I’m alive and free and mostly okay. Phone and internet is down everywhere, so I’m not sure if or when I can post this message. But I want to write it before my battery dies.
The city of Washington D.C. is under siege. That may seem like a colorful metaphor, but honestly, it’s a fairly accurate description. Before communications went down, we heard multiple sources estimate that between three and four million people participated in the march on D.C. That’s at least double the previous record. Ordinary life in Washington D.C. has shut down while a few million guests make their presence known in our nation’s capital.
It all started yesterday, the Friday before the election. After a few hours of sleep on the floor of a church sanctuary, we all headed into the city. Our team from Miami split up into two groups: a group of twenty-one of us who are Synergists and a group of twelve volunteers from around Miami who didn’t have any other way to get here. We traveled all the way into the city together, but we decided to split up when we reached the march.
The march itself was amazing. In the hopes of placating all of these “unruly guests”, the government approved a permit for a single official march through the heart of the city. It started at noon and had a very long route in order to accommodate as many people as possible. The route was lined by a mix of police, military, Bastion, and probably other security personnel. So many of them were wearing similar black tactical gear that they tended to look alike at a certain point. An occupying army. There were physical barricades along the edges of the route protected by police vehicles and armored personnel carriers. There was also a massive swarm of helicopters and various types of drones buzzing overhead. They created a constant buzz that fluctuated in intensity but never quite went away. I’ve heard that all air traffic was restricted to military and Bastion only, but of course some media outlets and individuals snuck in a few surveillance drones too. I doubt that anyone was foolish enough to sneak a passenger aircraft into such a tense situation. I have no doubt that they would have been shot down.
It’s hard to describe what the mood was like on the streets. Everyone I saw was riled up — shouting, chanting, singing, dancing, even climbing on street lights and walls to get better pictures or unfurl banners. The chants, signs, and so on talked about everything related to the broad struggle for climate justice: “Free The Disappeared”; “Free The Candidates”; “End Extractivism”; “Stop Global Warming”; “Fossil Fuels Have Got To Go”; “Sun, Wind, Water”; “Remember Florence”; “Remember Michael”; “Save Bangladesh”; “Save The Coasts”; “Here Comes The Tide”; and more. There were people with giant puppets and people in colorful costumes like the Lorax, polar bears, butterflies, green superheroes, and who knows what else. It was amazing.
To a casual observer, it might have seemed like the world’s biggest party. But even during the peaceful times at the beginning and middle of the march, you could feel this biting tension in the air. There was a desperation haunting the faces of all but the most boisterous of marchers. We were marching under the watchful eye of tens of thousands of heavily armed and armored security personnel. On that first day, there seemed to be at least three different layers of them: the large number of police drawn in from several surrounding states who were coordinating the front lines of crowd control; the Bastion troops just behind them, ready to step in with heavier gear and harsher tactics if necessary; and the D.C. National Guard clustered around major landmarks, ready to use lethal force as necessary to protect key buildings and maintain continuity of government. And then there were the drones — planes and copters, armed an unarmed, seen and unseen. The drones were a constant reminder that we were seen by our government not as demonstrators, but as insurgents. The same machines that have been putting down insurgencies overseas for my entire life were now putting them down at home. Openly declaring our green slogans and demands for change in this atmosphere of surveillance and military readiness felt equal parts defiant and terrifying.
Given this atmosphere of tension, it’s amazing that things went as well as they did for most of the march. But then at the end of the march, we were attacked.
The first attack came from the Constitutional Militia Coalition. This national militia started as a bunch of regional coalitions like the one I had some encounters with during my time in Southern Illinois. Over the past few months, the rapid increase in green activism has driven their leadership into an anti-green frenzy, leading them to set aside some of their other differences and unite in their opposition to the Green Front. Everything up until now has been mostly law-abiding, so we thought they would just be thankful that the government was cracking down on us. But that wasn’t good enough for them. We had to be eliminated. So they decided to attack the march.
The casualties were severe. I have no idea how many CMC attacked us, or how many of our people died, because we lost all communication shortly after the attack. According to the estimates I’ve heard by word of mouth, there must have been a few hundred CMC holed up in various buildings along the parade route. Some people are saying that the government must have been involved, but it really didn’t seem like they knew what was happening. There were just suddenly live grenades and improvised explosives and bursts of gunfire all around us. I saw explosions about fifty yards in front of me and heard more behind me. Hundreds of people were killed or seriously wounded just within the parts that I could see. It was like a scene out of a war movie. I have never been so scared in my entire life. There was just suddenly fire and smoke and flying debris and bloody bodies everywhere. It felt like there was nowhere safe to go. Luckily, none of the Synergists were killed, but five of us were wounded, and I think we all had the same terrible ringing in our ears. We had spread out a little bit in case something like this happened, so some of us got it worse than others. But those were some deafening explosions that affected us all. It was more damage than anyone other than CMC could have expected.
At that point, all hell broke loose. The marchers were trapped between the explosions and the barricades along the edges of the route. Police and some of the marchers started opening fire on the CMC snipers hidden inside the buildings. It was pure chaos for about a minute or two as most people just tried to get the hell out of the way of the violence. Bastion troops didn’t seem to care about the snipers, instead using flashbang grenades and rubber bullets to keep the fleeing marchers from overwhelming the barricades. They were mostly successful, but I saw at least one place where the sheer number of people pushed over a barricade and overwhelmed the police and Bastion troops. The crowd didn’t seem to be attacking the troops, just trampling them on their way out of the meat grinder. The troops who were still standing retreated into vehicles or buildings, trying in vain to stem the flow of humanity.
I tried to lead my fellow Synergists in the direction of the breach, but there’s only so much leading you can do in a crazy situation like that. We were all barely able to keep track of one another while the crowd surged in the opposite direction, pushed away from the breach by Bastion firepower. Bridget and I had to drag Lou along with us because he’d been hit in the leg by some shrapnel and trampled by the panicked crowd. We ended up regrouping at a boarded-up storefront that was slightly set back from the crowd while we assessed the damage and figured out what to do.
We decided to split into two teams — one to seek shelter with the wounded and another to continue with the march. By that point, I was mostly fine, just a little bruised and shocked, so I decided to head up the forward group. Jalen came with me, as did six other people. Bridget headed up the retreating group and headed to a nearby church that we had heard was being used as a safe space during the march.
It took us a few minutes to figure out our next move. By the time we were split up, the situation had changed. I don’t know what happened in other parts of the city, but we were a few blocks away from the Washington Monument, and we saw some police and Green Guard actually working together to shoot back at the CMC snipers. Everyone who wasn’t armed was just trying to get as far away as possible, which was difficult because there were so many people and sounds of gunfire coming from several directions. The people on the ground with guns were getting into various small spots of cover behind bits of barricade and vehicles, occasionally firing up at some broken windows a few stories above street level.
Jalen called out to the Green Guard and they waved us over. We got as close as we could without being too exposed to the snipers across the street. Someone from the dozen or so Green Guard asked us to cover them while they sent a small team over to get inside the building.
Keep in mind here that I am by no means any type of soldier or police officer. Before we came to D.C. this weekend, I had only fired a gun about a dozen times as part of my crash course from Harold and others in basic weapons training. I’m more of a talker and organizer, not a fighter. But I did what I could. We all fired some shots at those broken windows at the same time while half a dozen people in Green Guard fatigues rushed across the street and broke through a door on the ground floor of the building. I don’t know if they captured or killed the CMC snipers, but after a minute or two of gunfire inside the building, someone radioed down to their teammates that the situation was under control.
Jalen and I had a quick discussion with the other six Synergists who had come with us. We were all okay, more or less, so we decided to push ahead to the rallying point at the Lincoln Memorial.
While police and Green Guard were still dealing with pockets of CMC snipers lining the march route, many of the marchers made their way to the Lincoln Memorial. This is where we had originally planned to have a big rally with public speakers and so on. There was a tightly packed crowd of people spreading out as far as the eye could see. There was some more chaos as everyone figured out what to do in response to the attack on the march. About a half hour after the speeches were supposed to start, somebody finally came on to the big stage they’d prepared for the event and announced that about half of the people who were scheduled to speak were still missing. The front of the march had been attacked heavily, so there was some concern that some of the speakers may not have even survived. The ones who made it to the rallying point came on stage together to make a short but impassioned plea to the crowd, calling for everyone to gather their courage and remember why they came here. They demanded that all political prisoners be released immediately and all candidates have their names restored to the ballots for public office. After their statement, one of the organizers on the stage started announcing a few other updates about what had been going on in the city since the start of the march.
And then, the power went out.
When I say that the power went out, I mean the power really went out. As far as we can tell, it went out across the entire city. The speakers on the main stage started working on their backup power, but everyone else started talking among themselves about what to do next.
It reminded me of what I’ve heard about the Occupy general assemblies, but more chaotic and much, much bigger. Some of the crowd had scattered throughout D.C. as they fled the explosions and shootings, but there must have been a million or more people crowded around the Lincoln Memorial, the reflecting pool, the Washington Monument, all sorts of areas along the National Mall. We started talking in small groups ranging from a few dozen to a few hundred using the call and repeat style of grassroots communication. Honestly, there were often too many overlapping groups and messages for it to make any sense. It got confusing and jumbled at certain points. But we tried, and we eventually got some good conversations going. After a while, the groups all started talking to each other, mostly by shouting a short chant when a bunch of people came up with an idea that they thought was important. One group started leading all of the wounded to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which was becoming a gathering place for street medics and paramedics. Another group shouted that people who want to get in on a spontaneous massive direct action at the Capitol building should meet up at the World War II Memorial.
I don’t know if it was just a coincidence or if they didn’t like what we were saying. But this is about when the police and Bastion issued their first warning to disperse.
The warning came from many sources — a few armored vehicles on the streets, a few helicopters flying overhead, maybe even a few of the drones. Since it was being blasted from multiple sources at the same time, there was a surreal echoing. There were also suddenly some spotlights and flashing lights that were very disorienting.
The voice on the speakers told us that the permitted march and rally had drawn to a close. We were encouraged to disperse peacefully or we would be subject to arrest.
Nobody liked this idea, of course. At least nobody that I saw. Some people started leaving, but others shouted and screamed at them, pleading with them to stay and show their support. And together, as one big mass, the million or more of us who were left started marching toward the Capitol.
What happened next may have been even more chaotic than when CMC attacked, although there were far fewer deaths. We marched on the Capitol, surrounding the barricades on every side with a seemingly endless sea of humanity. The voices on the speakers warned us again that we had to disperse. As we shouted slogans at the mostly empty Capitol building, some people tried to push their way past the barricades. Police and Bastion troops responded forcefully with their shields and batons, trying to push the crowd back. But there were far too many of them, and they were far too determined. Some had gas masks, earplugs, and various objects that they were using as shields. They started climbing on the barricades and pushing their way through the mass of riot police on the front lines.
And then came the big attack.
I’d never seen or heard of anything like this at a demonstration. It would almost call it a less-lethal massacre, if there is such a thing. Helicopters and drones started swooping down from above, dropping an incredible amount of teargas, smoke bombs, and flashbangs throughout the entire crowd. There were also some armored vehicles using these obnoxious sound cannons that hurt my head and eventually made me vomit right there in the street as I tried to run away. One of the trucks started spraying massive amounts of this thick white foam that seemed to immobilize everyone it touched. Another one was chasing after people and pointing a big panel at them that was making them scream and cry and run away. I have no idea what exactly it was doing to them. I’ve heard it may have been microwaves or just a different type of sound cannon. Whatever it was, it was terrifying.
Everybody scattered. From what I saw and what I’ve heard since, they managed to clear just about everyone out of the area around the Capitol one way or another. Some of them were simply chased away, fleeing the area and maybe even leaving the city entirely. Others were taken away in big buses or just left there for hours on end in zip tie handcuffs or piles of white foamy goo.
So we scattered and retreated. Jalen and I managed to stick together, but we got separated from the other Synergists. We spent a few hours looking for them, but between the lack of internet and the heavy Bastion presence on the streets, we couldn’t find them. We were both exhausted, so we spent the night hiding and recovering with about a dozen other survivors in a small infoshop not far from the National Mall. Power was still out for the entire city, and most places didn’t have backup power, so we slept in the dark, on the floor, in a cluttered office surrounded by odd shapes and unfamiliar people. I had a headache, nausea, dehydration, a banged up knee, and probably some degree of shock, so I really needed the rest. As soon as I actually found a semi-comfortable position, I fell asleep and slept hard for about nine or ten hours, which is very unusual for me.
That was all yesterday. Not much has happened today. The power is still out everywhere and we’re trying to figure out what to do next. I’ve been writing this entry off and on throughout the day as we rest and talk to our hosts. The people at this infoshop have been talking to other small groups with walkie talkies, short wave radio, and an app that communicates directly with other phones and devices in the area via wireless. They also sent out scouts a few times throughout the day to find out what’s happening in the city. There is still a heavy presence of police, Bastion, and National Guard, but not as heavy as yesterday. Most of the demonstrators have gone into hiding. At this point, it sounds like people are torn between making another big push for the Capitol to make our demands or just fleeing the city and going home.
Honestly, it’s a tough decision. Considering how easily they scattered us from the Capitol yesterday, I’m not sure there’s much point in trying again. Then again, they may not be as ready for it this time. It’s been almost a day, and they arrested thousands of people, including many people who they consider “organizers”. So in their minds, this might all be over, or at least wrapping up. Maybe a sudden push would catch them off guard. Or maybe it will just get more of us hurt, arrested, or killed. With all that’s happened, though, it just feels like this can’t be how it ends. This can’t end with thousands of small groups of people scattered throughout the city, hiding and licking their wounds, slowly but surely deciding to limp home. That feels wrong. But would it really accomplish anything if we took the Capitol? Or would it just get us all arrested or killed? Maybe it’s better to go home while we still can and live to fight another day. That seems like the most likely outcome right now, but also the least satisfying. Is that really how the biggest march in our history — and maybe even the most important one — is going to end?
I guess we’ll see.