Two nights ago I was outlining this first report-back in my notebook. It was only my first day, but I was impressed by the organizer's focus on an issue bigger than the here and now; bigger than the Homan Square facility itself; bigger than Michael Brown or Tamir Rice or Rekia Boyd. I was recording in my notebook that the Let Us Breath collective at #freedomsquare was focused on what would happen to the next generation of Chicago's black youth- how to keep them occupied in the summertime and out of trouble, how to keep them informed and plugged in, how to inspire the spirit of resistance in their youth.
But that was as far as I got
While I was assembling this reportback, I was assaulted by the organizers of the space. I was pulled to the side of the encampment at West Filmore and South Homan and was told I was not welcome in their space because I was dangerous. I was never presented an opportunity to address these concerns, nor even told who or where the information was coming from. COINTELPRO sure aint dead. (warning: link is to an FBI server hosting now-public documents on the FBI's domestic counter-intelligence program)
On top of this claim, assault, organizers demanded that I delete all of the photographs I had taken that day because some of them included children's faces. I removed my camera's memory cards immediately and formatted each of them in front of the group. They then demanded that I hand my memory cards over for them to keep, to which I gave a firm no. Organizers then began to talk about how they should just beat me up and take all of my things. They took my camera and phone from me and searched each of them, deleting everything they wanted. I had no say in what they deleted. They then opened my bag and searched it too. I told them I was going to leave immediately, and they continued to talk about how they should just attack me.
Authors note: Prior to having taken the photos which concerned the group, I asked the subjects if the group was ok with photographs. Only one person said no. I did not photograph that individual, and because children cannot consent to the release of their likeness I took a closeup photograph of their hands creating the art (spray painting with a stencil onto shirts). There were a few photographs which included children's faces, but I had zero intent on publishing them because I wanted to respect the group. Please note that a dozen people with cameras had been at #FreedomSquare that day, everything from corporate media with giant cameras to interested locals with cell phones, and as far as I know I was the only one singled out.
I walked back to my tent to collect my things and was followed by two members of the collective. They began to disassemble my tent with my personal items still in it. It took some convincing, but they eventually understood that I would be gone faster if I was able to collect my things from an assembled tent rather than trying to root through a mass of tarp and nylon. That was when I noticed the side of my tent had already been slashed with a knife. As I packed my things, another member of the collective entered my tent looked around. I continued to pack. Another organizer came to my tent and told me they were going to beat me up if I wasn't on my way out. I was able to collect most of my things, but I had to leave six tents and two copies of my art behind. I hope they get put to good use.
For two weeks I worked and planned to shut down Homan Square. Less than a day after my arrival, I had to leave all of it behind because I feared for my life. I hadn't even been there for 12 hours when I was abused and assaulted at #freedomsquare, a community which purportedly stands for love, fights for freedom, and builds community.
Points of reflection:
As a white male, I know that the tendrils of racist and sexist privilege grip my heart in ways which I will never be able to cope with. That does not stop me from checking those urges of privilege before they have an opportunity to act. Two weeks ago, when I decided to travel to #Freedomsquare, I knew that I was never going to be able to speak for the community, but I knew I had the ability, and training, to amplify its voice. Because I was the only propagandist who was encamped, I was the only one around to be feared once the sun went down.
And now I too worry for the future of Chicago's children. It's a terrifying world when even those who sand against violence engage in its use to leverage others into conformity. Fear has gripped our world, our species, and we vice its grip ever tighter every time we disallow free and open discussion.
To the organizers of #Freedomsquare:
Despite my short time in Chicago, I was still able to speak to a number of locals who were not involved in the occupation of Homan Square. None of them knew what was going on. Some were aware of the existence of tents across from the police facility, but had no idea what the facility represented or even what the organizer's goals were. Employees of business immediately next door didn't even know what was going on.
That was the gap which I had intended to fill; to spread your information across your communities and inform them of your truth of the matter. Now it is up to you to. It is you who have founded that garden of peace in the shadows of terror, and if you play your cards right it will grow throughout the consciousness of your community. But if you expect that to happen through nightly marches only a dozen or two strong, all reciting the same chants night after night, you're wrong. If you think your Twitter and Facebook is enough media, your wrong. The most direct path into the minds of your neighbors is across all of them at once. You must publish written works, periodical or otherwise. You must seek crowds to speak in front of, and you must seek where they naturally assemble - do not expect them to travel to you. You must infuse your music with the messages of your resistance; whether subtle or direct, your lyrical insurrection will be infused deep alongside the pulse of your drums. You must break bread, share your delicacies and their recipes, and engage all of their senses at once.
I know this whole report may be hard to read, but I am a firm believer in tough love, and using every weapon I have available to me in my fight for a more just society.
Stay warm out there.
COINTELPRO is a program organized by the FBI to disrupt, disconnect, and dissuade domestic social dissent. They utilize the tactics of misinformation, infiltration, and above all, fear. It is the authors opinion that their objective is to manage our movements by compartmentalization - to define an 'us' and a 'them' from the 'we' by making us afraid. They often take advantage of addicts, turning low-level offenders into snitches when they are at their most vulnerable point in their withdrawals. Remember to show even the dirtiest of addicts love, but be prepared to cut them off.