FTAA Journal: Day Two

Police after the labor march on 11/20. Photo from www.ftaaimc.org

I woke up at 6 AM, an ungodly time for a protest. Although there was no possibility of blocking the entrance of the delegates into the FTAA meetings (since they were staying within the security perimeter), this time was chosen by some of the organizers of the Direct Action Framework due to concerns about interfering with the permitted AFL-CIO march and partly because of nostalgia towards morning actions such as those that prevented the WTO from convening in Seattle.

As I drove downtown with my affinity group of four, our eyes still half closed with sleep, the amount of police presence was not surprising, yet still overwhelming. Riot police were in full gear, far away from the location where all of the protests were to begin, a clear overreaction and a prophecy of the following hours to come.

Activists link arms to prevent police from advancing on 11/20. Photo from www.ftaaimc.org

The government center was not exactly full of people. There were definitely enough police to successfully contain the crowd. While the march was supposed to start at 7 AM, around 7:30 the puppets that were promised to lead the march had still not arrived. Even worse, a 400 person group of black bloc participants (a black bloc is a strategic formation where members dress in black, cover their faces, and stick together for protection from the police while participating in illegal actions such as property damage or fighting the police) were being prevented from joining the march. I looked around in concern, seeing the overwhelming police force and the lack of numbers and militancy in the crowd to engage in effective direct action. Was the fence going to come down or were we all going to get the shit kicked out of us? We would see pretty soon.

Two hours later, the answer was unfortunately clear. The overtly militarized Miami Police Department, underneath the command of notorious chief John Timoney, had successfully shoved and battered the crowd of about 2,000 people eastwards on to Biscayne Boulevard.

Standing on Biscayne Boulevard in front of the perimeter fence protecting the 34 trade ministers, I realized the irony of the situation. For months, self-declared representatives of the counter-globalization movement had insisted on establishing certain agreements with the permitted AFL-CIO march and to not have confrontational actions in the vicinity of their rally/march. Our location was precisely the meeting point for the AFL-CIO march and those responsible for the relocation were the police department.

Tear gas in the streets on 11/20. Photo from www.ftaaimc.org

In this moment of confusion, a few members of the group leaped on to the fence, attached hooks, and made an attempt to pull down the perimeter fence. Immediately the police reacted from the other side of the fence, opening fire onto the crowd with rubber bullets and tear gas canisters. It took seconds for the tear gas canisters to be returned to their original sender, but the conditions for conflict had been set early in the day and before the AFL-CIO sponsored busses had arrived.

The following hours were spent in tense anticipation of something happening. I witnessed many undercover cops dressed in protestor garb (some with ski masks, some with bandanas covering their faces) snatching activists with a range of methods from straight up assault to shooting protestors with taser guns. Many activists were shot with these guns, forcing them to drop to the ground frozen and in paralysis.

The labor march on 11/20. Photo from www.ftaaimc.org

Amongst all of this the AFL-CIO march started to commence as members of various unions including steelworkers, electricians, machinists and many more lined up in Biscayne boulevard to start their march. For many that participated in the frustrated morning actions and were hoping to be part of the AFL-CIO initiated-march, this also proved to be a frustrating experience. Now activists found that the policing authority had increased as the AFL-CIO introduced their march marshals. For many anti-authoritarians who have historically been at the forefront of the struggle against capitalist globalization, the march marshals exposed the true nature of the hierarchical structures found within the AFL-CIO.

Still, since solidarity with the working class is something I feel very strongly about, this feeling influenced me to march with the various union locals in the streets of Miami. The march was spirited and had high energy although the route was very short and the unions were prevented from reaching the fence (which was within their permit) by the line of riot cops left over from the morning.

University of Maryland students on 11/20. Photo from www.ftaaimc.org

The march ended and soon after, young radicals joined with a few union members and initiated a drum-led march to the police line. And then the police riot began.

They fired indiscriminately at old people and young people, at students and at unionized workers, at those fighting back and at those trying to get out of the way. Everybody was hit with an array of weapons. Soon the concrete was covered with plastic bullets and pellets and the heavy stench of tear gas and pepper spray was in the air.

Then came the only direct action that happened throughout the whole day: active resistance to the police state. Hundreds of people actively started to resist the police-initiated violence. Impromptu barricades were erected from urban junk in order to protect the crowd trying to evacuate the area. Tear gas canisters were returned as young militants taunted the police dancing in the tear gas, protected behind their gas masks. The resistance was so successful that almost everyone partaking returned to safety without getting arrested.

Read more: Why are people protesting the FTAA? | Day One | Day Two | Day Three

Ali Tonak graduated from Bard College after studying molecular biology. He is currently employed as a construction worker.

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