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This article is not supposed to be about me because I’m so great or something, it’s just that I can only write about what I’ve seen and heard, so that’ s what I’m going to do. It helps that I was in the more interesting and/or hairy situations. This will not include everything because I’m not writing a novel here, but most important details will be included.
Unfortunately, the amount of writing dedicated to certain events is not proportional to their importance, but to their complexity. Also, I’m not going to address the corporate media’s deceptions. Don’t believe them, they lie. I was there. Their reporting can be summed up in the sentence, “The emperor’s new clothes are exquisitely beautiful.”
A reporter named Al Crespo wrote some good stuff about it if you get to see it. I’ve been working on this protest for about 2 months. I’ve been building puppets full-time (overtime actually), except for a week and a half when I was in Gainesville and the Ruckus Society action training camp. The Lake Worth Global Justice Group opened a warehouse for building puppets, attracted puppet builders from all over, organized housing for probably almost 100 people, and supplied delicious vegan food at least once a day. (They even posted my bond.) So I built 4 major puppets and helped on other people’s projects. I made a 23-foot tall corn stalk, corn being a sacred crop; it also symbolized the dumping of surplus mass-produced, subsidized corn into Mexico under NAFTA which helped to displace 5 million rural people, and created a desperate class of people to staff the sweatshops popping up along the US-Mexico border. Unfortunately the corn stalk puppet never flew because the wind was too strong so I didn’t put it together. I built a puppet of the Statue of Liberty, being hanged from a gallows that read “FTAA”. I also built a puppet of caged water, and a big ass sunflower.
The Miami City Council passed an anti-protest ordinance at Chief Timoney’ s request. The original version would ban puppets, so we brought some puppets there and let them see what they were going to ban. We carried a dragon-like alligator puppet through the meeting too. We protested it three times. Miami revised its ordinance to have an exception for puppets.
Boca Raton followed Miami’s example with an even more ridiculous ordinance that banned “gyrations” among other things. We got 5 minutes each to speak at the commission meeting. When Waffle’s turn was on, he put duct tape over his mouth and stood there at the podium for 5 minutes, at the end of which, he put his fist in the air and started gyrating his hips. Boca revised its ordinance too.
We took all the puppets to Ft. Lauderdale on Nov. 16 for the “Root Cause” people’s march. Root Cause is an alliance of grassroots movements, such as LIFFT (Low income families fighting together) of the Miami Worker’s Center, Power U, and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. The purpose of the march was to bring the concerns of low-income communities of color to the forefront of the FTAA issue, and they did some terrific organizing. We walked 34 miles into Miami over three days and had lots of media coverage, as well as lots of police intimidation. A woman from a church where we stayed the night said that before anyone had even asked the Church about our staying there, the police had threatened the pastor with selective zoning enforcement and warning him about what kind of dangerous anarchists we farmworkers are. Everywhere we went, we were flanked by squads of police; in Miami, they came in full riot gear. They took our pictures and baby-sat us at night. The North Miami police, however, contributed some pastries to our breakfast. Pompano Beach, located north of the beginning of a march heading south) took time out of its busy schedule to serve march organizers with an injunction forbidding the march from entering Pompano Beach.
So we walked 34 miles and had lots of support from onlookers. When we arrived in Miami, thousands joined us for the first big protest in Miami against the FTAA, and together we continued to Miami’s Berlin Wall (constructed to protect the rulers from interference by the ruled). We had a concert at Bayfront Park where I met more people from Gainesville and went to their hotel with them. We couldn’t all fit into Tom’s car, but an angel in the form of a Peruvian student at the community college where Tom’s car was parked gave the rest of us a ride to the hotel.
Our first stop was the convergence center. Food Not Bombs was kicking ass. Groups from all over the US came to work on it and they had massive amounts of delicious food almost all the time. I put together my dead liberty puppet and experienced a media circus, with an “Alligator” photographer being the first one there.
We proceeded to the permaculture site. My friends Abigail and Rebecca from Sarasota wanted to create an example of an alternative sustainable structure for society, and to leave Miami better than we found it. They did a heck of a job. The Pagans were there and among them my friend Zot from Gainesville.
Next we went to the Root Cause People’s Tribunal. Representatives of affected communities testified against the FTAA and it was sentenced to destruction.
That evening, we ate at a Cuban restaurant. The menu had “freedom fries” on it. After dinner we went to the Union concert. Billy Brag and Dead Prez played.
We woke up at 5am to get to the convergence center for the high risk action. My Gainesville based affinity group was in the puppet cluster. The plan was to break into affinity groups and swarm Government Center from all sides. There we would put on a puppet show, and then march to the fence, take it apart, get into the hotel, and disrupt the meetings. So we swarmed.
The black block massed at the convergence center, and began marching to Government Center just after we left.
Cops were running frantically to mass for the black block (their enemy). We took a path less traveled and came upon the puppet truck, being detained, and stayed to watch. After some watching, the black block, trying to outflank the cops, came around a building and headed south toward us. Then a battalion of bike cops came at us from the east along the road where the puppet truck was being detained. We ran. Most of us got around the leading edge of the bikes, but some were corralled in with the black block, who were led toward the police station and detained until the morning’s actions were over, at which time they were released.
Finally, we reached Government Center. The puppet truck had been freed and passed us along the way. We were out of time for the puppet pageant, but we still unloaded the puppets and paraded them down the street in an unpermitted march. All the stores downtown were boarded up. The cops had told them all to close.
We didn’t get far. Police set up barricades at various intersections to close us in. There were about 1500 of us. Drums played, people danced, then the cops started pushing. Like really mean rude shoving in a line, and if you got too close, they’d pepper spray you.
The barricade on one side of us disappeared. We were approaching the fence. It looked like a set-up. Some people attacked the fence. Cops beat their heads in with batons. We were being pushed toward the Union march that was to start in a couple hours.
My friend Lela was hit on the head and needed stitches.
We got into a permitted area and stayed there, near the fence, for some time. Then the cops decided to push us right into the Union activities, where we had agreed with the Unions not to hold high risk actions. I had leaned my caged water puppet against a tree and went to a bathroom. When I got back, it was behind a line of riot cops. Tear gas went off, concussion grenades, pepper spray. People tried to hold space, but every time the chemical weapons were used, people would surge forward, trying not to run.
A couple times, the witches tried to hold space on the front lines. They got sprayed. My friend Zot got sprayed all over her face. She displayed the characteristic red skin, with all kinds of mucus and tears flowing out of her face. She was helping put water on other victims. She said something like, “I just got pepper sprayed all over my face and I’m as calm as a pussy cat.” She is an inspiration.
Despite all the danger, I was surprisingly unafraid. I was not scared, or angry, or even had a thought of responding to the police violence. It was strange, because I’m a coward. A week before I was scared shitless. But there, it didn’t seem so scary. So I’ll get sprayed, I’ll get over it, no big deal. A lot of people seemed remarkably calm like this.
Then the cops stopped pushing. People hung around on the wide road by the bayfront where the Union rally was in progress. Cops were still making trouble though. A few times, “snatch squads” of plainclothes cops would grab someone and drag him or her across the police line.
The black guy in the foreground is with the squad. I think this victim is the guy who was tazered before being dragged. He was electrocuted again after they placed him in custody.
Cops electrocute people for fun. In case you don’t know, a tazer shoots barbed electrodes into you that are very difficult to remove. They are attached to the gun with wires, and it electrocutes you. It makes a characteristic popping noise. People have died from them.
The AFL-CIO announced that police had detained 187 of their buses and kept all those people from attending the march. I heard police also closed the exits of hotels and people couldn’t get out. A line of riot police controlled entry and exit from the amphitheater that the Unions had rented. They let in most of the large Union groups walking from their busses, but were rather erratic about other people. This was despite the fact that we had an open invitation to the rally.
I heard that at one point the crowd inside the railing was pushed so hard that a bunch of retirees fell over the side. Riot cops jumped on them and started swinging. When they pulled all the retirees off, they found a young person on the ground and said “He’s not one of yours, we’re taking him.” Eventually the Union people marched out of the amphitheater, and began their march. There were a lot of them, with flags and banners ,and some of our puppets were still being dragged around. The march snaked through the streets and came back to the bayfront. Some people went back in to the amphitheater, others hung around outside.
I was lounging on some grass with some friends when a crowd, led by drummers, got up and moved south toward the police line (which was holding quite a distance north of the fence). I still haven’t found anyone who can tell me why they did that. So they went right up to the cops and had a little rally there. I walked down to see what was going on, and met some Gainesville people I hadn’t seen in a long time. We were catching up on things while the situation around us grew very tense. I think Jackie asked me if the cops would really tear-gas a group like this, and I said something like “yeah, if they want to” and it was just about then that they did. Someone told me later that the commander announced that we could stay there as long as we were peaceful, and immediately ordered an attack. Volleys of rubber bullets flew out, as did pepper balls, and bean bags and tear gas.
Some people who looked like protesters threw things back at the cops, but I think they were all agents. Some of them threw smoke bombs, threw back the tear gas canisters, empty plastic water bottles, rocks–anything they could find. Police lines started advancing from three sides, forcing us up one road, away from the open area. Some black-clad people grabbed anything they could find to construct barricades and light fires.
It was around this time that Suzie was hit. She was very distraught. She has a black and blue mark on her butt that’s about three inches wide. Suzie probably got hit with something like the big one. The little ones are hard plastic balls filled with pepper powder.
The people I met who were hit with things were not involved in throwing anything. Most of them were actually trying to get away. Suzie, Faith and I ran up the escape road together, and got far enough up that things calmed down a bit. We met more Gainesvillains and had quite a large group together, until the police assault got closer and we ran again, getting lost from each other.
We saw people walking up the road past us with all kinds of welts and injuries, bleeding profusely from their heads, etc. It was unreal. It was like a war zone. Shots whizzing by my ears left and right. People panicking, bleeding, shouts of “Medic, Medic” the walking wounded limping away. It was like a Vietnam movie. Lots of my friends who were just trying to get away were shot. Some elderly people climbing onto buses in the area were shot. I heard that a couple of people tried to stand and face the police, holding peace signs or placards, and that they were riddled with bullets mercilessly.
The police pursued us east on that road to Miami Ave. (the main N/S road), and then north on Miami Ave. Riot cops had all the other roads blocked. At the back side of the turn onto Miami Ave. was a government building surrounded by a fence, guarded by a few riot cops. When we came up to it to go around the corner, they opened fire too. I could see the ordinance exploding on the bars of the fence, and sometimes on people.
Lots of Union busses were parked along that road too, and some people were trying to board them. I met back with a couple friends , and at NW 8th St. the way was open for us to go west. Police were pushing the crowd toward the convergence center, and a poor black neighborhood called Overtown. As we left Miami Ave., some people were setting up a barricade there. I saw one guy throw an empty plastic bottle at the approaching police. It didn’t get there. He stuck out his middle fingers at them and then took off. So did we. We went to NW1st Ave, which runs roughly parallel to Miami, and headed north again. I had told some friends we’d meet back at the convergence space.
So police pursued the crowd relentlessly from bayfront park down roads, for more than a mile. They would attack, people would surge forward, then wait to see what happened next, and the police would attack again. Lots of people tried to escape.
When our escaped group got up to 10th St, we saw the bulk of the crowd coming west toward us. People were running around a train crossing gathering debris for a barricade. I heard they had a major standoff there.
The residents of Overtown all stood outside their apartments to look at the commotion. We warned them of the approaching police violence as we passed. They were very supportive.
We went west to 2nd Ave. and continued north. Other groups trying to escape went north on 2nd too. So did the cops. A phalanx of riot police was in pursuit. We ran northwest, across empty lots and fences, and finally found a good hiding place. We watched the event horizon pass before us, and stayed there till dark.
Lots of neat workshops and events were planned. We checked out of the hotel, and once again, we could not fit into Tom’s car. This time no angels. I humped my pack to the train station and eventually got it to a friend’s house where it still lies. We hung out there for a little while, and eventually I got to the “really really free market” event. I think there was something about giving people ribbons if you liked something of theirs and writing on it and having some sort of free commerce, but I got there late and someone else can explain it better. Food Not Bombs was giving away food and the witches were having a spiral dance.
I communicated to my ride who was at the jail support rally, and she said cops had massed and looked menacing. So I figured if I was going to get to the jail support protest, I’d better go soon or it would be over before I arrived. As it was, I got there just in time to get arrested.
When I got there, not many people were left. Maybe 50 people were standing around the southeast corner, mostly on the sidewalk. I stayed on the sidewalk the entire time. The police were across the road on the west side. They charged, weapons drawn. We backed up, our hands in the air, chanting “put down your weapons.”
They backed us up the street a short way, and stopped. An officer spoke on a bullhorn, saying, “Pursuant to section (something) of the Florida State Statutes, I declare this assembly to be unlawful, you are ordered to disperse” The crowd demanded to know on what grounds the assembly had been declared unlawful. The reply was because we were blocking the street, so everyone moved to the sidewalk.
We asked, “Who’s blocking the street now?” An ambulance appeared to be trying to get through and the police wouldn’t let it. One guy yelled out at the police, “I declare you to be an unlawful assembly. You are ordered to disperse.”
Then the police came at us again. We moved down the sidewalk, our hand still raised, chanting “we are dispersing”. The police surrounded us, and attacked. I was thrown into a bicycle that was on the ground and cut up my knee. Someone said “everyone sit down” which seemed like a good idea, so I did. The cops started dragging people away and hosing the crowd with pepper spray. An officer in back of me hosed me with pepper and I had my head turned and caught some in the right eye. Around that time, enough people had been thrown into a chain link fence to push it down, opening some more space. I grabbed a water bottle out of my bag and moved to the less crowded area across the fence to pour water on my eye.
I pulled my right contact lens out at that point. I wear a very strong prescription, so I couldn’t hardly see anything with that eye. For the rest of the story, think about how things looked to me. I could not focus on anything, had no depth perception, and my brain could not resolve the images my two eyes were seeing, so everything was double.
A girl with pepper sprayed eyes was calling for a medic, so I put water on her eyes too. some for you, some for me, etc. Cops were standing around and after a little while one in front said to me. “that’s enough, give me the water bottle you’re being arrested.” A cop pulled my hands behind me and handcuffed me. I cooperated fully and felt like a sellout.
The girl in front of me was wearing a nice backpack. The cops cut it off with a knife. Another guy was wearing glasses. He said a cop twisted up the frame until the lenses broke and put them back in his pocket. In processing, cops called the broken glasses a weapon. The police dumped people’s belongings on the road, including expensive camera equipment of the reporters, and left it there for cars to run over.
The girl in back of me recognized my UF Hillel t-shirt that said “Florida” in Hebrew letters. We talked hebrew to each other in that line, and later in the processing facility. She knew it better than I did, and communication was not easy, but it was nice. Her name was Elaine. She had straight brown hair, glasses and a pretty face. That’s all I know about her.
I learned later that the cops had chased down everyone who had tried to escape earlier, arresting some as far as 10 blocks away. One guy was talking on a payphone and never went to the jail support rally. He was charged with loitering.
I smiled for the picture with my arresting officer before they loaded me into the paddy wagon. In my half of the paddy wagon was Ernesto, a friend from Gainesville, who was a legal observer. Two Indymedia reporters from Ann Arbor were in our half, too. We were able to get to some cell phones and put them in our laps and yell into them to contact legal. The wagon was hot and sweaty. The sweat mixed with pepper spray that was all over my back. I spent 3 hours in that wagon, sweating and burning, I had some pepper spray on my leg, the skin turned bright red, it also ran down my fingers. My hat fell off and I tried to pick it up with my mouth. More pepper. I left the hat.
One of the Indymedia reporters had needed to use the bathroom before she was arrested, and pleaded for it the whole three hours. She was told she could go when we got to the processing facility. I don’t think they let her go there, just threw her in the cage with everyone else. It was probably six hours she had to hold it until she got to the jail.
We met an interesting officer who held the doors open sometimes so we could get air. He had been a bounty hunter in the former British territory of Rhodesia, and defended the white racist government of Rhodesia to us. He talked about one arrested person who he said “got a little too cute, and now he’s in the hospital.” He said we were lucky they didn’t kill him, or they’d charge us with his murder, and explained the legal concept of “felony murder.” They arrested a lot of people that day and it took three hours before we were let off the wagon.
When we got to the processing facility, they called me out of the wagon for decontamination. I had to stand under a freezing cold fire hose and then go to a tent. I was shaking uncontrollably from cold. They cut my cuffs off and I was ordered to take off all my clothes, shoes and underwear, and throw them in the garbage. A woman officer was present, which seemed improper. They gave me a towel and some paper-like hospital clothes, and put the cuffs back on, tight.
The processing facility was a parking garage with cages. They threatened us if we didn’t want to give our names. Said if we gave our names, we’d be out that night. Lies. I was told I wouldn’t last 2 minutes on the 4th floor where we’re going. They talked our ears off with their lies. I was made to stay in one of the cages for a number of hours. I have an unstable shoulder that was hurting a lot from being cuffed behind my back. I asked lots of cops if I could be cuffed in the front because of it. They laughed.
I was finally taken for more processing. They demanded my birthdate. They said they couldn’t process me without it. Lies. And that I would be kept here all night with my cuffs on if I didn’t tell them. They said “you can go over there and finish the processing and get your cuffs off if you give us your birthdate.” I needed to get those cuffs off and agreed. Lies.
The charges they wrote on my ticket were “illegal assembly,” “resisting arrest without violence,” “failure to disperse,” and “assault of a police officer.”
I was taken “over there” and was talked to in Spanish by an officer who didn’t believe that I didn’t understand him. We filled out forms for my belongings that they had taken. No news of my backpack. My new clothes did not have pockets, so they stuffed the forms in my waistband, and made me wait for a paddy wagon.
Once we were on our way, they shut off the ventilation and let us cook. They had a bbq to celebrate and let us cook in the parked truck while they ate. We were taken into a lobby of the jail, which was refrigerated, and I was all sweaty. More hypothermia. After we were taken for mug shots, they handcuffed us in front with loose zip ties. Much less bad. My wrists were badly bruised and I have some nerve damage now so I can’t feel anything on part of my left palm and thumb.
We were split up into a few rooms and fingerprinted, catalogued, photographed, etc, etc, etc. It took a long time. We demanded water and food. Our demands were mostly not met. It was between nine and 12 hours after arrest before any of us were allowed water for the first time.
Our paperwork was all stamped with a bright red FTAA. And our form numbers all started with FTAA too.
Food was bologna and cheese on imitation white bread. I ate the bread. It tasted like balogna. Around 3am, we were taken to our cells. They had cleared out enough space to put each and every one of the hundreds they had arrested into solitary confinement.
Solitary confinement sucks. It’s not just being alone, I’ve been alone for a lot longer than that. It something else. In addition, the place has a spirit to it. A very bad spirit. It was the most terrible place I have ever been. It must be like what it feels like to walk through Auschwitz. Just being there made me want to cry. Everyone else I talked to had the same experience.
The cell was cold. We didn’t get bed sheets or toilet paper. There was something that looked as though it may have once been a pillow, the last such thing I encountered.
The solitary confinement drum circle: Communication was almost impossible, but sound from banging on the cement carried well. We had a drum circle up there for a few minutes. I tried to play along even though I’m not a good drummer.
Jail is very different from the real world. We got three meals a day, but they’re 8 hrs apart. Breakfast is at 12:30am, lunch at 8:30am, and dinner at 4:30pm.
We got to our cells about 3am. They woke me up for lunch. I had to walk down the stairs, take the food off the tray, and carry it back up. Deli turkey and cheese on white and an orange. I didn’t get my acid medication despite having filled out all their forms and having a 2-week supply in my pocket. So I ouldn’t eat their deli meats both because it’s against my religion and because it aggravates my acid reflux disease.
Bond hearing. They won’t treat us as a group, few people want to do jail solidarity, everyone wants to get out ASAP because they can’t stand being in solitary. Our lawyers seem very capable. My charge list is reduced to “failure to disobey an unlawful order” and bond reduced from $2000 to $250. I gave my name at the bond hearing.
I am put into a cell with a reporter who was arrested Thursday. He and other reporters were trying to escape the “river of violence” as he called it, snaking through Miami. They were surrounded and taken in. People had already come to pay his bond, but they were told they could not because he had not been to his bond hearing yet. Another lie. He didn’t get out till the next day.
He told me of a firefighter from Minnesota who was in Miami on vacation and pulled off the highway to get a lemonade. Upon returning to his car he found his way blocked by police and asked them which way to go to his car. They told him, he went, and then was arrested. He had a special fireman’s knife with him and was charged with weapon possession. At his bond hearing, the prosecution determined that he actually was a fireman, and dropped the charges.
Lying on the bed, and looking at the cieling, the light coming in from the window and hitting the texture of the cieling formed the image of Ghandi. Either that or I was halucinating from having only eaten some imitation white bread and an orange in 24 hours.
Dinner came. Mystery meat. I ate everything else and was still very hungry. I decided I needed to eat it to maintain my health. I cannot fast, having acid reflux disease. I stared at it for a while, a piece on my plastic spoon. It really didn’t taste too bad, but it felt wrong. That was the first time that I felt like I had done a bad thing. It was something I’m not supposed to do. I felt like those people in the movie “alive” forced into cannibalism in order to survive their plane crash
After dinner, the light patch on the ceiling looked more like Bush #1.
The next day we were moved into a misdemeanor stockade. A guy was moved with us who didn’t look like us. He said he moved to Miami a few days before his arrest and had no idea anything was going on. He was sleeping outside the homeless shelter like all the other people waiting to get a room, when cops decided he was too light skinned to be an actual homeless person and therefore must be an anarchist. His paperwork was stamped with a bright red FTAA too.
The misdemeanor stockade was full of people in for domestic violence, DUI, and driving on a suspended license. One of the trustees (in charge of laundry) took care of us. He was glad to have someone he could talk to. He mostly talked about how crazy his girlfriend was, that he was in here for violating a stay-away order with. We were able to eat better there, as the trustees were able to get extra trays of food. I imagine that they would otherwise be forced to live on about 1000 calories a day.
I called my parents a couple times from the phones there. I felt an intense sense of shame, when the collect call recording said “correctional institution,” probably because of my subconscious classism, even thought I knew I didn’t do anything wrong.
While in, I made three separate requests to the nursing staff for my acid medication. I never got it.
It wasn’t until Tuesday morning that the support team succeeded in bonding me out. I was told they tried a day earlier, but because I had been moved, the jail couldn’t locate me, and our support team had to try again the next day. The window to claim belongings was closed by the time I was let out. I plan on buying new shoes and another backpack, pleading not guilty, beating the charges, and having a hell of a lawsuit. Wish me luck.
MICHAEL ADLER can be reached at: UFDionysus@aol.com