Tuesday, January 19, 2016

San Francisco Bay Area bridge blockades in fact and fiction

Yesterday afternoon, on the day the United States honors the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, and in the name of #ReclaimMLK and #BlackLivesMatter, the Black queer liberation collective Black.Seed blockaded the San Francisco Bay Bridge. Brooke Anderson's album of photographs on Facebook tells the story eloquently.

As always in this socially-mediated century, the action's supporters and its naysayers are duking it out online. In my view that's not nearly as interesting as what the Black.Seed Collective has to say in its own words. An excerpt:
For the second year in a row, the Anti Police-Terror Project (APTP) put out a call for 96 Hours of Direct Action to reclaim Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s radical legacy and take a stand against anti-Black racism and terrorism. In a courageous display of solidarity and the spirit of MLK, Black.Seed, a Black, queer liberation collective, has shut down the Bay Bridge as a show of resistance to a system that continues to oppress Black, Queer, Brown, Indigenous and other marginalized people throughout the Bay Area.

Today, January 18th,  Black.Seed has shut down the west-bound span of Bay Bridge. Cars are blocking lanes and individuals are chained across lanes to demand investment in the wellbeing of Black people. [...]

Over the last few years, we have seen San Francisco and Oakland destroyed by police murders, rising housing costs, rapid gentrification, and apathetic city officials. Last year, we saw dozens of police murders throughout the Bay Area; since June of 2015 in Oakland alone there have been eight Black men murdered by police.

Today Black.Seed celebrates and honors the radical legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Historically, our people have had to take drastic and dramatic measures to highlight the systemic abuses that harm our communities. 51 years ago, those who came before us participated in direct action in Selma, Alabama, to speak out against the harms of racism and oppression. It is this very spirit of resistance that flows through our lives and actions, in the Black Out Friday, Black Brunches, and highway shutdowns of today.

The first bridge blockade I participated in myself was the Golden Gate Bridge blockade of 31 Jan 1989, organized by Stop AIDS Now Or Else and documented in a shamelessly unapologetic YouTube video created by my longtime friend and comrade Arl Nadel:

We got the same flavor of pushback that Black.Seed is now parrying (eloquently, IMHO) by motorists "inconvenienced" by stopped traffic. Our friends and comrades were dying of AIDS in 1989, a disease whose existence then-barely-former president Ronald Reagan did not even acknowledge publicly until tens of thousands had already died of the disease. For us then, as for Black.Seed who must endure and mourn "police murders, rising housing costs, rapid gentrification, and apathetic city officials," disrupted commutes didn't move the scales much. Does that raises your hackles? I'd like to suggest you watch the video linked above before jumping to conclusions.

There have been many other bridge protests. For example: the Bay Bridge was blocked in 1991, at the start of the first Gulf war; and the Golden Gate Bridge was shut down in 2002 at the start of the second. In 2003, on the one year anniversary of GWB's Iraq war, there were multiple attempts to shut down the Bay Bridge on a day when the whole of San Francisco was gridlocked by protest, but activists were thwarted that time.

The bridge blockade in which I immersed myself most deeply is the one that forms a centerpiece of my novel Consequence. I lived with the planning, choreography, messaging, and dramatic events of that blockade, set in April 2004, for a fair few years (the novel was published this past September). The issue that sparked that fictional blockade -- well, here, I'll quote Doug Peacock, real-life model for Edward Abbey’s George Washington Hayduke in The Monkey Wrench Gang, because he hits the bullseye --
The villain of Consequence happens to be genetic engineering but it could have been any current social or environmental issue. The premise, absolutely believable today, is that life on the planet is threatened and that battle waged by this novel’s characters will make a difference. And why not?

And why not, indeed?

Kudos and more power to the Black.Seed collective and the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Acting up, fighting back: AIDS activism in the '80s and '90s
Sticking your neck out
Activist fiction: it's about engagement, not about The Issue
Robert Redford, the Weather Underground, and why we read books

Thanks to Brooke Anderson for permission to include a photograph from her album of photographs from yesterday's Black.Seed collective protest in this post; and to Arl Nadel, again, for her excellent compilation of footage and images from the 1989 Stop AIDS Now or Else shutdown of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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