Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Infamous Scribbler

Where were you on March 20, 2003? The day shock and awe began. The day the bombs fell on Baghdad. The day Iraq was attacked and pre-emptive war became reality. It surprises me that many people don't remember this day. They remember which celebrity is dating which, and who won the super bowl but days like March 20th, 2003 are forgotten. It says something about the society we live in where they don't remember important things like that.

I was in the streets on March 20, 2003. I had begun college in Chicago just after the Taliban had been toppled in Afghanistan and the case for war in Iraq was beginning. For months we were told that war with Iraq was coming. Hype about weapons of mass destruction had been spoon fed through the media into a populace that knew little of the middle east beyond it's fear of the September 11th 2001 attacks.

I joined DePaul Students Against the War and began attending rallies against the war. In September I attended a rally hosted by “Not In Our Name” to call for Congress to vote against the authorization for war. The Republican controlled Congress, with support from many Democrats voted to authorize war against Iraq.

The United Nations began to inspect Iraq for WMDs, rallies against the war increase. On February 15th, 2003, I attended a rally in New York City. Millions around the world came out that day around the world to protest against the war. Millions show their opposition for the war before it began. The New York Times described the protests as proving that the United States was not the last remaining superpower, but that world public opinion was its own superpower. George W. Bush said he would not be swayed by interest groups.

In Chicago, I worked with students at other schools to organize our own resistance. A group of my friends began targeting the ad agency Leo Burnett, who created advertisements for the US Army. One day a number of them were arrested outside their headquarters for using chalk to write anti-war messages on the Leo Burnett building.

A few days later there was a large rally in Daley Plaza, and pieces of chalk were handed out and a number of children and college kids started to use the chalk to write anti-war messages on the large Picasso sculpture in the plaza. The next day the front page of the Chicago Tribune carried a photo of the chalk covered sculpture.

The UN refused to authorize the invasion of Iraq, George W. Bush gave Saddam Hussein 48 hours to leave Iraq and give himself up.

I remember finishing my finals and having Spring break ahead of me. On March 19th 2003, I met up with a friend and we got some art supplies to make anti-war placards. That night the sky opened up and rained hard. Thunder and lightening crashed like a train wreck. The rain poured like a gushing wound. It felt as though the gods were angry. In this storm we watched George W. Bush explain that the war had begun.

For the past several months, the Chicago Coalition Against War and Racism had been planning to hold an anti-war rally and march on the day the war began. Thousands of fliers had been distributed which called for people to rally at federal plaza on the day the war began.

I didn't want to wait that long. That morning I met up with a number of students and youth who either had their Spring break or walked out of school as part of a protest. We devised a plan in a hip downtown coffee shop. We wanted to target the banks that fueled the capitalist system which led to wars like this one. We planned on entering the banks, shouting anti-war slogans until security asked us to leave, then we would gather outside the entrance of the bank and do a “die in” where a number of us would scream and collapse on the ground as though we were dead, killed by a US missile. Then other students would use chalk to outline the bodies and write anti-war slogans on the sidewalk.

We went through the loop in downtown Chicago putting that plan into practice. More students joined us, at Chase Manhattan bank we shouted “1, 2, 3, 4, We don't want your fucking war, 5, 6, 7, 8, organize to smash the state!” At Harris we cried “No blood for oil, no blood for oil!”

We neared Daley Plaza, and after getting kicked out of the Citi bank across the street from Plaza we turned a corner and were walking on the sidewalk across the street from Picasso. I had chalk in my hand, and recalled the use of chalk in recent protests. It seemed to me that using chalk on private building like Leo Burnett were illegal, but on public property like sidewalks and sculptures like the Picasso, it must be legal.

Across the street from Daley Plaza and the Picasso is a sculpture wedged between the Brunswick Building and the Chicago temple. It's a weird blob of a statue, created by Joan Miro. Like Picasso, Miro was a critic of bourgeoisie society.

I ran up to the Miro and using the chalk in my hand wrote, “No War.” I jumped down and rejoined the march, when two bicycle cops grabbed me and threw me up against the wall. One of them said, “Your under arrest man.”

The group of youth started chanting, “Let him go! Let him go!” No such luck, I was placed in a paddy wagon and taken to the downtown booking station before being transferred to the 111th street station

I was in jail for the next twelve hours. It was torture. To know that thousands would die for a war that didn't have to happen and that there was nothing I could do about it.

I was charged with misdemeanor graffiti and released. When I got out it was nighttime and I took the red line back to DePaul. I met up with some friends and found out that I missed twenty thousand people marching on Lake Shore Drive. Later that evening over 900 were arrested on Michigan Ave. It felt as though we were living in a police state.

The next day I went to another anti-war protest. Then the day after that, on the 22nd, right wing clear channel radio sponsored a “Pro-patriot rally.” Really it was a pro-war rally. Despite being the third day straight of anti-war rallies and not having the resources clear channel had, we had the same number of people at our counter-demonstration.

As the pro-war and anti-war rallies were ending, and people were dispersing and going home, I started towards the el train with my friends, when the same two bike cops who arrested me rode up on their bikes, stopped in front of us and shouted, “Whats up Scribbler?”

They continued, “You better not be scribbling Scribbler, we're watching you Scribbler. Don't Scribble Scribbler!”

I was equal parts embarrassed and terrified. My friends thought it was hilarious. The name began to stick, but what really made it stick was that at every rally I would go to in downtown Chicago, the same two bike cops would be there to heckle me. “Scriiiiiiiblerrrr, wheeeere arrrre yoooou?”

I was able to obtain a pro bono lawyer through the radical National Lawyers Guild. Charles Nissim-Sabat helped me reduce the charges to 3 months supervision, and several years later I was able to have the charges expunged from my record.

The charges are off my record, but the war in Iraq continues, as does my nickname, the Scribbler. In some ways it's an embarrassing nickname. It sounds like a Batman villain. Other revolutionaries have hard militant sounding nom de guerre's. Stalin is Russian for “man of steel.” Prachanda is Nepalese for “the fierce one.” Ho Chi Minh is Vietnamese for “enlightened will.” Consider Anarchists like Starhawk or Warcry. Even the criminal elements who got names from the police had cool scary sounding names like Jack the Ripper, the Son of Sam, the Boston Strangler, or the Angel of Death. There was nothing cool or intimidating about Scribbler. It sounded like the name of a kid sidekick, not a serious revolutionary.

Then again, Trotsky was known as Pero, or the Pen. There is also a book called, “the Infamous Scribblers” about journalists in the era of the founding fathers of the USA. Maybe I can reclaim the name Scribbler with this blog, and use it to help end the war in Iraq, call attention to economic injustice, fight racism, and promote all sorts of progressive causes.

Chicago Independent Media Center Post about my Arrest. Some factual inaccuracies.

Another CIMC Post about my Arrest.

1 comment:

  1. When the war started I was in my freshman year of high school. We attempted to organize a walk out and failed. We wore black arm bands to show how anti-war we were, and I'm sure we thought we were doing a great job. I was too naive to anticipate the likeliness of spending the rest of my teenage years with the U.S. still at war...

    So now I know the story of the Infamous Scribbler.


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