Or, the masses figure it all out
Jimmy ran south toward the upmoving ranks of the law, through a crush of retreating but not fleeing demonstrators who now bracketed the police to north and south, was met by Cosmo, backpacking spraypaint cans and a transistor radio tuned to police frequencies.
“No one’s sitting down?”
“Moving, moving,” said Cosmo, “non-random particles.” They backpedaled, matching the forward stride of the police. The crowd flowed in reverse around the bases of lampposts, parked cars, stop signs.
This was not the grand plan of summer. Red armbands were supposed to command white armbands with walkie-talkies who coordinated squads who directed demonstrators in a mass blockade. Of this plan only Cosmo’s radio worked.
“Keep moving, keep cool,” Jimmy chanted to everyone and no one.
— And what is your political strategy, Mr. O’Shea?
— Keep moving. Keep cool.
— That’s it, Mr. O’Shea?
— Um. That’s it.
Now he stood at the fore of the backward moving crowd, 20 feet from the advance line of Oakland cops (followed in gray rows by their inferiors, the Alamada Sheriff’s Deputies), plastic helmet face-shields up, black aerosol cans and U.S. Army gas masks in canvas containers thumping at their belts. They’re not going to Mace us yet, not and march themselves into a cloud of pain. Jimmy’s defense against The Man’s chemistry -- half a damp rag -- soaked his back pocket, like sitting on a wet toilet seat. His eyes had not forgotten the Mace of Tuesday. Eyes are brain tissue, chemical Mace a mainline injection of suffering.
He thought he saw Cathy. No, someone like. The crowd split against the northern salient of the Hotel Touraine, squeezing a puzzled drunk into the doorway. The cops, sidewalk to sidewalk now, swaddled in leather, the forward linesmen slapping batons against their black-gloved hands in rhythm to their steps, turned from the sun, followed those who retreated west on 16th. They were no longer just-let-us-do-our-jobs policemen in armed-power-of-the-state intimidation gear. Their faces, which Jimmy could see three yards away, displayed a tired (they too had been at this all week) stubborn workingclass contempt, a stolid sense of who they were and where.
They faced, however, a logical riddle.
Lemma: One is either for President Johnson or against him (Aristotle’s Law of the Excluded Middle).
One cannot be both for and against President Johnson (Aristotle’s Law of Contradiction). The police are against Johnson (the entire force campaigned for Goldwater in the 1964 elections).
The demonstrators are also against Johnson.
The police are against the demonstrators, who are against LBJ.
LBJ is against the demonstrators, who are against his war.
The police are for the war conducted by the President they are against.
LBJ is for the police who are against him.
Dilemma: How many sides are the police on? Work that out humping full riot gear down 16th Street for the fourth straight day.
Hint: Where was the Middle? Excluded.
A typical policeman on 16th Street faced a further conundrum. What did he actually see before him in the breaking light? As a trained professional, he detected an unruly crowd. But of what KIND?
A mob? No. They did not loot, break windows, throw rocks.
A rally? No one gave a speech, all was babble and consternation.
A sit-in? No. They stood, moved.
An attack? No. They retreated.
A retreat? No. They did not run, panic, or act any worse than a crowd at a ballgame.
No kindly light led the policeman’s mind. The answer was fuck if I know. It has no name. Schultz, the stupid shit, responding to his personal cognitive dissonance, broke ranks, charged toward the red-armbanded fuckhead hotshot leader waving the crowd back, swung, missed, jabbed, missed. The boundary of people bent away from him; Shultz found himself alone in a cusp of hostility, an abyss between his back and his fellow officers, the sergeant yelling, “Shultz, back in line!” He returned pissed and humbled to his slot in the array, determined to maim someone before the day was out. Schultz’ battle for definition was not lost on the front lines of either side.
When the freaked-out cop swung and missed, Cosmo shoved Jimmy into the pack of the crowd, muscled him through to the end of the block and by bumping into people gained for the first time a visceral sense of their numbers. More us than them. More motley than uniforms. At the intersection of 16th and Jefferson Jimmy and Cosmo paused, the demonstrators broke around them and left the two again in front by default. There were now three ways to retreat, further west on 16th or north or south on Jefferson. Unintelligible commands bullhorned from behind the police, the line halted, a cork in the neck of the block, wedged between a check cashing joint and a transient hotel, hourly rates available.
A mental current operated upon the crowd, which began to act as a mind, not of one mind, but a synaptic net of persons engaged in a kind of sideways logic in which single thoughts voiced to companions or strangers massed into an argument of which each individual knew only a part, seeping into consciousness:
1. The cops have pushed us into the intersection, blocked the street between us and the Induction Center, halted.
2. The cops don’t want the intersection. They are ‘securing a perimeter.’ That makes us the perimeter around the perimeter they have secured.
3. The Army buses must cross the intersections to get to the Center. We hold the intersection.
4. The cops cannot expand forever outward.
Here Cosmo’s radio provided a fact: “The police are calling for reinforcements,” he announced, “they say there’s 6,000 of us, a thousand of them.”
Thus did people reason, like an abacus shuttling beads, to a conclusion:
5. Hold the intersections.
Jimmy organized a parade of HELL NO, NOBODY GOES to orbit the intersection, blocking the streets to north, south, and west, passing in review before the cops who plugged the passage east. He rounded up four monitors with plywood shields to slow any sudden rush by cops en masse or lone crazies like that cop before. There we go, order from chaos, that’s leadership. Southbound traffic on Jefferson backed up honking and outraged. Cosmo laid his backpack on the surveyor’s mark at the center of the crossing streets. A young man nudged through the marchers, approached him.
“Excuse me, sir,” he said to Cosmo.
“Sir? Did someone say sir?” Cosmo flinched. “Don’t do that.”
“I’ve never been to one of these before.” He wore plaid pants.
“Are you from Des Moines?” said Cosmo.
Cosmo nodded sagely.
“What do you do?” asked the young man.
“I mean what do I do now?”
“Demonstrate,” said Cosmo, “the revolution is at hand, at foot, in front of your nose.”
“I don’t know how,” said the student. Cosmo noted his short hair, a suspicious sign.
“Take this can,” said Cosmo, offering him Ebony, “and write some slogans on a wall. That one, for example.”
The student walked toward the wall. Cosmo began an upsidedown message on the asphalt for policeman to read while they stood. He had got as far as
when the student returned.
“What should I write?” he said.
“Write what you feel,” said Cosmo, returning to his work, completing
when he paused to consider what appeal that statement might hold to men whom he believed beat their children nightly with their regulation belts. Curiosity turned him toward the wall where the student squatted, working into the brickface the neat small Ebony strokes
at which moment Jimmy dispatched him south and east to find other demonstrators and tell them to block their intersections, which they might already be doing since there was no traffic northbound on Jefferson.
Cosmo found no one at 15th and Jefferson but a bewildered Chinese laundryman opening his business to a street that should be full, not empty, greeted the man in Japanese (he knew four words from living near Japantown in San Francisco), which left the launderer more confused and now insulted by the helmeted redbeard ghost with a pack of clanking godknowswhat and one of those cheap Japanese transitor radios snapping confusion and police codes.
And Cosmo, wondering if he’d used some phrase that translated your aunty sucks unworthy dick, passed in the moment of that thought from unfriendly silence to screams, cheers, a stadium of sound at the end of the block, a wall of jumping, jostling backs, people on whose faces, as he squeezed among them, he saw something remarkable and unreadable, until he teetered sidelong through their front ranks into open space, which was both intersection and theater of perception.
What Cosmo perceived: Commuters on their way to work had parked their cars askant the crosswalks. A man and his wife, motorcyclists from their helmets, seated on a bus bench in the middle of the street waiting for a city bus that could never penetrate the throngs who permeated the blocks to the east and south beyond sight and anyway would run smack into the bench if it tried. The Downtown Oakland Beautification Program had planted a tree in the center of a crosswalk, which grew horizontally from its pot; the city had chosen trees that were not helio- but sidewalk-tropic; it grew toward the edge of the street. Sprouting behind the tree stood a grove of policemen, still as potted plants.
Cosmo needed a word. He’d ask Hank, who was standing at the corner next to the
“Holy shit,” was all Cosmo, capable of twenty-minute word-associational riffs, could say.
“Lookythere,” said Hank.
“Where did you —”
“They’re not bolted down,” said Hank, “and they weigh a ton.”
“And the cops?” His grid of perception realigned, Cosmo saw the police were jammed into Clay Street by two cars, tires flattened, a bus bench, and a toppled sapling in a concrete pot, over which they would have to climb to get to the demonstrators.
“They tried but they gave up,” said Hank. “It’s probably against union rules to move barricades. They haven’t decided if they’re going to charge over.” He picked up a shield, spraypainted HELL NO, that lay against the bench. “The point is, even if the cops get around it, the Army buses can’t.”
“I got to tell Jimmy,” Cosmo said.
“He hasn’t done this?”
“We took the intersection at Jefferson. He set up a picket line.”
“Middleclass radicals,” said Hank, who organized oil workers in Richmond. “Remind him Proudhon says property is theft.”
“The cars,” said Cosmo, “the bench, the tree. They’re pu-lit’i-kul.”
“Say what?” Hank said. He figured Cosmo was crazy, but, hey.
“They’re better than demonstrators: the cops can’t beat them up. Who knew they’d come over.” He patted the bus bench. “Welcome, comrade.”
Hank went back to eyeing the police. Cosmo clicked on his radio, looked around for Cathy. Jimmy would want to know where she was. Then something that made normal sense came through the static.
Crossing Grove Street
By 10 Jimmy reached the border where the bars and discount stores ran out and parched wood cottages and time-eaten Victorians began. The boundary was a street of crushed asphalt, sand, and limestone, brown-black, potholed, and Grove by name. Across the street, in a blink, another country.
But slow, Jimmy, as you cross these bounds. Respect this street as you would a mighty river, the Liffey, Thames, or Niger, bearer of sovereignty, definer of peoples. The river Grove flows with multitudes. You see Cathy aboard the runningboard of a jacknifed semi, skewed from the bank, the driver’s door open, its engine shut off, another inanimate object that has joined your side.
You see DC Baines on the far shore, signalling. He raises his clenched fist.
You may cross in a moment, Jimmy, but right now take all the time in the world. Back up five years. You’re 22.
INT. COMMUNITY CENTER, 125TH STREET, HARLEM. 1962.
A bare ruin’d hallway, light and noise at the end. JIMMY, a lapsed Quaker and conscientious objector, enters the light of a space that serves as gym, dance hall, meeting place, activity room, makeout parlor. Negro teenagers roam, group, talk, toss basketballs.
(To an older man who seems a counselor)
Aboo abjob mainy lobo do.
(smiles. His shirt sweats pearls of purest white)
What do I do?
(pointing to group of teenagers in the corner)
Yaka mor yas wif solodito bah.
What do I say?
Kaka boom drop.
JIMMY walks to the teenagers. Stands, looks, stands, looks, stands. Takes his hands out of his pockets, rubs them. Smiles. Smiles. Smiles knowingly with dignity and strength. Pisses oyster sweat.
(to all and none)
Hi. I’m Jimmy. I’m
Barn! Omimomo go.
from the American Friends Service
Hip boyan chit no mahmind.
I’m here to help.
Achabacha harm. Acha harm achabachaharm.
I thought maybe we could
Roars of laughter, faint as from a packed stadium blocks away where a comedian, Red Foxx or Moms Mabley, performs an hilarious routine based on white boys from St. Louis who come to do good in Harlem.
It takes years to cross the River Grove because in its asphalt and sewer drain manhole incarnation, Grove Street is less real than the line on the city map that represents it, which in turn is less real than the real line that cannot be seen, but the planetary tug on either side can indeed be felt, can only be felt, and Jimmy, waving back to DC Baines, feels it like tide and undertow, for it is the color line, which runs smack down the middle of Grove.
On the west bank of Grove live the people other people who were not white when they came to America became white in order not to be. The people who by not being white define white as the color they are not. The people who by their color define ALL color, as in colored people and people of color. The people who by people not “of color” were by color foremost thought. The people for whom whiteness was invented in order not to be. The people who say of those people who think they have no color, being white, that they ‘show their color’ when they show their fear and hatred of those who cannot shed their color and be white like them. In short, that race of humans that exists nowhere on the planet but America — “Negroes."
That the people in West Oakland were not of one color, but all the colors of the deserts from which the One Gods came — tan, sienna, umber, basalt, asphalt, ebony, alabaster, gold — paled, as it were, before the political fact that people who were not mostly pink lived there. The color line accomplished that.
Appropriately, on top of that line a mighty struggle raged. To the blighted hopes of J. Edgar Hoover, who believed that on one side of that line lived Americans and on the other side lived conniving, criminal-minded, monkey-like, sullen, loudmouth dopeheads, the battle was not between whites and blacks. Instead, smack dab in the center of the street, on the dotted line in the Technicolor sun, Cathy stood rampant on the Peterbilt cab step, forearm raised in fist triumphant, Cathy Cohen, Jimmy’s Cathy, waving toward people on the far side of the barricaded intersection. Jimmy stepped to the lower rung. Cathy’s messenger, a kid from Berkeley High, nodded to Jimmy, loped north.
“Wow,” said Jimmy, or How? or Woh! intended to be respectful, affectionate, admiring, unpresuming, comradely, and intimate. He could do a lot with tone.
DC Baines watched them closely from across the street.
“The teamster tried to drive through us. I jumped up on the runningboard. He said What’s going on? I said We’re trying to stop the War. He told me the Teamster contract says if his life is threatened he doesn’t have to cross a picket line. I told him definitely his life was threatened. He said I was the best-looking piece of ass who ever threatened his life, pulled the keys out of the ignition, tossed them down the storm drain and walked off. That’s when everyone came out to help.”
“White or black, the truck driver?”
“What people?” He was blinded by the truck.
“Over there, darling.” She pointed over the chrome hood to the people of varied hues building barricades. “I have to go. They say the cops are moving west on 16th. Someone heard Reagan’s called out the National Guard.”
He held her arm to help her down.
“Oh, are we friends?” she asked.
She twisted and was gone. Music dwelt in Jimmy’s mind.
I’ll be there,
To love and comfort yoo oo
The Four Tops on the trucker’s radio.
As Jimmy crossed the River Grovestreet, the color line vanished, a trick of the sun. DC Baines greeted him on the western shore with a grip of pumice stone. A lowrider slid up Grove on the wrong side, slowed before them. Young men in afros, do-rags, hung out the windows. “You did it!” they yelled. DC slapped the young men’s hands.
The word was out. West Oakland, a small southern town, responded, a forest of uncollected garbage, mattresses, tires, baling wire, appliances, car parts, making its way from backyards and basements to the street. A teenager struggled past them dragging a box spring. Jimmy took the other end; they propped it against an ancient truck axle assembly in the center of Grove. Five college students crossed over, helped a family haul a bathtub up the block. Jimmy rested against the curb, wondered how long the Dexamil would last. A middle aged man came up to him, three concrete blocks under each arm, said, “Thought you could use these.”
“Cornell,” the man told his son, “You boys get the refrigerator.”
“Mr. Benson,” DC said, “You haven’t finished paying for it yet.”
“Too true,” said Benson. “But it’s broke, can’t be fixed, and more use out here than in the yard. Make the city haul it off free. Besides, I don’t want him,” indicating his son, “in no, excuse my language, white man’s war.”
“You don’t have to be polite,” said Jimmy.
Election Night, Alabama, a year earlier
A two-story wood house off a semipaved road. Cricket buzz and hum of night. The front porch. The house is whitewashed, neat.
Between drawn curtains we see into the parlor. The walls are floral patterned, not covered in layered magazine pages, indicating the status of Mr. and Mrs. Hayle, he a sanitation worker in Montgomery, she a teacher. Mrs. Hayle is the candidate for County School Board on the ticket of the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO) in the first elections since 1872 in which black candidates have run and black people voted. When the polls closed tonight, the Klan attempted to murder one of the LCFO leaders at the courthouse in Fort Deposit. It is assumed they will attack other black leaders and candidates during the night. SNCC workers and volunteers from around the country are assigned to protect them.
INT. THE PARLOR
A flashlight and a kerosene lamp, wick dimmed, on the floor of the dark room. We see the parlor by the light from the hallway, which runs from the front door to the kitchen in the rear.
DC BAINES rests on the floor, his back against the seat cushions of the couch, drags on a cigarette, blows the smoke into the lamp, where it curls and is carried to the hall by a draft from the front door. The double barrels of a shotgun rest against his knee and the arm of the couch. He crumples the empty pack.
That does it.
Save the pack. I got eight.
They speak in low tones. The Hayles are asleep. JIMMY takes four cigarettes from his pack of Pall Malls, hands them to DC, who smooths out his pack, inserts them.
Mighty white of you.
(They giggle nervously, sotto voce)
I think they'll come
If they come
from the front so they can get back on the road fast and get out. They ain’t gonna run around back of the house in the dark.
If they come through the back, they’re smack in the hall light.
Nah. They’re gonna shoot from the road or throw a firebomb. They shoot and keep driving, nothing we can do, everybody’s safe away from the windows. Firebomb, they got to get up on the property. Can’t throw it from the car.
JIMMY lights a cigarette. His hand and the flame waver.
Crackers start throwing dynamite around they’ll blow themselves up. Way I see it, any car that slows or stops on the road gets a load of double-ought in the door. There is no presumption of innocence.
And if they get out?
They’re on Hayle property with intent to kill and fair game. I suggest since buckshot is not traceable, you give me first crack. But anybody gets inside the house, anybody we really have to kill, I don’t know how crazy these fools are, you got the .45.
You go low, I go high. We cover each other.
Like black on skin
The crickets stop. Silence resounds. They listen. Creak of a bedspring above them.
You know, I used to be a pacifist.
You backslide on me, I'll shoot you.
The sound of a car on the road. They jump to the window, which is cracked open a few inches. Headlights break among the trees. The car does not slow down, passes.
Anyone out tonight’s an idiot.
I’d hate to shoot someone for being an apolitical fool.
INT. PARLOR. NIGHT. LATER.
JIMMY in a chair by the window. DC in an ancient rocker.
One side of my family owned slaves. By marriage.
Oh, by marriage. That’s ok then.
The Collier side owned slaves. The O’Sheas were indentured servants.
So where was this O’Shea Plantation?
Collier plantation. Virginia.
I got folks in Virginia. A rape here, rape there, we could be cousins.
For you. We got raped. Now you're on the slave side.
Does indentured servant count?
All I care, Jimmy, if the Klan comes through that door and you shoot the white motherfucker regardless of race, creed, or national origin, you're family.
Invention of a fact
Grove Street on Friday morning was a zone of peace in the war brought home, a mingling of people black and white in which no one contended and nothing contended with them. A white Teamster — perhaps a racist perhaps not — had tossed his keys down the storm drain, laid his semi, which no number of cops could beat up, across the path of the Selective Service System. By blocking the street, the rig declared the street blockable, roused residents to the west, demonstrators to the east, made all things possible, made the mattresses, transaxles, refrigerators, baling wire on Grove Street the Q.E.D. , the acronym at the end of an argument that says it has been proved.
And what an argument it was that summer of the Q.E.D.! From the womb of all truths— emotional fervor, false assumptions, vague early assays, detours, misconceptions, and mistakes — there arose a five-word idea: shut the Induction Center down. People associated its four-word version, “Shut the mother down,” with Jimmy O’Shea, who by October was proud to claim authorship, but Jimmy had not invented the phrase, first shouted in anger by a man leaving a room.
INT. MOVEMENT LIBERATION FRONT MEETING ROOM.
FOUR MONTHS EARLIER.
A bare room, folding chairs, twenty people, slouched, standing, poisoned by despair: the war will not end; nothing they do will stop it.
What will one more demonstration demonstrate — that we can still stand upright? Quod erit demonstrandum? Allow me to demonstrate this miracle kitchen utensil. Not only does it cut, scrape, filagree, mash, mangle, and mince, it cleans itself and feeds the dog.
You’re not helping, Cosmo.
MEMBER OF CHEERIOS FACTION ‡
This kind of cynical militant posturing is what’s destroying the anti-war movement. I’m fed up with people who can’t be satisfied with anything less than shutting the motherfucker down.
(Stomps out, slamming door)
Even he, the departing Cheerios factor, did not pluck these words from air. Stopping, shutting, closing down had circulated in the radical thought-collective of the Bay Area for years. San Francisco, labor town, was not the site of just any strike, but the mother of all American strikes, the Big Strike, the 1934 General Strike, Harry Bridges its folk hero, still alive, still a force.
Shutting down a government facility for the sole purpose of shutting it down – wasn’t that subversive to all previous assumptions? Wasn’t that less like moral protest and more like war?
Over the summer, the idea circulated in varying forms — let’s epoxy the Center’s doors, chain them, burn it down — as radicals and activists grappled with the notion of a mass activity not intended to demonstrate anything but power. Each variation conserved a central liberating thought: the Induction Center was not a banal mute object but something they could act upon. They scouted the streets around the Center, drew maps, designed plywood shields. The community of those who spoke the idea and those who listened increased steadily. The Induction Center talked to them, the shields talked to them, the arrangement of streets, the location of parks, West Oakland itself, entered the conversation. Grove Street participated, not as a line on a map, but a tripwire.
INT. COMMUNITY ROOM OF A CHURCH IN BERKELEY. SUMMER.
LEADER, WHEATIES PARTY
You propose to bring thousands of white demonstrators to within blocks of the ghetto.
We plan to bring them to the Induction Center.
Which is next door to West Oakland. Your entire opportunist scheme is a plot to lure the Oakland Police into the ghetto without asking permission of whose who live there.
If West Oakland the victim didn't do it, there was always West Oakland the mugger.
What about your plans for violence?
What plans for violence?
Recruiting black people. Your entire opportunist scheme is a plot to lure the Oakland Police into the ghetto to create a riot to further your agenda for violent revolution.
But mostly, in the many words of the delegate from
How are you going to shut it down? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? How? HOW?
GRAPE NUTS GANG
What forces will this strengthen, what message prevail, what will it lead to, what declare?
RICE KRISPIES CADRE
I think Jimmy’s right. How many here were at Sproul Hall?
(Some hands go up)
Have we forgotten already?
“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels and you’ve got to make it stop.”
Jimmy didn’t know where the gears and wheels of the Induction Center were exactly. They couldn’t walk in and occupy it like Sproul Hall. He imagined some kind of human high-pressure zone, a homo sapiens typhoon, an anthropoid cold front with severe turbulence.
In the end, Shut the Mother Down defeated how. “We Declare the Oakland Induction Center Closed,” rendered the doubters worse than wrong. Irrelevant.
Now on a Friday, the people of West Oakland and the demonstrators from everywhere had made shutting the Center down a fact, made the organizers of Stop the Draft Week retroactively right all along. Some opponents, particularly the Wheaties Party, insisted the idea was not “correct.” They were right, it was pre-correct. No success exists until it’s already been, at which point everyone who supported it was right all along. Circulated among thousands, altered and modified, their idea had alchemized into a tractor-trailer skewed across an intersection, trashcans, bus benches, flat tires, potted trees, a refrigerator with payments still due.