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New Years Eve Times Square Agitprop
by Joel Meyers, No Spray Coalition
Mass anger is boiling over, just beneath the sheepish surface, the aspect that we usually see. That is the conclusion resulting from my experience in Times Square on New Year's Eve. It confirms a parallel development in the recent upheaval on the streets of Seattle, in which a significant number of local residents were spontaneously swept up into action, even in the face of anti-personnel gas, plastic bullets, concussion grenades and mass arrests followed by abuse during jail custody and trumped up charges.
Without extensive preparation, I decided to go to Times Square, to try to make a mark on the millennium to come, which might be picked up and relayed around the world by the gigantic worldwide media focus.
It was about eleven pm, scarcely one hour before the strike of midnight. I had visited the various radical haunts, looking for possible coparticipants, and come up empty handed. I had a furled banner, but not even one person to hold up the other end.
Because this was supposed to be a millennial celebration, I had been inspired to a maximal message on the bright red banner: "Capitalism has no future beyond crash! WELCOME REVOLUTIONARY SOCIALIST MILLENNIUM OF WORLD RECONSTRUCTION FOR HUMANITY AND ECOLOGY! Workers and Oppressed, Unite!" A hammer and sickle, for those in the international audience not familiar with English, was also on the banner. But arriving alone, I did not believe I would meet anyone else who might support it. But I was wrong!
"This will be the millennium during which we take back the world, and reorganize it around human need..."
The cops herded me into a barricaded area at 40th Street, about three pens away from the central stage. As I passed, one cop said, "Look, there's Joel doing his thing again. He's got a banner!"
The crowd seemed to be exuberantly absorbed in the noise making and empty revelry. But one man, who happened to be black, asked me what was on the banner. As soon as I told him, his face lit up. "Well, what are you waiting for? Let's unroll it!" "Wow, all right!" I exclaimed. But that was only the beginning. What followed, I still can hardly believe.
First of all, the whole crowd turned to read the banner, and perhaps hear my accompanying speech, which I doubt was initially very audible above the general din. The crowd cheered wildly. Of course, I thought to myself, many of these people were just primed to shout "Happy New Year" greetings at just about anything that captured their attention.
I expected to be heckled, but actually, there was not a single instance even of mild disruption.
But then the crowd quieted down to hear my speech. Obviously, there was some tipsiness here, but the crowd was not the usual drunk-out-of-their-minds that usually packs Times Square on other New Years eves. The speech was spontaneous, and I cannot remember it in detail.
People have risen up in Seattle, facing plastic bullets, concussion grenades, multiple gases and mass arrests to stop the World Trade Organization, a financial and corporate power grab on a world scale, from destroying our air, water, and food, and reducing us to political slavery. Many of those arrested and physically injured by police while handcuffed or in custody, are still facing serious charges written up by criminal police, and prosecution by courts, just for exercising their constitutional rights. Meanwhile, back here in the East, Mumia Abu Jamal, is also on death row in Pennsylvania, because he is a freedom fighter, a Black Panther, and a member of the MOVE Family, nine of whose members are also languishing under long prison sentences after their collective was bombed from the air by Philadelphia authorities, acting under direction of the Federal government. This is supposed to be the beginning of a millennium, a thousand years. But does Mumia have a thousand years, or even a thousand days? It is up to us, the people. We are the world, and we can shut it down.
The power of the capitalist enemy does not exist, except for our complicity. We have the power in our hands. The rebels in Seattle, Mumia and the MOVE family, and many others too numerous to mention, have sacrificed, and are paying a heavy price for fighting for all of us. If we do not come to their aid and free them, we are all in prison, all submitting to a system that oppresses, exploits and impoverishes the working people who create all this wealth, but have nothing to show for it.
This will be the millennium during which we take back the world, and reorganize it around human need, rather than private profit. It is obscene, that while while our bravest freedom fighters suffer, we stand here, cheering in a New Year in the presence of our fascist de-facto mayor, who has waged a racist war against those whom the capitalist system has made poor and even homeless. He is spraying his vicious lies, after he sprayed toxic nerve gas on the entire city just two months ago, and is preparing to do it again, if we, the people do not stop him! Free Mumia, Free the Move Nine, Free the Seattle Protesters, Free the Land, Free Ourselves. Jail Giuliani and all those who criminally defend capitalism."
This was the gist of my remarks.
I expected to be heckled, but actually, there was not a single instance even of mild disruption. The scene turned into a spontaneous speakout, similar to those in which I participated during the confrontations at Tompkins Square Park, as person after person came up and addressed the crowd, to an amazingly universal acclaim.
The guy who had taken the other end of the banner passed it to another audience member. He spoke, identifying himself as a member of the Transport Workers Union. He told of how the MTA, the public mass transit employer bringing together the state and city government around the bond holders, used every method to deny the union a decent contract. He said that actually, the current contract might have been decent, if not for the fact that the TWU had been tricked into foregoing any increases in two previous contracts, even though his union could have brought the city to a halt. He pointed at the banner, and said that some people say that socialism takes people's freedom away, then described the injunction issued by the courts making it an arrestable offense to even use the one-syllable word "strike." He then flashed a slightly worried expression, and expressed hope that he "won't go to jail tonight just for using the word just in order to tell you about this." When he mentioned Mayor Giuliani as initiating the injunction, the crowd started chanting "Fuck Giuliani, Fuck Giuliani!" This was within only a few hundred feet of the mayor's undoubtedly mindless rantings.
...the Communist Party in Italy…became corrupt by becoming part of the government...
At the end of his speech, a cop half jokingly asked "Do you think we (cops) can get a better raise?" I answered that the police are the armed enforcers of the capitalists, and the fact that they do it for weekly payments, that their assignment is to fight the working class whenever it rises. But if the cops united under a pledge not to allow themselves to be used against the people's struggles, if they resisted racism and brutality within the criminal justice system, ended the blue wall of silence, and refused to be used as strikebreakers and scab herders, then maybe we could support a raise." The cop seemed to accept the presentation as humor, as he flashed a shit eating grin which I believe acknowledged the undeniability of the accusation.
After the TWU member, the woman who had taken up his end of the banner also began to speak. "I like this part, which says capitalism has no future beyond the crash. I work in an office. I am a college graduate, and my work is skilled. Yet it took me months to find my job last time, and I am always worried about what would happen if my job ended. Even if I hated my job, it would be risky for me to quit. As it is, I can hardly pay the rent on my tiny apartment, even though the conditions in the building are a total disgrace. So I think this is right. We really do need a new system!"
A sixty-something man then stepped up and in a thick accent said he was here from Italy with his family for the celebration. He said that the Communist Party in Italy, which has changed its name, is still a huge political party there. He said it changed its name because it changed its platform, because it became corrupt by becoming part of the government on the local and regional level. He said it had been 40 or 50 years since he saw a banner in Italy that actually called for socialist revolution, even though many people still want it, especially among the poor. Many people in America do not know it, but the communists and socialists were the ones who fought against the fascists and Nazis from the beginning. But he said many people were afraid that to go against the United States could lead to war and, in Europe, that could quickly go nuclear because the stakes are so high. He said the last thing he expected to see in his US visit was a banner like this one. He finished by saying, "This makes me feel 40 years younger," to hearty exultation.
Another woman then said that she did not feel free and equal as a woman. She said that the corporate structure was based on wealth, and that men owned the bulk of the wealth, and dominate families, which are the property-owning unit. She concluded that women's liberation could not be accomplished without overthrowing capitalism.
She concluded that women's liberation could not be accomplished without overthrowing capitalism.
A Japanese man, also here for the celebration with his family, said that he understood that in America, socialism is considered something strange, even a threat. But in most countries, like Japan, there is a socialist or a communist party, or both, and that is who most of the workers vote for. Either you support the workers or the capitalists. It is as simple as that.
A high school-age young man then got up and said that he hates to think of what his future would be like under capitalism. He said that being white, the system wanted him to turn his back on what was happening to people of color, like Mumia. He remembered going to the recent giant concert in Meadowlands, NJ, [Rage Against the Machine] to support Mumia, along with some of his friends at school. He concluded by saying, "We need socialist revolution! No more of this capitalist shit! And for a revolution, we have to stand together, men and women, black and white, gay and straight! Everyone against the capitalists and their evil government!"
I then started the chant, picked up by much of the crowd: "Fight the system, not each other!" When the chant died down, I tried to sum up.
Look to your right and to your left, to your front and to your back. What do you see? Everybody is turned on by the message of revolution against capitalism!
Here we have a selection of regular people, out to celebrate New Year's Eve, not expecting a political rally and not necessarily in the mood for one. And regular, everyday working people, really people from all walks of life, are showing a different side of themselves. People are looking at a banner calling for socialist revolution, with a hammer and sickle on it, representing unity of workers and farmers, a symbol of class war, and everybody is fantastically turned on, and some people who have never done it before, are getting up before a crowd of people that had never met before, and speaking out about how capitalism has to be overthrown, for the sake of human survival, for the sake of a life of real freedom, instead of enslavement under monster corporations, banks and landlords."
At that point, midnight was approaching and the crowd turned around to watch the climax of the official celebration. "Happy New Year!" filled the air as the crowds began to break up. I noticed the Italian and Japanese family members introducing each other and passing around a wine bottle.
If, instead of me describing my own direct experience, someone else had reported this outpouring, I would probably have thought that they were wishfully exaggerating on a grand scale, if not lying outright. I might ask how much they might have drunk or how strong was the smoke (there was none that I saw). Yet, the truth beneath the surface has a way of bubbling up, and refuting even the propagandistic fiction we are served every day in the media, and too often taken negatively for granted. The result is that many whose lives center about a vision of a better world may lose sight of the mighty potential for realizing the grand visions.