Before last night, I believed the media had been making these protests seem gnarlier than they are, sort of in the vein of the 1980’s “Satanic Panic.” I now have to revise that opinion after what I saw with my own eyes.
People are fired up and it’s definitely wilder out there than CNN or Huffington Post would have you believe. I was expecting a lot of people, but I was very surprised by the level of aggression and outright violence. Most people did not directly participate in the more criminal acts, but a huge number of people cheered them on. It wasn’t a full scale riot as some news orgs claim, but it did get out of hand.
A core group organized as a Black Bloc seemed to have somewhere between 75-100 members. They brought weapons, shields, and fireworks. It’s hard to tell how big it was though, because hundreds of other protesters dressed similarly. At one point they set off something that was louder than any M1000 I’d ever heard. The people nearest to the explosion scattered, but quickly reassembled once they realized it wasn’t an actual bomb.
The most committed protesters threw a few bricks and shot roman candles at the building. The cops had no control over the crowd and retreated inside. When that happened, barricades were ripped down and a portable lighting system attached to a generator was set ablaze. Thanks to the gasoline inside of it, it went up quickly and burned intensely. When you see pictures of the large fire online, that’s what was burning. Well, that and the unfortunate tree next to it that was minding its own business.
Pepper balls were fired into the crowd from an upper terrace, but they were not very severe. A few anarchists cried out they had been hit, but none were discouraged enough to disperse. I was close enough to get a bit choked up by the chemicals, but my eyes didn’t burn or anything. One of the protesters was burning sage nearby and that was actually more offensive.
The Black Bloc did the actual work of stopping the event. Without them, I believe the event would not have been cancelled. Because of this “success” I believe we will certainly see larger, more militant crowds.
Does this method of protest work? Well, the event was shut down so a few hundred people didn’t hear him, but Milo went on Fox News that night where millions did. I don’t know who you’d give that round to.
I truly don’t know where people go from here. There were two things I saw that did give me hope, though. The first was a kid jamming through the crowds dribbling a basket ball. I like to imagine he wanted to get some practice in, but didn’t want to miss out on the excitement. The second was a bunch of protesters dancing with members of the Cal football team while a marching band played in the background.
These little moments of humor and grace are always there when you look for them.