Welcome To / Now Leaving / Berkeley

By Julien Poirier

Berkeleyprotest-800x430After marching all over on Saturday night I lay in bed with my wife Kailey watching an aerial feed of balletic hooligans tearing up the city center. Jumping between simultaneous live streams and just-breaking blogs, popping jellybeans from a jam jar, we were like a spryer Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Reagan being shanghaied from my hometown by our daughters’ magical flying Christmas elf into the pop-up Oz of a Golden State unprophesied even by Jerry Falwell’s lip-syncing Heart o’ Jesus taco. I had bought the jellybeans at the same Trader Joe’s that some angry kids had smashed into a night earlier. Why, kids? Didn’t they know that nice people worked at that store? Not to mention: That’s the place where I sometimes buy milk for my daughter.

Black Lives Matter

I’m an anarchist too,
I just don’t break windows.
I’m an armchair anarchist,
but you should see the state of my armchair.

The bourgeoisie is better than its pique.
Every so often the streets must be sown with broken glass,
so that the weeds of rebellion choke
the flowers of consensus.

The more windows young anarchists smash,
the more members of the middle class
should hit the street,
almost as though they had been kettled
behind those swift panes.

They should come down from the hills
with their kids and their dogs,
they should bike from their lofts
in their beards and their clogs (?)

and fall in behind the sullen, prowling youth,
and throw up their hands and yell “Don’t shoot!”
and encircle their throats and croak “I can’t breathe!”
and shave the ramparts close, chanting

“Make love to the police!”

[Berkeley 12.6.14]


Tonight I read that the mayor is proud of the Berkeley Police for showing restraint. For example, the cops didn’t stomp on protesters when they were lying in the street and blocking traffic. Which is kind of like being proud of Roger Clemens for not intentionally throwing the baseball at Mike Piazza’s head—except for the time he did. Then you’re not proud anymore, you’re “saddened” and you may even look into going to get some cops to take names. Not a baseball fan? You don’t need to Google Clemens beaning Piazza: This footage of the police on Telegraph Avenue last weekend will make the analogy speak.

Of course, it’s useful to learn first-hand what police brutality looks like—because, if you’re lucky enough to travel to other countries after college, you’ll find the cops behave in precisely that manner no matter where you are, and you won’t be surprised by their rough humanism. Police brutality is the venereal disease that money catches for fucking inequality for money. Putting on a uniform and beating people up has got to be at least the world’s second oldest profession, right after dry-cleaning.

But the thing I’m really scared of is not the cops, who aren’t likely to put my gray-white head in a choke-hold or shoot my daughter dead in the street. I’m sick with fear that the fire is going to go out. The choppers overhead are rattling the bedroom windows again, but tonight I’m staying in. So are a lot of people. Marching for hours then watching live footage of Interstate 80 getting shut down by hundreds of radical egalitarian zombies was pretty much the left-wing equivalent of the Moon Landing for great TV: almost unbelievable, trippy in a “this-changes-everything” way, and totally psychologically draining. And I’m scared it’s going to all end there. By the time this goes live, it’ll probably be pouring rain up and down the state. The little bucktooth mountain rodents will be in full hibernation prep. The students will need to study for finals sometime. The young black men and women bursting through the chanting crowd will be back home with their families for Christmas, and so will I. Even Harpo will be in heaven for Hanukkah.

Who will be left on the street but the Silent Majority? but Mayor Bates and his can-canning Christmas shoppers? And I flinch and wait for the blow from that blunt object—not the night stick, but the sock stuffed with bullshit swung by all the naysayers, the carping pundits, the liberal mouthpieces and the wanna-be-fascist hairpieces. All of them waiting just outside the circle of that fading campfire, just waiting for their signal to run in and beat the dead protest with their socks before turning them on each other. And I dread it—how it goes on and on, how they argue and argue but all say the same thing: “See, it can’t be done. Don’t go out on a limb! The candle in the window of humanity is really a little electric bulb that we change every few days. The more you talk the more confused you get. You’re getting sleepy but you’re not allowed to sleep. Join us. The ranks of mediocrity roll deep.”

But then I close my eyes and I’m back on Shattuck, marching right down the middle of the street, and know what it feels like to be a person swimming in people. Oh, and brothers and sisters—the signs on the way! Just there: The UA Theater advertises its upcoming HOBBIT MARATHON to the chanting marchers. And right there: a new mood-lit gourmet restaurant (a “fish tank,” the Montreal activists call it) called PATHOS—in the big window blushing diners noodle their plates. And just across the street, on the fake marquee of what used to be a real movie theater (the one where I saw a newly released Do the Right Thing in 1989) the sliding letters spell COPS AND ROBBERS.

Now there’s some magic lilypad-hopping that William Burroughs would’ve loved! Justice? It’s our coloring book—and we’ll ignore the lines.


Julien Poirier was a founding member of Ugly Duckling Presse, where he co-edited 6×6 and edited New York Nights newspaper from 2001 to 2006. His editorial projects included Jack Micheline’s One of a Kind, Steve Dalachinsky’s In Glorious Black & White, Stan Apps’s Soft Hands, and Cedar Sigo’s Selected Writings (editions 1 and 2). He is the author of El Golpe Chileno (UDP), the UDP chapbook Stained Glass Windows of California and numerous other chapbooks. He lives in Berkeley, CA, with his wife and daughters.

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