Losing My Religion: My Night With The Black Bloc

[Note: this was written last November]

Driving in to work Friday night I ran into about an hour long back up for a commute that usually doesn’t take more than 15 minutes. However, I wasn’t troubled in the least, the traffic was so bad because of road closings due to planned citywide actions against the IMF in DC. Throughout this night there would be revolutionary street parties and carnivals of rage. Fuck Yes! The traffic also made me about an hour late for work. One hour not doing what I hate is OK with me, so I slid in a Strike Anywhere CD and let images of Seattle dance in my head.

Arriving in Georgetown around 8:00pm, I was met with the sight of a boarded up Urban Outfitters. At first I assumed there had been some kind of accident. Once I turned the corner from

Thomas Jefferson Street

I started to get an idea of what was really going on, these corporate stores knew something I didn’t know: a mob of angry young anarchists could be coming this way! Fuck Yes, Again! When I got to the restaurant I manage, my general manager handed me a flyer handed out by the local police warning of dangerous vandals and hooligans storming through the streets that night. They even had a printout from the groups message board. My boss said to me: "You must be excited, aren’t these your people?" Indeed.

I had actual goose bumps and my adrenaline was up. Would there be some sort of righteous riot tonight in what would otherwise be another boring and humiliating night of making sure the son’s of Senators and media moguls got the their grilled salmon on time? To understand my lip quivering excitement here, you would have to understand this about me: with all of my fiery words of agitation, I’ve actually never participated in a direct action.

These days, when not at work, one is more likely to find me whoring myself on MySpace or playing with my cat than pulling a ski mask over my face in lieu of doing battle with a Starbucks window. I came to my current worldview somewhat later than most radicals and thus kind of missed that phase where you can afford to get arrested and miss work. So sure, I go to protests when I can, but more as a spectator. These events are usually on the weekend which is when I earn my payoff money for the corporate mafia. Therefore, to guarantee I don’t get arrested before my shift I stay as far away for the "black bloc" anarchists as possible, even though my politics are closer to theirs than the "progressive" Democrats I usually hide with.

So this was my big chance, even though I couldn’t participate, I could at least get a closer look at these young bandits for justice! They were expected to arrive at my block by around 9:30pm. At 9:00pm I had already decided to write this and realized I needed a picture. I got together with the hostess, who is sympathetic to the cause and together we came up with the shot. It would be me standing in the middle of the street with the swelling mob of red and black flags looming behind me, while I would be holding a sign that read, "I COULDN’T GET OFF OF WORK, I’D RATHER BE RIOTING." She got to work making the sign and I got to work finding a camera.

By 9:20 we were ready. By 9:20:01 so was the black bloc! We could hear them coming up Wisconsin, a rumble of rage. Once I saw the first set of red and black flags emerge I meekly walked out into the street. I say meekly because even though the police had cleared the streets of parked cars, they hadn’t closed the streets to traffic because it was a march without a permit and therefore not a legal protest. I also say meekly because me, being a well groomed, shockingly handsome white male and wearing an Italian cut suit standing in front of an angry mob of self described class warriors made me a bit of a target I think. Even if I yelled out, "I STAND BEFORE ALL OF YOU IN SOLIDARITY," I seriously doubt they would’ve offered a spare gas mask and invited me to join them in the

Georgetown shopping district revolution.

I am now standing in the street directing my young hostess/photographer friend who is on the sidewalk. To have the best shot I wanted the crowd to be no more than a half block, (or should I say bloc, teehee) away. When they arrived in the intersection the whole crowd seemed to stop for a meeting to decide which way to go. This seemed to be the best opportunity, so I yelled out "take the fucking shot!" She then mumbled something like, "shit…card full…how…delete." I guess the black bloc was really hopped up on ginseng because they moved faster than an army of black pepper snakes, I literally had to dive out of the way.

So we missed the shot but still had the sights and sounds. It was all there. The flags, signs, black masks and hoodies and chants of "Whose Streets, Our Streets" echoed through the stunned tourist littered streets. Did I mention that most people didn’t know this was going to happen? A lot people thought that all of the cops were there for an upcoming presidential motorcade. Surprise! At this point I knew I had to go, there had to be a story there and I wasn’t going to miss it. I made a deal with my boss: I could walk with them on the sidewalk with press and supporters just as long as I didn’t come back as a teargas cloud and didn’t get arrested. If he had to close the bar for me, a 4:30 am departure time, that would be my ass. Deal. High five and I was gone.

Then the DC drought ended right on top our heads with a vengeance.

When everyone got to

Q Street

they stopped to decide where to go again. They were already divided into three groups: The first group was about fifty people with a lot of flags, the second of a few hundred was lead by a group yielding home-made riot shields and a third smaller group behind. Group one took a left and after a brief pause the rest of the people moved forward leaving group one surrounded by cops, cutting their forces by about a third. Bad start. Did I mention the rain yet?

The group that moved forward was tightly surrounded by cops on bikes and motorcycles, so tight in fact that they made confrontation inevitable – I think that was the point. As the group started to turn right into a residential neighborhood, a cop "accidentally" ran over two protesters. Later the media would report that the machine the cop was on was a "scooter", though it looked strangely like something I usually refer to as a motorcycle. The cop, right on cue, roughed them up and arrested them. Freedom.

By now many of the bicycle cops had hit the pavement on foot and charged the crowd. There was immediate resistance and everyone held their ground on the way into this mostly upper class neighborhood. I thought to myself: "It’s fucking on! Why have we been protesting in ‘free speech’ zones? We should just bring it up the hierarchy right to their doorsteps!"

When we were on Wisconsin Ave., a wide and populated street, nobody seemed aware of my presence. However, once in the neighborhood, I got this funny feeling that a lot of people suspected I was a cop. My first clue was a young man who walked up to me and said: "What’s up fucking cop?" Yikes. I considered using my backup, "I STAND BEFORE ALL OF YOU IN SOLIDARITY" line, but decided I should just move my "fucking cop" ass along. I slipped around the crowd to the left side of the street just as everyone decided to turn left. Suddenly one of their spotters yelled that it was a dead-end and a different guy mistook me for a resident and actually asked me for directions. This wouldn’t be the last time…

A note to black blocers: Next time get a map and study it first. You can find them for free in any hotel lobby in DC.

After maneuvering around the group I found myself with what I thought were journalists. They were dressed kind of geeky, had camera equipment and didn’t seem at all worked up. So I, always the opportunist, thought maybe this could be a back-door method to get my picture for this article. I actually asked this guy if he could take a picture of me with the crowd (yes I’m pathetic) and email it to me. I soon realized that his function there was likely to record any shenanigans by the cops, of course, a cop is exactly what I looked like. He gave me a look that seemed to say, "don’t tase me bro", took my picture and scurried the fuck away from me. I then thought to myself, "I’m kind of stupid."

It was time to go.

As the protest circled back around to my neck of the woods I quietly scooted over to the front of my restaurant, where the entire staff was standing watching the madness. As I approached them, my suit and body drenched with sweat and rain, I gave them a shy: "Hey guys how are sales?" Right on cue as if scripted, right as I finished uttering the word "sales?" a black clad young lady took the trashcan from the sidewalk and smashed it into the street. One of the busers asked me if this is what I do when I’m not at work. I stood silently as everyone busted out laughing. As I started to laugh at my own absurdity, an older guy, an apparent veteran protester, snapped at me: "You wouldn’t be laughing if you had been run over by a motorcycle." Though I understood his assumption, there were in fact people cheering every time a protester was hurt, I was still getting tired of assumptions about me, so I randomly threw out a line from the band "Against Me" and yelled out: "Baby, I’m an Anarchist, not a spineless liberal!" He didn’t seem to believe me and waived his hands at me in disgust. However, the staff did seem to believe me and slowly walked away, avoiding eye contact. A rock and hard place.

They finally started to break shit!

The protest had moved up about block away when the bottles started to fly. I decided to go back in and find a story. After I caught up with the group I saw what they were doing. As they would pass a trash can one protester would smash it in the street, and then those that came after would quickly pick up anything hard they could get their hands on. The person would then pass the bottle, or whatever, into the crowd and then the object would be anonymously thrown up high into the air at the storefronts.

Before I go on I want to stress that the protesters were NOT "Erupting in violence" as the media portrayed it. However, I must remind my young protesting comrades that though the retail shops were not opened, (they are usually closed at that time of night anyway) ALL of the bars, restaurants and lounges were opened. Most people thought it was an ordinary night in Georgetown, just with extra cops; well at least when they first came to town. Let me put it this way, if someone decides to go skeet shooting in their backyard and blows the neighbors child’s head off, I don’t think the neighbor is going to give a shit if it was revolutionary skeet shooting.


Approaching the "Abercrombie and Fitch" store I noticed a young brunette woman frantically jumping around shouting "What the fuck?!" There was another young woman on the ground in the walkway holding her head. A handful of us leaned in to inspect just as someone shouted, "this is a fake! Agent provocateurs!" I’m not sure how he came up with the theory so fast, but I believed him at first. The frantic girl claimed that her friend had been bashed in the head with a brick, but there was no blood or brick in sight.

Then she moved her hand.

It really did gush everywhere. She had that look of horror that everybody gets seeing ones own blood splattering on ground and having no idea how bad the injury is. Then someone stumbled over the brick and so the provocateur theory was out (some later claimed that whoever through the brick was probably a provocateur. Somehow I doubt it). I do not believe for a second that the person who threw the brick was trying to hit her. But does is it really matter what their intent was?

With the smell of young white female blood in the air, the media devoured her image like wolves and all I could think at first was this is now the story. It would be the only thing the media would report (if they reported anything), and also now I was stuck with this story. It was not what I was looking for.

Walking back to work I started to feel ashamed of myself. What was I thinking? Hoping for an actual riot in the neighborhood I spend most of my time in? Though Georgetown is many of the things the protesters claimed it is, it is also several communities within other communities. And one of those communities, the one in which I’m a member, is working class. Who do people think work in all of the stores and restaurants, whether corporate or not? It sure as shit ain’t the neo-liberal global capitalist elite that’s for sure. And many of us are friends…and share the same politics.

That brick could have easily have hit someone I know, someone I love or shit, if I were walking just a little faster, it could have hit me for fuck’s sake! And how about the girl that was hit, was she a captain of industry or the wife of an oil baron? To me they looked like two 21 year olds from the suburbs out to get drunk and maybe hook up with some silly preppy goof. If they have even heard of the IMF they probably think, "it’s, like, a group that helps poor brown countries, right?" Rimshot. If asked what neo-liberalism is they would probably answer, "Super liberal, like Michael Moore, right?"

{A quick note: before posting this article representatives for the protest had already expressed regret for the incident so I deleted a page that basically scolded them for their callous disregard for ordinary people and of being an arrogant "vanguard". So I still love you Black Bloc, just stick to fighting cops and Capitalism, ok.}

This incident almost makes me believe in God.

Seeing that girl with blood running down her face really chilled me to the bone, it’s not just that I hate violence (though I’m not a pacifist) it’s that before this event I was literally working on a piece calling for exactly this kind of action. The basic premise was going to be that we shouldn’t be protesting the war(s), inaction on global warming and

US economic and military domination of the planet by prancing around at the national mall getting beat up by cops where nobody is even watching. I was going to recommend in my original posting here tonight that we should "bring the war home" as they used to say in the 60’s. I was going to specifically recommend Georgetown, Mclean, VA and Great Falls, VA ; places where the people who operate and profit from the global death machine actually live and shop. What might have happened if I hadn’t seen that girl, had written the piece and someone had actually acted on my stupid advise?

I tried to imagine what could have happened if people launched a protest in

Mclean . What I imagined after my experience on Friday was just a horror show. Not only would protesters have potentially hurt people unwittingly, me telling people to go into wealthy, heavily armed Virginia neighborhoods, where people talk a lot about God, guns and "property rights", and protest, is simply insane.

I imagine this is the kind of "thinking" that led to the creation of the Weather Underground, who probably did as much as the FBI’s COINTELPRO program to destroy the U.S. Left (and not having a real left movement for all of these years is part of the reason our world is in shambles). This kind of thinking usually occurs when movements are in decline. I guess I needed to remind myself that any Revolution without the support of the people is nothing more than a coup, and a tyranny, even if many of said people are indoctrinated, ignorant, selfish, greedy, "entitled" fucks!

I guess one could say I don’t want to fight little Jenny or Tiffany on their way to buy $12 lip balm from "The Body Shop" and don’t want to fight little Bradley or Tyler on their way to get drunk and bother my staff (though the one bonus to my shitty job is that I get to push those brats head’s through the front door when they start fights. Yippee!). No I don’t want to fight them: I want to fight the EMPIRE.

All of this said, I still believe in direct action, civil disobedience, monkey wrenching, disruption, strikes, general strikes, global solidarity, participatory economics, third world resistance, first world resistance and I don’t give a fuck if the FBI reads this, I want to see, no participate in, some kind of social and economic revolution in my lifetime; what’s wrong cops we’re taught to celebrate one revolution and not allowed to at least contemplate one of our own? I can dream, I’ve already kicked the policeman out of my head.

A quick afterthought

Nothing against my brothers and sisters from Friday nights protest and nothing against white people (I’m a cracker myself). the irony of this whole event is that it was actually a perfect, flawless example of white privilege! Imagine if the exact same scenario had gone down, every detail, but the participants weren’t black-clad white people, but young black men from south east DC. There would have been very dead black men in the streets I suspect. And as far as the young lady being hit by that brick: this would have yielded someone, (guilty or innocent) a twenty to life sentence for attempted murder. It wouldn’t have been called a protest, but instead a "savage, unprovoked riot". Just a thought.

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