On November 30, 1999, tens of thousands of anarchists, indigenous people, ecologists, union organizers, and other foes of tyranny converged in Seattle, Washington from around the world to blockade and shut down the summit of the World Trade Organization. The result was one of the era’s most inspiring victories against global capitalism, demonstrating the effectiveness of direct action and casting light on the machinations of the WTO. The crisis of capitalism has only intensified since 1999. Today, we should learn from the struggles of the past, take inspiration from the courage of those who fought in them, and renew our assault on the structures that impose inequality and ecological destruction. The following narrative recounts one participant’s experiences in the events of that historic day.
This text is excepted from the zine N30: The Seattle WTO Protests, which also includes a blow-by-blow account and analysis of the events of the week. For perspective on how far-right nationalists have dishonestly attempted to co-opt opposition to the consequences of neoliberalism, read “What Did You Do in the Anti-Globalization Movement, Mr. Trump?” To learn about the infrastructure of the mobilization, read the Seattle Logistics Zine in our archives.
I can’t do it. I can’t. I can’t tell you what it felt like any more than a bird could tell me what it feels like to fly. I can tell you my story, but it’s only my head talking. My heart can’t write, and my guts don’t have lips. I cannot truly explain how it felt to taste ecstasy in every breath as the invincible forces of privilege and coercive power finally lost control, how it felt to stare down the world’s most ruinous and abusive bullies and watch them blink, how it felt to fall in love with tens of thousands of people at once, to not know what would happen next, to become dangerous.
And that is a tragedy that haunts me as I write every one of these words. Because if somehow I could share with you what I felt for ten days in Seattle, you would never settle for anything less again. You would kick in your TV, run outside buck naked, tear up the freeway with your bare hands, flip tanks upside down, and dance with panda bears through the streets. The barbarians would emerge from exile to knock down heaven’s door and the dead would rise up from their coffins and cubicles. And once you got a taste of the sublime joy of reclaiming control of your life and your world, of regaining your lost kinship in a human community of which you are an integral component, of realizing your wildest dreams and desires, you would do whatever it takes to make it happen again.
Monday, November 22 to Thursday, November 25
On Monday I leave for Seattle from Columbus, Georgia on a Greyhound bus, alone, already hungry, with no money and nothing to eat. Six hours later in Atlanta my bag is whisked away to a different bus, leaving me with no warm clothes and nothing to read, either. I stare blankly out the window at the bleak, diseased wasteland of concrete and smoke and cars, at the trees and fields and hills and rivers, at all the cities I’ve never seen before—Chattanooga, Nashville, Louisville, Indianapolis, Gary, Chicago.
I scrounge what little food I can at bus stations, but by Tuesday night I am hungry enough that I’m starting to get mean. In Chicago a grizzled old man gives me a sandwich, which I eat, and a dollar, which I give to another grizzled old man. I stare and think and try to sleep. Milwaukee, Madison, Eau Claire… Wednesday morning, Minneapolis. Haggard young women with kids, disgruntled truckers, teenage runaways. Fargo, Bismarck, Billings. The North Dakotan whose car broke down in Minnesota who can’t afford to fix it. Butte, Missoula, Coeur d’Alene, Spokane. The grizzled young man who buys me a waffle in Montana because he hasn’t seen me eat in a day and a half. I fall asleep a few hours past Spokane in the Cascades and wake up, Thursday November 25, at about midnight, in Seattle.
I stagger off the bus, meet my mysterious liaison Ms. J, and am miraculously reunited with my long lost bag. Fifteen minutes later I stand outside of the 420 Denny Space, a nerve center of sorts where I find dozens of people bustling around with saws and paint and walkie-talkies, plotting and planning and building. This is a very good sign, but after seventy-eight hours of Greyhound time it’s also pretty jarring. I’m utterly exhausted, ravenously hungry, and in no condition to conspire yet. I catch a ride south from downtown to the Roasted Filbert, a cavernous, dusty, unmarked warehouse with concrete floors, no windows, and a purple door; which is serving as a refuge for everyone who shows up at 420 with nowhere to stay. I find a space inside, curl up in my bag, and pass out listening to warm bodies breathing all around me.
Friday, November 26
At dawn I ride back up to Denny with four others from Filbert. None of us know each other. Downtown the towers glitter in the distance like decorated tombs, spectacular monuments to wealth and power that loom overhead just as the institutions they embody loom over every aspect of our lives. I know that we are flying under their radar, and that we are not alone. For the first time in my life those almighty towers, and all that they stand for, look vulnerable to me.
Up at Denny, the bustle and activity of Thursday night has multiplied exponentially. I help out with the kitchen and the dishwashing, finally get some food, and spend most of the day getting my bearings. Around dusk Critical Mass issues out of 420. I ride with somebody on the back of her bike since I don’t have one. Later I just run. We ride around and around the upscale shopping districts downtown, taking over whatever streets we want, whenever we want, without any authorization or permission, singing, dancing, howling, and conversing with anyone who will listen. Someone begins chanting “We’re gonna win! We’re gonna win!” and for the first time in my life I believe it.
Much to my surprise and delight, I chance upon Mr. X in the midst of Critical Mass. I have only seen him once since I spent much of the summer of 1998 in a van with him. He is in Seattle with Ms. X and X-Dog. Our reunion is cut short, however, when a psychopath in a fancy car tries to run us over. Mr. X screams like a banshee, jumps onto the hood, slips a piece of cardboard under the wipers and over the entire windshield, pounds three big ass dents in the hood with his fist, and disappears into the night.
Later we invade the Washington Trade and Convention Center, where the WTO summit is supposed to be held, and ride in circles through the foyer for quite some time before a security guard punches someone in the face and the police finally manage to chase us away.
Saturday, November 27
I spend all morning and early afternoon at Denny. The 420 Space is serving as a welcome mat, training grounds, mess hall, and nerve center, and it is turning into a complete madhouse. Countless meetings and workshops, endless training and skill sharing, and ceaseless cooking, cleaning, eating, and welding all rage perpetually and simultaneously under Denny’s roof. More and more people pour in throughout the day, and it is beginning to get difficult to move around inside. I leave late Saturday afternoon for the Hitco space to make lockboxes. Hitco is every bit as wild as Denny. While others hammer away at mammoth puppets and matching sea turtle suits we set up an assembly line and build hundreds of lockboxes out of PVC pipe, chicken wire, framing nails, tar, sand, yarn, and duct tape. We turn them out late into the night. I ride to 420, walk to Filbert, and sleep covered with tar.
Sunday, November 28
Sunday morning Denny is an utterly unfathomable zoo. I learn that Saturday night banners were dropped all over downtown, one from the top of a crane over I-5. At noon a parade complete with giant puppets, street theater, radical cheerleading, and an anarchic marching band rolls out of Seattle Central Community College (SCCC). The street party is a roaring success, reclaiming downtown for hours and railing fiercely at all manifestations of corporate dominance. Unfortunately I miss it. I go back to Hitco around five to finish the lockboxes, unaware that the festival is still bumping. I get back to 420 around eight and run across Ms. C. We are eating dinner when we hear that a mass public squat is about to be opened on Virginia St. The word is free shelter downtown for anyone who needs it during the protests, and for Seattle’s homeless after. About forty of us steal through the night to recover a fragment of the world that has been stolen from us.
913 Virginia Street. The door opens, and two masked heads emerge from the darkness. “GET IN!” I run through the door, up the stairs, through a wooden hatch, onto the second floor. The door closes behind me. The building is enormous. This floor could harbor a horde of barbarians. The power is running. Androgynous ninja elves scamper about everywhere around me, hammering away furiously on a thousand different projects. I board up windows at a breakneck pace with a tireless Danish carpenter. Plywood, two-by-fours, chicken wire, black plastic, anything. Next room. The cops are coming. They’re about to fire tear gas through all these windows. No they’re not. More rooms. Yes they are. Cover all this up so they can’t tell how many of us are in here. No they’re not. “WHO THE FUCK LET IN PHOTOGRAPHERS? I’VE GOT FELONY WARRANTS IN WASHINGTON STATE!” The cops are coming. Two rooms left. No they’re not. “KEEP THOSE FUCKING PHOTOGRAPHERS IN THAT FRONT ROOM! SOMEBODY GO TALK TO THEM!” Yes they are. We’re done. No they’re not…
There are two doors, one in front and one in back. The former can be opened from inside by dismantling the contraption that braces it. The latter, where Mr. N has constructed a virtually impregnable barricade out of toilets, concrete, rebar, plywood, and an iron fire door, could only be opened by a tank. The doors are adjacent to two stairwells, one in front and one in back, which lead to either end of a long winding hallway that connects about ten rooms. The rooms are vast and spacious, with 25’ ceilings, gigantic windows, and giant stages and lofts of various shapes and sizes. One has been furnished with an ample supply of food, water, and medical supplies. Someone runs out of another, arms raised in triumph, a crescent wrench in one fist and a plunger in the other. “THE TOILET WORKS!” In yet another Ms. I and Ms. S arm a security team with short wave radios. Every window on this floor is boarded up except for those in the front room—where earlier we gave a full fledged press conference before banishing the blow-dried talking heads of the corporate media altogether—and nothing inside can be distinguished from below. The third floor is essentially identical to the second, except that none of the windows are boarded up and there is a ladder to the roof in the back stairwell. There is no way to approach the building that is not visible from the roof, where someone stands guard with a short-wave radio, waiting for the inevitable. Here come the cops, this time for real…
We assemble in The Spiral Room and send Mr. G outside to negotiate, agreeing that he will not accept, refuse, offer, or request any proposal before we have all consensed to do so. The cops say we need to let in a fire inspector. They need to know if we are posing a fire hazard to ourselves. After much discussion we consense that this is complete bullshit. They don’t know the layout of the building, or how many of us are inside, how sturdy our barricades are, or for that matter if we all have machine guns or not. They want to inspect the building to determine how difficult it will be to raid. When we refuse they cut the water, then the power.
By this time a bizarre circus has gathered below. Reporters, feds, and undercover agents film us, and our friends from 420 and the Independent Media Center film them. We hang banners and signs from the roof and windows. Mine says “RESISTANCE IS FERTILE.” Outside Mr. G wrangles with the cops. Inside we are embroiled in an absolutely endless meeting regarding their ever-changing promises and threats. As it gets later and later we are left with less friends and more enemies, who make less promises and more threats. The situation becomes increasingly tense, but they never move in on us. Around four they finally leave, swearing that they will return at eight with the landlord to chase us out. I sleep with one eye open, and wake up four different times to false alarms. The cops are coming. No they’re not. Yes they are. No they’re not.
Monday, November 29
Throughout the morning a crowd from 420 and everywhere else gathers outside, beating drums and singing. The cops return at eight with the landlord, block the doors, and refuse to let anyone in or out. Around noon we manage to get a lawyer inside. He tries to cut us a deal. We will occupy the building until Friday, then hand it over to Share/Wheel, a homeless advocacy group, who will convert it into a free shelter. The landlord claims he will get sued if someone gets hurt in his building. We write up a waiver clearing him of any liability for anything that happens inside. He refuses to sign it. This all takes hours.
The negotiations break down completely by late afternoon. The landlord wants us disposed of. The cops slaver in anticipation. Around 5:30 they swear that in thirty minutes they will kick down the doors, beat ass, break heads, and arrest everyone inside. They will let anyone who is willing to leave out now. This is our “last chance.” Nearly everyone opts out at this point, understandably having no desire to spend the 30th in jail. They promise to tear ass up to Denny and return with as much backup as they can scrape together. I know that whether this is our “last chance” or not, there are nowhere near enough cops outside to actually raid the building, and I cannot fathom why. Later I learn that crowds have amassed all over downtown. Some have surrounded The Gap, some the Westin Hotel so that the WTO delegates can’t get in to sleep, and some have attacked a McDonald’s, breaking some windows.
About fifteen of us remain inside. There a lot of people out front, but not enough. The situation looks bleak. At 6 p.m. the riot cops show up. We decide that there is no longer any way to defend the building, and that there is no point in making martyrs of ourselves—except for Mr. B, who says he will hide in the rafters and hold out alone if he has to. We dismantle the barricade at the front door and run outside.
We are greeted with a wondrous sight. The cavalry has arrived from 420. Somehow hordes of people have slid in between the cops and the door, and more stream in from all around. Everyone goes berserk. We pound and bang on everything we can get our hands on, howling and dancing and taking up most of the block. Mr. B is up on the roof, roaring at the top of his lungs with his arms raised to the sky as if all the indomitable power of the avenging squatter demon is running through the marrow of his bones. The cops are at a loss. Every time they try to give us an order or command we just dance, but when they try to charge their van across the block to disperse us we surround it and slow it down to a crawl, then beat and kick and rock it while the couple inside squirms. It is all they can do to limp their wounded warhorse through to the other side before all the little elves flip the damn thing over. The cops leave.
Pandemonium reigns. Up on the roof Mr. B roars in triumph, and the walls tremble at the tops of the tombs. I suspect that the cops are not prepared to start a riot on Virginia Street when so much of their force is downtown protecting the world’s most ruinous and abusive corporations and the delegates who represent them. A fragment of the world has been recovered, and it is safe for now. About forty people run inside, and I run back up to Denny.
A few hours later, right before I leave 420 for the night, I run into Ms. X and X-Dog. She tells me that Mr. X is in jail. She is trying desperately to bail him out before the state discovers exactly who he is and what he has done. I promise to keep in contact with her and to do all I can to help. Before I fall asleep back at the squat, beneath a window with the glittering banks looming over me, I remember the time Mr. X told me that there were only two things that he would never do. He would never hurt anyone, and he would never take anyone’s food. His captors do both, and some day they will suffer the consequences. They have locked Mr. X in a cage, and tomorrow it’s time for payback.
Tuesday, November 30
I wake up before dawn and walk to SCCC, where the festivities begin. Before long I am surrounded by thousands of friends, and at 7 a.m. we set out for the Washington Trade and Convention Center, where the summit is supposed to be held. As we near it we fan out, taking over the surrounding streets and blockading entrances to the building. Everything you can imagine turns into a barricade. Bodies, puppets, lockboxes, a fifty foot tripod, barrels full of concrete, dumpsters, cars. We begin to form a human chain around the convention center.
In an amusing display of either arrogance or stupidity the delegates all wear matching beige suits and big ID tags that say “DELEGATE.” Whenever they try to approach the building we stop them and chase them off. Without the protection of their armed servants they are as powerless as a brain without a body, and their expressions are priceless as they run away. Before long the chain is complete, and the only ways in are through parking garages, hotels, and underground tunnels. We cut these off one by one. I dart around by myself, patching up holes where blockades need help and trailing delegates to their secret entrances. I dog one for blocks, grinning malevolently at him as he searches in vain for a way into the convention center. He finally gives up and asks a cop for advice, and I listen in, rubbing my hands with glee. “How do we get inside?”
“Well, sir… right now there is no way to get inside.”
The opening ceremonies of the summit are postponed, then canceled altogether. This is when the cops begin to riot. They have failed their masters miserably and they are pissed.
I run up to the barricade at 5th and Seneca, which I hear is about to be attacked. The cops, sporting Darth Vader suits and unmarked raincoats, have formed a line across Seneca. Behind them there are five or six more on horses and a couple with big ass guns. We push a line of dumpsters in front of them so that they can’t trample us, and form an enormous immovable knot so that they can’t drag us away and arrest us. The cops flip on gas masks and begin to fire tear gas into the crowd. Others blast us with jumbo tanks of pepper spray. One throws a can of gas into my lap. Ronald McDonald and his band of merry devils run amok through my organs, burning plastic bonfires in my windpipe and hacking at my lungs with chainsaws dipped in DDT. Vampire fangs sunk down to the gums suck the soul from my skull, and all that remains in the hellish wasteland between my ears is fear and hatred.
Everyone around me starts to run. While I am getting up a cop bucks me in the face with pepper spray. Tony the Tiger is scouring my eyes with his chemical claws, my nostrils are searing, and I can’t see a damn thing. I scramble down Seneca stone blind and finally collapse in the street, gasping and convulsing. Someone pours water on my face and rubs life back into my eyes. I am born again in their hands. We all tear ass back up Seneca towards 5th to make out what the cops are doing and how to stop them. I realize that my friends are not all just going to bail when things start to get ugly.
And here come the cops, storming through the sickly clouds, ejaculating toxic gas as fast as they can stroke their triggers. They open up on us with rubber bullets and concussion grenades, and we stampede back down Seneca and around the corner. The stampede becomes a fairly orderly retreat as we book down 4th Avenue, hurling everything we can get our hands on out into the street to protect ourselves from their cars and horses. Trash cans, newspaper stands, concrete tree planters, dumpsters, construction barricades, anything that will stop them or slow them down. The gas is inescapable but we grab the cans and throw them back. The rubber bullets are legitimately scary but we chuck sticks, stones, and bottles and hope for the best. I find myself on top of a newspaper stand in the middle of 4th Avenue, unleashing a psychotic stream of invective at the interchangeable bullies who are approaching through the smoke. “FUCK YOU, COWARDS!, I’M INVINCIBLE!”
This is happening all over town. They can move us but they cannot disperse us. At 4th and Union the worm is beginning to turn. The cops, facing thousands and thousands of us now, are a little less gung ho than they were at 5th and Seneca. They form a line across 4th and we come to another standoff. Only this time no one is going to sit down for them. I find myself on top of another newspaper stand in the middle of 4th Avenue, roaring at the top of my lungs. “I can’t TELL you how THRILLED I am to BE here right now. I LOVE every ONE of you, like a SISTER or a BROTHER. There is NOWHERE, in the WORLD, EVER, that I would RATHER BE then WHERE I AM right now. There is NOTHING I would RATHER BE DOING than WHAT I AM DOING right now. I would RATHER be OUT HERE than spend another FUCKING SECOND in my CAR, or at my JOB, or WATCHING TV. I DON’T think these cops can say that. I DON’T think those delegates can say that. I would rather EAT MORE TEAR GAS than any more of their FUCKING fast food. I would rather DRINK MORE PEPPER SPRAY than any more of their FUCKING soft drinks. I would rather DEAL WITH THAT than ACCEPT THIS SHIT for another FUCKING SECOND. And I would rather DIE LIVING than continue to LIVE DYING…”
Somebody hugs me. It has been so long since anyone has touched me that I nearly melt in their arms. Someone else jumps up and roars, and then someone else, and then someone else. I rest for a minute while a stout Chicano man recounts some interesting news. While the servants were busy terrorizing us and the rest of the blockades, the wily and mobile Black Bloc dealt with their masters in kind. Masked little elves armed with slingshots, sledgehammers, mallets, chains, and crowbars attacked The Gap, McDonald’s, Niketown, Bank of America, Starbucks, Levi’s, Fidelity Investment, Old Navy, Key Bank, Washington Mutual, Nordstrom’s, US Bankcorp, Planet Hollywood, and other manifestations of corporate dominance, smashing windows and redecorating facades. I am ecstatic. Those glittering towers are not invincible after all. The greatest trick the vampires ever played was convincing us that garlic did not exist. Let their facade be torn to pieces, and may the walls come tumbling down.
The stout Chicano man tells me that during the LA riots he and his friends burned down police stations and nothing else. We freestyle from the newspaper stand until my larynx is throbbing. Eventually the cops get impatient and one of them bucks my man full in the face with pepper spray. I kiss him on the head, they club me and everyone else they can reach, and back down 4th Avenue I go, a phalanx of crocodiles in ankylosaurus suits at my heels wreaking havoc and pain.
Yet another standoff at 4th and Pike. The cops form a line across 4th Avenue. This is getting repetitive. I have inhaled so much tear gas, ingested so much pepper spray, and ducked so many concussion grenades and rubber bullets that running the bulls on 4th Avenue is no longer novel or fun. It’s just frustrating. We outnumber them almost immeasurably, yet they still attack us with impunity. They hold all the cards, they make all the rules, and they cheat all the time. I am terrified. We are in no way seriously prepared to defend ourselves. All it would take would be for one dumb ass aggro cop to decide to get his rocks off and open fire for all the rest to follow suit. It would be a massacre. Kent State. Bonfires smolder behind my eyes, and the smoke rises out of my mouth. I choose one—at random, for they all look exactly the same. Every inch of his body is hidden under black cyborg armor. He is armed to the teeth. His face is hidden under a gas mask, face shield, and full helmet. “O’Neil” is embroidered on his bulletproof vest. I plant myself squarely in front of his face and I stare dead into his eyes. He won’t look at me. He blinks constantly, looks down, left, up, right; anywhere but at me. It infuriates me almost beyond words that this coward has the impudence to attack me when I am unarmed but lacks the courage to even look me in the eyes. “Can you look me in the eyes? CAN YOU LOOK ME IN THE EYES? LOOK ME IN THE EYES, O’NEIL.” Nothing.
I know why he won’t look at me. When he was halter-broken he joined his trainers in a companionship stimulated not by love, but by hatred—hatred for the “enemy” who has always been designated as a barbarian, savage, communist, jap, criminal, gook, subhuman, drug dealer, terrorist, scum; less than human and therefore legitimate prey. I try to make it impossible for him to label me as a faceless protester, the enemy. I pull off my ski mask and continue to stare into his eyes. I tell him that I am from the south, about fixing houses and laying floors and loading tractor trailer trucks, about nearly getting killed in a car wreck in October, about carrying my dog around crying to all the bushes that she loved to root around in the day she died of cancer. I tell him that we all have our stories, that there are no faceless protesters here. Nothing.
“Can you look me in the eyes, O’Neil? I am a human being, and I refuse to let you evade that. I won’t let you label me as a protester, and I don’t want to have to label you as a cop. I refuse to accept that they have broken you completely, that there is not something left in you which is still capable of empathizing with me. I want to be able to treat you as an equal, but only if you prove to me that you are willing to do the same. And the only way you can do that is by joining us, or walking away.”
I remain dead still, staring into his weak cow eyes. He is blinking excessively and is visibly uncomfortable. “Can you look me in the eyes, O’Neil? The difference between me and you is that I want to be here and you don’t. I know why I am here. I am enjoying myself. I am reveling in this. I am rejoicing. I have been waiting for this to happen since I was a little kid. There is nowhere, in the world that I would rather be than where I am right now. There is nothing I would rather be doing than what I am doing right now. It has never been so magnificent to feel the sublime power of life running through the marrow of my bones. I know that you don’t want to be here. I know that you don’t know why you are here. I know that you are not enjoying yourself. I know that you don’t want to be doing this. And no one is holding a gun to your head and forcing you to. Wherever you want to be, go there, now. Whatever you want to be doing, do it, now. Go home and get out my way. Go make love with your girlfriend or boyfriend, go snuggle with your kids or dog, go watch TV if that’s what you want, but stay out of my way because this is a lot more important to me than it is to you.”
I have not moved my feet or my eyeballs at all. I have been trying to blink as little as possible. O’Neil’s eyes are quivering and squirming to avoid me beneath the mask. “O’NEIL! CAN YOU LOOK ME IN THE EYES? CAN YOU DO THAT FOR ME, O’NEIL? CAN YOU LOOK ME IN THE EYES. Basically this whole ‘Battle of Seattle’ boils down to the relationship between you and me. And really, there are only two kinds of relationships that we can have anymore. If you can either join us or walk away then you will be my brother, and I will embrace you. If you cannot then you will be my enemy, and I will fight you. The relationship that we are not going to have is the one where you are dominant and I am subservient. That is no longer an option. That will never be an option again. “Which kind of relationship do you want to have with me, O’Neil? Look around you. Look at all of these people singing and dancing and making music. Don’t you see how beautiful this is? Don’t you see how much more healthy and strong and fulfilling and desirable and fun relationships that rest on mutual respect and consent and understanding and solidarity and love are than ones that rest on force and fear and coercion and violence and hatred? Don’t you see that the life and the world that we are beginning to create out here is superior to the one that you have been trained to accept? Don’t you see that we are going to win? Don’t you want to be a part of this? I know you do because you still can’t look me in eyes. If you want to remain my enemy then so be it. But if you want to be my brother all you have to do is join us or walk away.”
At this exact moment the Infernal Noise Brigade appears. For the first time since I began this surreal monologue I look behind me. A small man wearing a gas mask and fatigues is prancing about in front, dancing lustily with two oversized black and green flags. Behind him two women wearing gas masks and fatigues march side by side, each bearing an oversized black and green mock wooden rifle. Two columns of about fifteen march behind the women with the guns. They are all wearing gas masks and fatigues, and they are all playing drums and horns and all sorts of other noisemakers. They are making the most glorious uproar that I have ever heard.
The Infernal Noise Brigade marches all the way to the front where we are standing. When they reach the line the columns transform into a whirling circle. We form more circles around them, holding hands and leaping through the air, dancing around and around in concentric rings like a tribe of elves. We dance with absolute abandon, in possibly the most unrestrained explosion of sheer fury and joy I have ever seen. On one side of the line across 4th Avenue there is a pulsating festival of resistance and life. On the other side there is a blank wall of obedience and death. The comparison is impossible to miss. It hits you over the head with a hammer.
When the dance is over I return to my post up in O’Neil’s face. I stare into his eyes and invoke all the love and rage I can muster to fashion an auger to bore through his mask and into his brain. And Cow Eyes cries crocodile tears. His eyes are brimming, with red veins throbbing. His cheeks are moist. He won’t look at me. “O’Neil, I don’t care if you cry or not. I don’t care what you’re thinking right now. I only care about what you do. Before long you will get orders to attack us, or one of you will get impatient and provoke another confrontation. What are you going to do? When that happens I am going to be standing right here. If you choose to remain our enemy then you are going to have to hit me first. You are going to have to hurt me first. I dare you to look me in the eyes when you do it. You may be able to hurt me and not look at me. You may be able to look at me and not hurt me. But you won’t be able to look me in the eyes while you hurt me, because you are afraid you will lose your nerve. You are afraid of me, and you should be.
“O’Neil, you all have been terrorizing us all day. If this goes on all night we will have to start fighting back. And you and I will be standing right here in the middle of it. I have no illusions about what that means. Neither should you. We may get killed. But I would rather deal with that than accept this one second longer. I would rather die than give in to you. I don’t think you can say that, can you, O’Neil? Would you rather die than be my brother? Who are you dying for? Where are they? Whoever gives you orders is standing behind you, man. Whoever gives them orders is relaxing down at the station, and whoever gives them orders is safe in some high rise somewhere, laughing at your foolish ass! Why isn’t your boss, and their boss, out here with you, O’Neil, risking their lives and crying in the middle of 4th Avenue? Why should they? You do it all for them! What are you thinking? I just don’t get it. They don’t care about you, hell, I care about you more than they do. You’re getting used, hustled, played, man, and you will be discarded the minute you become expendable. Please look me in the eyes. I’m serious, O’Neil, come dance with me…”
Someone whispers in my ear that another cop is crying down the line to my right. For a fleeting moment I can feel it coming, the fiery dragon breath of the day that will come when the servants turn their backs on their masters and dance…
…And then it’s gone. Because O’Neil is not dancing. He is completely beaten. His lifeless eyes don’t even quiver or squirm. And he won’t look at me. I could whisper in his nightmares for a thousand years, I could burn my face onto the backs of his eyelids, I could stare at him every morning from the bathroom mirror, but he would never look me in the eyes. He is too well-trained, too completely broken, too weak to feel compassion for the enemy. His eyes are dead. There is nothing left. The magic words that could pierce his armor and resurrect him elude me, if they exist at all.
“O’Neil, I know that you have been broken and trained. So have I. I know that you are just following orders and just doing your job. I have done the same. But we are ultimately responsible for our actions, and their consequences. There is a life and a world and a community waiting for you on this side of the line that can make you wild and whole again, if you want them. But if you prefer to lay it all to waste, if you prefer death and despair to love and life, if all of these words bounce off of your armor and you still choose to hurt me then FUCK you, because the Nuremberg defense doesn’t fly.”
I have nothing left to say. I sing the last verse of my beaten heroes’ song, softly, over and over and over again, staring into O’Neil’s eyes and waiting for the inevitable. “…In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold, greater than the might of armies magnified a thousand fold—we can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old…”
Eventually a cop down to my right either gets impatient or gets orders. He grabs a guy, completely randomly, pulls him across the line, and starts beating him. The crowd surges to rescue our friend, and O’Neil makes his choice. “LOOK ME IN THE EYES, O’NEIL!” He clubs the person standing next to me, and the cop standing next to him clubs me. “LOOK ME IN THE EYES, MOTHERFUCKER!” But he never does. I ram into him as hard as I can, praying that the sea behind me will finally break through the wall, drown the both of us, and carry my friend away to safety. But I am not strong enough, and the wall of death beats us back once more. Over my shoulder I watch one cop walk up to a very small older woman and unload a tank of pepper spray into her eyes. Her indomitable and bitter face is the last thing I see before I have to run away.
There are no words that are poisonous enough to convey the venom that I hold for O’Neil and all of the rest of his kind. These wretched scabs, these Uncle Toms, these despicable bullies, these hellish machines, these dead bodies are utterly beneath contempt. I look at their faces and I feel nothing but hatred. I run down 4th Avenue, ducking gas and grenades, my eyes brimming with red veins throbbing. Training has dehumanized me in O’Neil’s eyes, and O’Neil in mine.