I made the decision to go out that night on impulse. The weight of the year heavy on my shoulders, I craved release, someplace to funnel my anger, the rage and the sadness that pulsed through my body — remnants of my Father’s death, a Wendy’s recent flight, and the realization I was left to fight another battle alone. That nihilistic feeling of mine that always begins my adventures taking over, drawing me out into trouble and the streets.
It was calm out, that first night in Oakland. I’d met the march late and at the end, the skies opened up above us as I strolled the middle of the street, another solitary walk with others. I tilted my head back and closed my eyes, letting the water flow over my face and soak into my clothes. I wasn’t the only one, either. I felt myself cleansed, if only for that moment.
I joined the Thursday march late, my eye out for her, a classmate I’d known in passing at Berkeley, hellos and smiles and a hand of talks after class, not yet my Little Comrade. I caught her at 14th and Broadway in the middle of the section, at the end. I did my best to avoid her gaze, she reminding me of a long ago Sally, a fact I first noticed twelve months ago. I stood silent next to her as people stood and spoke, some talking nonsense and some talking wise, one kid speaking his truth, the fire burning in him and sending me chills.
We ended the night, he and she and I and his two friends, just outside the BART station on Broadway, sharing a blunt between us as cop cars screamed by, waxing poetic and talking black lives and politics.
The following night, in Berkeley, they struck first and came after us hard. Early, too. By 6:45 Trader Joe’s was smashed back, aid & chopper arrived by 7:20. Police cars, lights flashing, blocked access to the freeway and in front, battalions of officers in skirmish lines, dressed in riot gear, as they had been all night, but now wearing gas masks. The mood then turned, into a street party vibe as we turned onto Fourth, drums and music alighting our feet. On a dime, then met again by their double skirmish, now backed up by vans and a SWAT. One hundred of us versus hundreds of them.
They kettled us, the first of twice that night, on a street lined with houses. I’d seen them following, stalking us, lying in wait. Black and whites driving past and ahead of us in the same direction, a couple of blocks to the north and south of us.
“If they get ahead of us, we’re fucked.”
They did. And we were. It always happens so fucking fast, the kettle. You turn around and there they suddenly are behind you, as well. The street was fucking narrow, the houses and buildings, dark and quiet, that eerie way the moving chopper throws its light across the scene. Then out of the blue and shadows a small grip of kids saved us, wailing on a chain link fence till it gave us our way, our only way out. It was a beautiful thing to see, the three hundred or so of us, offering hands to help each other over, no brother, no sister left behind. Urban warfare lite.
Numbered only about fifty or so, we made our way back up Bancroft, cooling our heads with each step, reliving our great escape. We made our way north, met by another skirmish, set at Telegraph this time. We tried to turn back. And then they closed in. The cops had us on two, buildings on two. Looked over,
“You ready? Think this is probably it. No way we’re getting out of this twice.”
I looked down at my phone. And when I looked up,
Saved from the second by a crowd of kids, just having reveled in the bars on Telegraph, the regulars, one large on each side of Bancroft, they had us surrounded on two. Wasn’t long before we walked out single file, doubled back to Telegraph. In another half they’d be shooting back with tear gas and bag rounds. She my Little Comrade, running with me into the danger all night, always with our cameras out, silent chemistry guiding our way, I never once lost her.
It fucking hurts when they come at you hard, with their batons out and swinging. Warfare lite doesn’t feel that way when you’re in it, when they’re after you and stalking you and doing everything they can to break you away from your friends, to divide you from each other. And warfare light doesn’t feel that way the next day, when you’re sitting at home, exhausted because you marched ten, fifteen miles last night and, at the same time, keyed up from the cat and mouse and fired upon and the danger and the romance and the beauty of it, too.
Our number had grown to one thousand strong two nights later. We strolled down University singing hymns and working problems on the fly, staying one step ahead of them, our strength our number.
The distant sound of the crossing guard down as we made our way closer to the freeway, a group had stopped an Amtrak train before another two large took the freeway.
I stood there in the lane, a dark blanket of sky laying over us, the Little Comrade by my side, as she had been from the start. The cops took their places to form a line in front, then murmurings through the crowd before the first wave of us broke through. She took my hand and we ran together in the second wave, into a moment of clarity as we broke through the line, the realization washing over me, that I’d finally begun to shed the weight from my shoulders and the ropes that had been binding me — that my fucked-up year, my Wendy fled, all of the stumbling and grasping and weeping had led me to that moment. With my comrade. On the freeway. Nothing else mattered.
I’d spent those nights watching for the two of us, behind us and all around, not knowing her, really, but wanting, needing to keep her out of danger as best I could. Bike bloc had cordoned the onramps as best they could before the cops finally got around us, then more of them behind. I took her hand and rushed us towards the Ross, hoping maybe we’d be given just one more, but it wasn’t to happen that way.
They kept us in the kettle for an hour, an hour and a half or so, all of us within, singing, watched over by the man with a gun, a crowd of our comrades gathered on the other side, before they told us we’d be arrested. One by one and orderly, answering their questions before presenting our wrists for them to take. Then another couple in two neat lines in the parking lot of the Ross Dress for Less in Emeryville, that bright blue shining down upon us as we raged against the dying of the light.
Virtual friends offering help, offering to call on my behalf. A boy I’d never met before, on the other side of the line and there for me, I wasn’t alone anymore.
The young kid arrested with us, fourteen, fifteen or so, his call and his repeat,
“Love you, fam.”
“LOVE YOU, FAM!”
Over and over throughout the night, I wasn’t alone anymore.
Up all night in Santa Rita with my Little Comrade, talking, to each other, our cell mates, wondering when we’d get out — I wasn’t alone anymore and I’d begun to find my place.
remember, remember / the eighth of december / the march and the kettle at ross /
for ag, pw, rh, cp, eo, an, ns, t, b.