For those who have not been informed, we are living in a completely ridiculous period in history where the police have nothing better to do with their time than harass individuals finding creative ways of expressing themselves in an increasingly frustrating and repressive world. You might call it alarmist to say that we live in a police state. Perhaps, comparatively speaking, it IS alarmist. However, in my opinion, when banksters and financiers can tank our economic system with barely any legal repercussions, when slumlords and property owners can force vulnerable people to live in unsafe conditions because they fear the only other option is to live on the streets, and when our own city makes homelessness illegal without providing adequate alternatives for those who are unable to afford housing AND THE POLICE INSTEAD TARGET AND HARASS PEOPLE WHO ARE PEACEFULLY ATTEMPTING TO REDRESS AND DEVISE ALTERNATIVES TO THESE POINTS, EXPRESS THEMSELVES CREATIVELY, AND SUPPORT THOSE WHO ARE SUFFERING DISPROPORTIONATELY WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF THE CURRENT SYSTEM…I think it’s pretty fair to say something has gone horribly awry.
So often, I sit down to write a blog post such as this, and I’m so frustrated and angry with all I have seen that I don’t even know where to begin. Or end. Today, I will begin and end with chalk.
On Wednesday, July 4th, 2012, a group of activists from across the state of Texas gathered on the lawn of the Texas State Capitol to participate in a day-long “occupation” that included food, education, rallying, and marching. As I was leaving to pick up some folks coming in from Houston, I noticed the Iraq Veterans Against the War folks drawing some beautiful chalk pieces on the sidewalk near the space they had staked out for their day’s activities.
For those who aren’t familiar with IVAW, my experiences with them have always left me with respect and admiration for the work they do. Right now, their main campaign is a Operation Recovery, and they do a lot of work with healing using art and relationship-building to support soldiers who are dealing with the mental health issues related to combat, as well as the stigma surrounding those issues that prevent them from seeking help. I felt so honored to have them among us on the 4th, and was glad they were creating a comfortable space to promote their activities and educate the public.
When I returned, the beautiful chalk drawings were complete, and people were relaxing and enjoying a very peaceful day. The teach-ins were not yet in full swing, so people were talking, eating, doing bodywork, and reaching out to the general public as they passed by. All of these activities, including the actual creation of the chalk drawings, were observed closely by the dozen or so state troopers who were stationed around the grounds and apparently had nothing better to do than devise reasons to threaten to arrest the sleepy, yet productive crowd of people, who numbered between 50-250 at various points throughout the day.
I snapped some photos of the drawings as we walked by. By the time I reached our info table about 5 minutes later, we heard the police were threatening to detain the artists. We walked back to witness officers insisting the chalk must be immediately washed away, or the people responsible would be charged with “Criminal Mischief.” The IVAW attempted to reason with the officers that they were merely enjoying a holiday by creating artwork to engage passersby, but the troopers insisted the drawings be immediately cleaned up. IVAW complied, but it wasn’t the last we heard from troopers that day. (Video: Texas State Troopers confront IVAW about chalk drawings)
In Los Angeles, the LAPD have arrested at least 12 people in the last 6 weeks for chalking. Occupy LA decided to protest these ridiculous arrests by handing out sidewalk chalk at a monthly Art Walk and encouraging people to express their rights to free speech. LAPD responded with arrests, officers in riot gear escalated the situation, people (most of them not actually protesters) were threatened and shot at with “less lethal” weapons, and chaos ensued. Because of chalk. In this report, an officer admits that police presence is escalated during the Art Walk anyway. There were apparently 80 police on the scene per usual, which I feel is already a questionable use of our resources. Why are our cities so insistent on monitoring peaceful gatherings of people? Do fights and dangerous situations regularly break out at art events and assemblies? I’ve been to dozens and dozens of protests, and the only time I’ve felt the need for a greater than (already overblown) police presence is when the police themselves begin to cause confusion and chaos.
I heard about the events of the LA Chalk Riot while I was on my walk late Thursday evening. I felt so frustrated and helpless about the situation that I came home and wrote a message in chalk that I tweeted out in hopes that LAPD would see it – or that at least it would provide people with a bit of anger/comedy therapy. Some of my friends in Occupy Austin were also angry, so we decided a quick chalk solidarity action was warranted. We gathered on Friday under threat of rain and chalkupyed three local banks, with messages about economic and social justice, as well creating an LAPD crime scene – chalk outlines of fallen artists with crushed chalk in their hands.
It’s a small retaliation for the large challenges we continue to face, but it at least temporarily relieved my sense of frustration and helplessness. Passersby were largely positive. Some had heard of the events in L.A. the night before, and were horrified by the actions of LAPD. Sometimes doing SOMETHING is better than doing nothing. Especially when that something releases good creative energy among like-minded comrades, and educates the public, as well.
<3 Chalk the World. <3