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(en) US, Boston, Media, Free radicals: How the Bl(A)ck Tea Society breathed new life into anarchism

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Thu, 12 Aug 2004 08:15:44 +0200 (CEST)


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Over two hundred years ago, the people of Boston sparked a war.
A war of resistance against tyranny. A revolution. A conflict
against the oppression of a foreign master and the domination of
corporate power.... We intend to finish the American Revolution.
We intend to carry this torch. The ringing of revolution was
sparked in Boston before; we will do it again.
The Bl(A)ck Tea Society’s first call-to-action, September 18, 2003
LIKE PILGRIMS, they looked at society with the eyes of
children: society was absurd," Norman Mailer wrote of the
countercultural army that protested the 1968 Democratic
National Convention. To them, he continued, "every emperor
who went down the path was naked and they handed flowers to
policemen." To the Bl(A)ck Tea Society, the anti-corporate,
anti-war, anti-authoritarian group formed solely to protest the
2004 Democratic National Convention, society was not absurd,
but oppressive. Every emperor who went down the path was a
corporate whore, and they gave the finger to policemen.

The now-defunct Bl(A)ck Tea Society (BTS) — a play on Sam
Adams’s tea-dumping Sons of Liberty, with a parenthetical
capital "A," the closest typeset representation of the anarchy
symbol — had come together to rage against the unwanted
"invasion" of the DNC. An ad hoc coalition of libertarians,
Greens, Marxists, anarchists, and other strains of like-minded
activists, nearly all between the ages of 15 and 30, they were
united in their distaste for conglomerates, hierarchies, slumlords,
liberals, bosses, wars, and government. They looked at cops and
saw capitalism’s henchmen. They passed the Gap and
thought "sweatshop labor." They picked up the phone and
wondered if it was tapped. To them, the ruling class was the
Empire, the Democratic Party "one spoke" of "the wheel of
oppression," the DNC a lavish ball thrown for the elite at the
expense of the poor. And, presumably, they still do.

So who were these angry young radicals — and what did they
contribute to the American tradition of dissent? Defying all
expectations — the BTS’s included — the hundreds of
protesters who descended on Boston for the DNC were somehow
muted, and yet the BTS, in the end, declared victory. On what
possible grounds?

I first read about the BTS in February, when the group hosted a
workshop-style "resistance consulta" in Boston for like-minded
dissidents planning to protest the DNC; later, New York
Newsday reported that NYPD plainclothesmen traveled to
Boston and infiltrated the consulta (as activists refer to such
retreat-like powwows). Then, in April, Cambridge police arrested
eight Homes Not Jails activists for breaking-and-entering and
possession of burglary tools at an abandoned gas station in
Lafayette Square. The detained activists claimed to be beautifying
the derelict building and planting trees, but at least four of them
belonged to the BTS; the Cambridge Chronicle suggested that
city officials had targeted the anti-government organization. And
in early May, they were booted from the MIT campus; when they
showed up for their weekly scheduled meeting, they were greeted
by four cops (two Cambridge police, the MIT campus-police
chief, and one "plainclothed agent," according to the BTS’s
Web site) who barred them from entering the classroom
they’d reserved.

In April, the Boston Herald published an article labeling the BTS
an anarchist "cell," a term typically associated with terrorists.
The story noted that, in Philadelphia, at the 2000 Republican
National Convention, radical protesters had used "urine- and
acid-filled Super Soaker guns on police," then alleged that the
anti-authoritarian BTS could attract similar anarchist extremists
like the Earth Liberation Front, who are "known to wear full riot
gear, lock themselves to buildings, use slingshots to shoot
flames, bleach and feces, and call in bomb threats."

If there were poop-shooting, fire-slinging, pee-spraying
anarchists in this town, I wanted to hang out with them. I
attended my first BTS meeting on May 19.

The bl(a)ck tea Society wasn’t hostile to the media — core
member Frank Little made a point of calling journalists "our
friends" — but the organization was understandably wary of
strangers. After all, becoming the face of the opposition poses
certain risks — namely, jail. Before the 2000 Republican
National Convention, undercover cops had insinuated
themselves into activist conclaves and pre-emptively arrested
many protest coordinators on trumped-up conspiracy charges. So
the BTS had to assume anyone could be a cop. The aging
metal-head who looked like he’d be more at ease playing
guitar in an Iron Maiden cover band than attending a political
rally? Undercover. The Hulk Hogan impersonator in the Hooters
T-shirt and pot-leaf bandanna pedaling behind bicycle activists?
Obviously an imposter. The dark-haired twentysomething who
claimed to be a writer working on a feature story (that’d be
me), but had yet to produce the article? Could be a cop, too.

Besides, the media thrive on conflict — on dramatic tension
— and have been known to distort the facts to fit their
black-and-white template. So the BTS had good reason to be
paranoid.

Formed in July 2003, the BTS originally conceived itself as a
kind of welcoming committee for protesters trekking to Boston
for the DNC. Within the group, there were no overt hierarchies,
no designated leaders, no one spokesperson. They reached
decisions about everything — from flier designs to Web-site
postings — through consensus. Twenty to 30 people regularly
convened for meetings, some showing up only once, others
drifting in and out.

But before long, the BTS had drawn up a "three-pronged plan" to
resist the DNC. Prong one involved providing refuge for fellow
dissidents. To that end, it rented a "Convergence Center," in
Copley Square’s Community Church of Boston, where
protesters could nap, eat, leave their kids, and hang out during
the four-day convention. Secondly, the group planned a "Really
REALLY Democratic Bazaar," an open-air market on Boston
Common that would demonstrate the BTS’s "visions of a
better world" through an assortment of performers, games, and
displays.

The third "prong" was the most controversial. Disenchanted with
the predictable bullhorn-ranting and centralized tactics that are
all too easy for police to contain and control, the BTS encouraged
fellow radicals to undertake what it believed to be the next step in
street dissent: "massive decentralized direct actions," a citywide
fusillade of autonomous protests occurring in manifold locations
throughout the day. Members chose Thursday, July 29, as the
"Day of Action" because of its historical precedent: the riots of
the 1968 Democratic National Convention had erupted on
nomination day.

TALKING HEAD: although the Bl(A)ck Tea Society had sundry
spokespeople, Elly Guillette was the BTS member most often
quoted in the press.

"We wanted to do something different that allows people to
express themselves however they want," BTS core member
Tania Vamont, a 24-year-old Emerson graduate who also works
with the Boston-based anarchist union BAAM!, told a room of
reporters the Saturday before the convention. "So if people want
to do street theater, or someone wants to have a picket, or
someone wants to pick up trash or connect with some folks in
the community — people decide in their own groups to
express themselves however they would like, whether it’s
resisting the DNC or working with a local community group."

All well and good, but the question for most observers was, what
did "resisting the DNC" mean? BTSers swore they were
"explicitly nonviolent," and wouldn’t encourage direct
actions that would harm people or animals. But that didn’t
really answer the question. And besides, no one, it seemed,
really believed them.

Going public

Every Bl(A)ck Tea Society meeting began nearly the same way,
with Frank Little, a husky man with fuzzy mutton-chop
sideburns and a German-shepherd bark, issuing the disclaimer:
"If you are a cop or government official, leave now. Go. Get out.
You are not welcome here - you are violating our civil
rights."

After each meeting’s police disclaimer, reporters were asked
to identify themselves. As they raised their hands, a BTS
member would inform them that the gathering was either off the
record or to be used for background purposes only, with the
added caveat that journalists couldn’t take notes, directly
quote anything said during the meeting, or give physical
descriptions of anyone present. There were two reasons for this,
they said: to limit out-of-context quotes, and to make sure that
everyone in the room was comfortable. Nearly every time,
reporters flinched, showing the kind of irked disappointment that
only another thwarted journalist can detect. At my first meeting,
a Hartford Courant reporter was stunned. He begged for
clarification. "Can I at least describe the atmosphere?"

"If you’re unsure about specifics, just ask," said Frank
forcefully.

The BTS could get away with these demands. It had something
the media wanted — a seemingly juicy story about anarchists
demonstrating against the DNC — so it had leverage to
impose its rules. Then again, BTS organizers didn’t want to
exclude the press entirely. The media had two things they
wanted: the means to get out their message, and the power to
keep them protected.

The public face of the Bl(A)ck Tea Society consisted of eight or
nine press-savvy individuals. They were articulate, informed,
and educated enough to show the world that radicals weren’t
napalm-throwing rioters, that consensus decision-making
didn’t portend structural disorder, that anarchism didn’t
mean shattered store windows and smoldering buildings. Before
speaking with journalists, BTS members were carefully primed
with an internal handbook explaining how to deal with the fourth
estate. "We tried to put together a media packet that said,
‘Hey, if you are going to talk to the media, make sure to ask
the deadline, try to get a feel for what the angle is,’" said
Tania. "Something like ‘Here’re the basic facts of the
group that everybody has agreed to say.’"

Tania Vamont is a thin graphic designer with big eyes, baggy
jeans, and manic energy. She’s dabbled in journalism,
which
helped her prep the group for maneuvering the media. The BTS
member most quoted in the press was Elly Guillette, a
28-year-old financial analyst who secured all the permits from
the city, sketched the march routes, and arranged to rent the
Convergence Center. The group’s webmaster was Andrew
Little, a 21-year-old with pants rolled up to his shins, gelled
black
hair, and a thin lip ring. There was Brian, a sandy-haired guy
with the air of a valedictorian. Dan was the resident bike activist.
Emma Lang represented the group’s wholesomeness; the
sweet-faced daughter of ’60s radicals, she grew up
serenaded
by labor songs rather than lullabies, got called "pinko" by
junior-high classmates, and was arrested with her mother at a
mass mobilization when she was 14. She planned to act as a
street medic during the convention, along with the BTS’s
resident troubadour, Evan Greer, a Swarthmore College student
with a curly mop of brown hair who writes songs like "Ode to
Dead Presidents" ("Did you buy a Coca-Cola on the beach?/Was
it tasty with your Big Mac and fries?/Because far away across
the
sea/Where nothin’ but the trade is free/The workers get
shot/When they try to unionize"). Will Taggart, a 29-year-old
MIT PhD student, wrote his undergraduate thesis on the
sanctions on Iraq. A 21-year-old film student at the
Massachusetts College of Art, Mothra is a punk who wears thick
eyeliner, a heavy bullet belt, and tight black pants with ripped
knees. She says she’ll probably write in her boyfriend’s
name on the ballot in November.

Together, they represented the Bl(A)ck Tea Society. They knew
the daily papers needed to fill their pages with proper names, and
that quotes from young radicals with obvious pseudonyms
wouldn’t seem credible. So, with the exception of Mothra,
they supplied "street names" — believable first and last names
that were used even during BTS meetings.

And so Andrew Little isn’t really Andrew Little. Tania
Vamont has written for a local weekly paper under a different
last
name. Dan appeared on the cover of the Boston Globe with
another first name. Frank Little could be Frank Little — but
then again, he could be anyone.

Countdown

Thursday, July 14. Comedy Central’s The Daily Show airs
an interview with BTS members Andrew Little and Robert
Baker
in a spoof highlighting the absurdity of the Free Speech Zone,
the 29,000-square-foot protest pen constructed outside the
FleetCenter during the DNC:

Ed Helms, The Daily Show correspondent: "How do you guys
plan on using the Free Speech Zone?"

Andrew Little: "I don’t plan to come anywhere near this
zone. The exits have metal girders around them, which people
can be running into. People are going to get hurt."

Helms (voiceover): "Apparently in Boston, anarchist means
pussy."
Wednesday, July 21. It’s a few minutes before seven, and
the penultimate Bl(A)ck Tea Society meeting is about to begin;
in two weeks they’ll meet one last time to determine the
group’s future. Outside, bright lights blind Brian as a local
television reporter has him do a voiceover for the 11-o’clock
news. Two days ago, BTS filed a class-action lawsuit against the
City of Boston, alleging that the DNC’s Free Speech Zone
— enclosed by eight-foot-high chainlink fences, overhead
netting, and snaggy razor wire — violates citizens’ First
Amendment rights. Since the general public consensus is that
the Free Speech Zone is completely ridiculous, the suit gives the
BTS more credibility — and more press.

The police have also driven reporters to the Bl(A)ck Tea Society.
Late last week, the BTS claimed that the NYPD/FBI Joint
Terrorism Task Force visited the home of a New York–based
activist, trying to dissuade him from coming to Boston and
consorting with "troublemakers" like the BTS. An article in the
recent Sunday Boston Globe reads: "Officials say they are on the
watch not just for Islamic militants but also domestic terrorists,
including ... far-left radicals who oppose capitalism." Over the
next few days, activists from Boston to Kansas City to Denver
will also report visits from FBI agents.

"The people who’ve been around since last July, the core
group of people, we are very concerned about that," Frank had
said the previous week during a BTS open house at the Lucy
Parsons Center. "Not because we think we’re so cool.... But
one of the police’s quote-unquote effective deterrent
strategies is to arrest all the organizers the day before. We are
seriously concerned about that. Frankly, we’ve been doing a
lot of legal groundwork trying to prepare exactly for it."

Back in May, Frank had maligned Dennis Kucinich supporters
for having "delusions of grandeur." I wrote the phrase down,
thinking it was laughable that an anti-authoritarian seeking to
"finish the American Revolution" would indict others for such
megalomania. But now, no one cares about the Kucitizens.
Everyone cares about the Bl(A)ck Tea Society. The e-mails are
coming. The media requests are coming. The coverage keeps
coming: CNN, the New York Times, the Associated Press,
WBUR, C-SPAN, and on and on. Should Elly, Tania, or Andrew
mysteriously disappear in the coming days, the BTS could get
journalists involved in a second. Meanwhile, Kucinich is
chopped tofu-liver.

Thursday, July 22. During the Free Speech Zone hearing, it
becomes evident that law-enforcement officials consider the BTS
— and anarchists in general — a major security threat.
Judge Douglas P. Woodlock doesn’t actually say "anarchist,"
but he explains that the threat of "particularly aggressive
demonstrators," "slingshots," the specter of Seattle’s riotous
1999 WTO protests, and "urine" have contributed to the protest
pen’s prison-like blueprint. During a court recess, Woodlock
meets with government officials privately, so they can share
"information" with him that directly bears on the plaintiffs. In the
end, the judge does not rule in favor of the Bl(A)ck Tea Society.

"People sensationalize anarchism," says Will Taggart when I
meet him later in Kendall Square. "Anarchists are very nice
people, just like everybody else. They’re just trying to get
their message across like anybody else." Still, members fear
getting picked up on bogus charges before the convention. "We
are one of the most legal political organizations you will ever see.
We’re concerned about things like jaywalking, littering,
loitering." Will looks me in the eye. "You’ve been to all our
meetings. We’re a peaceful, nonviolent group that gives aid
to protesters from Boston and across the country. It’s kind of
boring."

But he is nervous. "Yes, I am," he admits, staring into the
distance. "Very."

Friday, July 23. Emma Lang’s nervous too. Scared, actually.
When I meet the 19-year-old UMass Amherst student in Central
Square three days before the DNC, she’s visibly stressed.
Never mind the 10 new press requests left in the BTS e-mail
inbox this morning; there are pressing security issues to deal
with, concerns about bugged cars, home raids, and possible FBI
visits. Late last night, the FBI warned major television networks
that "a domestic group" was planning to attack their media
trucks. Most BTS members have posted security notices at home
so their roommates know not to panic if federal agents come
knocking, and more important, not to let them inside without a
search warrant.

Emma was at the Free Speech Zone hearing yesterday, too. "I
wish they’d wake up and smell the coffee on the urine
thing," she sighs. "It’s very scary that they think of us as
being that scary. If they could see what we really do is give each
other hugs. We sit around and we come up with ways to keep
each other safe." And then there’s the specter of those WTO
protests to deal with. "They keep saying, ‘Well, in Seattle,
anarchists caused chaos,’" Emma says. "That was five years
ago. But nobody thinks of that — how five years in baseball
history and five years in government history is forever. Five years
in an activist movement is a long time, too."

Emma is tired of being scared about her friends’ security.
"I’m very angry that my state will call the Secret Service and
look up my friends, knock on their doors, potentially knock on
my door because I want to be out in the street and say things. I
just want to talk." She sighs. "Who knows John Kerry better than
the kids of Massachusetts?"

Saturday, July 24. The paranoia is infectious. I’m hopping
out of a cab before a BTS press conference when I spot a
procession of eight Middlesex County Sheriff SUVs crawling in
the opposite direction. I’m convinced that they’ve come
to snatch the Bl(A)ck Tea Society, that a special-ops team just
hauled away outspoken Elly before she could make the evening
news again, that sweet little Emma will soon be pressing license
plates.

When I get to the second-floor lecture hall and find no
commotion, just a line of camera tripods arranged in the second
row, I’m genuinely surprised.

"Lying motherfuckers!" Frank Little growls. He’s hunched
over a laptop reading a Boston Globe story online. "The police
have no shame!" He comes over, drops the computer in front of
me, and grumbles, "Here, read this. You were there. You saw
what happened."

A few weeks ago, the BTS designed fliers for locally owned
businesses to hang in their storefront windows. Today, the Globe
reports that Boston detectives are investigating whether the BTS
extorted money from local business owners when handing out
the placards. "A State Police official, speaking on condition of
anonymity, said authorities were investigating whether anarchists
were extorting money from business owners with the message,
‘If you donate, we won’t trash your place,’ the
source said." But as far as I know, the BTS was distributing the
fliers for free, so activists could more easily support the local
economy. Talk about hysteria: even flier distribution arouses the
authorities’ suspicions.

In a sense, though, this kind of press helps the BTS. The more
the cops try to discredit the group, the more the media want to
cover them, especially since the Bl(A)ck Tea Society is a
supporting character in a national story. And the more press
attention it gets, the more opportunity the BTS has to show that
it’s made up of reasonable, intelligent people who’re
simply livid that both presidential candidates are prisoners of
special interests.

During the press conference, a television reporter asks about
potential protest violence. "The FBI recently said that we’d
be attacking you," points out Andrew. "I believe it’s probably
a result of the fact that we’ve gotten positive media. They try
to build a divide between the community and us because if
we’re isolated, we’re segregated, they can do whatever
they want, and they can use whatever tactic, whatever style they
want, to try and suppress us."

On the way out, Andrew calls to me. "So when will we get to see
your story?" I tell him it’ll be out after the Bl(A)ck Tea
Society dissolves. "Wow," he says puckishly. "If you’re an
undercover cop, I’m impressed."



PUBLIC FACE OF DISSENT: Emma Lang, Andrew Little, and
Elly Guillette hold court at a press informational session the
week before the Democratic National Convention.

Time for another Tea Party

Monday, July 26. The Bl(A)ck Tea Society opens the
Convergence Center’s doors to the media for the first time.
Only a few people are there. The most interesting thing I see is a
note posted in the center’s entranceway:

Whereas

The party in the first part

— the disenfranchised, oppressed, and rebellious,

Hereafter referred to as THE PEOPLE, desiring permanent
divorce from the party listed in the second part;

all federal and civil officers, private security officers, ‘agents
provocateurs,’ law enforcement officials

hereafter referred to as the STATE, citing irreconcilable
differences, bar ALL agents of the STATE from entering the
Convergence Center under any and all circumstances.

A little after 1:30 p.m., the "End Police Brutality, Prison Abuse,
and the Patriot Act" march comes barreling down Boylston
Street, a motorcycle fleet of police officers in tow. Technically,
the BTS holds the permit for the demonstration, but a coalition
of activist groups (the Green-Rainbow Party, Homes not Jails,
Anarchist Black Cross Boston, and the Mystic River
Green-Rainbow Action) is actually sponsoring it. Led by a
banner declaring (A)NARCHY IS FREEDOM, GOVERNMENT
IS SLAVERY, the crowd of about 250 heads from Copley Square
toward the FleetCenter. They intone, "Whose streets? Our
streets!" They chant, "Bush and Kerry are the same, only
difference is the name!" They raise their fists and cloak their
faces in bandannas. When they pass state policemen clad in riot
gear, they scream, "Take off your stupid gear, there is no riot
here!" At one point, a blond guy in a Superman shirt is
surrounded by policemen; the crowd gathers around him and
yells, "Let him go!" The cops do, the local television cameras
swarm, and the protesters shout at the news anchors,
"Scavengers! Media parasites!"

As the marching protesters turn corners along the parade route,
cops of all shapes and sizes wait. There are cops on motorcycles
and cops on bicycles. There are cops on horses, cops on foot,
cops with angry barking dogs, cops flying above in helicopters.
But although they’re omnipresent, they’re restrained.
They don’t lunge when the crowd yells, for example, "Fuck
police from Boston to the Middle East!" They don’t even
sneer.

Tuesday, July 27. The "Really REALLY Democratic Bazaar" is
supposed to represent the Bl(A)ck Tea Society’s "visions of a
better world." In this better world, there’s no war, no Bush,
no Kerry, no corporations. So here, radical cheerleaders in
hot-pink bandannas decry capitalism: "Capitalism does not work!
Capitalism: who does it hurt? Everybody!" Women in sports bras
hit a blow-up George W. Bush punching bag in the face. In place
of traditional carnival games, there’s "Pin the Money on the
Budget" and "Knock Out Oppression," in which players toss
beanbags at cans representing forms of oppression. There’s
even a mobile compost toilet on display, urging people to GIVE
(A) SHIT FOR THE REVOLUTION.

"I know that a three-day or a four-day protest isn’t going to
change anything," says Ben Hansen, a 19-year-old from Ohio
wearing a T-shirt that reads KILL THE RICH. "In four years,
they’ll still be doing their thing. But this gives us a chance to
get together, talk, socialize, exchange ideas, and figure out what
we have to do to make things better."

Again, cops are everywhere. Policemen on horseback organize in
trios: one on the hill by the statue, another guarding a Boston
Common entrance, a third stationed by a bevy of media trucks.
They leave clumpy trails of horse manure in their wake; next to
one dung pile, someone has left a cardboard sign that reads
THANK THE PIGS.

In a kind of symbolic muscle-flexing, the cops descend on the
open-air market in shifts. At 2:45 p.m., 31 motorcycle cops roll
through the bazaar. At 3:08, 17 bike officers pedal down the
paved paths. At 3:15, 10 cops in riot gear stride along the fenced
perimeter of the Common. And all afternoon, a single buzzing
Coast Guard helicopter hovers above like a mechanized
mosquito, often drowning out the event’s sound system.

Finally, singer-songwriter David Rovics issues a call to action
from the stage. "Those of you who want to lay down on the
ground and spell ‘fuck you’ to the helicopters," he
announces, "head over to the medic tent." Forty or so people
arrange themselves from head to toe, forming seven letters on
the ground. Eleven people morph into an "F"; 10 bodies become
a "U." More people join them, filling out the phrase. As the
helicopter looms above, the 50 or so participants raise their
middle fingers at it. It flies by twice, then disappears. Everyone
cheers.

A few minutes later, the copter returns.

Wednesday, July 28. On the Day of Action’s eve, I slog over
to the Convergence Center and plop down in a chair. The crowd
is thinning out; about 50 people idle about, yet there’s an
uneasy strain to their conversations. The room is a blur of snaky
dreadlocks, shaggy beards, and sideburns; it smells like
unwashed travelers. One guy’s face looks like it’s been
attacked by a piercing gun. Another man’s shirt reads MY
HEROES HAVE ALWAYS KILLED COWBOYS.

"Calm down," Andrew says into a crackling walkie-talkie as he
rushes by. "Everything’s cool."

"I’m about to be a convicted felon," a jittery guy tells a girl.
"I just got a court order to turn over a DNA sample."

A smiling child with a bulging cotton diaper, perhaps one among
the next generation of Emmas, crawls toward me and disappears
under my seat.

I overhear that Dan was detained earlier in the day. No one wants
to talk about it here. Tomorrow, an article in the Boston Herald
will report that he was walking in front of the Convergence
Center when cops descended on him. His parents supposedly
asked the police to pick him up. Apparently, he wasn’t 21 or
22, but a 17-year-old runaway from Newton. I really liked Dan;
he once offered me peanuts.

"This movement doesn’t want to win," says a guy in a scully
cap to Frank. "I want to win."

Frank wants to win too. "So far, the poll is whether or not
there’s enough maturity in the community to pull off all
these actions," he says. "It all depends on what happens tonight
and tomorrow. We’ve been saying that the New England
community is mature enough. And we’re hoping that’s a
self-fulfilling prophecy."


Thursday, July 29. During the afternoon of the Day of Action,
John Kerry’s nomination day, the anarchists march and
march and march. A sweaty storm of flapping bandannas,
pumping fists, and thumping drums, they stomp along the
streets of Boston, through Back Bay and the Financial District,
down Chinatown’s Kneeland Street, and past City Hall
Plaza. They clamor through wealthy shopping districts, past
businessmen in expensive suits, teenage jocks in Red Sox hats,
grandmotherly women in pineapple-patterned shirts. All along
the route, they chant, "Police state: shut it down!" In the
Financial District, they scream, "Banks are thieves!" At boutique
customers, they yell, "The bombs are dropping! Stop your
fucking shopping!"

Mo Rocca, Daily Show correspondent and VH-1 talking head, is
walking down Newbury Street when the raucous gang passes.
"For anarchists, they’re awfully disorganized," he deadpans.

The BTS technically holds the permit for the "No Blood for Oil"
parade, but only a few members, including Elly, Emma, and
Evan, join the march. Earlier in the day, there was a Critical
Mass event; about 100 cyclists rode through Downtown Boston,
disrupting traffic. No one was arrested, so many of the riders are
now here. Along with some kids, Ben from Ohio dons a pirate
costume; they wave a black flag, modeled after a pirate
ship’s mast, that bears an anarchy symbol and a skull and
crossbones made of a wrench and a slingshot.

Policemen and photographers line the sidewalks. A police
helicopter hovers above. As the feisty anarcho-mob floods Canal
Street near the FleetCenter, a dozen soldiers appear on an
elevated highway, peering down like archers guarding a medieval
castle. "Get the soldiers off the streets!" demand the protesters.
The soldiers stare. A middle-aged woman with a megaphone
heckles them. They keep staring.

Then a bandanna-masked protester lights a two-faced effigy of
Kerry and Bush. The cops don’t stop him. Photographers
surround the fire. People push and shove. A girl tosses an
American flag onto the fiery pile; she and the igniter dance
wildly, like in a scene from Lord of the Flies. As the heap
smokes, Sander Hicks, founder of the independent publishing
house Soft Skull Press, tosses a copy of the controversial Bush
biography Fortunate Son onto the ashes. Within minutes, a
phalanx of riot cops files in, plastic handcuffs looped on their
black uniforms and wooden batons in hand. They face the crowd.

At some point, things break loose. A wiry kid has been arrested,
dragged off by his arms, but no one knows why. And so people
run. They chant, "Let him go! Let him go!" Bodies encircle
policemen. Someone hollers, "Police riot!" Shutters snap, elbows
fly. A policeman in sunglasses tells a surging throng of
photographers, pirates, and protesters to push back: "I have to
pull my officers out, so just give us some room." A second later,
a cop’s navy-blue hat flies off his head. He lunges for the
28-year-old protester he thinks snatched it — a kid from
Quincy everyone knows as Nick, who ends up thrown to the
ground, hauled away in handcuffs, and charged with assault and
battery on a public official. A third kid, an 18-year-old from
Jamaica Plain, gets caught up in the mess and is escorted away,
a yellow paper scrap from the National Lawyers Guild clenched
in his teeth. His charge is disturbing the peace.

(As it turns out, the first person arrested was one of the pirates,
who wore a papier-mâché pirate’s hook over his right
hand. The police will later insist that the hook looked like a fake
Molotov cocktail, and will charge the 18-year-old with
possession of a hoax device.)

Later, after everything’s calmed and the anti-war march
heads back to Boston Common for a rally, Ben comes over.
Apparently, his pirate gang had to ask the cops for directions to
the march. "We left late," he laughs. "So we saw these cops and
we were like, ‘Hey there, which way to the protest?’
They were like, ‘You’re anarchists — we can’t
tell you what to do.’ But then they laughed and gave us
directions anyway."

As for the decentralized actions, posts on Boston’s
Indymedia Web site, an online activists’ clearinghouse,
testify that two protesters who unfurled an anarchist banner in
the West Virginia delegates’ section at the FleetCenter were
escorted away by police, but not arrested. By the Marriott Hotel
Long Wharf, where the Arizona delegation stayed, protesters
tried to prevent delegates from boarding buses, in a street-theater
representation of the Department of Homeland Security stopping
immigrants from crossing the border. Across the river, in
Cambridge, four people rushed into a Gap on Mass Ave;
according to Cambridge police, they spray-painted mannequins
and turned over displays. Funny thing: vandals hit the same Gap
in 2001, drawing anarchy symbols and the phrase MUST
CRUSH CAPITALISM on its windows.

Meanwhile, back on Boston Common, Evan Greer takes the
stage and starts singing about tear gas.

Epilogue

Wednesday, August 4. Two weeks ago, BTS members
scheduled their final meeting for tonight, despite concerns that
some protesters might still be in the slammer. But no one is; the
three demonstrators who did get arrested on the Day of Action
last Thursday, none of whom shows up this evening, were all
bailed out the same day. Mike and Shane, the two men everyone
believed were cops, aren’t here, either. But 21 others are,
including Elly, Frank, Brian, Tania, Mothra, Will, Emma, and
Evan.

The last-ever BTS meeting is unlike any other: no
police-go-home spiel, no insistence that the reporter in the room
doesn’t take notes, no icebreaker introductions. Instead,
it’s like a wrap party: Emma passes around chocolate; Elly
distributes hand-outs covering outstanding issues (fixing a
broken doorknob at the Community Church, a letter from the
restaurant below the Convergence Center alleging that protesters
ate from the trash in front of patrons). But the most important
issue at hand is perhaps the group’s gravest yet: whether to
kill the Bl(A)ck Tea Society or to keep it alive.

Many propose that the group should die — that was the
original plan, after all. But some argue that the BTS received so
much press that its "brand name" (as someone actually calls it)
shouldn’t be abandoned. Others despise this argument;
attracting media attention, they say, was supposed to be a means
to an end, not the end in itself. And so someone suggests that
they take a cue from the Earth Liberation Front — an
underground group that functions as a press office for people
who destroy economic targets but don’t harm people —
and turn the Bl(A)ck Tea Society essentially into a publicity
group. That way, anonymous affinity groups could perform
individual actions relating to electoral politics all over the country
and claim them in BTS’s name. It’s meant as a joke,
really, but some people don’t like it. Everything’s so
tense that people start trickling out before the meeting’s
through, including me. For the first time that I’ve witnessed,
the Bl(A)ck Tea Society isn’t achieving consensus easily.

In the end, however, a decision is reached: the Bl(A)ck Tea
Society is finished. The anti-corporate, anti-war,
anti-authoritarian organization may not have completed the
American Revolution, or even dismantled the machines at all the
local Starbucks, but the group did show that radical dreams
haven’t died. In the process, with decentralized direct action,
they incubated a new dissident tactic based on unpredictability
and randomness that future protesters can build upon and refine.

"Their demand for all-accelerated entrance into
twentieth-century Utopia," Norman Mailer wrote of ’60s
radicals the Yippies, "was nonetheless equal to straight madness
for the Average Good American, since his liberated expression
might not be an outpouring of love, but the burning of his
neighbor’s barn."

Or, in the Bl(A)ck Tea Society’s case, the trashing of his
neighbor’s Gap.


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