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Magic in the Streets

Pagans, Black Bloc join to protest the World Bank in Washington, DC

by Jim Negrette

From September 26 to October 2, thousands of activists representing many social and environmental causes gathered in Washington DC to protest the World Bank and the International Monetrary Fund (IMF). The actions were originally timed to coincide with World Bank/IMF meetings. The attacks of September 11 changed the World Bank/IMF's plans, and altered the tenor and intention of the DC actions. "Visioning peace" joined with the social and environmental-justice themes originally planned. On Saturday, September 29, the Anti-Capitalist Convergence (ACC) held an unpermitted march from the Capitol to the IMF building.

I suspect those who do lots of actions would call the Saturday march easy. I had no previous experience to judge it by. It was my first protest.

We gathered that morning near the Capitol. There were lots of anti-establishment signs, posters, banners etc. Many could have been the same signs and banners that these people's parents could have carried in the anti-war protests in the 1960s.

Many could have been the same signs and banners that these people's parents could have carried in the anti-war protests in the 1960s.

At first there were lots of police, but they were casual, friendly and non-intimidating. Food Not Bombs showed up with fruit, bagels and water.

There were a lot of younger folks dressed mostly in black. Many wore bandanas or ski masks across their faces: the Black Bloc. They had a strong, wild energy about them.

There were a few older types and even the occasional senior citizen. There were lots of pretty creative props, signs, banners, puppets and such. The mood was festive if somewhat confrontational.

Then came the riot police. They wore brand-new body armor, including helmet, face shield, neck shield, and chest protector. Each carried a club and a firearm, bunches of unidentifiable pouches, and what looked like a pint-size fire extinguisher. The police fanned out and surrounded the marchers, screening us away from buildings. They assumed "the stance" — shoulder to shoulder, club in both hands in front of them, feet apart, game face on. Very intimidating.

The crowd got louder.

Pagans and the Black Bloc

The Pagan Cluster circled up for some last minute instructions. One person had concerns that the police would be targeting the Black Bloc, and wanted to try to dampen negative energy from both police and protesters. She suggested that we keep close to the Black Bloc, who were going to lead the march.

Of course, this could be a problem if violence broke out. The Black Bloc was the most likely target for police attack. We'd be right in harms way.

We set up two flags. One, an Earth flag (blue with a picture of the world from space) became the "safe flag." In case of trouble, this flag would quickly find an exit. Those in the cluster who could not be at risk would follow that flag to safety.

A green flag would be the forward flag, indicating the rallying point for the rest of the cluster. When all was cool, the two flags would be together.

A couple of members of the cluster designated themselves "Cluster Moms." They would help keep the cluster together. Lastly, scouts designated themselves. Scouts would move up and down the entire marching body to keep track of what was going on to give warning of potential problems.

We breathed together, grounded, and centered.

The Black Bloc formed up behind a long black banner. Many of them were drumming on plastic five-gallon buckets, hub caps, paint cans and road signs that happened to be along the way. They were proud and confrontational. They were powerful. They were resplendent in a street-warrior-grunge sort of way. They were wild magic incarnate.

The Pagan Cluster formed up behind the Black Bloc. Our presence was music, drumming and singing songs of vision, love and peace. We were all colors of the rainbow with banners, posters, signs and puppets with messages of caring for Mother Earth, our fellow marchers and for our fellow children of the planet. A blue cloth, the Living River, undulated in our midst. We were grounded and powerful in our magic.

We trust the Goddess. We look for a third way — an active, challenging way of channeling magic and produce change.

We trust the Goddess. We believe there is a better way: not violence, though at times violence can be an appropriate tactic; not pacifist nonviolence, though that can be an acceptable tactic. We look for a third way — an active, challenging way of channeling magic and produce change.

Barricades and Spiral Dances

Many other groups, large and small, stretched out behind. But as soon as the march begins we are halted. The police have blocked off our intended route. After some tense negotiation, an alternate route opens up. The march begins again. There are twin cordons of riot police on either side who keep everyone in the street, off the sidewalk and away from buildings and cars.

The Black Bloc runs ahead. We are getting stretched out and it is hard to see what is ahead. We stop again. There is something going on at the head of the march. The shouts are angrier and the energy more chaotic.

Then the march begins again. As we pass the stopping point there are a couple of our cluster attending to a woman who looks like she's been pepper sprayed. They are swabbing her face with the DeTox wipes and washing her eyes and face. It is now clear what the little fire-extinguisher things on the police belts were. A couple of the Black Bloc were hit as well and are being attended to.

The march continues with the Cluster Moms gathering up the stragglers and keeping us clustered with their call of "The River is Moving." Construction workers, joggers, dog walkers and tourists all stop to watch us go by. We flash peace signs at them as we go. Many return the gesture. There is magic.

Eventually the march led into a large open intersection and park in front of the IMF building. Police barricades have been set up across the road. Riot police in "the stance" line the barricades. Others surround the end of the march. We are trapped.

After a moment of confusion the Pagan Cluster does what you'd expect Witches to do: We circle up and start a spiral dance. Many join us. There is an festive energy among this now dammed living river. Magic is here.

The spiral dance complete, the Pagan Cluster breaks out the spell we'd intended to work in front of the IMF building. A large cotton sheet is produced along with many colors of magic markers. We write the things we hate about the IMF and World Bank on the sheet. "Greed," "Non Participation," "No Sustainability" are joined by hundreds of other problems caused by the IMF & World bank. When all have written, we grab the sheet all along the edges, and everyone pulls. A rip appears and the sheet splits. More tears, more rips until the sheet and the things we hate are shredded into small strips.

Tension is rising. Squads of riot police are being repositioned around the perimeter of our impromptu jail.

We all join together in a big drumming circle. Soccer is being played, drums are being drummed, there is dancing and singing, all while surrounded by riot police doing their best to look intimidating. Magic.

There are rumors that some of the Black Bloc are planning to try "something." Tension is rising. We want to calm things. We drum and some dancing resumes. Squads of riot police are being repositioned around the perimeter of our impromptu jail.

I realize the safe flag is no longer here along with several of the cluster who would have followed it out. Cluster Moms mingle with us encouraging us to ground. Someone leads us in an impromptu training in self-protection. There is worry in her face.

Twin lines of riot police form inside the barricades across the road to the IMF building. With clubs in front of them they begin a march toward us, herding us toward the edge of the square. Someone says we are going to be allowed to leave, and the Pagan cluster is going to lead. We all link arms with the rest of the cluster. The Black Bloc forms up behind us. As we go by, several of the Black Bloc tell us, "Don't worry. If things go bad we'll put our bodies between you and the police. " I think these kids really are wonders in black.

The crowd is getting angry. The Black Bloc begins yelling and waving at the police. The energy is wild and angry. We find ourselves between the police and the Black Bloc. There are cordons of police and barricades on either side. The Pagan cluster is between a rock and a very hard spot.

I'm scared. It occurs to me this is the first time in my sheltered life that I've been actually scared for my physical existence.

I'm scared. It occurs to me this is the first time in my sheltered life that I've been actually scared for my physical existence. I was socialized as a jock and intellectual. I believed there was no situation that I could not handle; no situation that I could not fight my way out of. I was taught to believe that the police are the good guys. Close enough for me to reach out and touch are several that very clearly will have no problem with beating me senseless. I could fight. The police don't look a great deal different than opposing football players I've played against. I do not believe fighting will solve anything. I do not know what to do. I squeeze the arm of my buddy and the person on the other side. "It will be okay", I say as convincingly as I can. I don't think they believe me. I don't think I believe me. I ground. I pray.

Then as if by magic, the police cordon opens.

We stream out. We're free! The angry shouts change to victorious cries. Drumming starts up. Singing starts.

I was scared. I was proud. I was exhilarated while surrounded by adversaries. I felt the magic of love shared by a cluster of Witches. I saw a bunch of rowdy juvenile confrontationists transformed into angels. I saw passion. I saw direct action. I saw a bunch of disparate people from all over the country face a dangerous situation in order to send a message of peace.

I saw the march as a spell that worked incredible magic before my eyes and between the worlds. I am fortunate to have been part of this action.

For more information on the Pagan Cluster, see past RQs, or join the Reclaiming activist ("RWTO") email list — visit

Jim Negrette is a new Reclaiming Witch, drumming addict, sailing fanatic, prolific maker of saw-dust, computer geek, and single father of two teen-aged boys living in San Mateo.