News » News Feature

BARNSTORMING

BARNSTORMING

by

comment
HERCULES IN NEW YORK I finally arrived here in 1968. I had empty pockets, but I was full of dreams. The presidential campaign was in full swing. I remember watching the Nixon and Humphrey presidential race on TV. A friend who spoke German and English, translated for me. I heard Humphrey saying things that sounded like socialism, which is what I had just left. But then I heard Nixon speak. He was talking about free enterprise, getting government off your back, lowering taxes and strengthening the military. Listening to Nixon speak sounded more like a breath of fresh air. --Arnold Schwartzenegger at the RNC, September 1, 2004 Listening to Nixon speak may have been a “breath of fresh air” in 1968. But now it’s 2004, 30-years and 24 days after Tricky Dickey resigned in shame. You see Nixon said a lot of things--”I am not a crook” being the classic example--that just weren’t true. He was a liar, and a crook. He was paranoid, and grudge-bearing. And when it came to political pool, Nixon liked it Dirty. Indeed, Nixonian is an adjective to which we should all aspire. Given the number of genuine scandals bubbling in and about the White House, and President Bush’s serious credibility problem one has to wonder if anyone actually read Schwartzenegger’s speech before he delivered it. On the other hand, given Republican attacks on John Kerry’s post-service criticism of Vietnam, one can only assume that the long, costly, bloody, and pointless war in Southeast Asia was America’s proudest moment. Hey Arnold, do you think you can insert a line about the good old days when you used to wear your daddy's Nazi costume and obsessively listen to Hitler's recordings into your next big stump thumper?
*************
PEDDLING PATRIOTISM Memphian Bert Lyons detained, deprived rights the first mass arrest of RNC protesters On Friday, August 27, 264 out of an estimated 5000 bicycle enthusiasts affiliated with a group called Critical Mass, were incarcerated in what CNN described as, “The first major clampdown on protesters before the Republican National Convention.” Those apprehended were held as “detainees,” at Pier 57, a chain-link and razor-wire holding pen built inside a transportation facility where the concrete floors are still coated with a layer of oil, grease, and grime. They were held without being charged, and without access to legal council for aproximately18-hours. Some were held longer, some--women primarily--were moved more quickly through the system. Those detained were denied access to a telephone, and were only provided with a Dixie cup of water and one single-serving box of breakfast cereal. “This group is very diverse,” says Bert Lyons, who spent 18 hours in detention. An ex-pat Memphian Lyons moved to New York with his band Loggia. “Kids who were detained couldn’t call their parents to tell them where they were, and parents who were detained couldn’t call their kids to tell them where they were,” Lyons says. “[Critical mass cyclists] range in age from 15 to 50. There are teachers, lawyers, musicians, everything you can imagine. There are whole families. We really represent a good cross section of New York.” The “detainees” were stacked up 50 to a cell. The cells only contained three benches, and under the bright fluorescent lights which were never dimmed or turned off there was no hope of sleeping. “It was like those images you see from Guantanimo Bay,” Lyons says. The U.S.A. Patriot Act denies the traditional rights accorded to American citizens who have been “detained.” So long as the apprehending officers ask no questions access to legal council is denied until arraignment. Under the Patriot Act “detainees” have no right to place a phone call. They may also be held without being informed of the charges being brought against them. Critical Mass takes to the streets on the last Friday of every month. For the past six months the group, who begin their ride at Union Square in Midtown and end it at St. Mark’s Church in the East Village, have even enjoyed friendly police escorts. “This ride was peaceful and respectful as it always is,” Lyons says. According to Lyons the massive bicycle brigade was unexpectedly split into two groups by police officers on scooters who blocked their intended path. The cyclists assumed the police had safety concerns and wanted to break the Critical convoy into two smaller, more manageable groups. Otherwise, everything proceeded as usual until the south-bound group was pushed back by a police riot force near Madison Square garden where preparations were being made for the RNC’s visit. They were funneled down 35th St where they encountered one police blockade after another. They were surrounded. “That’s when the paddy wagons started coming in,” Lyons says. “That’s when we all knew we were going to be arrested.” Of course they weren’t arrested right away, they were “detained.” There is a big difference. “Some of the people who were detained weren’t even a part of the ride,” Lyons says. “There was one guy who had been grocery shopping. The cops threw out his groceries and handcuffed him. There were people on their way home from work.” After 18-hours of detention Lyons was finally taken Downtown for general booking. This lasted another 9-hours. He was charged with disorderly conduct and parading without a license. “There were still people at Pier 57 when I left,” he says. “Some of the people who were still there were the ones who weren’t even officially a part of the ride.” A group of attorneys from the National Lawyers Guild--a group devoted to making sure all detained RNC protesters receive adequate legal council--offered pro-bono services to the cyclists. Lyons was offered the NYC equivalent of “diversion.” If he is not arrested again in the next six months the charges will be removed from his record. There were no court costs. After an ordeal lasting nearly 30-hours he was released. Lyons does not believe that Critical Mass--expanded as it was--was guilty of disorderly conduct. It took two hours from the time the group was stopped until they were loaded onto the paddy wagons. According to Lyons senior officers, easily recognized because of their white shirts, were instructing junior officers in the finer points of conducting a mass arrest. It’s Lyon’s opinion that his group was an easy target, and the mass detention was a training exercise for junior officers preparing to handle the RNC protests. “We do this every month,” he says re-emphasizing the fact that for the past half-year the group has always had police escorts. Was it all a big training exercise? 9-11changed everything, and given the civil liberty defying Patriot Act, and the climate of secrecy among elected officials and law enforcement agencies, we may never know. But New Yorkers--the group most directly affected by 9-11--are overwhelmingly angry at how the Bush administration has exploited the tragedy for political ends. Ask any deli worker; ask the barrista at Starbucks; ask the trendy trendsetters in fashionable boutiques, and upscale bistros. The vast majority of these people, the very people who lived under a cloud of toxic smoke for months after the Twin Towers came down will tell you that they are angry that Bush’s war on terror has turned into a war on the civil liberties of American citizens.” “I don’t know if I’ll ride my bike [with Critical Mass] again or not,” Lyons says. “I mean, I know I can control myself. I know I’m not going to act out. I know that if I ride my bike I’m going to be respectful of others. But I don’t want to go through all of that again. I’m so paranoid. I don’t need that. I don’t want it. Bert Lyons works at the Alan Lomax Archives. His responsibilities include tracking down the heirs of the many folk musicians captured in Lomax’s famous field recordings, and making sure they receive appropriate financial compensation for sales and licensing of their ancestor’s music. (9-1-04)
***************
NOTHING LEFT TO LOSE Upon arriving at his temporary digs in NYC, the Pesky Fly (on assignment covering the RNC) opened his luggage and discovered a polite epistle from the Transportation Security Administration:
To protect you and your fellow passengers the Transportation Security Administration is required by law to inspect all checked baggage. As part of this process, some bags are opened and physically inspected. Your bag was among those selected for physical inspection.
Fair enough. September 11th, as we are so often reminded, changed everything. Of course they could have inspected my bag at check in, when I was there to make sure nobody helped themselves to a stack of hundred dollar bills, or rifled through my private medical records, or put my underwear on their head while doing the forbidden dance of love. But that would too difficult now, wouldn’t it? The darling little note continued:
If the TSA screener was unable to open your bag because it was locked, the screener may have been forced to break the locks on your bag. The TSA sincerely regrets having to do this, however TSA is not liable for damage to your locks resulting from this necessary security precaution. .
Of course if they had conducted the inspection at check-in, I could have easily provided the inspectors with the heavy brass key to my nice, absurdly expensive suitcase which the well-intentioned TSA is apparently allowed to demolish with impunity. More importantly, I could have also told the inspectors that my sandals--potentially harmful things to be sure-- needed to stay wrapped inside all three plastic freezer bags in order to keep their decidedly unpleasant odor out of my Downy fresh clothes. The note ended with a bit of unintended irony:
We appreciate your understanding and cooperation.
The noxious fumes pouring out of my suitcase brought to mind a poster; the first thing I saw after getting off the plane at LaGuardia The poster featured the image of Daily Show host Jon Stewart. “Welcome to New York,” it said. “That smell? Freedom.” (8-31-04)

Add a comment