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Road Bloc

Seattle's Black Bloc Fights its Way into Canada

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Dan Paulus
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Dan Paulus
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Dan Paulus
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Dan Paulus

The Black Bloc is holding a potluck.

It's the Friday before the Bloc leaves on a Greyhound Bus for Quebec City, site of the upcoming Free Trade of the Americas Association (FTAA) meeting. Actually, the bus will only take Seattle's Black Bloc contingent as far as Burlington, Vermont, one of several cities close to the Canadian border where hordes of anti-free-trade activists are going to converge. Then the activists plan to sneak across the border and head up to Quebec City to protest the FTAA summit.

What Canada hopes to avoid most, of course, is a repeat of Seattle's WTO demonstrations. To that end, the Canadian government has launched the largest security operation in its history.

The most controversial participants in the WTO protests and similar gatherings since then were members of the so-called Black Bloc: young anarchists, dressed in black, who conceal their identities with masks and wreak havoc on the symbols and plate-glass storefronts of multinational corporations and their franchises.

Curtis, a member of Seattle's Black Bloc since its beginning at the WTO protests, is hosting the potluck in a house he shares with three roommates. The house sits on a mid-sized lot in the benign first wave of wartime sprawl in south King County.

When I arrive the shades are down, though it is the first clear sunny day of spring. Classic rock is coming through an old transistor radio in the kitchen; a sheet is tacked up over the back window, and an upside-down American flag hangs on the wall. At 31, Curtis is a decade older than most members of the Bloc. A kind of freelance healer with oils, Curtis' pierced eyebrow and black dreadlocks give him a Wiccan vibe. He grew up on Hood Canal, just off the Bangor submarine base, where his parents were both nuclear-reactor technicians. He started getting into trouble early, and left home on uneven terms. Relations with his mother are good, despite their disagreements; he gets on less well with his father.

"They have a way of looking at the world," says Curtis, "and particularly their part in it. They think that the military and nuclear power are good things, and there's a level on which I can respect that. I don't believe it, though."

Jenny, one of Curtis's roommates, has a toddler son who is running around and shrieking as black-clad anarchists catch and tickle him. Curtis welcomes me to the house and introduces me to Earl, a reedy-voiced Midwestern kid so fair his goatee looks like drag-king makeup, and Ky, an athletic young man of Vietnamese descent. A veteran of the riots at last year's International Monetary Fund (IMF) protests in Washington D.C. and the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, Ky is something of a student of police tactics. Earl is going to Quebec City, but plans to hitchhike to Vermont before crossing into Canada, while Ky is sitting this protest out. Ky's girlfriend has just moved to Seattle from Billings and is a little out of her depth. Just out of high school, she talks tough in an awkward attempt to fit in with these serious and sincere activists.

Chuck and Albert arrive, then June and Bastian, who are a couple. Along with Curtis, these four people will be making the cross-country trip on a Greyhound bus.

There are at least a half-dozen other members of the Seattle Bloc going to Quebec. It is uncertain how many people are in the Bloc from Seattle--around 50 is a fair guess. They fish in Alaska, work at Microsoft, serve as volunteer firefighters--but mostly they do jobs that are easy to get and easy to leave, and are looking out for the next thing.

NAFTA ON STEROIDS

"What is FTAA?" reads a poster. "FTAA is NAFTA on steroids." Signed in 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada began the removal of trade barriers (still underway) between those countries. As a result, the U.S. has lost manufacturing jobs to Mexico, where companies can pollute freely and maintain low wages and unsafe working conditions. More worrisome is NAFTA's treaty court, in which companies can reclaim money lost due to environmental and other laws, like the case in which the Ethyl Corporation sued Canada for banning an ethyl-made gasoline additive found to be carcinogenic. The company won; the additive goes in the gas; and Canada shelled out $13 million in damages.

FTAA will carve out a free-trade zone covering all of North and South America--the entire Western Hemisphere--with the exception of Cuba. FTAA was hatched at the 1994 Summit of the Americas in Miami just as NAFTA was clearing its final hurdles in Congress. Provisions under consideration for FTAA would eliminate "unfair" government competition for "services"--schools, prisons, mail delivery. Like NAFTA, FTAA would allow companies to sue for money lost due to preexisting environmental and labor regulations and effectively ban further protective legislation.

Meeting in Quebec City with the appointed trade representatives from each of the hemisphere's 34 nations will be 500 people representing corporations like GE, Boeing, McDonald's, Weyerhaeuser, and General Motors. There will be no one sitting in from labor or environmental groups, and no elected officeholders. In fact, the documents of the treaty preparations are secret even from Congress until the week of the summit. The meeting will take place behind closed doors.

PREPARE FOR WAR

When Quebec City was founded by the French in the late 1600s, the continent was divided between Dutch and Spanish adventurers; then the English and corporate forces came into play. The city constructed huge stone battlements to protect itself from warring armies. In the flats below this urban fortress, where FTAA protesters will gather, the French defeated British invaders.

A two-mile, 12-foot reinforced concrete-and-steel fence has gone up outside Quebec City's old battlements. "If you want peace, prepare for war," Quebec's minister of security said when asked about the fence being built around the FTAA meeting. The Black Bloc is making preparations of its own. Albert's pack for the trip is huge, filled out with a suit of homemade body armor, and he hopes to get ahold of a long, cast-iron maul like the ones carried by South Korean strikers who faced off with riot police at Daewoo Motor Company, where strikers pounded the pavement to pieces beneath their feet. Activists in Quebec sent out an e-mail message suggesting that mauls be used to "tear down that fucking fence." But it will be hard getting through customs with a 55-pound, six-foot metal rod, and anyway, where in the hell do you find one?

A handsome 20-year-old with long blond hair and a deliberate, cautious manner, Albert grew up on the Eastside, and came to the Bloc through the anonymous environmental monkey-wrenching movement the Earth Liberation Front (ELF). "It got to where Quadrant, Weyerhaeuser's development company, cut down all the woods where I rode my bike when I was a kid," says Albert, "and they put up factory houses five feet apart."

Albert now lives with two friends from high school in Lake City, and hardly ever comes downtown. He disputes the popular notion that the Bloc consists of a bunch of homeless street kids. The only action Albert has taken part in that involved street kids was at a national convention of broadcasters last September in San Francisco. Street kids and squatters have been drawn into the anarchist movement in San Francisco in an effort to combat gentrification. According to Albert, the people who trashed corporate storefronts during Seattle's WTO protests (Albert and Curtis among them) were not from Eugene but were locals, many from the Eastside.

"It was kids I used to see at Tchkung! shows when I was 13," says Albert.

Tchkung!, a Seattle political theater/tribal punk band, disbanded in the mid-'90s. (Some former members founded Infernal Noise Brigade, a free-trade-fighting marching band.) In 1995, the band's fans set a small fire with an American flag inside an oil drum after an indoor show at Bumbershoot. They refused to disperse, provoking a police riot. Some of those kids were no doubt in Eugene on June 16, 1999, when a march in solidarity with protests against the G-7 nations meeting in Geneva turned into a rampage against corporate property in the Oregon college town. The masked, black-clad marchers who did most of the damage were members of the first American Black Bloc. That day, less than two years ago, was the point from which all now flows, the birth of the newest and most publicly visible wave of anarchist direct action in the United States.

STOP THE CLOCK

Anarchism is the belief that the state, with its courts, police, and jails, is by design corrupt and coercive. Anarchists believe that, with a few brief exceptions, political power has always produced mass exploitation. The anarchists' solution is not programmatic, but negative: Instead of transferring power to a dictatorship of the people (as communists attempted to do), anarchists seek to eliminate power. In the anarchists' world view, not only is our current political system corrupt, but so is every political system that's ever existed.

Collectives--small groups of people trading skills and goods while making decisions by consensus and living cooperatively under self-rule--are the basic building block of mainstream anarchism, also called anarcho-syndicalism. Collectives began in the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe and came to the U.S. in the late 19th century, but there are other examples. In 1871, the Paris Commune famously practiced collectivization on a large scale. The Spanish Republic was founded largely by anarchists of the FAI (Iberian Anarchist Federation) and the CNT (National Workers' Federation). The largest American anarchist organization was the International Workers of the World (IWW), a group that was outlawed for three-quarters of a century in Washington state. Decision-making in collectives (and in the heat of street actions) is done by consensus and thus can slow things to a crawl; the block-by-block unauthorized marches downtown during the WTO protests presented an astonishing if frustrating first glimpse of the anarchists' "legislative process."

The more radical wing of the anarchist movement is a group called the Neo-Primitivists, whose best-known advocate is Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. John Zerzan, the leading intellectual of contemporary anarchism, lives outside Eugene, and corresponds with Kaczynski. For over 20 years, Zerzan has argued that political oppression and our current environmental wreckage can be directly traced to the prehistoric development of agriculture. Zerzan believes we need to abolish the clock, art, and ultimately language itself, and his presence in Eugene is doubtless the major reason for that city's symbolic importance in the anarchist movement.

ON THE ROAD

A few days after the potluck, we all meet up at Seattle's Greyhound terminal. We will ride some 2,700 miles through 12 states. Mainstream media has misrepresented the Black Bloc and its deeds and aims, and the Bloc doesn't trust reporters. Some members are openly hostile to the regular press. To my knowledge, no journalist has ever traveled with a cell of the Bloc this way, together and under assumed names. I'm allowed to tag along only because I participated in actions at the WTO conference and traveled with some members of this group to the Democratic Convention. Curtis and Albert have come to trust me, and they've given me the opportunity to witness what is essentially a high-security operation. The Bloc is going to Quebec to Fuck Shit Up.

There are people so poor that they have to travel across the U.S. by bus, which means spending three-and-a-half days sitting upright in a chair. For truly poor people, the $100 difference between a bus ticket and a plane ticket is a gulf they bridge with 80 essentially sleepless hours, stops in exactly 100 towns and cities, packed in with every kind of low-life character this country can produce. The company's stations in cities like Seattle are 24-hour purgatories of loud arguments, public child abuse, bad tempers, and chemical-induced brain damage. Greyhound isn't known as "the Dirty Dog" for nothing, and I'm not looking forward to this trip.

The Bloc is ready to tough it out, though. Bastian has made a huge batch of falafels, and begins passing them around freely before we're out of Seattle. As we gaze out on the abomination that used to be small, quiet Issaquah, Curtis tells me about the 10-year-old son the state took away from his estranged, crack-addicted wife. We travel up the mountains, past the clear-cut wastelands. It's bad P.R. for the timber companies to cut too close to the freeway, so the damage is probably worse past the ridges we cannot see over. We barrel across the dammed Columbia.

Seattle's Black Bloc is not made up of Kaczynskiites; the group takes more trouble to stay clean than I do on the four-day bus ride, and Albert and Chuck do not hesitate to share a bag of Doritos--that evil, multinational, irresistible corporate snack food--at a gas station store in Moses Lake. We have a half-hour in Spokane, and the group retreats behind an electrical shed to smoke a bowl, which will help us endure this long ride.

Bastian, who is 20, looks and dresses like a hippie, and goes barefoot nearly everywhere. He tells me his story as we cut through the narrow strip-mall flash of Idaho. He grew up in Shoreline and was kicked out of his house at age 17 for smoking pot; he then moved in with a friend and started washing dishes to support himself. His parents regularly harassed him by calling the police to report him as a runaway. He would get picked up by the police and taken to his parents' house, only to be thrown out again.

"Luckily this was before the Becca Bill," he says. (The Becca Bill is a Washington law that allows runaway minors to be thrown in jail.) Bastian's introduction to activism came when he was standing in a crowd at Westlake Center on the first day of the WTO conference. A county cop stepped to the line of protesters where Bastian was standing and punched him hard in the gut with a truncheon.

"This girl came over crying, yelling at the cop; I was doubled over crying; one of the other cops started crying," he remembers. "It was insane."

Bastian has a way of gently pointing out people's unwitting participation in what he deeply believes is ruining the planet. "I was working over in Bellevue and went into a Starbucks, and they had this poster on the wall... it was like a 12-year-old girl harvesting coffee beans. I said to the guy working, 'Does Starbucks use child labor?' He said, 'No,' and so I pointed at the wall and said, 'What's that?' It had just been invisible to him the whole time. You could see the guy going, 'Holy fuck!'"

Bastian is headed for Quebec City because he doesn't want to wind up like that guy working at Starbucks. "You can't just shut down with your TV and your microwave dinner and pretend that everything's gonna be all right," he says. Bastian only bought a one-way ticket to Vermont because he doesn't know what is going to happen. "I was arrested at the IMF," he says, "so they know me."

Bastian has been arrested for rioting, but he finds nothing to admire about Seattle's recent Mardi Gras riots, or the frat-rat riots at Woodstock 1999--or the horror of Columbine. "We have the highest teen suicide rate in the world," Bastian says. "I got spit on every day in high school. If I'd grown up in a violent household, I'd be one of those kids blowing people away." But Bastian works at rejecting all hate, even for the police.

"Screaming at cops really misses the point. You think they are gonna put someone they care about on the front lines? Some day the cops will see who their real enemies are." And if the stakes get higher? "I have to resist," Bastian tells me. "Am I willing to die? I guess."

When Seattle's Black Bloc members speak about the coming days in Quebec City, there is an eagerness, but after they speak and turn away to look at the bus' window, you can see the fear in their eyes. People are going to get hurt as the stakes get higher and the global movement against the world corporate state grows. If the clashes between police and demonstrators continue to escalate as they have since the WTO protests, it seems inevitable that people will eventually die in this struggle.

"There has never been a revolution where some blood wasn't shed," says Curtis. But the Bloc members aren't going to give the authorities an excuse to shoot them. While some of them own guns, they would never dream of carrying them into an action. It is a given that the FBI's Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) is keeping close watch on the anarchists. The FBI used the internal struggles and violent tendencies of the Black Panthers in the 1960s to justify killing and imprisoning their leaders, but this isn't a movement that can be stopped with those tactics. The anarchist movement is growing very fast, but it has no leaders. The only way to stop it would be to cart away or kill everyone involved.

HEART OF THE BEAST

A cross-country Greyhound bus is a sealed, air-conditioned box filled with rootless and unfortunate citizens. It rolls through ugly sprawl from one robotic and fluorescent-lit corporate pit stop to the next. Rural America is no longer a place where a person can escape from our fast-food world. It's the very heart of the beast. An outback nation of small businesses and farms lay so thin on the land that the multinational corporations--farm conglomerates, Monsanto, Texaco, Dairy Queen, Wal-Mart, Albertson's, Staples--were able to all but eliminate, within a generation, a culture with links to actual communities, to real places.

History has its patterns, of course. Rural America's rapidly dying culture was itself established after the death of another, older culture. The cities and farms we can see outside of the windows of our bus were built on stolen land. Native American communities that lived on these lands for centuries were subjected first to a military occupation and then genocide. But rural America has been taken over and its culture destroyed in the living memory of these members of the Bloc, and they're angry about it. They have been transformed, in Chuck's words, into "the shock troops of an opposition to a world corporate state." Chuck is 21 years old and grew up on the Kitsap Peninsula, and has worked at construction jobs since graduating from high school. He's a rural, working-class white male who has seen the landscape he grew up in disfigured. "I'd like to just be on a piece of land, growing my corn," Chuck says wistfully.

The bus drives past the golf course at Lake Coeur d'Alene. Albert returns from the bus' cramped toilet, his pockets full of Handi-Wipes. "For pepper spray," he says. Curtis talks about how popularizing Frisbee golf would do much less damage to the environment. On the long bus ride, the Black Bloc members occasionally toss out ideas that seem ridiculous at first. But would Frisbee golf courses be any more absurd than regular golf courses?

It is April in Montana; a light snow blows outside the windows. The bus is dark.

I sit down next to June, who is 19 years old, grew up in Auburn, and has dyed black roots and a pen-and-ink tattoo of a tear on her cheek. This is her first trip out of Washington state. A Christian, June dropped out of Bible college when one day the words of Jeremiah 5:30 jumped out at her: "Prophets prophesize lies... and my people love it, but what will you do in the end?" June left her Pentecostalist church when her minister reminded her that the church was "of the world, but not in it." June felt that was "bullshit," and she set out to be a part of the world. She hopes to become a child therapist.

"We're doing this for our country, but I've never even seen the country," June says, staring out at the uninterrupted darkness.

The next afternoon we stop in Billings, Montana, where a Wells Fargo skyscraper is flanked with dozens of black-and-red flags. Anarchist colors. We take pictures. We have a two-hour layover in Fargo, North Dakota, and all of the sleep-deprived passengers are forced out of the bus and into another bleak and too-bright terminal. Soon we're staggering out into the cold to escape the terminal. There's a porn arcade across the street, but no one walks over to it. The Bloc members smoke some weed on a nearby loading dock with a fellow passenger, a shy young dyke headed for Minneapolis. Albert brought a mini boom box along, and he blasts Ice-T's "Cop Killer" into the night. In the blocks around the bus station, college-age kids from hundreds of miles around drink and dance in bars with huge glass windows. When the bars close, four young men in baseball caps pile into an SUV, rev the engine, and burn rubber right into a tree. They tumble out laughing and cursing.

Back on the bus, two Dutch Mennonite couples sit playing cards. They seem, more than any of this random and lost crowd, like true anarchists, purposeful and communitarian. Some young Marines glance at the Bloc as the bus is loading, soldiers in different armies. One of the Mennonites starts a tune on a harmonica, a gorgeously elaborate transmission from another century. Albert starts to clap in time. The driver gets on the PA and threatens us with expulsion from the coach if the music doesn't stop, and then there is silence. The driver is only trying to protect other riders from being annoyed, but the music was a gift with the potential to unite a bus full of strangers.

HIGH TIMES

In yet another Greyhound bus terminal, we're getting ready to board for the last leg of the trip from Albany, New York, to Burlington, Vermont. The ticket-taker asks the Bloc members where they're headed.

"We're going to Quebec to protest the FTAA," Chuck says.

"You think you're going to Quebec," says the ticket-taker.

Burlington is the biggest town in Vermont, with a population of 50,000. The town sits on a slope that rolls down to the east bank of Lake Champlain, providing a view of the sun setting behind the Adirondack Mountains to the west. Its looks like a small-scale model of Seattle. To the north and south of downtown Burlington are older, working-class districts where poorer native Vermonters live. There's a pedestrian mall on Church Street filled with summer and winter folk from out of state. Working-class Vermonters call people who own second homes in their state "Massholes," a contraction of "Massachusetts," where many part-time Vermont residents live the rest of the year, and of course, "assholes." Politically, native Vermonters tend to fall to the left of the Massholes and the right of the hippies who retreated to the state in the '70s and '80s.

Quakers and college students have volunteered to host the protesters in Burlington. Hundreds of anarchists are expected to converge here before caravanning to the Canadian line. A clan of the Akwesasne Mohawk Indians have invited protesters to cross into Canada through the tribe's reservation, which straddles the border between Quebec and New York state. The offer of a scot-free entry into Canada has attracted hard-line anarchist groups from all over the country. For many, this is their only chance to get to Canada without having to walk through the woods.

Seattle's Black Bloc is being hosted by two somewhat naive middle-class college girls, Kathy and Eileen. Students at the University of Vermont, our hosts approach this struggle from a position of extreme privilege, yet the Bloc manages to bridge the gulf. We are exhausted from sleep deprivation, confinement, and bad company, and we've been wearing the same clothes for four days, but no one objects when the girls decide to throw a huge kegger. When people find out we're from Seattle, they hug us. The WTO protests changed more than just our lives; here they're seen as almost sacred.

Curtis once told me that the danger of what the Bloc is doing--the protests, the violence, the arrests--is something of an aphrodisiac. Most everyone involved in this movement is young, and by the end of the week Kathy is sleeping with Albert, and Chuck and Eileen are rather noisily making love on the couch in a living room full of people trying to sleep. The hormonal good times are helped along by the colossal amount of pot-smoking that goes on, no surprise in a town with vicious winters and granola tendencies.

The next day the Seattle Black Bloc goes out with an Austin crew, a crustier bunch given to Mad Max-style clothing, and finds six TVs in a dumpster. The Seattle Bloc members tape magazine ads to the screens, and, masked up, smash the TVs in front of an Old Navy. The local police are non-combative. One policeman hands Albert, masked up like the rest, his card and asks him to get in touch if the Bloc decides to smash any more stuff. "We'll try to accommodate you," says the cop. The local media misses the point, of course, and warns of dangerous vandals on their way to town. Just as in Seattle, the threat of damage to corporate property is called "violence," and no distinction is drawn between the few remaining independent businesses in town--who have nothing to fear from the anarchists--and the outlets of corporate chains. This, in a town that just five years ago fiercely battled the construction of a Wal-Mart.

Some 500 protesters arrive in Burlington by Wednesday, all on their way to Quebec City. Various anarchist cells from Philadelphia and New York are in attendance: Life During Wartime, Sawblade Collective, Bright Wind, New York Black Cross. Anti-Racist Action (ARA) is in from Ohio, as well as the Eugene Black Cross and the New York and Connecticut chapters of Ya Basta! (Enough!). The Ya Basta! groups set up a protective-gear workshop in the parking lot of the Independent Media Center.

Twenty-five-year-old Clay, another Seattle Bloc member, arrives late in town after riding on Greyhound buses and hopping freight trains across the Midwest. He is studying political science at Fairhaven College in Bellingham, and tells me he wants beer. We find a tapas bar where "The KKK Took My Baby Away" is playing on the stereo, and the bartender tells us Joey Ramone is dead. Clay, in a post-bus manic state, tells me about the Italian anarchists in the late 1970s, when that country was seized by a general strike and the Red Brigades kidnapped and killed president Aldo Moro. Wreaking havoc in black masks and battling riot police, the Italians in turn inspired the more confrontational wing of West Germany's anti-nuke Green Party in the 1980s, whom Clay says the Eugene rioters take their fashion tips from.

INDIAN BURN

The tribal council chiefs of the Akwesasne come to Burlington on Wednesday night to ask that the convergence caravan not cross Mohawk territory. They address the spokescouncil, the anarchists' quasi-governing body, in an ornate meeting hall in the 200-year-old main building on the University of Vermont campus. Apparently, the invitation to cross through their reservation was made by tribal radicals, and was not approved by the tribal council. The anarchists, the chiefs inform the spokescouncil, were misinformed: You can't walk into Canada through the rez; everyone has to go through customs, even the Mohawks. The thirtysomething spokesman for the chiefs claims that any agitation at Akwesasne will reopen the wounds of recent intratribal conflicts between traditionalists and radicals involving casinos on tribal lands. The spokesman was apparently expecting to address a room full of angry, violent protesters, because halfway through his speech he says, "I look around here and I see people who care for the world; I don't see a bunch of people with ski masks in their pockets." The mainstream media representation of anti-free-trade protesters is clashing with the impression the assembled anarchists are giving the chief's spokesperson. There's a gentle and cooperative vibe in the room, not a violent vibe. But nevertheless these conscientious, peaceful folks are the same people he's see on the news smashing the Gap's windows.

A long spokescouncil deliberation follows, during which Bastian distinguishes himself as a calm and skillful moderator. Every cell has an appointed "spoke," one person who speaks for his or her group. The spokes, representing 30 affinity groups, sit at a round table in the center of the room. Only spokes can address the assembly, though they frequently turn to confer with members of their cell. In the end, a solution must be found that is acceptable to all, and this process is as fascinating as it is long. After five hours of deliberation, the spokescouncil agrees that it doesn't wish to offend its hosts, the Mohawk radicals, and will travel to Akwesasne for a fish fry being held by the radicals in honor of the anarchists. Then they will attempt to cross into Canada as a group at the reservation's legal border crossing. If anyone is turned back at the border, nobody will cross, and the spokes will reconvene and decide then what to do next.

The night before the trip north there is another party at Kathy and Eileen's. "If I have to hear any more fucking reggae I'm going to scream," Clay says, while Bob Marley plays on the stereo for the umpteenth time. Kathy, Albert, and Curtis sit on a bed discussing the coming day. June sits on the living-room floor making patches with anarchist crucifixes on them. They look like banners from the Crusades.

"Driving across the country, it was just like 'boom! boom! boom!'" Curtis says of the chain-store clutter, the highway arc lights, and the orange skies over cities at night. "Everything I saw, I was just like, 'I've GOT to get to Quebec.'"

On this last night before the Bloc heads to Canada, Clay is irrepressible. He tackles people, pretending to be a riot cop; grabs other guys' asses; sings and dances; and reduces the head of Vermont Action to sputtering anger when he advocates theft from all capitalist businesses, even food co-ops. In the morning, Clay is up first and walks over to the university cafeteria and steals the group a tray full of tall cups of coffee. The Bloc members pack up their food, gas masks, body armor, and shortwave radios.

Three hours later we arrive in Akwesasne. The rez is indistinguishable from the rest of the depressed countryside south of the St. Lawrence River, and the fish fry is held in a gravel lot across a highway cloverleaf from a GE plant spewing PCBs into the river. The Mohawks have cooked up a lot of fish, presumably from the river, but have forgotten to supply beverages. The pan-tribal staple of fry bread is excellent, the color and texture of fried chicken. Spirits are high. The leader of the Mohawks' radical activists thanks the crowd for showing the reservation's children that "you can accomplish something without blowing people's heads off."

It's time to cross into Canada. A crowd of anarchists, with vehicles coming up from behind, march over a bridge suspended high over the river. The day is sunny and mild, and the bright blue water and the land below are visible for miles. At Canadian customs, a hundred or so reservation kids have gathered on a basketball court behind a steel fence beside the road to watch the standoff. The crowd is asked to line up for customs inspections, but having decided in spokescouncil to go into Canada as a group or leave as one, the crowd starts chanting, "All or nothing! All or nothing!" After 20 minutes, the border guards are unmoved, and the anarchists, if not outnumbered, are outgunned. Police on ATVs roar up and down the Canadian side of the river, raising clouds of dust. Riders in one vehicle are detained, among them a slight East Indian woman from New York named Warcry (who was very visible in Seattle during and shortly after the WTO protests) and somebody going by the name of World War Three--apparently the police are only detaining people with "war" in their names.

The caravan returns to the site of the fish fry to make another plan.

"They fucked us," Curtis says angrily. One-quarter Cherokee, Curtis doesn't care whom he offends by cursing the Mohawks. He thinks the radical Mohawks exploited the caravan to make some blurry political point to their compatriots on the reservation, and in the process left the caravan stranded.

The Seattle Bloc, now on foot, piles into an empty white van rented by the New York Ya Basta! The van is driven by 80-year-old Alice, a lifelong activist from Manhattan's Morningside Heights. When the Bloc thanks her for the lift, Alice shrugs her shoulders, lights a cigarette, and says, "Ya basta."

The tribal police block the return entrance to the gravel lot after a few cars have already pulled in, and the caravan is forced to pull over and hold a spokescouncil meeting in a truck stop. The truck-stop proprietors generously supply us with a meeting room and all the free coffee 300 sleep-deprived anarchists can drink. The tribal police arrive to tell us that we must leave the reservation in five minutes or we will all be arrested.

On a roadside pullover just off reservation land, half the night is spent in spokescouncil. One of the radical Mohawks comes by, beaming, and tells the Bloc that the border patrol wanted a riot, "and you didn't give it to them." Finally the caravan breaks up. Some people head to a small convergence center in Binghamton, 45 minutes west; others go back to Burlington; and still others head off to plan their own legal and illegal crossings. Word goes around that if you don't lie and don't have protective armor or literature on you, customs will let you into Canada. Alice drives the Bloc back to Burlington, where we surprise Kathy and Eileen at 3:00 a.m. Eileen fills the apartment with candles, and Alice offers the Bloc some "preppy clothes" she brought along in her van. She thought to bring them in case any anarchists wanted to dress up like "nice" protesters at a quiet Canada/New Hampshire border crossing she knows of. Clay suggests they ride freight trains across the border. Alice brings in the preppy clothes and leaves to drive another group up north.

Before anyone sleeps, the Seattle Black Bloc sketches out a plan. The two members who have criminal records--Albert and Bastian--will take the body armor and masks and hike into Canada along a shallow creek, and then rendezvous with the rest of the group on the other side. Curtis decides to ride up with the Teamsters for the labor march the anarchists have been invited to join on Saturday.

After what is probably the last peaceful sleep the group will get for days, the Seattle Black Bloc members get up and pack their gear. Chuck and June shed their patches and Rage Against the Machine T-shirts and put on the sweaters and polos. Alice, the tireless 80-year-old activist from Morningside Heights, returns from another night's driving. She offers to drive the Seattle Black Bloc up to Maine, drop the members with criminal records off on the U.S. side, and then take those without records over the border in her van. They decide on a location to rendezvous on the Canadian side with the rest of the members once they've managed to sneak over the border. Then it's on to Quebec City, where there is already rioting in the streets.

Albert gives me a hug, looks into my eyes, and smiles.

"This system's gonna come down," he says, as the group piles into the van and heads for Canada.

Bastian and June made it into Canada and participated in the protests on April 21 and 22 in Quebec City. Albert, Chuck, and Curtis were not able to get across the border. Mainstream press reports put the number of protesters in the streets of Quebec City at 30,000, while independent media sources claimed 50,000. Hundreds of Black Bloc demonstrators managed to break through the fence, confront police, and destroy corporate property. Mainstream protesters did not take great pains to distance themselves from the actions of the Black Bloc.

Names and certain identifying characteristics have been altered to preserve the anonymity of those involved.

 

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