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Genoa 7/20


At this point it’s still

not clear to me how many are actually dead. I’ve heard one young man, I’ve heard

two, four. I’ve heard that the police shot into the crowd, that someone was

clubbed to the ground and, unconscious, run over by a car, I’ve heard it was the

White Overalls, the Black Bloc, I don’t know. I know what I saw.

The day started as a

spirited, peaceful demonstration. I was on the Piazza Manini with the Women’s

Action and Rette Lilliput, a religious ecological network. Both groups were

completely committed to nonviolence. My friend and training partner Lisa Fithian

was down at the convergence center with the pink block, the group that wanted to

do creative, fun, street theater, dancing and music as part of their action.

Lisa is a great person to be with in an action: she’s experienced, never panics,

moves fast and knows what to look for, has a voice that can carry over a huge

crowd and a great ability to move people. I wish she were going to be with us,

but I feel like we’ve divided our talents well. I’ll help move the smaller

Women’s contingent, help them with ritual and work some magic. Lisa will help

the much larger and boisterous Pink Bloc become mobile and coherent. We hope to

meet up sometime during the day.

Around 1 pm, the women

march from the piazza down to the wall with probably three or four thousand

people. The women gather in a circle for a spiral dance, singing "Siamo la luna

che move la marea," "We are the moon that moves the tides, we will change the

world with our ideas." We brew up a lovely magical cauldron—a big pot full of

water from sacred places and whatever else women want to add: rose petals, a

hair or two, tobacco from a cigarette., that symbolize the visions we hold of a

different world. It’s a sweet, symbolic action—not quite as satisfying, perhaps,

as tearing the wall down, but empowering to the women who take part. The police

are relaxed, these groups are clearly no threat to anyone. Monica negotiates

with the police, and we are allowed to go up to the wall in small groups to pin

up underwear—(residents of the Red Zone were threatened with fines if they hung

out their laundry during the G8—apparently the site of washing might unnerve the

delegates), banners, messages and spill our water under the fence.

(Helicopters buzz the

house as I write, the news is discussing violence and nonviolence in Italian,

and I stretch my memory of high school French to ask one of the women staying

here in a phrase we never covered, "How many people died today?" One, she tells

me, and one is in the hospital in critical condition.)

Then the Pink march

arrives, trapped in a cross street by our march. We open a lane and let them

through. They are delightful, mostly young, some all punked out in wildly

colored hair or dreadlocks or bright pink wigs, drumming, dancing, cavorting

through the crowd. They turn the corner and filter into the next square down the

wall, only a short half-block from the street we’ve occupied.

On our street, everyone is

sitting peacefully and having lunch. I walk over to the Pink Block to see what’s

going on. I drum for a while with the accordion player. People are milling

about—there’s nothing clear that’s happening, when suddenly a line of police has

blocked one of the exits. Dancing youth are wildly leaping and stomping in front

of them, but that’s all they are doing. Much of the Pink Bloc has moved on, they

appear a block or two above the square, with the police now trapped between

groups of Pink. I am just thinking that this is not a good situation when a tear

gas cannister lands in front of me. I start to move away, back down to the

street where the women are. just a mild hit, I wash out my eyes, help a few

others whose eyes are streaming and red. Lisa appears, and we go back for

another look. This time the gas catches us in a bad situation, with the way back

to the street blocked, and another exit up a staircase too full of bodies. I am

getting hit heavily, my lungs and eyes burning but I remember that helpful hint

from all the trainings we have done. I can breathe, I really can breathe, and

fear is the most powerful weapon. Lisa has better eye protection, she takes my

hand and leads me out. I wash them out again. This seems like a good moment to

leave. I gather up what’s left of the women, Lisa and other’s get the Pink Block

together, I begin a drumbeat and we start up the street, which is also up a

hill. The march feels powerful and joyful. We are retreating, but in a strong

way, moving on to the next action, still together.

The good feeling lasts

until we reach the top of the hill. Somehow the Black Bloc have become trapped

between the pacifist affinity groups and the police. Monica is on the cell

phone, upset and tearful when she learns that the Black Bloc have trashed an old

part of the city. "It’s over," she says. "after all our months of work! Let’s go

home."

I am trying to find out

what the women want to do: Lisa is trying to find out what the Pink Bloc wants

to do, when suddenly massive amounts of tear gas fill the square. I am moving

away from it, down a side street, trying to convince myself that I can breathe,

when I notice that I’m somehow in the midst of the Black Bloc. They run past me,

younger, faster, much better equipped, and the police are behind them. I do not

want to be here. I’m fifty years old, and I was never very fast even when I was

young. For the first time, I come close to panicking.

But below is a side

street, and the wind blows the gas away. I can breath. I duck down the alley.

Like most of the streets in this hillside area, it winds around the side of

ridge, with a sheer drop below, and snakes back to the main street. A small

clump of Pink is sheltering there. I join them, we wait as the Black Block

thunders by one street away. Lisa appears to tell us that the riot cops are

coming up from below. They’re beating people brutally. We check the exits,

fearing we’re trapped, but suddenly the street we came in on is clear. I and a

few others make a break for it, get across and head up a stairway on the other

side. Lisa goes back to see if she can help move the others. Before she can, the

police have found the alley. They beat people hard, going for the head. They

beat pacifists who approach them with their hands up; they beat women. A

battered crowd gathers on the stairs, moves up a level or two. I comfort a young

man with a head wound, a woman who is crying, her thigh covered with the blood

of her boyfriend who had been taken to the hospital. We are all shaken.

Slowly, a pink contingent

gathers on the stairs. We move up and up; in this part of town, half the streets

are stairways that rise in endless zig zag flights. Below us, we see contingents

of riot cops sweep the streets. The helicopter above move on, following the

Black Bloc. Lisa is moving back and forth across the street and back to the

square, checking out rumors, trying to figure out what’s going on and where we

might go. We eventually make our way back to the square. One of the women has

been gassed so badly she’s been vomiting, but she wants to stay. Another women

from our contingent was hit in the head by a cop and taken to the hospital. A

whole lot of people have been badly hurt, people who clearly and unmistakably

are not rock throwing, streetfighting youth, people who believed they were going

to be in a peaceful and reasonably safe place. Lisa and I had done a training

for the women, trying to give them some sense of what they might face on the

streets from our experience in other actions. But there’s no real way to prepare

for a cop beating a peaceful, non-aggressive, midde-aged woman on the head.

The Pink Bloc begins a

long journey back to the other side of town. We’re joined by some of the others

from the square and by some of the Italian Pacifist Affinity groups who have

been trying to hold space on this side. As we’re trying to make our decision,

with translation into English, Italian, Spanish and French, Some of the Black

Bloc drifts up from below and asks if they can join us to make our common way to

the bottom of the town. Some of the group are angry at the Bloc and unwilling to

take the risk of joining with them or being associated with them. Others feel

that we should hold solidarity with everyone, and not leave anyone vulnerable to

the police. Eventually, the group offers to accept them if they’ll unmask and

leave their sticks behind. They won’t do that, they say we should each respect

each others’ way of doing things, so they’ll go down alone, letting us go first.

There’s more, mostly a

series of moments of being trapped in an intersection here or a stairway there,

but after around two or three hours we made it back to the convergence center.

I’m far too tired to make sense of this day right now, it’s all I can do to

describe it, and it’s after midnight and people have to go to bed. Someone is

dead, and the night is not over.

 

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