanted her to tell us that he loves us all and that he never would have traded this for anything.
We are leaving Jordan behind in North Carolina. When we arrived at the hospital his fever was 103.7º F and his hands were going numb. The doctors said it was the flu and gave him something to bring down his temperature. We decided it would be best if he spent the night with a person we know in Raleigh. Allie and Madmartigan, our medics, will be staying with him.
Rewind a bit. Start somewhere else.
November 16, around 11 p.m. I am on the phone with Jordan. They saved a space on the van if I still want to go to Miami. They leave tomorrow. So do I want to go to Miami? I need some time to think, but there is none. Fifteen minutes later I call back. Work can fire me; I don't care. Cool, he says. We'll meet the others in Baltimore.
I hate Baltimore. No offence to people, but it's bad luck. In October of 2002, my last band played a show at an old warehouse called the Bloodshed. A street kid mugged a friend several blocks from the show—stabbed him seven times. He survived. So has my dread of Baltimore.
Our affinity group has been together in various incarnations since Bush's inauguration in January of 2001. Jordan is the energetic, optimistic and organized one; Walter, a college student and the closest any of us come to being a firebrand intellectual; Madmartigan, a certified EMT and our group's medic; Sawblade, perhaps the most dedicated of us, already down in Miami along with Betty doing the nuts and bolts ground work; Rianne, another student and the calmest of our group; Badger, a massage therapist with a knack for cooking and herbal remedies; Patrick, an old friend recently moved and lastly myself, Pete, a Wobbly and at 25, the oldest.
Our affinity group is part of a cluster of other affinity groups working together. An affinity group is really just a group of friends, working together. It is also the main organizing structure for protests. Varying in size from as few as three to as many as fifty people, affinity groups are social as well as political associations. Affinities often cluster with other affinities they can trust. These decentralized social networks are flexible enough to get things done during the longest spokescouncil or the longest road trip.
We load the vans the next night at a friend's house outside of B-more, two big 15-passenger deals rented for the trip. One is the "Red" van, loaded with anything that might be suspect or considered contraband: gas masks, protective padding, bandannas, medical supplies, banners, etc. The other van is "Green," loaded with food, sleeping bags and tents. Just a precaution if we are detained. New Jersey rides in the "Red" van, Baltimore in the "Green" one. Each van is packed to the gills with hardly any room to sit.
We get caught in a massive traffic jam somewhere in northern Virginia. Someone shouts, "On-Ramp Dance Party!" The doors swing open, everyone jumps out and the music gets turned up. Other drivers look on, bewildered. Josh from the other van brings out a sign that says, FUCK THIS SHIT! He runs down the road with it, showing it to everyone stuck in traffic. One biker guy coming down the on-ramp sees the sign, looks at us and pulls a u-turn right back up the ramp. After twenty minutes traffic begins moving again and we rush back into the cramped quarters of the vans.
Jordan drives. He brought a cooler filled with energy drinks. This past summer he went on the Warped Tour, tabling for Anti-Racist Action and came home with five cases of energy drinks. For over a month, all anyone drank were those ghastly energy drinks, our eyes bloodshot and our hands twitching. I don't know how he stomachs them. I nod off looking at the stars through the window and when I wake up we're in South Carolina and everyone wants to eat breakfast at Waffle House.
Driving the length of Florida itself takes eight hours. It is now Tuesday, November 18 and we've heard a rumor that police are setting up checkpoints at every exit off Route 95 in downtown Miami. There was another report, confirmed by legal, that activists were pulled over and harassed as far north as Fort Lauderdale. We decide it is best to avoid Miami completely and loop around it to our campsite twenty miles south of the city. At least one van has to stop by the convergence space to pick up Sawblade and Betty and drop John from Baltimore off at his hotel. It is 9 p.m. as we arrive at the campsite south of Coral Gables.
The campground seems remote enough to be secure. Wide flat fields of mown grass, a few shade trees, some firewood bins and numerous cooking grills flank the paved access roads. Low scrub and palm forests surround the site. Other activists are also camping here. We set up our tents by headlight. The plan is to wake up by 9 a.m. but some of us need a little persuasion.
"Shut up the hell up and go to sleep!"
"Yeah, yeah," come the moans.
At 7 a.m., November 19, I notice two green and white Miami-Dade squad cars parked near the restrooms when I wake up. I get my boots on and slowly walk in that direction. Both squad cars turn around and pull out. I ask someone from one of the other groups what the cops wanted.
"They waved me over to them," he says, "and asked me who I was, where I was from, how long I planned on staying and if I had any tattoos." He shakes his head. "I didn't answer of course. Then one officer nudged the other with her elbow and said, 'I think some friends of ours are gonna be seeing them real soon.' Then they got back in their cars and sat there. They've been there at least since I woke up at six."
He's from the Bergen Action Network from New Jersey. We both agree to set up watch that night in case they return. Security is always a concern. In Philly during the Republican National Convention in 2000, undercover state troopers infiltrated the puppet warehouse on Haverford Street and proceeded to report that the puppet-making supplies were actually bomb-making supplies, things like water bottles and paint cans. Police raided the space, arrested 71 people and destroyed all of the puppets.
Sawblade isn't surprised when I tell him what the cops were up to here.
"Do you know what it's like downtown right now?" he asks. "It's martial law. There are cops in full riot gear with shotguns on every street corner." He and Betty were handing out anti-FTAA fliers downtown yesterday when U.S. Marshals detained them for nearly an hour, photographed any tattoos and demanded their Social Security numbers.
"We're looking for people looking to commit terrorist acts," the Marshal said.
"And who might that be?" Sawblade asked.
"Anarchists," the Marshal replied. "We'll be keeping an eye on them."
A legal observer from the National Lawyers' Guild arrived and asked them for their action names and affinity group in case police arrested them.
"Affinity group?" an officer asked. "So you are terrorists."
"It's our Constitutional right to be here," Betty said.
"Then what's with all the secret code words? What's an affinity group?"
"I don't know," Sawblade replied. "Why don't you look it up on Google?"
"Yeah, www.google.com." The cop asked Sawblade to spell out affinity group and Google for him, both of which he wrote down intently as if he had just scored a major intelligence coup. In the lead up to the FTAA summit, the corporate media screamed with headlines warning of an impending anarchist armageddon. Police fueled the misinterpretation with scare tactics. Nowhere was it mentioned that the federal government diverted $8.5 million from the Iraq reconstruction bill to pour into security operations for Miami. The city constructed an enormous fence around the Intercontinental Hotel where the summit would meet and equipped thousands of police officers with everything from armored personnel carriers, tear gas launchers, new shotguns, tasers, electric shock shields, batons and tactical assault bicycles. The vast arsenal has only one purpose: to be unleashed on us when we take to the streets.
It's a classic strategy. We talk about it on the drive to the convergence space. They want to drive a wedge into the global justice movement: marginalize, disrupt or isolate the radicals while alternating between a carrot and a stick for the reformers. The anarchists' greatest fear is that progressives and liberals will abandon or betray them in their hour of greatest need; the progressives' and liberals' greatest fear is that anarchists will force them into an impossible, no-win situation. What neither group realizes yet is that they need each other. It's worth remembering that Roger Baldwin, founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, was inspired to his calling by none other than Emma Goldman, an anarchist. Without the anarchists and anti-capitalists, there would be no greater vision, no soul to the movement. Without progressives and liberals, all dissent would easily be labeled terrorism and violently stamped out.
Still, nearly everyone at the convergence space at 2300 North Miami Avenue seems to define themselves as both anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalist, or as anarchist explicitly. The basic principles of anarchism are now the core principles of activists in North America, just as it has spread in Latin America, Europe and elsewhere. It happened before any of us realized it, because our actions speak louder than cops' words.
The convergence space is a massive, disused warehouse with a gated courtyard to the side, covered by an enormous blue tarp. Within the courtyard an entire kitchen has been set up on folding tables to feed the thousands of people coming to town. Outside, a dozen colorful banners calling for an end to capitalism and the FTAA drape the cyclone-fence gate and concrete walls. Inside, the building has been sectioned off into a medic space, a welcoming center, an art space, a fully operational Independent Media Center and a vast open floor which doubles as a meeting area for the spokescouncils or a place for tired folks to crash for a while.
Sawblade and Walter come up to me. There will be two other spokes meetings before the main spokes, for the Padded Bloc and for the Black Bloc. Each will be vouched for only, except that no one knows where the Padded Bloc is meeting or if they are even here. Police surveillance increases as the day wears on, with helicopters periodically hovering overhead. A system is devised with spotters on the rooftop looking up and down Miami Avenue to identify any preemptive police response before it happens. Down 23rd Street on the roof of the Salvation Army building, police and federal agents watch our spotters with binoculars of their own.
In front of the convergence space corporate media set up their cameras and do live reports, the same reporters who will later "embed" with the police. Folks are careful not to let any photographers inside. The entire spectacle takes many of the local residents off guard. This is Overtown, home of Miami's historic black community, founded in late nineteenth century. It is the poorest area of Miami and the most harshly dealt with by the police. Reactions are mixed. Some locals tell us they respect what we are doing, but we don't know Miami police.
"See their guns? They're going to fuck you up," one man tells us. Another man says that he appreciates what we're all about. Most just walk or drive by, curious but not interested in getting too close. The city is a police state and no one wants to be a target.
The Black Bloc meets at 5 p.m. in the upstairs of a nearby thrift shop with a sympathetic owner. All clothing: $1 for protesters, her sign says. Filtering in by small groups, we sit down in a circle among the clothes racks and used furniture, go over introductions and vouch for people. If no hands are raised when you call out your name, you are asked to leave. Ninja Stick, Compañero, Ladybug, Sawblade, Betty. Polecat, Morninglory, Madmartigan, Yossarian, Guppie. Dandelion, Piquetero, Radigal, Benedict Arnold, Endo. Patrick, Yellow Jacket, Bluntslide, Underdog, Bunny. Twelve affinities or clusters present from across the country. The publicized direct action march begins at Government Center downtown on the day of action and intends to reach the fence by noon. No one likes this idea. Downtown is swarming with police.
Two of us dressed in "khakiflage," anything an unassociated respectable citizen would wear, and scouted the fence. Police hold key points throughout the city near parks, plazas, government buildings, chain stores and metro rail stops. There is a weak point in the fence. Far to one end is a gated entrance near a hotel that is not as well-built.
Bunny starts in now. He says we have an aerial scout who will be in contact with us as a spotter. Everyone's eyes go wide. People want to concentrate on the fence coming down. The Black Bloc decides to meet at a separate location and join the march later.
The spokescouncil packs the main room of the convergence space at 8 p.m. that night with almost two hundred participants. Over there's Starhawk, an organizer of the Pagan Cluster who I met in New York during the World Economic Forum protests in 2002. Lisa Fithian is also here, recently interviewed by the New York Times Magazine; I met her in Philly back in 2000. Some see them as celebrities of sorts or leaders of this movement, but the truth is that each one of us decides how involved we are and acts accordingly.
A woman from APOC, Anarchist People of Color, facilitates the meeting and gives us some news: Steelworkers from Wisconsin announced plans to join us in the direct action at the fence. John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, made a statement that the mainstream unions will support us, with conditions. We must promise not to start any breakaway marches from the permitted union march and not to engage in direct action at the intersection where the march turns. We agree.
Food Not Bombs cooks dinner out in the courtyard. Police helicopters hover directly over the space and the empty lot next door, shining spotlights on us. It reminds me of a prison riot movie, like we are all on lockdown waiting for the Governor to send troops in. I put my hand to my forehead and don't like what I feel. I call Madmartigan over and ask if he has a thermometer.
"Do you have a fever?" he asks me and puts his hand on my head. "You're a bit warm. Let's get you to the medic space down Miami Avenue."
At the medic space ten blocks down Miami Avenue they take my temperature. It's high, but not severe. I feel dizzy and nauseous. Did I eat any of the donated food? No, I haven't had the chance. Are you drinking water? Yes, I have several bottles. A number of people reported flu-like symptoms already. It is nothing to be alarmed about, but I need to rest.
We arrive back at camp late that night. I go over to a tree and vomit. My affinity group is leaving at six tomorrow morning. I decide to stay at camp. No one thinks any less of me. They tell me to sleep. I wake up at 7 a.m. the next morning, November 20, and everyone has left. Each tent is zippered tight and tied with dental floss, a precaution I learned from traveling. It won't stop anyone from breaking in, but you'll know if they did. I drink some water. I dress. I sit around camp for about forty minutes but I can't wait here while my friends are in the city.
It is a mile to the nearest bus stop on Eureka Drive. From there I get a connection to the metro rail. Dress is total "khakiflage:" blue jeans, dress shirt and a shoulder slung knapsack. In the knapsack I carry a white baseball cap, a blue hooded sweatshirt with a Carolina Panthers logo, a black hooded sweatshirt, a black hat, a pair of black Carhartt pants and three bandannas. I wear sunglasses. I look like an upscale commuter going to work in business casual. I even part my hair to the side.
It is 10 a.m.; three hours after the direct action march intended to converge at Government Center. Police line the sidewalks. Unaffiliated protesters wander the streets, heading for Biscayne Boulevard to the east where the AFL-CIO rally is planned.
On the streets of Miami, squads of riot police hold the intersection of Second Avenue and 1st Street. Formed into tight ranks, they march down Second Avenue with military precision, chanting and beating batons nearly two feet long against their shields. For a moment I feel lost in some Latin American dictatorship, like Chile under Pinochet, when the only difference between police and the military is the color of their uniforms. The palm tree lined boulevards reverberate with the impression that fear is a particle dispersed through the atmosphere in parts-per-billion, like pheromones or petroleum distillates. At 3rd Street a mass of blue-shirted Steelworkers waving blue flags marches down the street, picking up dozens of stragglers. The police herd them towards the only entrance to Biscayne Boulevard, near the northern end of the sealed off union rally.
The rank-and-file Steelworkers by far seem the most militant, some even covering faces with blue bandannas as they walk past riot cops. Others, primarily older retirees, seem to despise the archetypal anti-globalization protester, commenting on how they can understand why the police want to "crack a few heads," as one put it. But in all, most have simply traveled to Miami to voice dissent against the FTAA. Many of them wear t-shirts that read, FTAA Sucks. If the FTAA passes in full force, it will mean the end of the U.S. steel industry and of business unions like the AFL.
Biscayne Boulevard is an expansive, multi-lane street with broad concrete and grass dividers with palm trees splitting the lanes into opposite directions down the middle. Protesters fill the boulevard, penned in on all sides by police. Thousands of officers from dozens of agencies with shotguns and riot gear, flanked by armored personnel carriers and water cannons, all face inward at the crowd. What appears to be some form of experimental crowd control weapon sits on the back of a truck. It has a large, black cylinder set on a swivel mount, attached to a portable generator. It might be anything from a microwave emitter to some form of sonic weapon or just simply a speaker, although it hardly resembles a public address system. Regardless, it sits there, unused. Speculation is often more intimidating than knowledge.
I try to find my friends. The labor march will begin at the Bayfront Amphitheater soon so I join the union crowd going up the long, metal-railed walkway to the amphitheater entrance. I run into Mike McClean from Bergen Action Network.
"It's good to see you," he says. "But listen, I'm worried. That cop is pointing at my friend here. I don't like it."
Up ahead a U.S. Marshal points our way. Mike's friend wears a camouflage army jacket and does not look at all like a unionist. The Marshal, along with several cops in riot gear, pushes his way into the crowd. He points at Mike's friend. "You. You're coming with me," he demands.
"Why?" the guy says. "What did I do?"
"Come on." The Marshal grabs for him, pushing a girl aside.
"What is he being arrested for?" People shout. "What are the charges?"
Several people fall to the ground as cops knock them back. Police push and viciously swing batons at anyone in their path. I go to pull Mike out of harm's way as another officer begins clubbing the top of what is now a pile of people. I feel a heavy crack against my shoulder and ribs as an officer lays into me with his baton, sending me at a rolling tilt straight into the crowd of unionists. Cops drag Mike and the others away. A Steelworker with arms thick as logs picks me up and positions himself between the police and me. "Don't get arrested," he whispers.
Cops throw Mike to the ground and handcuff him, then shoot him at point blank range with tasers five times. He screams and his body contorts in pain. Another officer stands with his shotgun pointed at the crowd, barking at everyone to stay back. The crowd recoils and watches with a terrible, tragic fixation. Everywhere, thugs rule the streets, brutal thugs with batons and guns and badges. There is nothing I can do.
With little hope of finding my friends I start walking north and west towards the convergence space. A short while after I leave, all hell breaks loose on Biscayne. Police tell people they can remain so long as they are peaceful, but within seconds advance, firing volleys of rubber bullets and tear gas grenades, firing indiscriminately into the crowd, using tasers and shock shields on anyone who gets too close. Some protesters make barricades out of wooden pallets in a desperate attempt to hold them back. Fires are lit from the rubbish left behind from the rally, but the police have penned in Biscayne Boulevard. The people are overwhelmed.
The city just beyond the perimeter is a ghost town. It is a long, lonely walk through the empty streets to the convergence space. There, at around 4 p.m. organizers make an announcement: police have raided the medic space. They entered and pepper sprayed everyone inside. There are confirmed reports of arrestees being beaten or tortured. There are indications that police will raid the convergence center next. If you do not want to be arrested, leave the convergence center now.
Everyone thinks of Genoa in 2001, the G8 protests where police raided the IMC and beat protesters until blood ran down the halls. To be arrested means to be tortured. Dozens of people flood out into the streets of Overtown. At least five police helicopters hover directly overhead. The helicopters shadow people through the streets. Squad cars travel in packs through the neighborhood. Officers throw people against walls, beat them, dump their belongings into the road and then cart the arrestees off. Local residents flock to street corners to see what is happening.
A used clothing store is right in front of me, a different one than earlier. I dart in through the doorway and nod at the man behind the desk. He is white, an older man with a beret and a graying ponytail. A button on his vest says U.S. OUT OF IRAQ NOW. I know I can talk to him. I ask if it is okay if I just hang out here for a little. He looks at me and says there are some chairs in the back. The thumping sound of helicopter blades echoes inside. After a few minutes two men enter, one middle-aged and another in his thirties. The older of the two looks at me and says hello, then goes towards the front room. I decide it's time to leave.
At the front entrance the middle-aged man turns to me and asks in a booming, dramatic voice, "So, are you the one they're after?"
He continues. "Are you THE anarchist, the leader of all this mayhem, the person who wants to destroy all civilization and bring our wonderful society crashing down?"
I don't say anything.
"If George W. Bush were in front of you now, what would you do? Would you spit in his face? Would you throw something at him?"
I can't tell if he's joking or just crazy. "I'm a writer," I blurt out.
"A writer?" he says. "A writer? So you come here to this fine community to write LIES about us like all the others have? This community, built in 1886 by the black folks when no one else would have them, then came the Latin Americans and the Jews and the Cubans, the Colombians and the Haitians. Are you going to write lies about my friend here, because he is a Gypsy?"
His friend is starting to laugh. I realize he's just busting my balls.
"Hemmingway was a writer," I respond. "Some of his most sympathetic characters were Gypsies."
"Hemmingway," he says. "Hemmingway lived with Gypsies. Hemmingway fell in love with a Gypsy woman." The man looks out at the helicopters terrorizing his neighborhood. "I hate these fucks," he says. "Look what they're doing. But I apologize, wholly, for my uncouth behavior. You must know who I am, don't you?"
I shake my head, meekly. His friend groans and slaps his hand to his head.
"I," he booms, "am the Advocate. And this is the Advocacy Group. Did you know that when the City of Miami wanted to bulldoze the black church down the road here, they only wanted to pay them $12,000 for the property, worth $600,000? But I lobbied and organized on their behalf and got them $450,000 so they could build a new church." He shows me the newspaper clippings. "This is my community, not theirs," he says. "In the sixties," he explains, "I fought the cops in the streets, too. I went to the Days of Rage with a motorcycle helmet and a rolled up newspaper. We would sew our pockets shut so the cops couldn't plant anything on us, but I will tell you a secret," he says. "There are better ways to fight."
"Okay." I have heard this speech before. "When I am older and wiser, with due respect, I'll say the same thing. But right now, I'm young. This is the way it is."
The Advocate takes this in and just nods. Another straggler from the convergence space wanders over, looking up at the sky. "I suppose you want to come in, too," he says. The other guy just looks at him, not knowing what to expect. "Well, come on in, we're all friends here. Make yourself at home. It will be a while before they leave."
I ask him for directions to the nearest metro rail stop. Night is coming and I need to get back to camp. "Oh, you don't want to go through Overtown right now," he says. The Advocate calls his friend over and tells him to give me a ride to the nearest metro stop. Once in the car I start to put on my seat belt. His friend says not to worry about it.
"No law in the land is going to mess with us," he says and takes off.
For the trip back, first on the train and then on the bus, I zone out. It is 10 p.m. before I reach camp. No one is there. Nothing seems to have been tampered with. If everyone has been arrested, I will need to stay here longer. $10 per night per tent and I have forty bucks. That means if no one comes back, I need to break down camp. I need to call people back home and wire for bail money. I need to do legal support.
It occurs to me that I am alone.
An hour passes. I see a pair of headlights as a van rolls into camp. It is the Bergen Action Network kids, or half of them. We talk. They thought I had been arrested with Mike and the others. I ask if anyone saw my group. They haven't. Soon enough another van rolls in. It is the "Green" van. Allie is with them. She tells me that other activists were tailed out of the campsite that morning and pulled over. Police arrested two kids on weapons possession charges for the multi-tools they carried. She insists that I sleep.
Nighttime on the tip of Florida is not like nighttime elsewhere. The land is so flat that it seems you can see straight to the horizon. The sky is dark and the stars are out. Far to the northeast, the city lights of Miami create a haze that overpowers everything else. At midnight it looks like the sun is rising. The last lines from Albert Camus' the Stranger come to me: It was as if that great rush of anger had washed me clean, emptied me of hope, and gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe. And just like that I fall asleep. About 2 a.m., November 21, everyone else returns and wakes me up.
"I thought you were all arrested," I tell Jordan.
"We thought you were arrested," he says.
Sawblade nods. They talked with someone who said I was arrested along with Mike McClean. Everything got screwed up, the Padded Bloc never materialized and the police were insane. From his hotel room overlooking the fence, John, our aerial scout, watched as police opened fire on everyone who approached. Groups were bringing the fence down, but people aren't bullet proof. It could have been worse. I nod in agreement. That night we post watch. Bergen Action Network takes the first shift, followed by Badger and me and then Sawblade and me. No one else takes it seriously. They figure if police want to raid the camp, they will, whether we are watching or not. I don't sleep.
The next morning at 11 a.m., after everyone wakes up, Danny from Baltimore notices a strange guy in slacks and a dress shirt standing at the edge of our campsite, watching us. Danny goes up to him and asks if he can help him with anything. The guy tells Danny that he really shouldn't be asking him that.
"That guy is cop," Danny says to the rest of us.
Jordan and Walter go over to talk to him. The man says that someone stole his cell phone last night from his car and that he's going to call the police. We all know what that will mean. Jordan comes up with an idea. This is a county campground but the campsites are legally considered private property; police need a warrant to search them. At his suggestion, all of us go down to the camp office to talk to the woman in charge of running the camp and tell her about it. As we approach the office, we see fifteen Miami-Dade squad cars with twenty officers formed up in front of them, wearing bullet proof vests and holding clubs.
Louise, the camp manager, tells us the man who called the police is not even camping here. She doesn't know who he is. She also says that she knows we're good kids and will help us however she can. Jordan and Walter go up and ask to speak to the officer in charge. Jordan explains to her that we don't know who this guy is, the one who reported his cell phone missing, but he isn't camping here. We have notified a legal team of our situation. Jordan goes on to make it very clear that if they really want to pursue this and search our camp, it's going to be very messy, legally, for both of us. We will be writing down every badge number and examining the search warrant very closely. They do have a search warrant, don't they? Of course, individuals will be held accountable for any and all police misconduct. This county could be hearing a lot from us.
And it works. The officers are overheard saying that they will get into a lot of trouble for doing this and that a "stolen cell phone" isn't worth it. One by one and within ten minutes, the police cars leave. Jordan called their bluff.
Some of us want to leave today while others want to do support work back at the convergence space. We decide that each van will leave separately, one today and another on Saturday. Anyone who needs to be back soon should be on the first van. The rest of us are staying another night, at least. While no one trusts the campsite anymore, we agree that it's our best bet for right now. One van goes into the city to the convergence space; the other packs up and heads home. Allie, Madmartigan and myself stay at camp to make sure no one comes back.
Later that day someone from Bergen Action comes up to us. "Guess what I found?" he asks me. While they were breaking down camp they found a dime bag of pot stuffed under an outside corner of a tent. They flushed it down the toilet. The strange guy, the stolen cell phone, the police cruisers arriving within five minutes of his phone call; it all made sense now. We have eight tents spread all over the place. I run like a madman and shout for help to move them. One after another we pick the tents up and look beneath them, but we don't find anything. I'm not taking any more chances. We rearrange the camp, nice and tight, with all the tents in a circle around the camp grill in the middle of the field to give a good open view of our surroundings. We even bring a picnic table over. That night before the others get back, Allie, Madmartigan, myself and three of the Bergen Action folks feast on no-name brand soda, chips and some miso soup we cooked up. Allie even got a bottle of wine and now I don't feel quite as bad.
Everyone else comes back. The mood changes slightly. Sawblade wants to talk with me. He and Betty are not coming back with us. Patrick might stay too, until everyone is out of jail. "They're torturing people," he tells me. "I don't know who to talk to about this. All the APOC people are being singled out in jail. There are at least five confirmed cases of sexual assault. Our people are being raped in jail." Police brought immigration authorities into the jails, going after people of color. Queer and transgendered activists are also being assaulted. One APOC was beaten severely with a hammer and went to the hospital with a brain hemorrhage. "We need to get them out," Sawblade says.
A short distance away, some people from Baltimore are getting rowdy. I go over and ask them to be quiet. Everyone deals with things in different ways, I tell myself. Five minutes later, they are being noisy again and I lose it.
"Will you guys shut the fuck up already, what the fuck is the matter with you?"
"What?" Danny says. He's drunk. "Fuck you, man. Don't tell me what to do."
"Our people are being fucking tortured in jail and all you can think to do is be a stupid, drunken shit," I growl. "One of your friends is in there and you aren't doing shit to help him." The words are mine but the voice comes from somewhere else. It pours derision on them, vents rage at everything that is happening, dumps scorn on everything in its path. Morninglory breaks down in tears. I've sent them over the edge, sobered them up and broken their spirits. It accomplishes nothing. I disengage and storm off, back to Sawblade and Betty, back to reality.
It's often very hard to gauge what experiences like this take from you, but also what they give. They bring you to a physical and emotional breaking point where the only things you have to hold onto are yourself and your friends. And they stop being just friends at that point, often hundreds or thousands of miles and years from where you began. Somewhere they become your brothers and sisters, your comrades. And it ceases to be a cause or an issue to you; it becomes the movement. It gets in your blood.
I sit down next to Sawblade. "I shouldn't have done that," I say.
"What should you have done?" he asks.
"I don't know."
The next day, November 22, we get up early and begin packing our things. Check out for the camp is at noon. We head into Miami for what is the last time. The convergence space is still buzzing, although spirits are diluted. People are getting out of jail and filtering through. The threat of a raid seems less immediate, but still a possibility. Fifty people were arrested the day before while waiting outside of jail for their friends. Our group sets to work doing jail support, bail coordination and fund-raising.
The famous I.W.W. organizer, Joe Hill used to say that a pamphlet is read at most, once, but a song is memorized and sung over and over again. In between meetings and phone calls for fund-raising, Madmartigan comes up to me. "I'm working on a new verse for the Tear Gas song," he says. "Would you mind singing it?"
The song, "When the Tear Gas Fills the Sky," began in Seattle. Written by Desert Rat while he was in jail, many others have since added it to over the years. A friend of mine learned it from Desert Rat and taught me how to sing it. The chorus goes like this:
So I called upon you brother, and you asked what I would do,
And I told the truth dear sister when I spoke these words to you,
I will stand beside your shoulder, when the tear gas fills the sky,
If a National Guardsman shoots me down I'll be looking him in the eye
I will wash their pepper from your face and go with you to jail,
And if you don't make it through this fight I swear I'll tell your tale.
I will stay with you in the prison cell in solidarity
And I will not leave that cursed room 'til you walk out with me
For we the people fight for freedom, while the cops just fight for pay,
And as long as the truth is in our hearts we're sure to win someday.
I will not falter when that iron fist comes out of the velvet glove,
I will stand beside your shoulder to defend this land we love.
I sing this in the courtyard of the convergence space and soon dozens of people pick up the words. There is a point when everyone breaks down, eventually. Sometimes it doesn't hit until much later, sometimes it hits fast. You do what you can in between.
Jordan is trained as a medic, but right now we need dishwashers, so off he goes to wash dishes, no complaints. I go to the sink to rinse out my cup.
"Hey," he says, "you want me to do that? My hands are already wet."
"No, I'm just rinsing it," I say.
"Oh, okay. Hey you got something on your shirt."
I stare at him, ready for a trick.
"Yeah, look." He makes a face. "I'm not going to do anything," he says and goes back to scrubbing.
I look at my shirt. There's nothing there.
"Made you look." He whistles.
About this time, people start shouting. The gate is shut and locked.
We're being raided.
Everyone runs inside, curses and looks out through the iron gates on the far side of the building at nearly fifty bike cops who rode down Miami Avenue and blocked off the cross street. They give the finger and taunt. "Put that on your website, bitch!"
People panic, going in different directions. Older activists want to negotiate, younger ones want to stand and fight. Immigrants among us are at major risk. Sawblade and I move immediately to switch clothes with a few APOC friends and do what we can. If they raid, we go down defending our comrades. People return the taunts of the bike cops with shouts of "Rapist!" Many people are just freaking out. This is it, the last straw. We've had enough of it. Fuck Florida, fuck Miami and above all, fuck the police. Some people made signs earlier begging for rides "Anywhere but Florida," or "Get me out of this Hell State." No love is lost.
Almost as suddenly as they arrived, the bike cops inexplicably ride off again. "When you come back for your trials, we're going to fuck you up!" they shout. They had a saying: you can beat the rap, but you can't beat the ride. They knew the charges wouldn't stick. Instead of folding, a lot of us hardened. With all of their manpower, weaponry and money they might win here, but they will never persuade.
It is November 23, 2003 and we have just crossed the Florida state line. We are now in Georgia. A cheer goes up through the van. Jordan has driven for eight hours now, running on energy drinks and bad conversation: I was riding shotgun and nodded off for a while. Leaving Miami we picked up two traveler kids, Rat and Minerva. We had the space after Betty, Sawblade and Patrick chose to stay. Both have hiking packs and their clothing is covered in patches. Travelers are a tribe apart from us city folk, sort of modern day anarcho-punk hobos. They're solid and we're happy to help them out.
Morninglory requests Against Me!, track 3, We Laugh at Danger (and Break All the Rules). As the song plays we scream the refrain until our lungs give out.
"Maaaaaary! There is no hope for us!"
"If this GM van don't make it across the state line!"
"We might as well, laaay down and die!"
"Because if Floooooorida takes us, we're takin' everyone down with us!"
"Where we're comin' from, yeah!"
"Will be the death of us!"
At the first rest stop we take bathroom and smoke breaks. Jordan looks exhausted but says he feels fine. Whenever he drives to actions, he brings along this cheesy pirate hat he got working at Six Flags Great Adventure that he makes the driver wear. (He was the guy in the Bugs Bunny outfit.) The hat sits on the dashboard now. Everyone stretches and we watch as a local Sheriff's car drives by. Jordan has a really funny shirt that gives me an idea. It says: gay as in happy, queer as in fuck you.
"You know I have a great thing to say if we get pulled over," I tell Jordan. "We should just say we're counselors taking psychiatric patients on a field trip."
"Oh yeah," he says. "Madmartigan can be the school nurse, since he has an EMT shirt on. John is older so he's the psychiatrist..."
"Obviously," Jordan continues. "You can be the bad counselor who hits the kids and I can be the cool counselor who gives everyone cookies."
"What is this you're talking about?" Allie asks.
"Quiet," Jordan says. "You're supposed to be a mental patient."
"Well what do I have?" she asks.
"Uh, I think we all have Oppositional Defiance Disorder," Madmartigan interjects. "Seriously, it's in the DSM IV, I'm not making it up."
"Shit and I wanted Tourrette's," Allie says.
We get everyone together and load up again. It will take at least another sixteen hours of driving to get to Baltimore and from there it's a four hour drive back to New Jersey. Halfway through South Carolina, Jordan says he needs to switch with John. He doesn't feel well and his hands are tingling. He thinks it is from the lack of sleep and the energy drinks, so he just asks to lie down on the pile of packs next to the sliding door. Over the border in North Carolina, Jordan motions to Madmartigan. He's running a very high fever. He's shaking and he says he can't feel his hands.
"Somebody call 911," Madmartigan says. "Get directions to the nearest hospital."
John guns it, following the directions. The closest hospital is in Smithfield, near the exit for Selma off Route 95, about eight miles away. Johnston Memorial Hospital.
We pull up in front of the emergency room and Madmartigan rushes in to ask for a gurney. Jordan can't feel his hands. He's thirsty and his neck is stiff. After several minutes, not a gurney but a wheelchair is brought out and Jordan is moved inside. We all have a sense of urgency. I hold onto his cell phone and wait outside.
Jordan gets a call from Greg, a friend back in New Jersey. I explain our situation to him. "God," he says. "Is he okay?" Greg says he knows people in North Carolina, if we need a place to stay or anything else. He will call back once he gets a hold of them.
Walter comes out for a moment. Jordan's fever is very high, but they don't think they will have to admit him. The doctors are pretty sure it's the flu. Walter thinks I should call Jordan's parents. Making the call I cut straight to the point. Your son is being admitted to the hospital. They think it's the flu. Allie is out here with me. We sit down and try to calm ourselves. The phone rings; it's Greg. He gives me the phone number of someone he knows in Raleigh. If we need anything, Greg wants us to call back at anytime, no matter what. Jordan walks outside, holding a barf bag. A gauze mask covers his face on which he has written in magic marker, FLU!!! He wants to go home.
It is November 23, around 11 p.m. and we are getting ready to leave Johnston Memorial Hospital. Jordan, Walter, Madmartigan, Allie and me talk about what to do next. We feel it is best if Jordan stays here for the night and not travel, as long as at least one person can stay with him. Since Allie and Madmartigan are our medics, they offer to stay. I tell them about Jim's place in Raleigh. Jim can pick them up. Here is his number. Everyone else wants to leave. The van needs to get back to Baltimore by 8 a.m. tomorrow. Jordan agrees. He'll wait and stay in Raleigh, coming back the next day.
People make their farewells and shuffle back to the van. I stick around for a moment to say goodbye. Jordan is lying down now, head against his backpack on the sidewalk. He looks up and says, "I'm never taking that pirate hat to another action. It's just bad luck." I nod and smile. He raises his fist up to me and I return the gesture, bumping my knuckles against his.
Of our original group only Walter, Badger and I remain. We get home to New Brunswick on Monday morning, November 24. At our friend Maya's house we get more news. Jordan has been admitted to another hospital, this one in Raleigh. He has meningitis. They're doing tests on him.
Tuesday morning, November 25, my roommate wakes me up. Maya is at my apartment. We need to go to the hospital. Jordan has bacterial meningitis. We go to the hospital. Badger had been there earlier. The CDC directed the hospital to administer antibiotic shots to all of us as a prophylaxis against the meningitis. Jordan's case is the worst the CDC has ever seen. That day we receive another phone call. Doctors told Madmartigan that Jordan has a five-percent chance of making it through the night. Maya, Ed and Julie, Walter's housemates and friends of ours in ARA, all want to go to North Carolina. We leave in Julie's car as soon as she gets out of work.
That night, ten miles outside of Baltimore on Route 95, Julie's battery light goes on. She asks if this is bad. I tell her it means that her alternator just crapped out. We call AAA to get the car towed, but the nearest service station doesn't open until 8 a.m. the next morning. We call a friend in Baltimore who picks us up and gives us a lift to stay at another friend's house. Around 2:30 a.m., Maya and Julie look at each other. Something is wrong. It felt okay until then. At our friend's house in Baltimore, we can only wait.
It is 7:30 a.m. on November 26 and we're ready to go to the service station. Julie gets the call. She doesn't have to say it; she just starts crying and the waiting is over.
Last night, all the radiators at Walter, Maya and Ed's house overflow, flooding bedrooms on the first and second floors. When I met Jordan two years ago for the Inauguration protests, the first thing he did was suggest that we name our affinity group La Resistance, after the kids in the South Park movie who flew an anarchist flag. Everyone wanted the Mole as their action name. Last summer before Jordan went to Chicago for a month to do union organizing, he made all his friends promise to avenge his death, should he die. Last night at 2:30 a.m., our friend Jordan passed away.
Perhaps for our generation, this is the way it is. Carlo Giuliani died at the age of 23. Rachel Corrie was 22. Jordan Feder was 23. We have no Kent State, no Haymarket. Our friends were not the first to fall and will not be the last. We came of age knowing that the world does not, in fact, belong to us. We may lose, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. Jordan did not die while stopping police from harming his friends, nor did he die while putting his body in harm's way to improve the lives of others. He did both of these things and lived to sing about it before he left us. As time passes his friends will say, it is a month since Jordan died, it is a year since Jordan died, it is five years, and so on. He was the kind of person you wait your entire life to meet.
Until we meet again.
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