Novel Excerpt by Terence Cannon
Take the Lecture to the Street
(In homage to the young people of Tunisia & Egypt)
by Terence Cannon
There comes a moment in every successful revolution, uprising, or demonstration, when a hinge turns, a gesture is made, and the balance of power shifts, sometimes for a moment, sometimes forever. In 1968 Hugh Thompson orders his helicopter crew to fire on Lt.Calley’s troops if they continue killing Vietnamese civilians at MyLai. In 1979 a soldier in the Shah of Iran’s army shoots a security officer who is beating an anti-Shah demonstrator. In Tunisia, an army patrol forces the security forces to stop harassing the funeral procession for a young man security squads had murdered the previous day. In Egypt, a convoy of tanks sent to secure a bridge fraternize with the demonstrators who climb on top and urge the soldiers to turn against the police.
In 1968 I witnessed such a moment, not on the scale of the above, but of the same kind, during Stop the Draft Week in Oakland, California. Ten thousand demonstrators had barricaded the streets around the Oakland Army Induction Center, confronting thousands of police This is an excerpt from my upcoming web novel LIBERATED ZONE. The facts are absolutely true, only the names have been changed to protect the guilty.
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An excerpt from a novel by Terence Cannon
Jimmy slipped through a hushed crowd at 12th and Washington. Cosmo, sanchopanzaing behind, bumped a demonstrator, said sorry. Girl in a peasant dress. Green eyes. Intense. He eased around her to the front line.
A six-deep legion of California Highway Patrolmen stood across Washington, the only barricade a lone man who paced before them, reviewing the troops, thought Jimmy, addressing the cops directly, and by reflection the demonstrators behind him who stood on benches, rested on tire-flattened cars, listened as if they were both cast and groundlings and had waked from the play to find what was at stake in this lecture to the armed was nothing less than each of them.
“Hundreds, hundreds of steel-sharp darts in each canister,” the man said, “a thousand canisters dropped at a time. What would that do to you, to us, me, here on this street? Shred the living flesh from us. Innocent or guilty, cop or college student, grate us to the bone.”
Wilhelm, Berkeley grad student leader.
“The government used to make them out of metal. But metal shows up on x-rays. Now we, our government, makes them in plastic, x-ray machines can’t find them, so they can’t be found in the bodies of children. The wounds fester, turn to gangrene. And the purpose of this? To tie up scarce economic resources to care for grated shredded dying peasants.”
Jimmy did not dislike Wilhelm. He held him in remove, the campus radical with the Brechtian hair, John Lennon glasses, self-made European Intellectual born in Minneapolis.
“I will bet, gentlemen, that in the front row, one of you has a son in Vietnam, in the second row one, in the third row two.”
“Watch.” Shauna was at Jimmy’s side. He flinched at her voice, followed her eyes. The third patrolman from the left turned to one beside him, nodded.
“They’re listening,” she said, touched his shoulder. Jimmy suffered a swoon of faintness, looked to her left for Hank, who was there, the right palm of one hand balanced on the tip of a lead pipe in his jeans pocket, gunslinger style. Jimmy nodded brotherly to Hank, stepped away from Shauna. Hank would be satisfied so long as Shauna was his and no longer Jimmy’s.
“South Viet Nam,” said Wilhelm, loud to all and intimate to each, a style developed in Poly Sci 101 lectures to three hundred freshmen. “South Viet Nam,” as if the words were Sick Child Rapist, “a country invented by no one who lived there, cooked up by France and the United States. A Presidential Palace of feudal warlords and black marketeers. An Army that can’t fight. Won’t fight. Why should they? They have us — your kids — to serve them, kill and die for them.”
A metallic voice behind the police honked. “Hold the line.”
“The day the Vietnamese bomb El Cerrito, gentlemen“
“Hold the line.”
“And shred the flesh from the bones of your children in the playground.”
“The day the Viet Cong drop napalm on the streets of San Leandro and your wives run out of your houses delirious, the cooked skin falling from their arms.”
“Prepare to move!”
“That day I will join the Army.”
“Forward. Clear the area.”
“I’m a Berkeley grad student, so you probably hate me.” Wilhelm took a step back to match the patrolmen’s advance. “But these people aren’t just students. They’re your kids.”
Jimmy balanced himself for the next moves. “How long has he been doing this?” he asked Shauna, not looking at her. To hear her voice.
“Forty minutes,” she said. “He covered the French war, Dienbienphu, the Geneva Agreement, and pacification. He just started on war crimes. I guess they couldn’t take it anymore.”
“Did you join the CHP to beat up kids exercising their right not to fight a war?” Wilhelm called out.
Two patrolmen in the front row raised their batons to ready position to beat up kids exercising their right not to fight a war.
“No,” said Wilhelm, pacing the ranks backward, making his path a zigzag pattern, “You joined to stop speeders and drunks, keep the highways safe for drivers, not the world safe for Standard Oil. I have a son, two years old. I won’t have him die in some President’s War, some MacNamara’s War sixteen years from now.”
Three more steps. Jimmy faded back, ready to lead whatever people chose to do next. Hank pulled the length of pipe from his pocket, held it behind him. Shauna (warrior princess, utterly trustworthy, the starless Georgia night, the gothic jail, Jimmy’s gun in her purse) moved to Hank’s side. Beneath her silk blouse a willowy vale of cream, shuddup Jimmy.
The two patrolmen with raised clubs noticed their colleagues in the forward line had not done the same. They looked to the officer in the center, who shook his head, a pitcher shaking off a signal. They lowered their batons.
“The nightsticks,” called Hank, loudly for Jimmy to hear, softly not to taunt the patrolmen, whose batons remained undrawn, holstered at their waists.
“Clear the area,” commanded the metal voice.
Someone had decided not to club demonstrators
“Step back,” yelled Jimmy. “They’re not going to attack.”
The crowd parted as for an honor guard. The CHP moved into the intersection, clearing it de jure and de people, but not des barricades. A social contract of spontaneous relations had been improvised and honored. Thus far, it said. No further.
A man walked backward into Jimmy. Wilhelm. Jimmy kissed him on his bald spot. “I love you Willum,” he said. Wilhelm wiped his faux European glasses.
He was crying.