Miami: A Personal Account

Being at the FTAA protest in Miami in November was both amazing and brutal. Besides proving to me that the anti-authoritarian movements in the US must continue networking to increase the efficacy of public confrontation, I saw incredible community built by locals and transplanted activists. It was a great lesson that being radical, and being effective, isn’t about attacking the fence.

I was one of the protesters who showed up at the FTAA convergence space on Wednesday at noon, with a little bit of jet lag. So I’ll first give a huge thank you to the people who got there days or weeks early and made food, sleep, outreach and media arrangements and to those who stayed late to do legal support.

Before I arrived, lots of people had said that “Miami” didn’t want us there, that there were no radical people, that there was no support. Rumors even circulated that some people were paid to protest. While it’s true that the resistant infrastructure could use some love, the people we met were generous, supportive, and scared of what FTAA might do to their families in the States or in Latin America. Knowing that police brutality is a regular occurrence for many residents, I don’t blame them for not showing up with rocks or molotovs.

There are three reasons why I go to large protests: to participate in public resistance, to join a temporary autonomous zone, and to smash the state. Usually, I feel success on the first two, and Miami was only different in the degree of brutality inflicted on protesters. If anyone needs proof that the police state is thriving in the US, Miami demonstrated it. Police Chief Timoney, who orchestrated the paramilitary repression of protest, is one psychotic MF.

The Food Not Bombs operation at the space was one of the finest I’ve seen. With at least 4 food pickups a day, and so much food left over that we gave some back, the generosity of local grocers and distributors was incredible. Meals were served downtown and at the convergence space, with approximately 2000 people fed per sitting.

The community garden, which I never actually saw!, left a living reminder for Miami of what the protest was about. Clean air, green space and drinkable water are essentials–and FTAA will make them all scarcer. It will leave a more permanent mark than anything else we did there, in noticeable contrast to the low-wage, dead-end jobs that FTAA will usher in.

As far as confrontations, transportation (spotty) and the weather (sticky) definitely gave a home-team advantage to the police, and Miami is a town without alleys or public parks. Even the churches downtown were locked.

Tactically, Miami was a beating in the streets. From Sunday to Sunday, police rounded up protesters, arrested pedestrians, conducted illegal searches and gassed or beat crowds. By my best estimate, 10% of non-union protesters were arrested and many more subject to police violence. Buses holding thousands of protesters were blocked from entering Miami Dade County. Far from being provoked, the police was pro-active in its oppression and violence.

While I was downtown on Thursday night with friends feeding homeless people, we were stopped and illegally searched by a troop of bicycle cops who claimed that “God was in charge” and threatened us with “fifty thousand volts of electricity” from a tazer for waiting on a corner to cross the street. One cop asked why “a girl like you would shave her head” and I told him I had cancer. Which is totally possible–I haven’t seen a doctor since I lost my health insurance. He took it like a kick in the balls and I had the “privilege” of a less-than-thorough (illegal) pat down. It felt good to get one direct hit. When I found out later that queer people had been assaulted and tortured in prison, a knot tied up my intestines. I feel for those folks. It could have been me.

After more than 150 arrests on Wednesday and Thursday, for “offenses” as egregious as breathing, there was a fabulous jail solidarity march and rally in front of the prison. With drums and signs and our lungs, we let those on the inside know that we were grateful and working toward bail. Although no one outside knew at the time, some friends in prison told me that our presence helped them do solidarity and make demands for lawyers and food and release. And then, there were riot cops. Timoney (or someone) had arranged for the protest to be surrounded on three sides by riot cops armed with everything but AK-47s. Police negotiators told the press, before they told protesters, that we had three minutes to disperse or be gathered illegally. While the street spokes council kept talking, affinity groups took to the sidewalk. If I hadn’t walked home through the projects (where police know better than to go), I probably would have been rounded up like dozens of other people who left peacefully.

If anarchism or radicalism or anti-capitalist resistance is ever going to dismantle capitalism and its tools, we need to learn from international movements and drop our fears. As long as we depend on the state and capitalism, for education, food, transportation or housing, they will continue to oppress us. Two delegations that were noticeably absent from the action were indigenous people and small farmers–both under assault in this country since Roanoke and the Great Depression, respectively. The people I met in the Miami projects loved what we were doing,

but didn’t join us. People with skin and social privilege must find a way to minimize risk for those people (people of color, immigrants, queers) who are most targeted for police brutality so that they can participate in resistance without additional oppression.

About three blocks from the convergence center on Friday afternoon, two Latino men in a pickup truck stopped to talk to me and a friend, both dressed in black with bandannas. “Watch out for drug dealers in this neighborhood,” one told me.

“I’d rather meet any dealer than any cop in this town today,” I replied.

“Well, I’m glad you all came down here. I didn’t think any white people gave a shit about me. But my family in El Salvador needs clean water and it doesn’t look good,” he said. “We’ll have to keep working on this.”

Yes…we will.