Election 2004: The Day After: By OSHA NEUMANN

Tuesday November 09, 2004

10:25 a.m. Cinnamon calls. She has hepatitis C and diabetes. She is hard of hearing, and lives in a coffin size space above a garage. She is worried about whether she will be able to get a real apartment with her five cats. She also is having a problem with a raccoon who is stealing the cat food. The raccoon is very aggressive and even climbs up the ladder into her loft. She is also worried about her daughter, who lives in Sacramento and was busted for amphetamines. She will be out of jail in December, but will come out without anything. She has lost custody of her children and will be homeless. Cinnamon called just to say hello and to hear a kind voice. 


11:15 a.m. I’m in the car on the way to get a cup of tea, I listen to Kerry’s concession speech calling for unity and healing, and I’m furious. What is he talking about? We should just forget Iraq? The dying and the dead? The flag draped coffins? The despair of our cities? The melting of the polar icecaps? It’s as if for him the election was an intramural touch football game, after which both sides can go out for a beer. This is no time for unity. It’s the beginning of a life-and-death struggle. Fuck him. 


12:00 noon. At the Nomad café. Coffee drinkers occupy every burnished steel table. Their laptops are open in front of them. So it was yesterday, and so it will be tomorrow. The waitress is wearing a knit sweater, because it’s cold. The sky has clouded over and gone gray.  


1:30 p.m. At the east end of the People’s Park, a police officer is ticketing the belongings of homeless people that have been left unattended. Sparks walks up with a bag of chips, and curses. He’d only been gone a few minutes and now he has a ticket. I remind him that he has court at 3:30 p.m. 


3:30 p.m. Sparks shows up in Berkeley traffic court, for trial on a citation he received for panhandling at the freeway off ramp at Gilman street. The Highway Patrol officer who gave him a ticket is a woman in her late thirties. She’s in her tan uniform, with her pant legs tucked into knee high black boots. She describes for the court, driving by, seeing Sparks standing with a sign, stopping, and giving him the ticket. And then she says that he was very pleasant and polite, and that he was not one of the regulars whom she sees over and over again, and that she would not at all mind if the court reduced the fine. Commissioner Rantzman, smiles and asks whether she is making a motion to dismiss. She says that whatever the court would like to do would be O.K. with her. Commissioner Rantzman looks over at us and says that given yesterday’s events, he doubts that there will be much compassionate conservatism coming out of Washington and therefore he feels it would be appropriate to exercise some here today. And he dismisses the ticket. And I thank the court and the officer and walk out thinking all is not lost, that we will still find good in unexpected places. 


6:00 p.m. I take the BART train to San Francisco and join a march up Market Street from Powell, led by drummers pounding away in the back of a flatbed truck. The bullhorns blare the familiar chants: “Free Free Palestine.” “The People United Will Never Be Defeated.” “End the Occupation.” A person holds up a big sign saying “9/11 was an inside job.” Another: “He never was my president and he never will be.” And then there’s the one that most succinctly expresses my feelings: “Fuck this.” The night is cool but it has stopped raining. There are perhaps 2,000 of us. We stop briefly for a rally at the Mission police station, then head down Van Ness to 24th Street and Mission. I thought it would be good to be with kindred spirits and to demonstrate that the struggle will continue. But by the time the march ends, I’m tired, and have to pee rather badly, and as an effigy of Bush is burned in the intersection, and the police put on their helmets, I realize it all feels very very old. I’ve done this too many times, and our march seems such an inadequate response to the enormity of what has happened.  


I know without a doubt that at this very moment great waves of depression are sweeping through the left. And we will be urged, with the optimism that is mandatory for engaged people, not to give in to despair, to organize; to attend where-do-we-go-from-here conferences, to escalate our activism, to participate in more protest marches, to remain active, engaged, connected. This is as it should be. But we will all feel a sinking feeling that nothing we do seems to matter; that they are out of control, that they are more powerful than ever. Just for tonight, I choose not to turn away from that feeling. I admit that I imagine making an internal migration. It would be nice to tend my private garden, to give more time to art, to writing, and to family. For this evening I pause to acknowledge the depth of the catastrophe, before moving on.  


Osha Neumann is a Berkeley-based atttorney. A version of this story was published by AlterNet.›