By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
Human rights movements are different from the rest. Unlike revolutions, which come together in order to overturn empires, or labor unions, which exist to boost wage increases from capitalists' pockets, human rights movements tend to coagulate over the egregious spilling of human blood, preferably that of an Innocent. They are vampiric in that way, feeding off the sainted veins of martyrs, sacrificial lambs, and causes célèbres. For this reason human rights activists often come off as ambulance chasers, morgue cruisers, demagogic ghouls prowling the autopsy room in search of an appropriate victim-myth whose body tag they can snatch, raise up high, and fly like a righteous banner.
Unlike vampires, these activists aren't seeking eternal life but temporary means of moral persuasion against the State. Human rights movements also, ironically enough, require monsters, devils, archenemies who would as soon shoot the people as look at them. Enter Bull Connor, enter Pik Botha, enter Rudolph Giuliani, though we all know it's actually been exit Rudolph Giuliani from any future hopes in politics ever since Diallo's mother fainted at the death scene. Her and her husband's regal bearing and regalia revealed that the deceased was not the "immigrant peddler" of the Daily News's incessant description, but a product of centuries-deep familial roots. Surveying the joyous multitudes at last Thursday's March Against Police Brutality, photographer Jules Allen opined that this grand movement-building event probably wouldn't have ever happened if Giuliani had "just said 'I'm sorry,' or 'It was an accident,' something. But to just leave it at 'Fuck you'? Was that crazy or what?"
In spite of City Hall's imperious grand wizard, last Thursday's march across the Brooklyn Bridge Cadman Plaza to Federal Plaza felt more like a victory dance than a protest rally a voodoo-against-racism frolic so full of good cheer you'd think the order of the day was heigh-ho, the king was already dead, Viva la revolución, Rome is once again free, and all known fascists are now on the run.
Human rights rallies aren't by necessity humorless, but as soon as this reporter came out of the High Street subway station, he knew that this rally had jokes for your ass. Firstly in the form of the young Hispanic cop who told the bewildered gentleman out just before me scouring the empty streets for signs of activity that he'd hardly seen anyone that day. This said as, not so far off in the distance, the bridge was visibly swarming with bodies. Once I got to the rally at the Plaza proper (where it became clear that the march was backed up all the way from Manhattan into the streets of Brooklyn) and caught sight of a costumed Grim Reaper accessorized as a policeman, a sickle-, badge-, and billy-club-laden avatar of doom on loan from the extras crew of Maniac Cop 3, I got wind that comedy would be fueling this day of the dead as much as rage.
Don't get me wrong: folk were soberly chanting down Babylon as required, dropping all the familiar science No Justice No Peace The People United Can Never Be Defeated but they were also giddily returning cheers and power salutes from supporters and well-wishers in vehicles crossing the bridge headed into Brooklyn on the roadway to the appropriate left of the march.
The first thing my mate asked when I got home that night was, "Were there enough white people there?" meaning enough to make the media and the police not dismiss the gathering as another yawn-provoking, overtime-paying display of Angry Negro Syndrome. But yes there were, dear, so you had Black Panthers walking arm in arm with Gray Panthers and Pink Panthers, and hosts of representatives voicing other diverse concerns as well. There was so much interracial, interfaith, cross-gender coalition and alliance building going down on that bridge you had to wonder whether you were on the Brooklyn Bridge or the Golden Gate, coming straight out of Crooklyn or straight out of Berkeley.
Say what? Coalition politics were supposedly as dead or withering on the vine in New York as industrial labor elsewhere in globalized America, but this Diallo thing was not only providing Black and Hispanic leadership a reason to powwow but for your Socialist Workers and your Revolutionary Communist Party people and your well-represented Local 371 Social Service Employees members to commune with the sister passing out flyers promoting her call-in show about healing the rift between Africans and African Americans. There was even love for the fringe character who came up asking for money to feed the homeless but whose literature spoke of wanting to police homeless folks' dating practices and make AIDS testing mandatory for them.
The temper of the day was best declared, though, by the variety of vendors on the make, the brother offering not-for-free chew sticks at the foot of the bridge, the whistle man whose neck was his vending table, the Giuliani-as-Dracula button hawker, the cat passing out flyers to this year's run of the Universal Soul Circus, and perhaps most of all by my man with the "FUCK Giuliani" T-shirts who claimed to have sold 200 or so at $8 a pop, six to an NYPD officer who gave him his car keys and asked that the vendor clandestinely load them into his vehicle. "FUCK Giuliani" is cool, but some marchers thought more clever would be mo' betta and threw up signs of Arrest Giuliani and Impound Giuliani. From the book of Funkadelic came Rude-Off Fool-i-ani; from the book of Saturday Night Live, according to my man Marc Ribot, we got Giuliani and Milosevic, Separated at Birth.