RNC08 Report, January 8th, 2017:
Short Story: “Solidarity”
The author was seventeen when she was arrested at the 2008 RNC; this short story was written in 2011. Watch Laura Nuckols read “Solidarity” at the “By Chance By Choice: Radical Readings on Family” Lowertown Reading Jam in December 2013.
It was midday when we carried our anger out of doors, off the buses, off the trains, out of our cars, from bikes, and the soles of our sneakers. They were waiting there.
They were waiting there because we had prophesied our own arrival on Twitter, on our profiles, from the rooftops of our lungs. We’re coming. We can’t hold back any more. We’re taking the capitol. We’ll see you at the summit.
They wore riot gear, and so did we. Theirs was made from plastics and kevlar. Ours was made from flannel and dye. They had shields; we had signs made from paper and marker and middle fingers. Their helmets had blast guards. We dipped our bandannas in vinegar, yet they could still see our faces. No analogy armed us against their tear gas, concussion grenades, rubber bullets, guns, guns, guns, but, in beginning, there was the word, and the word was with us. We shouted the word. We were the word.
Traffic came to a halt at an intersection where we made an early stand. The sun was hot, a line was drawn in the asphalt, and we crossed it, so they cut us apart and took some of us away in vans. The good thing about being on our side is that there is no rank, and any of us can rise up at the right moment. After those arrests were over, we walked on.
We still believed the streets belonged to us, and we said so. “Whose streets?” “Our streets!” we shouted with one voice, answering and calling to our multiplied self, our self filling four lanes for miles. The streets don’t know who they belong to, they are felicitous, they kissed us on our feet and gave us away.
This is who we are.
We are teachers. We are union workers. We are anarchists.
“There are women and children among us,” we said. “There are young and innocent people here.”
Someone in the crowd muttered, “I want them to come in with all these little kids. Then we’d get on the news. Then they’d realize what they’ve been doing.”
“How can you say that?” said someone else.
This is who we are: young and innocent, vandals and addicts, murderers and mothers. We’re old, we’re exhausted of everything except our anger and love. That’s another good thing about being on our side.
The bad thing about our side is that we don’t know who we are, and any one of us can rise up at the wrong moment, to lead us astray.
“This man is undercover,” someone said about the plainclothes cop.
Once you’re one of us, it’s hard to see them in you. We don’t have the time or the money for badges and nametags, like they do. So it’s easy to get tricked by populist trappings; we followed him.
Miles later, out of downtown, we traced the freeway through parking lots and residential neighborhoods off the frontage road. The sun was going down and our permit had expired. The west side of the city was turning gold, the east purple-black, then the real violence started. We’d been walking for so long, but it was time to run.
The thing news channels couldn’t broadcast, if TV had tried to tell this story, is how loud it was. It was so loud. The volume in all the living rooms and sports bars across the country would have to get turned up by satellite. The news would have to break the stereos. And shatter the screens. Once the flashbangs got going, we couldn’t see or speak at a regular register. We shouted everything we said. “Are you okay?” “Come on, run.” And we were losing our voices.
A mounted cop spurred his horse right over this pudgy, punk-type guy. Those mounties’d swoop in and out of the crowd like cowboys with an unruly herd. Maybe that punk guy got up, maybe not. No one saw. No one stopped to watch anyone get arrested anymore; it was happening on every block.
And the tear gas clouds across the night. And the mace. Concussion grenades. And how we were all yelling nothing, then, suddenly, silent, just running, then screaming, “Who are you serving? Who are you protecting?”
It’s amazing how easily they could direct us. We’d said we were the resistance movement, but when we turned a corner to find a line of guns, we’d find the path of least resistance. They even put up walls in places, shitty little riot fences. Finally they got the last of us, the fractured, frightened, and defiant of us onto the bridge.
The Marion Street Bridge. They were right behind us, and they were waiting for us at the other side. The freeway was below us, shining lights from the north and south on us and quickly past. Run, die. Jump, die.
Their amplified voice told us, “If you are on this bridge, you are under arrest. Sit down and put your hands on your head.”
There were so many of us, and though they had the greater firepower, they didn’t have enough vans and handcuffs to take us all at once. So we sat on the bridge for hours, and sang our songs. They were still about solidarity, but they weren’t about overcoming anymore. There was no way out for us except in their possession. We were going to be individualized and processed, our fingerprints, we’d each have a photo and a number and a file in their office downtown.
I got my photo taken twice, once at the bridge, ’round midnight, right before they stuffed me in a van to struggle with my plastic tie-cuffs. That first one, I remember catching a passing cop’s eye. He was afraid to look at me, and when the camera flashed, I started to laugh.
One of the kids pissed himself in the van. Just to give them a little more trouble, I guess. When we got to jail, it stopped being funny. They lined us all up, then took me, only me, into a back room for questioning. I don’t remember the detective and I don’t remember what I said, but I remember I used first person plural exclusive pronouns. He told me I could go, and I didn’t hear them ask anyone else to speak for us all.
Their holding cells were beige-painted cement walls, nothing else but the names of people who came before. I was alone, one of the only girls, and I stretched out on my back on the floor, remembering ground. Then an anarchist chick got ushered in with me and I had to sit scrunched up again. Hands on your head. She was afraid, she kept talking about killing herself. What was I supposed to say to that? No one plans for that shit in the manifestos.
They took us through processing. Name, address, social. The ink they used to take down our fingerprints was greasy and we had to use their gritty, industrial, orange-smelling soap to get it off. Took my picture again.
Before they’d pack us onto another van to the cells where we’d sleep, they wanted to search us for weapons, drugs, whatever. Not like they’d find it. If we’d had what they wanted, we’d have already used it. Still one of them led me away, to a dark room, and he had me stand inside and take off my clothes. He’d be on the other side of the door, keeping it slightly ajar. I was supposed to pass all my stuff to him so he could look through it.
I untied my shoes and handed him the right, then the left, then the socks. I took off my shirt, passed it out of sight. My bandanna I’d abandoned during the run, because I’d heard if they catch you with a bandanna they’ll slap you with terrorism charges or something, somehow. I took off my pants. The pockets had already been emptied. Those I handed away too, and my bra, covering my breasts with one arm.
“Come on, now,” he said through the door. There was a two-way mirror or a camera in there, then, or he could see me standing shaking in briefs in that dark claustrophobic room, or he just assumed I hadn’t already given him enough.
I slipped my underwear over my hips and legs, gave them to that man with the gun outside. I was more naked than I’d ever felt. Waiting.