I went to New York City to protest the World Economic Forum in late January. As we were crossing a street a considerable distance from the demonstrations two police officers stopped us to chat. There wasn't anything going on in this part of the city, but the churches in the area were letting organizers use their space so I guess the city felt it might be necessary to keep an eye on things. Anyway, they stopped us because they saw us carrying signs and water bottles wearing bandanas and extra socks and looking exhausted.
"Were you guys at the protest?" asked one cop.
We said we were. We chatted. He didn't agree with our position, but he wanted to talk to us anyway. He didn't search us or give us a hard time (over the weekend we were trained on how to deal with police doing exactly that, since we knew we weren't really welcome in their city we figured we had reason to expect it) , he was just curious where we came from and what our story was. At one point in the conversation he said,
"Man, you guys had to have this protest on Superbowl Sunday didn't you?"
We laughed because he was mostly joking, and we said that we didn't tell the WEF when to meet or where, we just showed up to exercise our constitutional rights. He shook his head and had to concede that this was true. I asked him if he was getting overtime. He said that he was, but that he didn't really care about the money, he was working contrary to his usual schedule and he was under a lot of stress finding places to put his kids while his wife was at work and felt he was putting too much stress on her and on his extended family etc. Apparently he would rather have spent time with his kids than chase somebody else's unruly children all over the city. (He didn't call us unruly children, but I really think that's how he saw us, just the way he responded to our answers to his questions.) I couldn't blame the guy.
I don't believe in conspiracies. I've met a lot of anti-globalization people who think that every single force in society has a stake in corporate globalization and that they're all working together and that there's this intentional concerted effort to screw the whole earth for the sake of profit. These people give me the screaming heebie jeebies. I don't believe that the organizers of the World Economic Forum realized or cared that it was Superbowl weekend and decided to meet on that specific weekend because it would affect protesters. I also don't really believe that they tried to capitalize on the grief of the whole city by having the meeting in New York after Sept. 11. I do think it's interesting though, that these things correspond. I was personally really worried about police violence over this weekend because I knew that not only were the police working overtime, but they were also working at a time when they'd rather be home partying and when many of them were in mourning. It comes together pretty nicely, but although a crazy conspiracy theorist lives in the back of my mind, I don't really buy it. I still think it's significant however, that the police don't see protesters as anything but an inconvenience, as a bunch of crazy kids. I have to point out to anyone interested that although we are a bunch of crazy kids, we are also a bunch of crazy old people, nuns, Buddhists, parents, teachers, workers and environmentalists, and even if you think we're wrong, we're fighting for your rights, the rights of the police included.
I have a lot of respect for the officer who talked to us that day. That conversation crossed all sorts of educational, class, and racial lines and in the current social climate I think we were all kind of brave. I don't know if he respected us after talking to us or not, or if he had any sympathy with our cause, but it was important for me to see where they were coming from, I appreciate that.
Blaming the protesters doesn't really make you an idiot, but now that I see where that blame might be coming from, I still feel justified in protesting.