Katie O'Bryant

The Carpool Lane

Today we picked up this girl for carpool. I was asking people if they were going to the city and she came up to me, asked if I needed some help. I think she thought I was panhandling. I was like, no, ya know, it's OK, I'm just looking for someone to carpool with me. (She obviously needed a hell of a lot more help than I did , but I thought it was sweet of her to offer). I invited her to come with us. She said she would, she had nothing better to do. She seemed excited, like we were gonna be her new friends. I felt guilty because I already understood why that could never happen.

I never asked her name. She told us she was 17 and that she had AWOLed from this drug rehab almost a year ago. She was on the run. We asked her what drugs she'd been using. She said crystal, crack, crank, hair-oh-inn, pretty much anything and everything."I do weed, acid, shrooms ... "

We asked her who checked her in to the rehab. She said the court, she was court mandated. She was like, " Yeah, the police would always be comin' over to are house and we'd all be beamin'. I mean, our eyes would be all glossy ... Finally they just took me away."

I thought she probably grew up in a trailer, not a house, but it didn't make any difference anyway. She had this thick twang to her voice, sounded like she was from either Texas or Redding. She said Sacramento.

She said she'd been staying mostly outside, "as you could pretty much tell." I didn't think you could, not compared to most of the kids I know who are spoiled brats from suburbia who are just too lazy to take care of themselves. All those kids are much dirtier than they need to be, because everybody knows there are places you can go to take a shower or wash your clothes. Most of them are out there like that by choice, but she was different. I didn't think it was something she had sought out, I don't think it felt free to her, I don't think it was something she wanted.

She didn't look all that homeless in her bell-bottomed blue jeans and clean white sweatshirt. She had long ringletted blond hair pulled back and pale white skin disrupted by random sores, which was more or less the only thing that gave it away. Most of all she looked young, like the kids I used to go to school with. It's scary when you realize that it could just as easily have been you, and even scarier when you realize that it might as well have been, or that it is.

We asked her how she made money. She said she sold drugs when she didn't smoke them all first. " Besides that, I hustle. I mean I don't like it, it's not enjoyable, but what else am I gonna do?" I thought that was a good question. I couldn't answer it .

We were listening to Stevie Nicks and she was singing along in the back seat. We were surprised she knew the words. "That's my music right there," she told us. "I know who she is, she's got this band goin'. I don't remember what they are called, though." Then she asked us if we had any Tom Petty. We told her no. " I think he's just the greatest."

I wished I could have played her that American Girl song. I wished I could have done something for her, but I don't have any Tom Petty. I used to when I was younger, but not anymore.

She said, " I just got to the point where I don't care about my life anymore ... I only care about one person." I wanted to ask who, but I didn't. "I've OD'd a million times but somebody always calls an ambulance, something always happens and they won't let me die." She laughed after she said that. I thought to myself that I knew how that felt, but I think now that I don't, not really. I have wanted to die, I have felt alone, but there's always been a place somewhere inside me that wants to live. I think that was the difference between us.

When we got to the city she didn't want to get out of the car. We gave her 35 cents for the bus and dropped her off at Mission and Second. "This is you, you can get out here." She didn't move.

"We gotta go, you gotta get out." She didn't move. She had these big puppy dog eyes and I knew she didn't want to leave, she didn't want to go to 16th, but she would, and she did, and when she finally got out, I felt like I had just abandoned my child.

I thought about asking her to come along with me as I went about my day. I knew that she would have accepted graciously, but I didn't ask. I don't know why. I don't know why I invited her to come with us in the first place. I think maybe I just wanted her to be with us, if only for 15 minutes. I wanted her to be safe, and to be with people who didn't want anything from her. Beyond that there was nothing I could do. You come to a point, after hearing this story enough times from too many different mouths, when you realize that's the truth -- there's nothing you can do, and she'll be dead by the time she's 20, if she's lucky. That's not apathy; it's realism.

The worst thing about it was that she was a really sweet kid, and still so innocent despite everything she was going through. I wanted to hold her, to tell her that everything would be OK, that things always get better when you think they can't get any worse. But that isn't always true. And we don't touch each other like that, we don't know each other like that, we don't communicate like that, and the last thing this girl needed was to be lied to again.

Reflections on the IMF Protests by a Punker/Journalist/Activist

I felt a lot of pressure to write about my experience at the protests in Washington DC. a certain way. A lot of different people told me what they thought was going on and what kind of position I should take on the issue. As a cynical punker/journalist/activist myself I knew it wasn't going to be easy to be objective. If I thought it was disorganized or that it was ridiculous and I said so, I would be personally insulting just about everyone I know. But isn't it my responsibility as a journalist to be as honest, accurate, and unafraid as possible? The answer, of course, is yes. And I intend for this article to be just that.

When I arrived on April 14, I expected to find several thousand white punker kids rallying against anything and everything they could think of in order to substitute for the inadequacies of their own lives. It's a pattern I've observed over and over in my friends and myself. The most hard-core activists I know also have the messiest personal lives. It seems like the perfect substitute -- save the world so you don't have to deal with saving yourself.

In some ways I was right and in some I was wrong.

It was mostly white radicals, at least on the front lines. DC had become a convergence point for people to come and protest everything and anything which makes sense because the issues concerning the IMF and the World Bank are all encompassing. They're political and personal: the exploitation of poor people, housing rights, the prison industrial complex. More than anything the protest was about people making their voices heard.

Standing on the front line, being tear gassed pepper sprayed and beaten with three foot billy clubs is scary as hell. We were tired, and dehydrated at times, we were freezing, wet and hungry. Most of all we were frustrated.

You could feel an emotion in the air; the raw, passionate kind that brings tears to your eyes and you know it's genuine because you can feel that it's genuine. These kids were serious about what they were doing, and aware of what the consequences would be.

People came to address injustice. One protester from Florida, Ozell, put it best: "The whole thing was abysmal and cruel. Such is the case whenever the people are trying to give power to the people, and care for the people. The powers that be always want to hinder the process of obtaining freedom in this world."

Often times what we were trying to achieve was more complicated than we thought. When we thought we were helping, sometimes we just made matters worse. For example, when a squat was evicted on 9 and T streets., 200 of us stood outside to support the people on the roof of the building that were holding banners with slogans like, "housing is a human right." After the police brought in SWAT teams with riot gear and pushed us off the block we stood and watched while they prepared to gas the squatters out of the building.

That particular building still had running water, heat, and electricity. Nobody was living there because the city was renovating the building. City officials evicted its prior tenants in order to remodel it and jack-up the rental price. In the process they were gentrifying what is now a predominantly poor, black neighborhood. The same thing is happening in San Francisco and in New York City on the Lower East Side, the city was putting profits before people.

But the protesters and residents of the neighborhoods were operating on different levels. It seemed like neighborhood residents were wondering, "who the hell are these freaky white kids bringing all this heat into our neighborhood?" One man, outraged, came forward and asked us, "who do you think you are coming into our neighborhood like this? This neighborhood has been f----d up long since before your time and it will continue to be f----d up long after you leave". And he was right because we don't live there.

On the front lines of the protest the issues were more clear cut. We weren't in anyone's neighborhood; we were surrounded by government buildings. On the morning of April 17, we marched to the World Bank itself but the police blocked us off. The blockade of cops was intimidating: only two officers were displaying their badges and none of them would talk to us. We told them that we would cross the blockade non-violently. Instead they bum-rushed us with billy clubs, beating and trampling everyone including myself. Later, the protesters regrouped and moved in three consecutive lines toward the police block and although several voluntary arrests were made eventually people were let through.

After everything was said and done, we had failed in some ways. All the months of planning were not enough to stop the meeting and despite all the trainings and workshops very few people seemed to be clear on what their role was supposed to be.

However, we succeeded in raising public awareness. We sent a message to the state that we were non-violent and we exposed the brutality and ignorance of the police.

This article was reprinted with permission from the author. Visit New California Media Online at www.ncmonline.com.

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