Protest – A Series of Uneasy Events – Part 3

During this week, in light of the recent verdict (or lack there of) in Ferguson I will be publishing some excerpts from my Cool Disco Dan journal from my early years in Washington DC. The series describes two visits to the city by the KKK in September and October of 1990 and my witness to, and learnings from, those events.


Sunday October 28 1990 (continued)

We knelt by a tree and prayed. Then we heard a roaring sound and suddenly the place was filled with cops on motorcycles and on foot. We found ourselves in the midst of a war, as the protesters turned their frustrations and missiles on these newcomers. Most had gotten off of their bikes, but one was whizzing around chasing people on his, going up and down steps. Rocks were smashing into the parked bikes and cars and onto the street. We backed away slowly and calmly and were not touched (a tiny sapling is not much protection). We took up a position across the street. The cops began chasing down and arresting specific protesters.

From our position, we saw a black man in handcuffs being led past us to the paramedics van. He was bleeding in the mouth and from the head, a very bright red blood. Across the street we saw cops chasing a white protester who had been throwing rocks, swinging at him with their batons. He stumbled against a building and three or four officers jumped on him and literally beat the shit out of him with their batons. He lay face down on the pavement next to the building. I could see blood on the pavement. Five cops quickly stood around him and would not let anyone come close. They chased a reporter away. (By the way the event was a media circus. They were everywhere and it was sickening). Then a man tried to get close and they wouldn’t let him near either. He started hollering, “But he’s my son! He’s my son!” We moved back across the street to see if we could get closer to see if he was alright, but we only made it to our sapling. More cops came, handcuffed the young man, and lifted him up. Except for some bloody spots on his face, he looked okay. I was relieved. Then the police asked us to leave and we slowly walked out, weaving in between the motorcycles and cars and rocks in the street.

We started heading towards the Capitol. The back streets were calm with only a scattering of protesters and police. We were walking down one of these back streets and a young white man about our age was walking in front of us smoking a cigarette. Some black guys came around the corner and one bumped him purposely and pushed him up against a car. Another kind of kissed him on his face with his hand. We figured we were next but we looked at them and they didn’t mess with us. We came so close to saying something to them but we didn’t. I don’t know what would’ve happened if we had. We were just a couple of white guys in baggy pants and caps. Who knows. Anyway, the guy was leaning up against the car, stunned and hurt. I touched his arm and asked if he was okay. He nodded and then walked away, talking to himself. I hope he doesn’t carry the scars all of his life.

We came to a street with a few cops and one car and started to cross it. After a while, we realized somebody was hollering at us. “Hey, you with the caps!” We turned around and a black police officer was coming toward us, telling us the street was closed. We said okay and apologized. Ben reached over and shook his hand, told him thanks, and that we understood. He relaxed immediately and it was almost as if he breathed a huge sigh of relief. I shook his hand too and told him that we understood how tough it was for him to be here. He thanked us from his heart and the appreciation was written all across his face. I felt like we had bridged a huge gulf. I think he was pleasantly surprised at these two gentle, cooperative protesters. We left him feeling happy with ourselves and continued on our strange mission.

We arrived at the park across from the Capitol and the protesters were pretty rowdy. Several were hanging back, chunking rocks at the police. In the distance, we could barely see the Klan on the steps. We walked around in the crowd for a while, praying and wondering if there was any way we could confront the rock-throwers and gently ask them to quit. The majority was black and we felt like at the time that it wasn’t appropriate for a couple of white guys like us to say anything. We didn’t agree with the rock throwing but understood the anger. However, as we were walking to a tree, a couple of white guys picked up some large seed like things as big as baseballs to throw. I looked at one of them and said, “Don’t throw it. It’s not worth it.” We walked on by and he just stood there. Then someone came up behind him and he let them take the thing out of his hand. He said something to the other guy and he dropped his on the ground where it had been. Then they walked away. I think they left. The probable “missiles” stayed on the ground right up until we left. It felt good, like we did have some influence. The cops got tired of the rocks so they moved in behind, canceled the permit, and said that those who would leave now could. Those who didn’t would be arrested. So we left and headed home. After a while, we realized that we could barely walk, we were so drained.

What was I feeling? Well, it was a whole range of emotions from anger to frustration to disbelief. But the one I was feeling more than any other was an overwhelming sense of sadness. Sadness at how people can hurt each other, at the KKK and their outlook on life, at the division between people protesting against the same thing. I understood the police, they were just doing their job and they didn’t want to be there either. The reporters were doing the same. I understood the militancy and anger of the protesters at the KKK from the history of their repression. I even understood the KKK from the people that I hung around with in Mississippi. I understood all of these things and yet I did not understand a thing. I think I finally know how God feels when his children hurt each other.

I want to start an organization or at least make a suggestion so that when there is a protest, people would be sent to it in pairs simply as witnesses for peace and love among the people there. It amazed me that two guys who weren’t really trying to change anything and had no control over the riot or situation at large could touch the  people around us. A black protester. A white elderly couple. A white young man. A black policeman. A white protester. Why do we always feel like you have to do big things to accomplish anything? I thank God that we went.


Protest – A Series of Uneasy Events – Part 2

During this week, in light of the recent verdict (or lack there of) in Ferguson I will be publishing some excerpts from my Cool Disco Dan journal from my early years in Washington DC. The series describes two visits to the city by the KKK in September and October of 1990 and my witness to, and learnings from, those events.


Sunday October 28, 1990

My friend Ben was visiting and we decided that we should go to the rally to protest the planned KKK march that was supposed to happen from 12:00 to 4:30. We left the house at 11:00 and drove to the Rhode Island Ave Metro Station. We prayed in the car before we left simply asking that we would be in tune to God’s Spirit and that we would be instruments of peace on this day. We took the Metro to the Smithsonian stop and walked all over the place trying to reach 14th street where the protesters were. The police had blocked off streets a block away from Constitution and were lined up all along the avenue. We walked up to the great phallic symbol of our country and the KKK was not there yet. We had a good vantage point though and we picked out a route to get to the protesters. We came up behind them on 14th and our real experience began.

We climbed a tree and observed. The All People’s Congress had a truck set up with a good loud speaker system and they were telling people “to walk not run” and “not to listen to people who were not taking responsibility for you.” The people they were referring to were those with a smaller loud speaker across the street who were more militant. They were bashing the cops and shouting other such nonsense that only gets people angry and excited. So in the midst of the noise of competing loud speakers, shouts, milling protesters and a 4 or 5 person thick police line, we waited. I was saddened by the division I saw within the protesters.

The Klan appeared right across from us and began marching down Constitution. I couldn’t tell who was Klan, who were reporters, and who were cops, but I estimated around 30 or 40 of the Klan were there (actual number was 27). The militants started throwing rocks and bottles at the Klan and police. The Klan was too far away but the police were not. The militants surged towards the line to try and get at the Klan and the police chased them back. Then everybody took off down 14th to find some back ways to reach the Klan. We slid down the tree and followed at a distance because we wanted to be there but not be a part of the militants. Before we left I went up to one of the people surrounding the APC truck and told him to thank the man who had been on the speaker most of the time because I appreciated what he said. It was sad to see that very few people had listened to him and now the truck sat on a deserted street littered with glass, rocks and discarded banners.

We followed the others on foot and as we got in among several of the government buildings we kept hearing several booms. We realized as we got closer that people were busting windows. We passed 10th street and we remembered that the cops had said that they were only going to guard the Klan for 4 blocks. They guarded them all of the way but we got a little worried. Several windows in the Old Post Office were busted out and when we got there some police were guarding the place.

How do I describe what happened next? Many images pass through my mind. An older couple huddled up against the wall, she trembling from the rush of crazed protesters. We asked if they were okay and he nodded, sort of embarrassed at their weakness. We started seeing cop cars with back windows busted out driven by not-too-happy policemen. We passed a cop car sitting in the middle of the street; its lone occupant trapped as protesters gathered around and showered the car with anything they could get their hands on. Looking back, we saw that he had put on his riot helmet in the car and I was glad. They hadn’t busted his windows yet. (We found out later that he was eventually rescued by cops on motorcycles after enduring the attack for about 15 minutes). Then we found ourselves in between two rows of buildings. The cops had sealed off the street in front of us right when we got there, but a lot of protesters made it through. Those who didn’t got real angry and started attacking the police with rocks, bottles, and banners.

(To be continued)


Protest – A Series of Uneasy Events – Part 1

During this week, in light of the recent verdict (or lack there of) in Ferguson I will be publishing some excerpts from my Cool Disco Dan journal from my early years in Washington DC. The series describes two visits to the city by the KKK in September and October of 1990 and my witness to, and learnings from, those events.


Sept. 2, 1990 – Sunday

In the afternoon, we went down near the Washington Monument to participate in the protest against the KKK who were marching to the Capitol. We arrived at Constitution Ave. and all we saw were people, signs (“Fuck the KKK” and “Nonviolence is still the way to truth” to name a few), and lots of police (we found out later that there were about 2000 there). We passed one group of people who were blocking Constitution so the KKK could not march, their loudspeaker talking about unity, standing together, somebody was holding up a huge peace symbol. We moved up a block, weaving in and out of the throng, and joined another group who were standing on the corner, waiting.

A loudspeaker nearby was blaring out socialist rhetoric and though I agreed with some of what they were saying, I along with our group was very uncomfortable with their militancy and cop-bashing. It did make for some lively discussions among us though. A group of people walked down the street toward us and everyone began to cheer. A young black man told us that it was Mayor Barry’s wife. I thought that was kind of neat. (We found out later on the news that a European tourist had been beaten bloody near us after he had been mistaken for a skinhead. A man was arrested for inciting the crowd against him.) We eavesdropped on a Washington Times reporter who was near us as he talked on a cellular phone and after he left, we decided along with everyone else that the KKK were at the Capitol.

Everyone began running down Constitution Ave. towards the Capitol, breaking through the lines of police who tried in vain to stop us. There were just too many people. As we walked, we could hear the sirens as the police rushed to get to the Capitol before us to set up another police line. They did and nobody got close. We were standing right next to the line about 50 yards away from the main group of protesters when a group of black (and some white) youths came up behind the police line and tried to break it so that the protesters could get through. There was a sudden surge in the crowd, one man hit a cop, and was immediately slammed to the ground and arrested. Then people started running toward us away from the police and most of our group panicked and started to run.

I don’t know why I did what I did, but I stood firm and shouted, “No! Don’t run! Don’t run!” So then no one ran and we stood real close together and held on to each other. The crowd calmed and returned to their places. We backed up a few feet and kept backing up until we were across the street and could observe from a distance. Immediately, the tension in the air decreased. We could see lots of bottles and rocks being thrown and there were several more surges in the crowd, each one making my heart jump into my throat, but nothing happened. People were out for blood and when they realized that they were not going to see the KKK, they took out their frustrations on the police.

In a little while, the people with the “peaceful” loudspeaker came on and said that 50 KKK had been bussed by the police to the Capitol, had held a short rally, and then had left. They announced that we had won and thanked us for coming. We cheered along with everyone and then we went home. Whew!

I am sure that if the KKK would have been allowed to march, they would have been killed or seriously injured and the police would not have been able to protect them. I was very impressed with the way the police handled the situation. Their plan was to keep the protestors and the KKK as far away from each other as possible and it worked. Several times, it looked like we were on the verge of a riot but somehow the police were able to calm things down. The tear gas guns were cocked, but they never went off. There were eight injuries, four of which were police, and four or five arrests. That’s a lot better than 1982.

Why do we hate the KKK so much? There are good reasons, but I wonder if they make us so angry because they put out in the open what we hide inside. Perhaps we see our secret prejudices and racism reflected in them. It’s a thought.

Everyone claimed victory, but I think, counting the police, we were the real winners. It seemed to me that the KKK did just the opposite of what they wanted to do. They brought black and white people together. Fifty of them stood on the steps of the Capitol and preached to no one then got in their buses and went back south. The Invisible Knights of the Ku Klux Klan were exactly that, invisible.

And we realized again the power people can have and what we can accomplish when we work together. We have a ways to go and there’s lots more to do, but it’s a start.

The Walls that Divide Us Don’t Have To


I spent yesterday with a friend who I haven’t seen in over ten years. We spent a lot of time together when we were teenagers watching Dr. Who, dreaming up one creative project after another, most which never came to fruition, but they laid the foundation for the work we do today. And our friendship.

He had never been to DC so I showed him around, driving and splashing through puddles in the pouring rain. We talked about our lives, our families, our opinions. I was surprised to learn that we are on opposite sides of the political spectrum. We touched on several issues, didn’t agree on everything, but still were able to dialog with the respect born of our early years together.

Being geeks and sci-fi buffs, we went to the Air and Space Museum and decided to watch the IMAX movie Space Station 3D. VERY cool and informative too. We both thoroughly enjoyed it. Sitting there in the darkness with our yellow 3D glasses on, ducking the variety of zero-g objects floating our way, I thought about our friendship in the midst of our differences and was struck by the words of one of the astronauts in the film:

From space there are no borders. You cannot see where one country ends and another begins.

This applies as well to the diverse “nations” of individuals,
like two men whose lives have traced very different trajectories
floating in the space of memory
discovering they can still be friends.

Reprinted from Slowmover from October 27, 2007

Information Overlord – In Search of Good News


At times I have felt the need to take a break from the news which is rather difficult as I am a consummate news junkie. I believe in being informed.

Then inevitably a day comes when the information interferes with the being.

It is not that there is no good news happening in the world. I would submit that there is more good than bad happening on any given day. It simply is not broadcast.

Or one must look a little harder to find the good news broadcasters.

So I have stopped reading the newspaper. I also deleted several news apps on my phone and canceled a variety of notifications. To say I was obsessing over the news was an understatement.

But it isn’t enough to simply refrain from something. So I did some research to find a replacement.

Here is what I found:

Outlets for good, positive news do exist. I am especially impressed with the Good News Network and Positive News.

So here is what I did:
I downloaded the News Republic app. I turned off all of the notifications from its news sources. Then I customized it by adding the RSS feeds for the Good News Network, Positive News, Yes! magazine, my blogs, MWR, etc.

So now when I click on the News Republic app I have a nice screen of good news. I also get notifications during the day. News Republic also learns my preferences and creates a personal profile.

Benefits so far?
I am happier. I am less depressed. I have a better perspective on what is happening. I am not as angry.

And my creative muse has returned.

Now that is good news!