I am riding Sounder from my girlfriend's house. She lives up north somewhere. It's dawn. I didn't quite get enough sleep the night before. I am listening to my iPod. I see the man and his young daughter from the Subcontinent bound for the airport and then for San Francisco. I had chatted with him the train station about the IT industry. His daughter is playing with a toy hairbrush and brushing her father's hair. She looks at me and offers me the toy brush. I smile and point at my shaven head, reminding her I have no use for a hairbrush. She grins.
I stare out the opposite window at Puget Sound. I notice an attractive young woman sitting across from me, dressed professionally, listening to her iPod as she commutes to work. She notices me looking at her, smiles, then looks away just as quickly. This is, after all, Seattle. I smile back as her gaze crosses mine and then resume staring at the water.
My eyes close. They open. I am no longer on the train. I am walking on 6th Avenue between Union and Pike Streets. I'm headed north, towards Pike. It's cold, yet sunny. I am wearing a $3000 business suit and a long overcoat. There's a LOT of people running around. I hear screaming and yelling behind me. I look, and there's a lot of police in riot gear and a lot of hippies. And then I remember the date--it's November 30, 1999. This is a flashback or something. Interesting.
This reality is a bit different. I reach into my coat pockets with both hands. In each pocket, I feel two hardwood rods separated by a small length of chain. Ssang jyel bongs, right. You might recognize the term nunchaku better. But ssang jyel bong are a more appropriate name, because this reality is different in another way--earlier in November I had just received my second-degree black belt in Songahm Taekwondo. Unlike my real 1999 self, I am in excellent physical condition. I am calm. I am centered. I am here for a reason.
Now I remember the reason. In front of me are a group of young men dressed in black, running up the street, smashing out windows of corporate storefronts. But they are leaving the local businesses and residences alone. I know who they are. Not specifically, though, I don't know any of their names. They are part of organizations dedicated to the use of black bloc tactics. Or maybe they are individuals also so inclined. Anyway, on this fine November morning, the black bloc is on the loose!
Remember? The WTO is town, talking about how to better convince us to let corporations and governments take resources at the point of the gun and consume them. The delegates have been milling about this part of downtown for several days. Hm, this version of myself seems to have a different attitude about it than the real one did. The real version of myself was annoyed at the disruption, but was generally favorably inclined towards neoliberalism and at least tolerated the WTO. But this version of myself is different. I am enraged that these fuckheads have invaded my city. I am enraged at the corporations whose storefronts the black bloc is now smashing. I am enraged at these men and women also dressed in suits, helping these corporations to ruin the lives of all of us. I grin. This is fucking awesome. Go, my brothers and sisters. Go throw rocks and swing clubs and destroy these fucking stores.
On this day, my employer is an IT consulting firm. They think I am here visiting a client. I will visit the client later if I do not end up in jail. But I think jail is probably in my future. I grip the ssang jyel bongs tightly, knowing what is about to happen next. For I also know that the police have chosen this morning to attack the pacifists who have been trying to obstruct people from the WTO conference going to and fro, as well as other benignly disruptive things. My attitude towards them is also different. Rather than viewing them with contempt and disgust, I give them a wry smile when I see them. Rather than seeing them as dirty hippies who need to get a job, I see them as lighthearted people who hate what is happening to the world and want to do something about it. But they don't understand when violence is necessary, so they mostly do this pointless bullshit they are doing. They mean well, but what impact are they going to have, really?
The black bloc isn't really having much of an impact, either. But if we're lucky, they'll do several million dollars of damage to the corporate cluster between the Convention Center and Pike Place Market. That will not transform the world in any meaningful way. But it will send these fuckheads an important message--there are people in this world dedicated to making their lives as difficult as possible, and our numbers are growing. But I feel a little bad, because I know I'm going to have to break a few heads of the pacifist hippies in a few minutes. You may be wondering why I would do such an awful thing, but you're about to find out.
I glance behind me again. To the extent they are capable, the police are now realizing the error of their ways. The crowd is pushing them back towards 6th and Union. I smell a whiff of CS gas or something equally foul. I should probably more quickly head towards Pike street, I think. I start walking faster. I am not worried--the police will think I'm part of the WTO delegation if they don't look too closely. I dressed this way on purpose. However, the black overcoat is a signal to the black bloc. They know I am there to help, but they're not sure how. They're about to find out.
I am at the southwest corner of 6th and Pike. Opposite me is Niketown. There is a swarm of black bloc tearing the place to shreds. Most excellent--Nike represents what is most foul about Corporate America. They have destroyed their silver storefront marquee--it now merely reads "OW". I grin. But then my grin fades as I see a crowd of "pacifist" hippies descend on them from points east on Pike Street. I know what is about to happen. But that is why I am here.
The hippies descend on the black bloc, yelling and pointing. The hippies are nearly all white. They overwhelm a couple of black kids dressed in black. The black kids fight back as best they can, but the hippies are just too many. These pacifist hippies cannot abide the "violence" of the black bloc, and they intend to hold these two young men for the police. AWESOME. I wish they would think for a second about what it is they are doing and how absurd it is. But, then again, what is about to happen is equally absurd.
Suddenly, a tornado of hardwood, feet, and forearms descends upon the hippies holding down the two black youths. That tornado is me, a finely tuned engine of "less-than-lethal" violence. In seconds, the hippies are scattered about on the sidewalk and the youths are free, but appear momentarily shocked and horrified. Then they realize who I am, and a grin breaks out on their faces. I nod and say, "Run!" They do.
The hippies are horrified. They don't know what the hell has just happened. But now they are starting to forget they are pacifists. They turn on me. I hold as many of them as I can at bay for as long as I can, but eventually they pin me down. I relax, knowing I'm probably about to be severely beaten. I am, in fact, beaten a little bit, but fortunately none of them know how to use ssang jyel bongs (which is part of the reason I selected those weapons to begin with). They calm down. It turns out I have not been badly injured. I will probably question the wisdom of what I have done in the morning. My glasses are ruined, but they are backups anyway. They inform me they are holding me for the police. They start to ask me questions about why I am so OMG VIOLENT.
I ask them, "Do you know what the Castle Doctrine is?" They stare at me blankly. "You know, the 'Make My Day' law?" They grimace. "None of you are from around here, are you?" They shake their heads in the negative. I calmly explain that in Washington State, violence is authorized in the defense of someone who is being attacked, whether that person is you or someone else. I remind them that this violence can, in fact, be lethal, so I was well within my legal rights to kill all of them (possibly an exaggeration, but I like being dramatic). They coil back in horror.
One of them asks me, skeptically, "but this is only in your own home, right?" I shake my head and smile. "No, sir, in Washington the Castle Doctrine extends to wherever you happen to be. Whether in your house or at, say, Niketown." I glance up at the marquee again, point, and giggle a little. "OW". Ha ha ha.
I continue. "I have even worse news for you. An accomplice has caught this scene on videotape. If I go to trial, I will play the tape. It will show a gang of white men and women attacking two black youths, and it will show me defending them from you. I am not terribly worried about a criminal conviction in this manner. Oh, and, by the way, if you give a statement, I will find out who you are and sue each and every one of you for assaulting me. And my lawyer fucking hates hippies, so...." I trail off.
That is not a bluff. I am working with a woman I know only as Maria, who has been following me on camera perched on a Vespa somewhere in the area. She is probably halfway to Burien by now. Good luck, hippies. Good luck, police.
The hippies decide they don't want to hold me anymore. I nod and smile, wish them all well, and get up and dust myself off and start calmly walking up 6th Avenue, just as the police begin to descend on the area. I leave the ssang jyel bongs for the hippies, as a reminder to them and everyone like them what might happen to them if they ever side with the police again.
I close my eyes. I smile to myself as I feel the endorphins cruise through my body. This is what living is like.
"Now arriving, King Street Station. Please look around for your belongings and prepare to disembark." I open my eyes. I am on the Sounder again, back in 2009. The woman across from me smiles at me again and stands up and heads for the door. I look out into the darkness of the Great Northern Tunnel and smile. Yes, this is what living is like.
How did I go from being a champion of the status quo and an ambiguous apologist for globalism and the WTO to a champion of the black bloc? I am not exactly sure. But I am sure of one thing--whatever trip I took was a one-way trip.
My friends are probably horrified at what they initially perceive as my total abuse of the spirit of taekwondo. I need to reassure them. This is a fantasy based mostly out of remorse and shame, not revenge. However, I should also say that, yes, if I ever see a member of the black bloc attacked by a "pacifist" hippie, I will use my taekwondo skills, whatever they happen to be at the time, to defend them. This is defensive violence, perfectly in the spirit of taekwondo. In fact, nothing is more noble in the spirit of Songahm than standing up for those who are weaker than you are. So, I say to them, "SUCK IT UP, SIR/MA'AM."
Also, I am not terribly sure I will be cruising the streets of protests looking for fights like this.
Not yet, anyway.
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