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Riot porn played as the crowd filtered in for the meeting at Time's Up last Thursday. The activists playing on the big screen showed how it's done, grabbing long poles and punching in the store windows of Prague, setting fire to trashed cars in ancient European streets. As anarchists stared down a line of police, a protester picked up what looked like a used tear-gas canister and chucked it right into a cop's protective mask. The cop fell to the ground, out of the picture.
"Man, those guys make us look like pansies," a guy in attendance said to his friend.
"I know we went off in Seattle, but man." Overhead, a small ceiling fan gamely tried to ventilate the clubhouse on Houston, rapidly filling with a crowd of 50 or 60.
They were gathered to hear about plans for protesting the June summit of the G8, in Heiligendamm, Germany, on the beautiful shores of the Baltic Sea. The host, Jason, with an accent that could pass for either generic queer or transcontinental hip, started his pitch by listing the many sins of the G8. The secretive cabal includes the leaders of the world's seven richest nations, plus Russia, plus the head of the European community. These characters are accountable to no one, he explained, and yet they're responsible for allowing multinational corporations to suck the lifeblood from poor countries. A few slides into his Microsoft PowerPoint, you got the feeling he might be right.
Jason wore the protest movement's signature blacka pair of black pants, a black crewneck sweater, a black knit cap that seemed to make the back of his head itch as the talk went on. He was eminently likable, and open about the plans laid by his organization, Dissent! Network of Resistance. If there were any New York City police or FBI agents conducting surveillance, Jason seemed not to give a fig.
He took a self-deprecating view of himself and a long one of the movement. "If we don't put the final nail in the coffin, there will always be Japan in 2008, or the U.S. in 2012," he said, giggling with the rest of the crowd. "We'll see."
Downstairs, the weekly Time's Up BYOB bike workshop clanged along, send ing a steady stream of cyclists up and down the basement stairs carrying their rides.
The presentation was among the last of Dissent's 30-city tour in the U.S. Jason's voice was nearly gone, and so, he said, is Dissent's money. There were three chances to donate to the kitty, and many in the crowd fished bills out of dark pockets on more than one round.
Meanwhile, Jason ran through examples of protest tactics that have worked at previous G8 summits. He queued video clips from 2005 on his Windows Media Playerone of the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army bothering the cops, another of the Suicide Bloc bowling them over by tossing rocks and charging ahead. This time around, he said, you can expect comfortable quarters and fresh food in a schoolhouse being renovated for you by a local mayor. You've already missed the bike contingent leaving from Budapest, but you can still join the one that will pedal from Stockholm. You'll be riding into the teeth of $90 million worth of security measures for an event lasting less than 72 hours. The fencing alone works out to not quite $7 million per day.
Jason explained that the locals aren't especially happy about having their forests cut down to make way for the fence or about losing their free access to the beach. Family businesses inside the red zone have had to close, he said. And all because the cops are so worried about what you might do.
Activists have spent the last several months knocking on doors in Heiligendamm, Jason said, leafleting for their cause and getting to know the locals. He urged us not only to come and protest, but to stick around and spend our money.
"Stay for a couple of weeks after," he told the crowd. "They're going to need your tourist dollars. I'm serious. They're nice beaches. Don't just go and get all stressed out. Go and make some friends. Cook some vegan food or whatever. Enjoy the beaches."