As NATO related scenes fan out from the downtown area into Chicago neighborhoods, the arrest count is 12 people and one couch. Then there are the clowns.
* * * * * * * * * *
In the checkout line of The Crafty Beaver Home Improvement Store on West Lawrence. The North Side of the City. A chilly, blue-sky morning. Harry the Plumber says to Mick the Cop, “So, you gonna be protecting all the NATO big shots this weekend?”
“Hell no. I’m gonna be making sure the knuckleheads don’t hurt themselves or break anything,” Mick growls and shifts the boxed bathroom light fixture from one arm to the other. I go in on the next shift and then its no time off till this thing ends. 12 hour shifts”
“What’s gonna happen this weekend Mick?”
“What am I? Karnac The Magnificent? How the hell would I know? Harry, it’s the guy who thinks he knows the answer to that question who’s the problem.”
“Mick, we got fences being built around buildings, we got trucks of plywood being unloaded, getting ready to board up broken store windows. That’s got to get folks a little edgy, huh?”
“Hah! You want edgy? How ‘bout we didn’t have any a that stuff? How about we weren’t ready?” That happens? And nobody talks about 1968 again. They just talk about us. My grandkids embarrassed by their old Pop 50 years from now when I’m long gone. All cause we didn’t have enough plywood. So we got enough plywood. We got the training. I been doing friggin training for the last, I don’t know, forever. Somebody want to give me heat about being too prepared? I’ll take it.”
“So it’s different now than it was back in 68?” said Harry the General Contractor.
“Lemme tell you what’s different. We got a plan. That’s what’s different. Those guys back then? They had no plan. Now our plan might be a good plan. Might be a bad plan. We’ll see. But we got a plan.”
And as Harry and Mick paid, gave each other a wave and a “Best to the Missus,” the first of 17 buses full of protestors from around the country began arriving at the little United Church of Christ on Wellington Avenue, about 18 blocks south of The Crafty Beaver.
Connecting with volunteers who had opened up their homes and back yards for camping on the still cool morning, there was a new spring wind blowing in as if there was something in the air that was very, very old, that had almost been forgotten, but now was starting to be remembered. It was that buried notion that in this world of horror and injustice, the collective voice, the power of real people speaking truth to power, really could make a difference.
Like for example tonight. Starting at six. The Clown Training will take place.
Wait. Did I just say “Clown Training?”
I am immediately pulled into a dream of a suspiciously quiet corner of a smoky tavern, behind a dirty red door below the belching traffic of Michigan Avenue. Joint called “The Billy Goat.” And at a corner stool of the bar. Almost in sight. Hunched over. Sour. Snarling. Mike Royko takes off his glasses and rubs his nose. “Kid, what’s the first thing. Tell me the first thing.”
“Um. . .I believe the first thing you’d want me to remember is “I’m not you.”
“Good answer. Not the one I wanted. But good answer. What I was looking for is the number one rule of every street writer, “If your Mother says she loves you, check it out.”
“I remember. I know.”
“Then why are you talking about CLOWN TRAINING kid?
“Because its true. It starts at 6 tonight."
Royko smiled. It is a good bit. But are you sure? Who do you know at that church?”
“I know LOTS of people!”
“Ah ah ah ah. . .a name kid. Gimme a name.”
“Kathy have a last name?”
“OK then what’s your second source?”
“Jose Whelan. Clownbloq Organizer.”
“You got a quote, kid?”
It’s from their press release.
“Clown Bloq’s intention is to be both disarming and tactically militant. We are trained in traditional forms of hard blocks, soft blocks, de-arrest techniques as well as other historically significant tactics. It must be consistently reiterated that Clown Bloq is both a joke and NOT a joke.”
A voice from the next stool. Smiling. Receding hairline. Eyes like he totally understands what it means to say ‘both a joke and not a joke.’ Nelson Algren says, “Clowns doing protest marches? This is getting good. Oh and Mike, easy on this kid, you’re just pissed off cause that’s MY picture at the top of this page. Not yours.”
“Uh huh,” Royko says. “So does this Clownbloq group have anything to with the Blackbloq Group?”
“Blackbloq is not a group, Mr. Royko sir. Blackbloq is a tactic. It’s people who dress in black and cover their faces for the express purpose of doing damage. The rioting, window breaking violence. The only goal is chaos.”
And Royko nodded. “Good job kid. You’re right. You can go now. Get out there on the street. There will be time for being here at The Goat later.”
“Thank you sir.”
Then as the dream faded back into a clear spring morning, I was about 8 blocks south, in the Loop near the Board of Trade Building. Even the concrete sidewalks felt like something was going to happen.
Marching along with a group from the Occupy Movement. The cause was mortgage foreclosure reform. We stopped in front of a Citibank Office. The chants were, “Let us live here! Let us live here!” Somebody unrolls a rug. A couch, easy chair, and a vase, roll up from the crowd. “Let us live here!” The cops scoop in to pick up the makeshift living room of the street. The vase is dropped. Shatters. We walk on to Daley Plaza. I see a cop I know.
“John!” I call, “Arrest count city wide?”
“12 total. 10 of um civil disobedience. I guy was a little problem. 1 guy was a little bigger problem. Went off slugging a cop on a bike. All his buddies chiming in cop hit him first.”
“What do we know for sure?”
“Guy is 31. From LA. On probation.
“Remaining at the scene of a riot”
“Was this at the Bridgeport march on Halstead?”
“You mean the FTC (F--- the Cops) march?”
“No, this happened west. That little FTC March? Where the whole purpose was just to get to us? Make us react? That went off with no problem. Marchers took some heat from the neighbors.”
I shrugged “Yeah, screaming “Eff the cops!’ in Bridgeport might not go over real well with the locals.”
“What you got that no one else knows about John?”
“Our computers have been hit. They’re freakin on South State. (Police Headquarters) A computer worm. Our intranet is doing somersaults. Mass arrests and no computer. We got the streets covered fine. Computers not so much. Guess we shouldn’t have cut our own IT budget, huh?”
“You sure?” I ask him. Royko’s voice on checking sources still ringing in my ears.”
“Check the cop blogs. You'll see it.”
“Thanks John. We'll call that unconfirmed for now. And let the big boy writers pretend they knew it first.”
As the marchers arrived at the open air Daley Plaza, a group with bullhorns and the furniture mounted a small stage and begin to speak.
The ears of the city listened just a little more. The reverberations of this speaking truth to power gained momentum. Rallies were expected all over the city. Starting times posted in the papers. A march on the Mayor’s home, where he lives with his wife and children, reeking of something best left off limits. A cyber attack now allegedly in play. Crowds estimated at anywhere from 500 to “we have absolutely no clue but whatever it is, we’ll say it’s larger.”
The potential for those knuckleheads here simply and purely to cause chaos made me remember something else John the cop had said a few minutes earlier. “Yo Chicago Guy! Watch out for people you see changing clothes. If you see somebody changing into black clothes? Or putting on a mask? Step away fast. Changing clothes means trouble is coming."
And as the noon time rally simmered down, a couple guys grabbed both ends of the couch and dumped it in another Citibank Branch Office.
When the cops came to pick up the couch and haul it out and into their van, the crowd started chanting.
“Free the couch! Free the couch!”
Confirmed reports say the couch was released without being charged.
Photo Credit: Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army