By Wendi Maxwell, Guest Contributor
Wendi Maxwell brings personal insight and occasional stories from California, particularly the strange world of California politics and the new left. Maxwell is a former policy maker for California adult literacy projects
Let’s face it. I went to Europe looking for trouble.
This past year, I’ve followed the adventures of Occupy Oakland with great interest. I thought our vacation to Germany this summer might provide me with other examples of grassroots demonstrations. Europe had been simmering with demonstrations against ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) for months now. Perhaps I could find a demonstration while I was in Berlin.
Berlin did indeed bring me a street demonstration on the famous Unter Den Linden. A small crowd of demonstrators with costumes, drums, and signs gathered outside an expensive marble-clad business tower. Across the street, police watched with amusement. This was not the big blac block mob I had wanted, but I thought I’d check it out anyway.
“Guten tag! English anyone?”, I called out. It turned out the demonstrators were a mixture of Germans, Americans, Greeks, and Spaniards. Everyone spoke English. What were they demonstrating? The corporatization of art, as exemplified by a gallery show underwritten by Deutsche Bank. The demonstrators were upset. Not only did artists have to pay their way in, but there were no free admissions for anyone – even for students. The German demonstrators in particular were incensed that no one was providing them with subsidies for their art. (In Berlin, they take their art seriously.) (Photo by Wendi Maxwell, June 2012 above: Berlin Protester).
I approached one demonstrator with a cardboard sign on a stick. “I write about Occupy Oakland. Can I take your picture? Can I write about you?” “Occupy Oakland?” came the response – “Man they’re hard core.”
“Yeah” I said. “Did you know that if you had that sign in Oakland, with a stick holding it up, you’d be arrested for carrying a weapon? And possibly beaten with your own stick?”
“Well,” mused the demonstrator, “these police don’t take us very seriously. There’s only five of them and they’re pretty relaxed.” And on travelling further down the street I realized that the police were not really there because of the demonstration. They were there because St. Hedwig’s Berlin Cathedral was celebrating the Mass of Corpus Christi and hundreds of clerics were processing through a parallel boulevard. The police were there for the Church, not for Art. (Photo by Wendi Maxwell, June 2012 above: Protester with a weapon).
A couple of days later we were in Dresden and ran across flyers advertising a Pirate Party mass demonstration against ACTA. Aha! Here was the demonstration I had looked for in Berlin.
We went to the square at noon, but found it full of guitar-strumming evangelicals dancing and serving free curry lunch. Eventually I located two protestors – one with a bullhorn, and one with a sign, again on a stick. A block away I located another two demonstrators and directed them toward the first ones. No further demonstrators emerged. I did get a chance to learn about ACTA though… (ACTA sought to establish laws governing piracy of goods and the Internet. It was later defeated in the European Parliament.)(Photo left by Wendi Maxwell, June 2012: ACTA Protesters in Dresden).
The following week, we wandered through a park in Prague and saw two scruffy tents, with handmade signs saying “Occupy Praha.” Occupy tents! I perked up. I repeated my usual introduction, this time in Czech. “Dobry Den! English anyone?” Yes, yes, some English. This time I learned that the group was actually “Occupy Universe”, with a decided New Age bent. Yes, they do indeed camp in the tents in the public park. (Photo right by Wendi Maxwell June 2012: Occupy Prague). The police won’t let them sleep there, so “we meditate all night.” They will have to leave November 1st
when it gets cold. Otherwise they are welcome to stay as long as they don’t fall asleep… I did get the absolute best saying out of my Occupy Universe encounter. Richard, the charming scruffy blue-eyed Universe Occupier explained to me:
“In another universe, you may be rich. In another universe, you may be strong and powerful. That’s in another universe. But here, your ass is still in Prague.” (Photo left by Wendi Maxwell, June 2012: Occupy Universe).
In three weeks, most of it in Germany, we saw police only a few times. Granted, we were in tourist areas the whole time. We saw police once in Berlin, once at a traffic accident on the autobahn, and once hauling away drunks in Prague. We wandered through numerous market square and outdoor festivals, listened to music late into the night, drank beer outside in public, watched Euro Cup soccer quarterfinals on outdoor TV screens, and saw virtually no law enforcement personnel. Mentally I contrasted this with urban police in Oakland and Anaheim who dress in full SWAT regalia and roam the streets as though they think the people in the neighborhood are insurgent guerrillas. I may have been visiting former Soviet countries, but the real repression seemed to be in my own backyard.
A special grand jury has been empanelled in Seattle after the FBI raided homes of people suspected of being anarchists; those who decline to testify are threatened with 18 months’ jail time. Next, a crazy guy takes an assault weapon with him to the movies, then a hate-filled white supremacist opens fire on a Sikh temple.
(Photo left: "Against the State: Grand Juries are Witch Hunts").
In Stockton, my hometown, the city has filed for bankruptcy, (more on that later), and we’ve seen our 43th homicide of the year. Stockton police have declared “zero tolerance” for Occupy protestors writing in chalk on the steps of City Hall, after the Chalkupy movement gains traction in LA and Oakland. Chalk – a gateway drug to the first amendment…
(Photo right: "Chalk is not a Crime").
I may have had a lovely vacation. But my ass might be better off in Prague rather than Oakland and Stockton.