“We Remember” – Some Brief Accounts from Durham’s Ferguson Solidarity March, November 25th

IMG_20141125_233915The following is a series of vignettes from the march that took place in downtown Durham on Tuesday night, November 25th, in solidarity with the struggle in Ferguson. The march was promoted online as well as with handbills and posters distributed in the thousands all over the city, and occurred before and simultaneously with a rally organized by multiple leftist groups. This series of personal accounts does not seek to establish a linear or all-encompassing narrative of what occurred, so much as provide some impressions, sights, sounds, and emotional reactions.

* * *

There’s not many of us at the front doors to the library, only a few pockets of people looking curious if they’re in the right place, but more show up soon. Eventually a large crowd of hundreds has gathered. Media people walk around asking, “Who organized this?” When it becomes clear no one plans to claim ownership of this moment, a series of older Black women start to speak. The topic is familiar: the fear of losing a son or brother, the cheapness of Black life in this shit world. One woman carrying a large white sign with pictures of her son, killed by cops in Winston-Salem, brings the crowd to tears. A bus driver still in her neon vest says a prayer, but she’s followed up by a young black man who’s visually enraged, screaming about how prayer isn’t gonna do it, that it’s “time to burn something.” Finally the crowd releases, cheers, claps, people scream “fuck yeah.” A young women I know only vaguely from weird Leftist circles confesses, “I’m ready to smash something.” Skaters show up. Another guy who I haven’t seen since the Trayvon marches shakes my hand.

* * *

We’re streaming into the street against the flow of traffic on Roxboro. We pass piles of bricks and construction materials on the corner of Main, but make no move. A missed opportunity, but it feels like the crowd is just finding itself. Bottle rockets and smoke bombs spread a smell of sulfur through the air. Only a few bike cops are following us, who seem to have orders to monitor but not arrest. I hear a rumor that riot cops have amassed in a nearby neighborhood, though they don’t appear. A couple of undercovers, identified early on, trail the march from the sidewalk. The crowd is angry, but also spread out and loose, the banners in front going too fast for those in back.

* * *

The crowd is half-masked, half not, screaming “fuck the police,” numbering in the hundreds. I see a few women that I recognize from NC Central, masking up and yelling at the bike cops. On the other side a masked person is spray-painting a sloppy “ACAB” on the window of a local yuppie restaurant called “Revolution.” I remember wading through tear gas in front of that same restaurant almost a year ago during a Chuy march. Some jackass manager runs out, but hesitates as several other masked people confront him and tell him to go back inside, which he does.march2

* * *

We’re approaching the jail, and groups pull traffic cones and construction materials into the street as the crowd fills in the space. A couple of older black men are giving impromptu speeches on the megaphone. The crowd mills about, cheers as men in orange jumpsuits bang on their windows from the fifth and sixth floors of the massive building. Our chants and drums echo off the walls. Two masked people watch over a third as he paints “burn the prisons” in large black letters on the wall. Cops and guards watch in frustration and dismay from inside the jail lobby. I debate with a young white women who believes that “this makes the movement look bad.” I try to maintain a straight face as Ferguson, Oakland, everywhere burns.IMG_20141125_233915

* * *

We’re leaving downtown, and I’m looking with caution into the darkness of smaller neighborhoods as our police tail increases. But upon seeing the signs of the Durham Freeway/NC-147, the crowd starts shouting, “1-4-7” over and over. We steer effortlessly onto the on-ramp, no police in front of us. A large piece of construction fencing appears magically to our right, and I help several other masked folks pick it up in stride as we march down the hill. The fencing is too small for a barricade, but maybe it will help to slow traffic safely so no one gets hit by an agro driver. The fencing gets suddenly heavier; a middle-aged white woman has grabbed onto it, yelling that we need to “be peaceful.” I want to tell her that the fence is going to help keep people safer, but instead I just ignore her and keep walking toward the highway. We can argue later—this moment feels crucial and she is a distraction. Unfortunately the woman refuses to let go and is futilely trying to win a tug-of-war over this little bit of fence. She’s pulled along, until another person pulls her hands off the fence. They both trip and fall. Others help her up and make sure she’s not hurt, but she’s already screaming about being knocked down. I think of all those nonviolence advocates that have been tugged along as they pull backwards, finally to be abandoned to the side of the highway as a struggle explodes beyond their comfort level. Right now, I think that all of us, even those who have dreamt of our cities on fire for years, have been totally surpassed by what we’ve seen and heard from Ferguson. Honestly, I’m just trying to catch up.

* * *

The banners block the headlights of the now parked cars, making the highway darker than I had ever imagined. Flares light up small pockets of activity though, as some hold quiet conversations, others lay down to rest and share water in the two lanes of would-be traffic, and even more dance, scream, and chant. I can’t fucking believe this. We’re blocking a highway and it’s totally chill. I make a mental note to bring more lights or materials for a bonfire next time. Strange how quick the surreal can become calm, accepted, new but firm ground to stand on. Later I learn that over twenty cities around the country did exactly what we’re doing right now. The cops are helpless, their cruisers unable to reach the section of highway we’ve blocked due to the massive pile-up of traffic.highwaymarch

* * *

Three generations of a family, from age ten to sixty, are holding a long ACAB banner and leading us as we march down the highway. Fireworks light up the sky above us. The youngest one in front tells me his hands are cold and I offer him my gloves, but he just smiles, shakes his head and wraps his hands in the banner material. As we leave the highway, a group of teenagers pumps their skateboards high in the air in sync with the syllables, “Cops, Pigs, Murderers.”

* * *

A line of riot cops—the first we’ve encountered in full gear—has surrounded the DPD headquarters on Chapel Hill St. They must be expecting another smashing like last year, but right now people are choosing to block traffic. Screams at the cops intersperse with chanting, now in Spanish and English, about Chuy and Mike-Mike. This pattern simplifies into the words, “We Remember,” droned on and on at the building and its armored occupants. In this very mixed crowd, it feels like we say it for ourselves and for each other, not for the pigs across the lawn. For me those two words pull together all these intense things I’m feeling, sadness and loss and tragedy and anger and violent rage and despair. I know that all these emotions can only be more intense for those here who’ve directly lost a loved one or who deal with police harassment every day, but that knowledge just makes my own rage all the more palpable.march1

* * *

With no arrests, we arrive back at CCB plaza, the other rally in full swing, with cheers. “We just blocked the fucking highway!” someone yells, and the marchers scream. Then we hush quietly as the rally continues, some of us changing clothes for the time being as people disperse into the large crowd that has gathered. The two crowds mingle with each other as people shift gears, waiting to see if another march will happen.

* * *

As I remove the t-shirt from my face I hear the speaker talking about how powerful we can be. I agree with the sentiment, but it feels ironic—personally, the only reason I feel powerful right now is because instead of attending this three-hour-and-counting rally I just joined hundreds of people as they physically disrupted life in the city for a brief period, and they did so by departing from the scripted protest that Durham’s Left excels at. To be powerful has a spiritual and existential dimension, to be sure, one that can be reinforced with words and gestures. But in the face of a physical apparatus of control and repression, our own attempts at power also hold dimensions of technique, skill, learning, social relations, and tools. No amount of passive rallies will teach us these things: how to outmaneuver different police vehicles, what materials can block rubber bullets vs. live rounds, which streets in our town are easiest to barricade, how to de-arrest a comrade, how to read police movement as a protest evolves. Even on the spiritual level, watching the police be helpless as we collectively break their laws or seize capitalist property is worth a thousand vague speeches about how “we can be powerful.” As I reflect, it seems the rally has no end in sight, and so I leave for a nearby bar that proves a better place to recharge and make new plans.