Late Thursday afternoon, September 2, hundreds of protesters were still in jail after being arrested the previous Tuesday evening during an NYPD clampdown on un-permitted protests. State Supreme Court Judge John Cataldo responded by holding the city in contempt and started fining the police. Cataldo slapped the NYPD with $1,000 for every person still being held. (New York law mandates that misdemeanor arrestees, such as un-permitted protesters, get arraigned within 24 hours.)
Among the 1,300 folks who hit the streets Tuesday night and wound up in the oil-slicked barbed-wire holding pens at Pier 57 along the Hudson River were Seattle marching band radicals Valerie Holt (vocals), Nataki Jett (flag corps), Anne Mathews (bass drum), and Gillian Rose (drum majorette).
The foursome, along with about 15 other INB members, arrived in New York City a few days in advance of the GOP convention to lend their gleeful Dadaist energy to the week of planned (and unplanned) protests. "Demonstrations can be boring, monotonous chant-fests," rookie INB member Mathews, 29, says. "We wanted to forestall the 'Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho' bit with something more exciting and memorable. We want to galvanize peaceful protests," she adds--taking a stab at defining INB's often-mysterious agenda. (The women eschew any political label like "anarchist" and agree only that INB is against corporate domination and for human rights.)
Seattle activists are familiar with INB's matching florescent-orange-striped band outfits and catchy, cacophonous assortment of deconstructed waltzes, jigs, and sambas. The band debuted its off-kilter folk music during 1999's WTO protests, and they've been a noisy fixture at protests ever since.
INB brought its agitprop aesthetic to NYC wanting more than "baby-stroller" protests, a term they use to describe "non-confrontational" permitted events like Sunday's march down Seventh Avenue. "We want to do as much as we can within the law--right up to the limit," says 28-year-old INB vet Holt.
The INB, which was staying at an art collective's warehouse in Queens while playing a string of freeform gigs and political benefits in Brooklyn, the Lower East Side, and Times Square, did play in Sunday's massive Seventh Avenue march past the GOP Convention site. But two days later, on August 31--a day that protest websites and text messages billed provocatively as a "Day of Direct Nonviolent Action and Civil Disobedience"--the INB showed up in Midtown at Rockefeller Center for an un-permitted "Shut-Up-a-thon" outside Fox News headquarters.
A few hours later, the INB showed at Union Square, a city park just north of Greenwich Village that served as a de facto protest headquarters all week. Flyers had been circulating for an un-permitted street party just east of the park on East 16th Street starring the INB's NYC compatriots, the Rude Mechanical Orchestra. Hundreds of reveling protesters took over the street.
The NYPD equipped all week with a blasé and unflappable demeanor, street smarts, and an overwhelming number of bike squads, motorcycle squads, horseback cops, foot patrols, squad cars, vans, roadblocks, orange plastic netting, lights, and specialized units, were pros--shutting down the street party immediately. They blocked both the west and east ends of 16th, using their batons to force the crowd against buildings and doorways on the south side of the street. The cops also quickly seized the Rude Mechanical Orchestra's instruments.
They couldn't get the INB's gear, though. Canny fellow protesters provided cover for the INB, and the Seattle band struck up a South American ballad called La Andina as the police squeezed protesters against the wall.
Mathews' 21-inch bass drum, which was strapped across her body, started to crush her. With the help of other protesters, she got out from under the drum and hoisted it up where protesters passed it around above their heads.
Having pinned the protesters down, the police announced that everyone was under arrest for parading without a permit and ordered them to sit down. The protesters complied. It took about three hours for the police to process all the arrests--confiscating the INB's instruments in the process--and send the demonstrators off to Pier 57 for the annoying 40-plus hour odyssey through gross jail conditions: holding pens slicked with motor oil, tight handcuffs, minimal bathroom privileges, no water or soap, no blankets, lost paperwork, cold, crowded cells, and inexplicable delays.
Unlike the insufferably self-righteous protesters who gathered across the street from the downtown jail on Thursday morning brandishing histrionic signs that declared, "Free the detainees! Free our comrades!", the INB members kept the situation in perspective.
Joking that the INB had to use the jail-issued white-bread-and-baloney sandwiches as pillows in their uncomfortable cells, INB member Jett, an upbeat 31-year-old with dreadlocks and nerdy glasses, says, "This wasn't Guantanamo. It's just, everybody seemed to be on their period."
While the INB gang were willing to shrug off the uncomfortable conditions (their charges have since been bureaucratically whittled down to irrelevance), they do point out the fact that so many protesters were held through Thursday night, the night of President Bush's speech at Madison Square Garden. "I feel like a giant fist scooped us up and kept us in jail for two days until the protests were over," Holt says cynically. "I was depressed that the system can shut us up like that."
When the last of the INB members, Mathews and Jett, got out at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, they headed to the property-storage trailer located several blocks south, near the Brooklyn Bridge, to retrieve their instruments. Fellow protesters standing in the long line in front of the white trailer recognized the INB gang by their florescent striped uniforms and gladly let them cut ahead. The INB had two gigs that night.