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January 31st - Report from Los Angeles


The Call to Action on January 31st began in the morning in the Los Angeles area with a presentation to an U.S. Government class of about 40 students at a Los Angeles area high school. The class had been studying the election, the constitution, the role of the executive branch and executive orders. To fit in with their course work, we were talking about National Security Letters, which are a type of executive order Bush has used to declare people "enemy combatants." At first, the teacher was concerned that we stick to the class lesson plan in our presentation, and the information came across as too academic and half the class was tuning out, but then we broke through to bring to life for students how exactly people do end up in a place like Guantanamo, wearing the orange jumpsuits and having no rights.

Learning from Larry Everest's presentation to Leadership High in San Francisco, we asked the students to imagine that the campus was on lockdown, saying two gangs were at war on campus and shots had been heard. Cops were coming through, we said, with information that some of them were in a gang, and that anyone the LAPD thought was in a gang was going with them. The presenters walked through the classroom, pointing to people, saying, "You've been identified as a gang member, you'll be going with the rest of the detainees. They say you're a gang member and that's enough for us. From now on you have no rights." We gave them orange bandanas to mark them as "gang members."

Students started turning and talking to each other about what was happening, there was a curiosity building in the room, and then we asked several students who they think the other gang members in the class are. Students pointed to others, and we marked them with orange bandanas. Then we started explaining what would happen to those who were marked with orange: "All of you who have bandanas will be taken to the detention center, and you'll be held there for a few hours before we send you off to a prison camp. We will put you in black goggles so you can't see, we will block out all sound so you cannot hear, we will chain you up and tie you to the floor or the wall so that you can neither stand nor sit comfortably, we will keep you from sleeping. Time and again, we will take you in for interrogation, and this will go on for hours at a time. When we think we're holding back from us, and we know you are because so-and-so gave us the goods on you, we will bring out our real "toolkit" and start torturing you—we'll waterboard you until you're about to pass out or die, and we'll do it again and again." Waterboarding was something the class knew about, since they'd seen a video demonstration, but one student realized that the specifics were probably not fresh in people's minds, and asked us to tell the class what it was. As the speaker went through the whole process of detention and torture, he said several times to drive it home, "there's nothing you can do to get out; there's nothing you can do to prove you're not a gang member."

There were stunned looks from many students in the class at this point, and real shock that this was happening, not only in their class, but being done to people throughout the world by this government. The connection was being made, and a polarization came about very quickly after that. A few students started questioning what this was all about, saying that anyone picked up by this government must be acting suspicious, or fighting against the U.S. Other students countered this, saying that these people have no chance to prove they aren't guilty. We told the story of the men in "Road to Guantanamo," who were visiting Afghanistan for a family wedding and were rounded up and held for years even though they did nothing wrong and just happened to be in a place where U.S. allied forces were sweeping up people. The teacher decided to push the debate wide open, and posed a counterargument: "Why is it that we can go to war and kill each other, and yet we can't torture. Are there some cases where torture is okay?" There was a near mutiny at this, and many shouted back, "How can you say that?!" and another offered, "Once you've been captured, you're not a threat to them in the same way, you're unarmed! I don't see how even in that case you can torture and say it's right!"

The Elections, the "War on Terror" and the Need for an Orange Upsurge of Resistance

Before we even started talking to the class, students wanted to know two things: whether we were registered as Republicans or Democrats, and who we were going to vote for. When I explained that I wasn't either a Democrat or Republican, one student came back without room for silence, "That must mean you're an Independent, right, you're registered Independent. Who are you going to vote for?" So, when we laid out for them why we weren't voting, saying the terms of the elections do not have to do with the major questions facing us—and the world—and that no major questions will be solved through voting, the class didn't know what to make of it. There was such strong conditioning to see politics as what is talked about most often on TV, what is decided by Congress or the President, or what choices people have when they cast their ballot. The idea that there are more important things than those being talked about, and that people who care and want a just world would work to build a movement of mass resistance was foreign at first, but was something they were seriously wrangling with towards the end of the presentation.

A few students thought that we didn't know what we were talking about, and had no right to speak if we weren't voting. One said, "I've heard enough of what you're saying, and I want to hear what you say to this: what should the U.S. be doing to keep us safe? There are people who want to attack us. Remember what they did to us on 9/11?" This brought a number of quick and intelligent responses from students throughout the room, talking about how Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11, how far too many people do not realize that, and what was the war for if it was not part of the "war on terror?" Another brought out the lies about Iraq producing WMD that were put forward after 9/11 and were the justification of war with Iraq. We connected this with the moves being made now for war with Iran, really emphasizing that each of the major candidates is not only failing to "learn lessons" from the build-up to war with Iraq, but is allowing the same thing to happen…and more than that, each Democratic presidential candidate has promised that, including strategic nuclear weapons (many times stronger than those used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki), "all options are on the table"…using the same language Bush is using to put out threats of mass death and destruction!

Many more students started to show that they understood why we were protesting that night. We told them that, earlier, we had handed out orange bandanas to "mark" who was a detainee, but that the color of those bandanas had real significance. We passed around photos of orange jumpsuited resistance across the world on January 11th’s Shut Down Guantanamo Day of Action, and talked about the Declare it Now! Wear Orange! campaign. They were told that they could hand us back the bandanas, but if they wanted to take a personal stand of resistance, they could pick up orange ribbon from us as they left. We got out orange ribbon to 80% of the class, and many students on campus at the end of the day were wearing orange headbands, wristbands, or had it on their backpack.


- At UCLA number of students came through the busy thoroughfare at Bruin Walk to pick up banners that said "Stop Torture" featuring artist Banksy's image of a Guantanamo detainee. These are students who do not see an alternative in the Democrats, and took up the World Can't Wait's call to action. Ten banners were dropped throughout the campus at different points in the day.


At noon, 20 people gathered in front of the ICE and Homeland Security offices, including two high school students, immigrants (one of whom had witnessed ICE raids in her neighborhood), youth with Revolution newspaper, and others. Orange banners read “No Attacks on Immigrants, No Ataques a los Inmigrantes” and “Stop Torture”. People going to lunch and about their business at the federal building area took flyers and orange flagging tape. We spoke to people about these attacks being part of the bush agenda and had much agreement, especially among the immigrants. We then moved in procession along with two orange jumpsuited “detainees” and an indigenous “danzante” with plumed headdress to Plaza Olvera, considered the birthplace of Los Angeles near a church that is part of the new sanctuary movement.

When the procession crossed the freeway overpass, we held our banners for about 10 minutes and got lots of honks, especially from the big rigs that were passing under us. As we approached the tall Metropolitan Detention Center, where many of those raided get processed and sometimes are deliberately ‘lost’ in the main prison population, we stopped at the corner and tilted our banners so that those inside the cells could see and hear us as we spoke on the bullhorn about January 31st. The vast majority of inmates/detainees in Metro Detention Center are black and brown youth and adult males. After a short while, from the narrow windows we heard tapping from some cells that got louder as we kept agitating about torture, unlawful detentions, deportations, and police brutality. We finally marched in front of the Metro Detention Center, where we demanded a stop to raids, torture, and called to drive out the Bush Regime! Personal accounts and stories from a recent report of human rights abuses against immigrants were read (http://www.nnirr.org/resources/docs/UnderSiege_web.pdf). The level of abuse and terror these stories relay surprised and angered many of us who were not aware of the depth of brutality and disdain towards immigrants.


At 5pm a wild, colorful and cacaphonous display rose up from the streets of Hollywood in front of the Kodak theatre where the debate, or rather, show of unity between Hillary and Obama was taking place genteelly inside.  Outside, the people chanted and sweated their outrage about no more war, torture, racism, theocracy, women's right to choose, attacks on immigrants, Jesus loves you and impeach the criminals! There were supporters of Obama, Hillary, Ron Paul, Edwards and Kucinich, anti-war demonstrators, agitators for impeachment, Revolution Newspaper sellers, CODEPINK and the World Can't Wait. There were young and old, children and babes in strollers. There were guitar players, artists, and actors dressed up as Elvis from the Hollywood Wax Museum, all cavorting on the sidewalks and competing for the attention of passersby and each other. It was a wild and woolly scene, as police tried unsuccessfully to hold back the crowd with bicycles, dogs and a general stance of intimidating stares. A group of WCW'ers focused on the issue of torture, with some dressed in orange jumpsuits, and others displaying the "No Torture" banners. Several artists dramatized a waterboarding in a traditional Japanese art form, and hung a clothesline of orange jumpsuits. A high school student who signed up with us recently and is just learning about waterboarding, the MCA, etc. brought 3 friends. They were full of excitement when they arrived. All 4 bought the orange bandanas and took off into the crowd to distribute the orange flag tape. They had been part of walk-outs during the time of the immigrant upsurge. A local area high school teacher and 5 of her students joined the protest as well.

Several times the discussion erupted into lively debate, especially when the Obama & Clinton supporters were challenged around the stands of their candidates. Some Obama supporters, the majority of the crowd, insisted that though he may not be everything they want, he represents change and hope. (We lacked some good chants that would capture our slogan "Your government does not want what we want and the Democratic nominee of 2008 does not speak for us...We are the ones we've been waiting for.") There were some people who were really grappling with what to do. Two women spoke to how they had set their hopes on Kucinich and Edwards, but now they are no longer candidates - and they both disliked Obama and Clinton. They spoke to how the media is framing the choices, and the debate, and we talked about resistance, massive resistance, and how the Declare It Now campaign unleashes that, but also in a deeper way how decisions are made as to who will rule based on larger interests of those that rule. We also talked to other people who felt that Bush is over, and that we should get real because someone is going to be president. After discussion about how major change has been made in society through daring to step outside of the electoral framework, some raised that that was true and suggested that we should both vote and build resistance.

*Also Check Out*

Check out the “ Campus Circle ” article and photo of the Jan. 11th waterboarding demonstration that was conducted at UCLA http://www.campuscircle.com/review.cfm?r=4861).