Last year I rang in the new year with a big bunch of black-clad new/future friends and comrades at the local jail. I was blown away by the joy, passion, and camaraderie of the event. Since then, we’ve had a number of noise demonstrations in this town. They’ve varied in size and intensity, but we seem to get better at working together each time. This year’s new year’s celebration was called a little late and word on the street was that it couldn’t possibly live up to last year – especially since last year we had an occupied park as a hub and this year many comrades are in Texas for the tar sands resistance, exhausted from Tinley Park 5 support, or out of town visiting family or friends for the holidays. Then there was the weather… colder and snowing all day. Many didn’t like the idea of being outside in these conditions while others talked of how we needed to be able to work with whatever weather came our way. No one quite knew what to expect going into it as some were excited by stories of how inmates were still talking about the impact last year’s demo had on them in terms of providing hope and support in a dark time, while others wished we weren’t doing anything as they were afraid it would be a let down after last year.
We gathered at the park for the second time on New Year’s Eve 2012/2013. Earlier in the day we’d had a small mic demo that consisted of around 15 people, a table of (mostly) prisoner solidarity and/or anti-prison zines, a Tinley Park 5 support banner, a banner in support of the grand jury resistors (see picture), music, and at the end a reading of a small statement about the pacific northwest grand jury resistors. Now we stood in small but connected groups, waiting for the fun to start.
Someone threw a snowball and slowly others joined until nearly all of us (around 15 or so at the time) were part of the game. We giggled and dodged and smiled and our mischievous fun was contagious. Soon handfuls of people were joining us from the sidewalk and our numbers briefly doubled, though nearly all of those who came in for the fun left before we went mobile. I wonder if some might have stayed if we’d been quicker with the music… (lesson: always make sure the person with the mp3 player and play list is going to be able to be on time… though we made it work and the impromptu music often seemed oddly perfect to me).
After a few minutes we got out our grand jury resistance banner, turned on the music, and started down the street on the sidewalk as some were afraid we didn’t have numbers to hold the street. Quickly, though, the banner ran out into the street and most of us followed. The snowball fight from earlier resumed on a small scale with a few in the street vs. the few on the sidewalk. We were having a great time until a couple assholes ran out into the street with us and began grinding on participants without their consent. Somewhere in the resulting response from the group, a snowball flew through the air and landed smack in the middle of the biggest asshole’s face. He became enraged and he and his friend attempted to choke friends of ours in the street. We immediately physically removed them and separated them from the group with multiple bodies. Some tried to talk them down and the group proceeded down the street, but they continued to follow us while trying to start a fight. Eventually two people got between the drunks and the group, turned their backs them, and slowed their stride to create some distance. The group slowed a bit but continued to move forward and eventually they got bored and left.
We continued on our way – a bit tense but also, at least for some, filled with adrenaline. We proceeded to dance in the streets while onlookers often cheered, took pictures, and danced to our beats. We got to the jail about ten minutes before midnight with only one cop car following us and set up with the banner facing the windows, dancing bodies blocking traffic, and a small group began making a snowman a little way down the road. It was great packing snow so they were making fast progress until 2 cop cars showed up fairly close to them. A 2/3 built snowman was left in the middle of the lane as the builders rejoined the larger group. Our numbers continued to grow as firecrackers, road flares, and a small fire were lit in the middle of the road. Inmates began banging on the windows and flickering the lights and we continued to dance and make noise. By midnight our numbers had grown to around 30-40 and police presence grew to 5 cars. At midnight more firecrackers were lit and then we quickly cut the music and scrambled onto the sidewalk as folks noticed that the cops were gathering with handcuffs and seemed ready to move in our direction. We got the sound cart onto the sidewalk and began to chant, “Our passion for freedom is stronger than their prisons,” after screaming and just making noise together for a while. The cops began their approach and we quickly decided to disperse and left in small groups that blended in with the crowd and disappeared into the jubilant night.
Lesson for next time: I really wish I had found the time to make a banner reading “We heart (comrade inside the jail’s name).” I had planned to do this but it fell through the cracks as I got lost in other, seemingly more necessary, matters. I keep day dreaming that we had that banner and that we had held it up while chanting his name just after midnight… My biggest regret for the night was that this didn’t happen. Make time for this stuff; it’s important.
Lessons learned: We really do seem to get better at this every time… We had each other’s backs, made decisions together quickly, kept the sound cart safe, and knew when to call it quits. We showed solidarity with those in jail/prison while avoiding arrests and confiscated property. We each engaged in whatever kind of participation we felt drawn to and no one attempted to push people to do things they didn’t want to do or to stop people from doing what they wanted to do. We also took advantage of our conditions (snow) even when we originally perceived them to be a barrier. I had a great time and feel really good about our growing ability to work together.