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(en) US, Boston, MEDIA, Anti violence Bl(A)ck Tea Activists Draw Attention of "Authorities"

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sat, 24 Jul 2004 16:57:04 +0200 (CEST)


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Last summer, long before the Democratic National Convention had triggered
even a single road closure, a small group of left-leaning activists gathered
in Cambridge and came to a unanimous decision: The convention needed to be
opposed, and its opponents would need all the support they could get.
The meeting included some anarchists, a handful of Green Party members,
even a high school student. Some of them had never been to a political
protest in their lives. But in the year since then, the organization
they hatched, the Bl(A)ck Tea Society, has grown into a high-profile
nerve center for the thousands of protesters expected to descend on
Boston in the next five days.

"Given Boston's history, this should be one place where
people can protest if they want to," said Elly Guillette,
27, a Bl(A)ck Tea member from Cambridge who works in the
Back Bay as a financial analyst. "We want to make sure we
have the logistics in place, the structure set up, so that
people can have a voice."

Tomorrow, when they throw open the doors of their rented
"convergence center" near Copley Square, Guillette and her
collaborators will emerge as a full-fledged underground host
committee, arranging housing, transit, even doctors and
lawyers for the arriving protesters.

They have also attracted the attention of Boston police.
Despite its focus on practical matters, such as child care
and handicapped access for protesters, the Bl(A)ck Tea
Society is one of a half-dozen groups that law enforcement
is watching most closely, police commanders said. Some
society members have ties to a group called the Anarchist
Black Cross. Anarchists have been blamed for violence at the
1999 World Trade Organization conference in Seattle. (The
Bl(A)ck Tea name alludes not only to the Boston Tea Party,
but also to the black flag and circle-A symbol used by
anarchists.) And the group has called for hard-to-control
decentralized actions on the last day of the convention,
when John Kerry is scheduled to accept the presidential
nomination.
[Headline: Decentralized Actions Hard to Control!--DC]

But Bl(A)ck Tea, whose few rules include an explicit
anti-violence message, sees the police scrutiny as just
another challenge of playing host in an activist world
vastly changed by the Seattle riots and the post-9/11
security clampdown. Many members have been arrested at
protests, and they say they fear the possibility of police
violence and aggressive crowd control in Boston; taking no
chances, the group has trained "street medics" to treat
those who may be sprayed with tear gas and has volunteer
lawyers lined up to help those who are jailed.

"The police are saying Boston has a high tolerance for civil
disobedience," Guillette said. "We so hope that's true."

Bl(A)ck Tea members say that undercover police have attended
their meetings for months. Because they're not planning to
break the law, they said, they have maintained their
open-door policy, though they do start their meetings by
asking any police to identify themselves. (None has.)

A spokeswoman for the Boston Police Department, Beverly
Ford, would not comment on specific undercover operations,
but said the department is aware of the society. "It's
normal to gather intelligence," she said.

Despite its name, BL(A)ck Tea is not a society as much as a
loose coalition of activists, bound by opposition to
corporate and government authority. After next week, it may
not even exist. In the meantime, however, the group is
taking advantage of many of the tools of modern political
organizing: a user-friendly website, online since last fall;
catchy slogans ("finish the American revolution"); press
conferences complete with media kits for reporters.

The group is urging political action, calling for protesters
to boycott the city's fenced-off "free speech zone," for
example, because of safety concerns and philosophical
objections.

But much of its work has been more mundane: finding good
deals on gauze pads; recruiting local residents to house
out-of-town activists; fixing old bikes for protesters to
borrow; making lists of vegan restaurants.

Preparations began last July, with an invitation sent to
liberal e-mail lists. Early on, the group settled on a
three-part agenda: Setting up a "convergence center" with
food, phones, and medics, open to all protesters; planning a
family-friendly festival (the "Really Really Democratic
Bazaar," planned for Tuesday on Boston Common); and
encouraging decentralized actions on the last day of the
convention, unlicensed protests carried out by many small
groups and scattered through the city.

In February, the group hosted a "resistance consulta" for
100 people to flesh out their strategy for the convention.
In recent weeks, the group has scrambled to adjust to the
city's evolving plan to handle protests, from permit rules
and protest zones to court procedures. Like the police, the
society doesn't know how many protesters will show; its
e-mail list includes 400 individuals, each of whom may show
up with a group, or not at all. Their website got 10,000
visitors one recent day.

At times, group members have set aside their own beliefs to
help ensure a smooth week for other protesters. As
anarchists and antiauthoritarians, many members don't
endorse the notion that protests should require permits.
Nevertheless, they sought the city's permission for their
own events and helped other groups navigate the city's
bureaucracy.

"We take racism into account and the fact that people who
are not privileged and not white might not feel as
comfortable going on an illegal march, because they're at
risk," said Evan Greer, 19, a Swarthmore College student and
musician raised in Andover, who balances his Bl(A)ck Tea
work with acoustic folk-rock gigs.

At a Bl(A)ck Tea meeting last weekend, in a classroom at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, three dozen members
sat in a circle and moved steadily through a two-hour agenda
that offered no hints of illegal activity. Reports from
smaller working groups included a call for bike locks, an
update on the band lineup for their festival on the Common
Tuesday -- plenty of folk and punk, but in need of other
genres -- and a proposal to rent portable toilets. "Start
drinking water for the DNC now," read a note neatly printed
on the blackboard.

Members, most of whom appeared to be in their 20s, used hand
signals to vote on proposals, raising both hands and
fluttering their fingers, or twinkling, to signal agreement.

Cambridge native Emma Lang, 19, said the group is highly
efficient, in part because members are kind to each other.
"Boring things get done," said Lang, a labor studies major
at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Like many Bl(A)ck Tea members, Lang grew up in the protest
movement and was first arrested when she was 14. Her mother,
Amy Lang, not in the group, said she was terrified at recent
protests with her daughter, because the police tanks,
snipers, and body armor so far exceeded the force she
remembers from her own protest days.

"I can't say to my children, 'You can't do this,' but every
time they go to a demonstration, my heart stops," said Amy
Lang, 55, a Syracuse University professor.


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