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What We Fight For
"Don't get separated from the group, don't show your face, don't attack any innocents, and do not be intimidated." Spike's voice cracked in my ear, the hot air making me flinch almost as much as the words did. I tried to contain my limbs; they were rattling with too many emotions. Fear, nervousness, excitement, and astonishment. I was clad in layers of black clothing I had hung onto after my 7th grade goth phase. The layers were Spike's suggestion, in case the police (it was never a question if the cops were going to show up, just how brutal they were going to be) used their nightsticks, which he believed they most certainly would. "If you had the majority of society on your side, would you hesitate to beat one of your enemies to a bloody pulp?" Was his way of explaining things to me.
We stood at the front of an abandoned warehouse, our makeshift headquarters. Black bandannas hanging out of our pockets, black swimming goggles ("Dude, tear gas. If you want to fight you've gotta be able to see who you're aimin' at."), the bands wrapped around our heads but the eyepieces resting above our eyes themselves. Any other time I would've thought we looked foolish, but seeing the ferocity and determination in the eyes of my comrades kept me from doing so.
A band of underclass warriors, all wearing black, stood before Spike, me, and Budgie and Cal, Budgie being Spike's co-conspirator and Cal being Budgie's understudy, like I was to Spike. I shuddered at having to take over Spike's position, were he to be incarcerated indefinitely or perish. Impossible, I think. Spike is invincible.
Standing at Spike's side, I checked out the crowd while we waited for the appointed time. I was slightly surprised when I notice some of the warriors had a motley assortment of homemade weapons and tools. Some wielded tennis rackets, I was later told to thwack away canisters of tear gas. I spotted three ladders, each being supported by a few of the protesters. Some held unlit torches, I spotted a group making Molotov cocktails in the far corner of the room, and many held cans of spray paint.
At 10:00 pm on the dot, according to Cal's secondhand wristwatch, Budgie produced an earsplitting whistle with two fingers and Spike stepped up on a milk crate.
He told them exactly what he had told me. The message became more lucid the second time I heard it. There's power in numbers, safety in anonymity, don't waste energy hurting those who don't hurt you, and cops are nothing but pawns.
At 10:10 pm, we exited the warehouse and assembled in the street, a mass darker than the night itself, lit only by torches and the bright eyes of young souls who hadn't been broken by the system.
I was again, surprised at how well everyone seemed to know what they were doing without being told. Those with ladders went to the sides, those with torches and banners were located in the front, surrounding me, Spike, Budgie and Cal. The largest of us brought up the back, human airbags between us of mediocre and diminutive stature and the pigs.
"And on we go." Spike told me with a nudge to the ribs. We were both sporting our bandannas, as were many others, but I'm positive I saw a smile underneath it. In preparation, I clung to his wrist and to the fabric of Budgie's sweatshirt, fearful of not following Spike's instruction. He never told us what to do if we did get separated from the group.
We marched at first. Slowly moving forward down the tenebrous, dank street. We hadn't been moving for more than two minutes before I heard glass shatter and raw shouts from behind. As we turned onto a main street, we picked up our pace, and we got louder. More glass broke. Plate glass windows and display boxes were smashed through with hard fists and feet encased in $5 boots from the Goodwill store, but nothing was stolen. We weren't consumers of the modern world. As we walked by the exterior of a well known chain store, I watched someone finish writing their message on the wall. "In a country where capitalism is a way of life, the only honest thing you can do is destroy."
The automatic sliding doors were covered with spider cracks and disgruntled (totally pissed off) employees were coming out to holler at us, but their complaints were drowned out by our shouts.
We continued moving forward, picking up our pace yet again, jogging this time. Rocks were soaring over my head and hitting street lamps, burning the artificial lights out instantly. I saw shadow figures bashing in bank windows, doors, and ATM machines with baseball bats. I heard sirens up ahead, and when I actually caught sight of the police car barricade my heart briefly migrated to my mouth, only to be swallowed back down along with my fear. I was angry. And so was everybody else. The cars never stood a chance. We easily clambered over them, taking advantage of the opportunity we had to sabotage them. Kicked in headlights, dented bumpers, anarchy symbols in blood red. I managed to splinter a windshield with the heel of my boot before my connection to Spike tugged me along.
Running this time. Sprinting. Breathing heavy and loud, our muscles were aching but our pulses were still beating. This was the last leg of our protest. Spike and Budgie had explained it in detail at a meeting that occurred only a few hours ago, before the sun had set, and in a library rather than the warehouse. This was when we were going to release our worst, and also when we expected the worst. "I doubt they'll call in the riot police, we'll be home-free before they can even get to that, but I imagine there's gonna be some fighting." Spike had told me earlier in the day, looking over the top of one of Shel Silverstein's poetry compilations.
The Molotov cocktails I had watched being made were pitched at random, landing at police officers' feet and bursting into flames. More rocks, more broken glass, more shouts. But there was also another sound. Laughing. We were fighting for the lives we wanted to lead, but we were also having the time of our lives while doing so. We stomped over two more police car barricades, wrestled our way through the cops, and flew down the street like a pack of marathon runners. Like something I had watched through a microscope in science class years ago, we separated into four different groups, going four different directions to our respective safehouses. We knew what we were doing.
Sitting comfortably on a couch, nursing a slice in my palm that I didn't know I had received, I listened to the walkie-talkie conversation between Spike and Budgie, who had ended up at a safehouse less than a mile away.
"You know of anyone who got busted?"
"Nah, nobody over here saw anyone get taken in."
"Same story over here."
"I'll check back in with you guys in an hour, we're still getting people over here."
"That rarely happens." Spike said, addressing me and a couple other protesters now.
We nodded solemnly.
"Usually they haul a few stragglers in, for no good reason. It's a waste of tax dollars, like a lot of things are."
We nodded again.
"Sometimes it's a little tiring, fighting all the time. Getting hassled by the law because we know we've got the resources to govern ourselves. And they don't like that. Not one bit." He grinned toothily at us, making his way over to a small box made of wood scraps that housed a bundle of blankets.
We nodded to him, then to each other.
"But, we've got to keep fighting. Because in a way, if you're fighting, you're already winning."
He picked up the bundle of blankets and came to us, leaning against the arm rest.
"You fight for what you believe in, and you fight to protect the ones you love. Because, no matter who you are or what kind of life you lead, I think this is what it should be about." He smiled proudly and held out the bundle so we could see.
In it, was a tiny, almost invisible, but distinctly human face. A blank canvas.
"The legacy. The future. Making things better for the future." He told us in a voice barely above a whisper.