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May Day In Washington

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Last weekend in Washington is very hard to write about. It's too early still to see what the final results of 5 days of tear gas and music will be-what affect they'll have on the war, the government, on us, our parents. Those who were down there will never forget it, I'm sure. And 10,000 or so brothers and sisters who found themselves arrested and locked up in makeshift prisoner of war camps overnight will have a lot to look back on for sure.

Driving into West Potomac Park Saturday morning at 6:30 after the 10 hour trip from Ann Arbor, picking up hitchhikers who turned us on along the way, we came upon Peace City. There were tens of thousands of people gathering in the morning sunrise and acres and acres of tents and people stretched out in sleeping bags bundled in groups to keep warm. Also a monumental traffic jam. Army and police helicopters buzzed overhead while people made love on the grass. There was lots of good free dope and organic foods. Freaks were serving oatmeal with raisins and rice out of garbage pails, passing out crunchy granola for breakfast, and every once in a while you'd see someone from the food tent walk around handing out warm loaves of homemade bread.

It was incredible. Old friends would meet each other, run into each other's arms and scream and yodel. The sound system, which was excellent, kept on going with "Judy meet John at the Information tent" and "The green acid has strychnine in it, be careful". Frisbees flew, people sat in circles and toked down, Vietcong flags flew from the tops of tents, some of which were made from American flags, and in general everyone had a great time, waiting for the music to start.

The first group to hit the stage were, dig it, the Beach Boys. So it was "Wouldn't it be Nice" and "California Girls" and "Sloop John B." drifting out over the huge crowd gathered with the Washington Monument in the background. The guys running the helicopters keeping a spy-out were probably rocking too, having most likely grown up on this music just like the rest of us. The Beach Boys are freaks now, with really long hair and bushy beards, singing at anti-war rallies for free. That's just another indication of how widespread the change in this generation has reached - the Beach Boys were super straight who sang about surfing and picking up girls and that whole scene.

Mitch Ryder and his group were next. "This is Detroit music, people." Real rock and roll. The crowd   started moving together, workin' out, and the vibes were great. That is until about 30 women tried to get on the stage, pushing through stage personnel and shoving and screaming that Mitch was playing "cock-rock" and "male chauvinist music." They said they wanted the microphone, and were quickly told that they could speak after Mitch's set was through. They never even asked anyone whether it would be OK for them to speak before they tried to force their way on stage.

What a drag. We really must get together, brothers and sisters, together, and work out our problems. Let's sit down together and figure out what is sexist in our culture, because we're finding out more and more every day that the culture we come from still influences us in ways we aren't aware of yet. But we can't work things out and benefit from everyone's experience by attacking each other.

Mitch ended with "It's Just a Shot Away", the whole crowd swaying to the sound of this song, a call to action for a generation. Mitch expressed the mood of the crowd when he said that "if we wanted to intimidate people, we would have brought guns. We don't want to intimidate anyone; we just want to let our culture exist." And, we might add, grow!

Next came Charles Mingus's band, who didn't seem to be very into what they were doing and got little response. Afterwards a large group of women and gay people got up on stage, and there were some truly right on raps about sexism, the unequal and unnatural separations that man and woman are born into in this anti-human land. And they talked about the special oppression of gay people, who are considered and treated by honks as the lowest form of human life, constantly joked about, degraded, and fucked over.

Some of this stuff did get a bit weird, like one sister with absolutely no voice tried to sing a tune, explaining that everyone was completely equal and her voice and songs were as good as anyone else that had played because "we're all people." It was awful. One girl came over and asked if that was Joni Mitchell singing. She was pretty spaced out.

"Will everyone please get off the scaffolding. Those lamps up there are heavy and will probably kill some people if they fall off." 

A group that played soon after Mitch and was really killer was Swallow, a super-high energy band from Boston. They played truly cosmic rock and roll, pluggin in on all the energy from the hundreds of tripping people out in front. Swallow's lead singer is a short, fat and blind dude, who can really sing like a powerhouse. People were screaming and shouting and dancing and generally getting it on, especially to their tune "Change the Nation."

"Brothers and sisters, and sisters and brothers, and brothers and sisters and sisters and brothers and brothers and sisters. ...... Someone's passing bad methadone in orange juice around the front rows. Watch out, we all want to live, and not kill ourselves with bad drugs. . .

" There was lots of music that day - it continued until early the next morning. Groups included Catfish, the Pride of Woman from Detroit, who were pretty low energy except when Barbara Holliday of Ann Arbor sang "She's So Fine" with them (if they were really proud of being women they'd take off all that ridiculous make up), Elephants Memory from New York, NRBQ, Mother Earth, Phil Ochs, and lots of other smaller groups. Very few of the big name bands that were promised showed up - there was no Johnny Winter, Country Joe, Jefferson Airplane (although Grace Slick was seen backstage late Saturday night) or Grateful Dead.

But the spirit of the 100,000 people was everywhere, and Saturday afternoon and evening will go down as one of the most festive and at the same time political gatherings of our people, coming together to proclaim their new way of life, in opposition to the control war addicts just a mile or two down the road. Drumming, chanting, singing and dancing continued throughout the night.

♦ Early Sunday morning the helicopters started buzzing the crowd again, and row upon row of white-helmeted Washington police began to circle the encampment. Then came the announcement, "People, we have bad news. We have just been told that our permit is revoked. The police have asked us to leave these grounds and to pick up our trash and remove it from the area. . . Everyone just stay together and cool."

So the music stopped, and Peace City began to disperse. It was a well-planned move by the pigs to break up the group, destroy Communications among the people there, and scare lots of people into going home, all in an effort to thwart the massive traffic tie-ups scheduled for Monday.

The pigs succeeded - probably more than three quarters of the people split for home. Many would have left anyway by Sunday evening, having come mostly for the music and not the civil disobedience. The official excuse for breaking up the park was extensive narcotics violations, unsanitary conditions, and the fact that tents were erected, which is against park regulations. About 40 people refused to leave--they were arrested around noon.

That afternoon people gathered at Washington area universities and planned tactics for the next morning. There were around a thousand people at the Michigan meeting, and spirits were high.

Monday morning came time to "close down the government." At best, the actions that took place could be viewed as a series of temporary, symbolic shutdown of Washington streets and highways. Rarely did an action last for more than 10 or 15 minutes. Police were well organized, much more so than the people engaged in the action, and were able to clear people away very quickly with little effort.

The disruptions started at around 6 a.m., and hit more than twenty targets throughout the city. A variety of tactics were used - people threw crushed beer cans and broken glass on to the street, picked up garbage bins and assorted mailboxes, even manhole covers, and threw them out on the asphalt.

Tires of parked cars and buses were slashed, people would open up the engines of buses and disconnect them while the buses waited for a red light. Purposely stalled cars tangled traffic everywhere; people would stall them, get out and start tinkering with the engine. This led to some hilarious scenes, with cops trying to get people to move their cars.

The favorite tactic was the sit down--actually sitting down in the street and blocking traffic with bodies. Some people came close to getting run down - these groups were usually quickly dispersed by police, only to regroup and sit somewhere else, until finally arrested.

There were many ugly scenes, and lots of tear gas. Washington police use CS gas, which is among the most potent forms. Government workers got gassed - at one point the doors to the Bureau of Engraving (where they print money) swung open and workers filed out, handkerchiefs to their faces, coughing and wiping their eyes.

Angry motorists, on their way to work, sometimes got out of their cars and fought demonstrators, throwing debris back at them which was cast onto the sidewalk.

And who will ever forget the sight of huge Chinook helicopters, just the same kind used in Vietnam for troop deployment, dropping hundreds of Marines on the grounds of the Washington monument. The troops, for the most part, seemed very sympathetic, and not at all anxious to arrest or hurt anyone. Lots of fists and v-signs were flashed by GI's while their superior officers weren't looking.

Later on in the afternoon the police began to go berserk and heavily overreact. The Medical Committee For Human Rights, which had handled the bad trips tent at Peace City and was taking care of getting people water for tear gas and general first aid treatment, becam a special target. Six of their vans were seized, and medics with authorized arm-bands were arrested.

A complex communications system which the committee was using to call ambulances was completely smashed. Consequently, the committee members were forced to remove their armbands and red crosses and go underground, in order to treat the people that needed it without getting busted in the process.

There were many arrests in the morning, but things really started getting heavy at around 2 o'clock. Police cars began sweeping the streets, announcing that within certain areas anyone found walking the streets would be picked up and arrested on sight. Here began one of the most incredible mass arrests in U.S. history. By the end of the day more than 7,000 people were busted. Cops just cruised down the street, picking up every long hair and young person they found. Hundreds of people who weren't involved in the demonstration were arrested, including mothers and university professors. No charges were lodged against those arrested until many hours later, and most of the cases will probably be dismissed for lack of evidence and specific detail as to where the person was arrested, etc. The police just wanted to clear the streets, so they arrested every longhair in sight. The police state in operation.

People were taken to the city jails, until those filled up. The remainder were taken to a makeshift prisoner of war camp, a football field near John F. Kennedy stadium temporarily fenced off with barbed wire for the occasion. Several thousand people were herded inside, with no food or shelter. As the word got out people, including Congresswoman Bella Abzug, brought over food, and the people inside the camp found a huge tarp which they erected into a tent. The National Liberation Front's blue, red and yellow flag flew from atop the tent - someone had managed to sneak one inside.

At one point a large group of prisoners massed at a portion of the fence. A tear gas dispensing machine was brought into action, pumping clouds of painful smoke into people's bodies. The prisoners were kept at the field till late evening, when they were brought over to the Washington Coliseum for the night. Most were released on Tuesday, after positing $10 collateral.

Also arrested on Monday was Rennie Davis, one of the main organizers of May Day. Rennie was charged with conspiracy to violate the civil rights of the citizens of Washington, and conspiring to block federal employees from getting to work. He was released the next day, along with John Froines, who was also arrested on the same charges, on $25, 000 bail.  

Tuesday morning saw more traffic-stopping, involving less people. The character of the Tuesday actions was more strictly non-violent, with very few aggressive actions. Later on, 3,000 people marched to the Justice Department and held a rally. Police surrounded the crowd and arrested 2,000 people with the help of more tear gas.

On Wednesday 2,000 people were arrested on the steps of the Capitol, while chanting, (like Chicago, 1968), "THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING! " The arrests went without "incident" or gas, after a rally.

So that was Washington, or as much as has happened as we go to press Wednesday night. It was a very complex event, going from a festival of life - an affirmation of a new way of life, a new possibility - all the way to a violent protest against the government that resulted in 10,000 arrests.

We saw this weekend in Washington that we are not organized enough at this time to shut down the government militarily. The May Day Tribe hoped to create "a level of social chaos that America's leaders will be unable to accept." Yet the government seemed to have little trouble handling whatever chaos there was.

The government must be stopped, there can be no question about that. But even if we did shut down the government this week, what would we put in its place? It's becoming clear to more and more of us every day that this government can only be stopped through our efforts at building an alternative to it - a true people's government that serves all of us and helps us take care of all our needs. The more we do everyday to make our alternative real, the sooner will it become obvious to everyone here in Amerika that the wholesale murder and the greedy, wasteful exploitation carried on by the government of the United States are not necessary - that the policies of this government are in fact the source of all the earth's problems.

It will take a long time, but it's the only way we'll succeed.



David Fenton, Rainbow People's Party