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News :: Organizing
Palo Alto Finds the Beach Beneath the Streets
24 May 2005
Suburban Insurrection: Palo Alto Finds the Beach Beneath the Streets

By crudo

“Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible.”
George Orwell

Not sense newspaper boxes broke through the windows of the INS building in
San Francisco have I felt this re-energized and uplifted in regards to
militant, illegal street protest in the aftermath of the Reclaim the
Streets action in Palo Alto. The event was organized by Anarchist Action,
an ad hoc group of various anarchist collectives and affinity groups
throughout the bay area, and was billed as a “revolutionary street party”,
and “suburban inserrection”. The event raged for at least two hours,
involved 250 people, at least 4-5 police departments, and resulted in two
arrests. Reports of large amounts of street art/graffiti, and attacks on
various large scale corporate businesses have been reported as well. The
following is a report on my experiences, and some thoughts on the event.

Upon arriving in Palo Alto’s University street, the first thing that I
noticed was the fact of how well off everyone seemed to be. Rich yuppies,
but in that, “Hey man, I voted for Kerry”, liberal type prowled the
streets, sulking in their Starbucks and Dockers pants. Although there were
several small business shops littered throughout the downtown area, most
of the stores were upper crust department, chain, and corporate stores. I
felt that I was in Santa Cruz’s downtown area after Wal-Mart had taken
over. Waiting for people to arrive, and watching the various street/punk
kids across from me play around and generally annoy me, the group that I
was with waited for the park in which the meeting point was to assemble.
Around 7:45pm, large amounts of people started to trickle in, and a Bike
Bloc of about 20 rode by, pumping their fists and hollering. Police drove
by numerous times, but did not stay park by the park for very long.

Around this time, we noticed that a man in perhaps his mid-30’s was
standing directly behind us, watching the group of people with great
intent. He was dressed normally, with slacks and a plain shirt. He started
at the crowd and looked as if he was waiting for something, and taking
mental notes. Myself and another person stood next to him, and followed
him as he moved through the area around the plaza, reacting to us standing
next to him. Eventually he got tired of us following him, and tried to
walk down an alley, and we heard him asking people on his cell phone to
run various plates for him. We turned the corner, and he headed back to
the convergence spot, and at that point we let various people know who he
was and where. We also took some pictures of him with a camera phone, as
he “talked” on his phone and tried to look the part and avoid getting
photographed. This angered him greatly, as he tried to have a fake angry
conversation with his girlfriend, (boyfriend?, pet?, love prisoner?), and
kept turning as to avoid being photographed.

Around 8:25, the people started to take to the streets, to the sound of
Public Enemy’s, “Shut em’ Down!” Around 250 surged into the street
unopposed, and almost immediately people from the sidewalk came out to see
what was going on. I did my usual, “Come join us!”, to the smiling old
people and young kids, but most seemed content to look on with smiles and
some threw up their hands and gave us a raised fist. Coming to a turning
point in the street, and cop car was situated right on the left turn lane.
The police officer tried to look calm and cool, but had to be thinking to
himself, “Oh shit”, and swarms of revolutionary partiers, local youth, and
black bloc anarchists paraded around his car. Unfortunately in the next
couple of minutes, a young black bloc youth was arrested in connection
with a cop car window being hit a large black flag that was on a heavy
metal pole. According to other posts the cars window was damaged.

After this unfortunate development, (the arrest, not the cop window),
things picked up a bit. My special friend was tailing the entire march,
(the undercover), and was now joined by another plainclothes police
officer that was walking up and down the crowd. Around this time, we came
to a sight that usually makes me go all fuzzy inside, as the crowd was now
facing off against several cop cars that were trying to block to some
degree our exit from the side street and go back onto University, (the
main street which was largely the business district). The crowd, pumped up
from the music and the joyous, “Who’s streets? Our streets!”, suddenly
went quiet, as the crowd assessed the situation. Thankfully, one group had
a plan, and chants of, “5, 4, 3, 2, 1!”, suddenly climaxed in an orgasm of
hundreds of running radicals dashing down a full block of one of Palo
Alto’s busiest streets. People on the street didn’t know what was
happening, but many seemed excited and interested, as their shopping
experience suddenly turned into a much more eventful evening.

The crowd now had traveled a full block in full run, and was now situated
in a block on University St. across from a Starbucks and an American
Express. Within literally seconds graffiti was covering the streets, the
surrounding walls, and corporate property. Messages of “Our Streets”,
“Class War”, “Fuck the Rich”, “Solution: Revolution”, and other
revolutionary anti-capitalist slogans soon littered the streets. A group
of anarchists also managed to commandeer a dumpster, and quickly and with
much resolve planted it in front of the street and tipped it over, while
the street party and various banners blocked off the front of the block.
Cars inside were given quick access to get out of the way, so as to allow
them not to be trapped inside. One younger black bloc anarchist at this
point jumped on top of the dumpster, (now totally tipped over, and
blocking both lanes of traffic), tipped his body in an aggressive stance,
and screamed at the police coming out of their cars, “Our Streets!”, and
then jumped down at least 8 feet with ease and ran off into the crowd
which now was occupied with dancing. If urban insurrection should have a
mascot, I nominate this young man.

The street party was in full effect, and although many shoppers seemed
just to be trying to ignore the spectacle, many people mingled with the
crowd and started dancing. I talked to several people on the street about
what Reclaim the Streets was, and I really wished someone had brought
propaganda describing what the event was about. At this point it seemed
that the police had reached some sort of neutrality with the street
protest, and were directing traffic, and it seemed were leaving the street
party be. I wondered if the police might just leave the protestors alone
and allow us to have this one area, (which happened in SF, where SFPD
thought that the RTS had a permit because they seemed so well organized).
Around this time I was thinking of this, the crowd started to move. After
almost passing the block, the second arrest took place apparently in
connection with someone breaking the windows of a nearby American Express
bank.

The crowd moved on, (with each arrest however it should be noted that
people took down the info of the people being arrested, asked them if they
could call anyone, unrests were attempted, etc), and now things were
getting heated. The police had lost control over the streets of Palo Alto,
police property had been damaged, corporate property had been damaged,
anarchist slogans now covered the streets and walls, and it was getting
dark and still going strong. The march then moved up University street
again, and now was at the head of a freeway entrance into the downtown
area. After crossing into oncoming traffic, (which was already stopped),
the march continued. All police presence was left behind now, and marchers
marched unopposed. Going back up into the city, graffiti now was beginning
to cover more areas, as teams of people were venturing out and coming back
in. Police would show up occasionally, and then would have to move again
to be were the march was headed. Various newspaper boxes were pulled out
of the sidewalk area and brought into the streets to serve as barricades.
Several times the march got boxed in, and we had to double back or go down
alleys. At this point it seemed the police had had enough. I don’t know if
they had help from their buddies in other police departments at this
direct point in the march, but by the end of the night there were at least
4-5 police departments and sheriff units working on the situation. Turning
up a street back towards University, we now saw a line of police coming
towards us with batons. Making use of a nearby alley, most of the march
was now split up and now on the move. At his point it seemed that the
march went into two different groups. One following the sound system, and
another roaming. Various corporate stores like Borders and Longs Drugs at
this point had swarms of protesters inside them, and hordes of goods were
taken out and given to people on the street.

Things were becoming a police state and fast, and I was also losing
contact with the affinity group that I was with. After roaming and running
around various streets, I found a large group still marching and evading
the police. After joining this group, we then had to run through various
alley’s to evade the police once again. After coming into the clear after
evading several police officers, I then tried to make my way down to where
I could see massive amounts of police cars, and what I hoped to be where
the rest of my group was. After calling on a cell phone, I learned that
arrest for a whole lot of people, and perhaps physical assault from the
police was going to be happening soon. I came upon the scene of about 50
or so people surrounded on about two street corners by hordes of police.
After finding my friends, I tried to turn around and go back, but I was
almost assaulted by several officers and told to get back. One protestor
took a run for it, and managed to get through the clutches of two police
officers almost twice his size, and dash to freedom. Seeing that we all
had to get out of here, we then tried to cross the street despite the
shouts of police officers. We then walked down a street and tried to get
some distance from the police and us, and a cop car pulled up and told us
that we all had to go back. I got into a yelling match with the police,
stating that what they were doing was illegal, and that we all had the
right to disperse, and they were not allowing us to do so. They then
stated that they had an exit path for us, and that we had to turn around.

This game of walking in a group, and then being made to change direction
when our numbers got to big, repeated itself throughout the night. After
finally finding the rest of our group, we made our way back to the main
plaza where we had first started the march. It seemed that despite the
massive police presence, and many attempts at arrest on various people,
the only two arrests where the ones in the start of the event. Palo Alto
could not only be described as a police state. Police were on almost any
corner, and stopped any group of people that seemed to be traveling
together. During this time I thought back to my friend who I had talked to
during the Miami FTAA protests, and his description fit what I was feeling
in Palo Alto. They split of groups, and apparently broke up an all night
rave and gave several people bruises and injuries through beatings. The
street in front of the plaza was shut down, not by protestors however, but
by the police, who felt it was necessary to block off the street and
direct traffic. Upon going to our cars, we were stopped several times and
made to change direction by police in full riot gear and with attack dogs.

The event will probably freak the hell out of local police and community
leaders, who haven’t seen this type of protest for at least 30 years. For
many in the movement, this seemed to be a shot in the arm, an reawakening
for a movement that is beginning to question the black bloc/street protest
tactic. Perhaps we aren’t done yet, perhaps we can still draw blood. The
question is however, how do we go about doing it better, and how are we
going to be effective in manifesting solidarity from working and oppressed
people while doing it. Of course, many people who own businesses and shop
in Palo Alto will not manifest solidarity with the Reclaim the Streets
action, but I myself witnessed many working class people who seemed to get
the message right away. For many young people, and for many people either
joining in for the first time, this was their first taste of militant
protest. I think several questions remain however, and several critiques
and suggestions can be made.

Firstly, legal aid is still needed on the two people that were arrested,
and for active anarchists in the area, if they could post that info, we
should start supporting the two people who were arrested. A legal number
would have been good to distribute before hand, however, it seems that one
was not available. In the future, this needs to be a must. More over, the
people that got arrested, should not have. If one is going to engage in
illegal activity, then one needs to be prepared not only for the
possibility of arrest, but also to engage in such actions in a way that
will allow them to slip quickly away from the area, de-bloc is necessary,
and then get out of harms way.

Where as protests with a straight forward message, “Stop the War”, “Ban
Animal Testing”, etc, has a simple message, Reclaim the Streets is
sometimes more complicated, and can take some explaining to get across to
people. Simple flyers from the excellent first call out communiqué could
have been made off, and given to people on the street, which I think would
have helped a lot.

I respect the actions taken against the police car and the bank, however,
I think people as always need to ask themselves if doing x action will be
good or bad for that specific event. Me personally I thought that the
attacks on the symbols of capital and the police car were good targets,
however needed to have been executed much better, and should not have
ended in two arrests. People also need to think about what type of
situation they want to create, a fun and spontaneous party, or a militant
street protest. Can we have both?

Militant protest is not dead, it does not belong to the glory days of past
actions, long dead radicals, or some far off European country. It can and
will be manifested right here, in our own streets, communities, and
workplaces. We have to fight as if our lives depended on it, and we need
to be clear in our message and our approach, so that when the bricks hit
the pigs windows, even if people disagree with us, they know that we did
it because we desire social revolution, not childish lawlessness.
Anarchist Action wrote: “Palo Alto Was Just a Warning Shot...This is not
the end. As the Bay Area and entire West Coast mobilizes for an
revolutionary anti-G8 convergence this July, this is just the beginning -
and things are only going to build from here. Watch anarchistaction.org
for updates - we'll see you in July!” Oh, I look forward to it.

This work is in the public domain
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