I’m in this coffee shop I hate. I don’t hate the people, just the décor. White tiled walls, a collection of minimalist furniture–hard angles, rigid edges. I want some color damn it, a foot stool, something soft to melt into as I sip my coffee. Well dressed twenty somethings with more self-groom skills than I’ll ever have work at the tables. Phone calls, business meetings. I see them video editing, writing copy from some unknown place. They’re all very serious. They seem to be doing the most important work in the world. I explain this to my friend and explain that it’s ridiculous, and he just tells me they’re hustling. I sip my coffee and the steam plays across my face. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what comes next. I don’t even know if I should be thinking of what’s next, because? because aren’t we still in the now? Right here in this moment…
A grandmother stands next to me on south side of the backwater bridge. Below us the half frozen Cantapeta creek flows. I watch her breath mist in air, as she pulls her shawl closer together with one hand, the other twirls a feather. The smoke on the other end of the bridge clears and lili’s and warwhoops fill the year. A figure stands on a burnt out husk of a truck. The police spotlights silhouette their form in a haze of tear gas–a stream of water hits their body and shatters into rainbow globs around them. The figure stares into the light, screams, “Water is life.” Hundreds echo. Explosions in the crowd, and the masses break apart where flaming tear gas canisters burp their smoke. A form darts at the burning canister, pulls it up, and hurls it back at the police line. The masses move back and forth. Car horns, followed by shouts of “medic vehicle.” Up ahead someone crawls out of smoke and collapses. Others stop to help the collapsed form up. More explosions. The grandmother pulls at the shawl clasped at her throat again, and her lips move, but I can’t hear her above the shouting.
Afraid to get wet – the cold already in my hands. I inhale, exhale, move forward raising my camera. My chin is tucked against my chest so the lip of my helmet shades my eyes. As the police guns pop in the dark, I try to tuck my chin further into myself. I imagine my camera taking a hit and crashing into my face. Madness everywhere, and I don’t really know what to film. I hug some cover, hold a frame with a lot happening. A human wall moves past me, rubber bullets ricochet off their shields. They chant water is life, “MNI WICONI,” others run, others crumple clutching at themselves, the police fire steady into the crowd. A stream of wounded are moving towards the medic vehicles. I see someone come out of the plumes of smoke, eyes closed, one hand feeling the space in front of them. Slow steps, lots of coughing. I’m leading them to a place to sit. I tell them my name. I whisper that they are okay. They’ve moved out of the smoke, they should be able to breath soon. They shake. I say it again. And again. You’re okay. You’re out of the smoke. No one’s coming to hurt you. I’m shaking a little and my eyes are blurring. A medic takes my place. I move back toward the smoke holding a thin hospital mask over my mouth, my eyes burn, my other hand films.
At sometime, I sat around a fire. I told people I’m worried what will happen after everything. I’m worried people will kill themselves when all this is gone. I hadn’t said much into the conversation, and people stared at me. Everyone’s in this at 100, when it’s gone, they’ll feel…Everyone went back to their conversation and I lit my next cigarette. They dart glances at me whenever I move.
More pops, and arcs of fire in the sky, explosions, more fire, and tear gas everywhere.
I’m in a hotel room. I’m telling people that they should exchange numbers, that if they like each other they should make connections, because everything can just be gone one day, and they’ll never see each other again. As I’m saying it I thinking of some far off city encampment–a person knocked over by a police baton, and then they grab his legs, and drag him into darkness. My hands are numb, locked behind my back by plastic cuffs. I see that cop throw that zipped tied kid down, and the kid’s head is against the curb, and the cop kneels onto his skull. “What are you doing? Is this an appropriate use of force,” I ask. That cop keeps leaning into the kid. I ask, “Don’t you feel bad?” The officer looks up, says, “I feel bad for the curb.” All around us screams, and chants, the sounds of knives slicing into tents. The ebbing fog of a spent fire extinguisher crawls along concrete.
–Once– I was with hundreds of people moving across an open field for a prayer walk–the sun rising above us, banners, and flags–chants of water is life. The people are followed by police. Armored Vehicles, side by side little dune buggy things dart around the walk. The people meet a police line and the police look so mad. I remember thinking that, the police are so mad. The people form a line, and bring forward an old woman, each person holds their hand out to her, and she places her thin fingers gingerly into the waiting palm and moves towards the line of riot police. She begins to pray and everyone bows their heads. The police look confused and stop yelling. I sit aside and wrestle with filming or not. I don’t press record. She speaks her native language. I can’t understand what she’s saying, but she holds all the space in the world at that moment. She finishes, and the police lunge forward, declaring everyone riotious and everyone under arrest. The people fall back the way they came, holding the line together, holding the space around the elders. The police move in quickly and their armored vehicles follow, the dune buggies roaming around trying to pick off anyone loose of the big group. A friend later tells me that he was arrested because he stayed to help an elder over a creek. He then laughed and said, the elder refused his help. But he felt he did the right thing to wait anyway. I’m in jail, and pulling my clothes off for a stranger. He tells me it’ll be intrusive, tells me to bend over, spread apart my cheeks and lift my ballsack. I say, “Well I guess this is where I’m at, you ready?” I’m trying to recite the story to my collective member as I’m being driven back to camp.
There’s a mass of people moving through an open field west of the backwater bridge. The Water cannons can’t reach, but a series of pops and flaming arcs fall into the crowd. A line of police vehicles, humvees, riot police, start pushing them back. I can’t tell what any of the noise is, but that there’s noise–a constant clattering, and shouting. I need too refill my coffee, and I can’t stop shaking.
Thank you for reading this.
Other #NoDapl writing: http://www.lorenzoserna.com/?p=240