Aux armes!: May Day at the Olive Grove

By Emelina Rosa

What can we do against the steady drip of almost unbearable news, not only from Gaza, but from all around this beleaguered planet? This is what we can do, we can be ungovernable. There is alchemy in coming together and facing them down. This is how we find ourselves: Gaza is us.

I took part in the two Gaza Solidarity encampments at the University of Arizona and left minutes before police attacked in the early hours of Wednesday, May 1. I’ve been affiliated with UA for twenty years, first as a student and now as a visiting scholar, and it was an honor to take part. We overturned the local tradition of pacificism and civility. I’m proud of us.

I stayed on campus until the order to disperse on Monday evening and was furious at having to take down the barricades we had just built. I met with my crew in the morning, and we grumbled about the tyranny of fear. I was packing to go home when word came that we were setting up another liberated zone and this time we would stay and fight. This came from the same folks who decided to disperse the day before. That they changed their minds, not because they were overruled or outvoted but because they themselves overcame their own caution: this was a moment of transformation.

This was my first encampment. (It’s a long story but I’ve been in Bisbee for decades.) A lot was new, I was unprepared for how solicitous folks were with one another, how well we worked together. There was such tenderness, such mutual respect, that it took me awhile to understand the culture. (I know it’s more complicated but give me this moment. I remember when macho assholes ruled.) The first evening I turned down an escort to my car—this is my campus—and I bristled at people constantly offering me water. I declined the first young woman who offered to be my buddy—my instinct was to be autonomous—and now I’m sorry, because it was rude—forgive me, if you read this—and because I did not expect it. I accepted the second but remained uneasy, not used to being shadowed.

I had to realize I can no longer run up and down the march, as I did in my twenties. I’m restless and I could never walk in place back then, so I would patrol the perimeter with an old Nikkormat taking photos. That was my role. Now I can hardly walk.

I’m seventy-four, with arthritis, I could barely sit on the ground. I kept squirming. Even when I went over the wall to Park Avenue, I sat on a chair. I was there with my back to the wall when a line of frat boys formed in the street with a huge speaker blaring pop music. That was the only time I felt fear and for only a moment. We drowned them out as we drowned out the cops, but they stayed a long time. I stood up and blocked one when he wandered among us, screaming as loud as I could and then shoving a poster between us. In the moment when we were inches apart, he mimicked a gesture I made. I expected him to be brutal and vulgar, but that mockery was odd. They seemed to think we cared what they thought, perhaps because they’re brought up to rule.

I was surprised that most of the campers were women and trans people. Despite the years I’ve been lurking on the fringes of anarchist movements, I did not expect that, because nearly all the writers are men. I won’t name names and I love my comrades, but women, trans folks—please—step up. Writing is a way of thinking things through, don’t let the cis men do it all.

I went to my first protest when I was eleven. My father picked me up from school and took me to the Utah state capitol, where they were debating a civil rights initiative. We lined up around the edge of the rotunda, Black and white. The initiative lost, but we bore witness.

Sometimes it’s worth it, to simply bear witness, as it was that time in Salt Lake City. But I have taken part in countless marches, rallies, and demonstrations, and most of them were shows of weakness. We respected their protocol, we marched within the lines they drew, and acquiesced to the containers we’re stuck in. We blew off steam and went back to our lives, having done “something.” We gave them the chance to identify us and gauge our strength.

Most demonstrations focus on a specific issue and are only about themselves, but our demands made it clear that we are fighting not only for divestment and an end to the genocide in Gaza but for our liberation as well. Palestine will free us all!

The university will not divest, since that would mean turning itself inside out and denying its own primary function, of maintaining elite rule. (It also provides, through its contradictory nature, spaces of creativity and precious learning, but that’s another story.) Divestment is a demand that points to the limits of the wretched system we’re caught in, a demand that this world cannot satisfy, that begs us to destroy it, now, in totality, and not bit by bit, through incremental improvements that are usually turned against us. Our demands are nonnegotiable. None of us are free until all of us are free. Don’t look for a series of accumulating wins, building to a better world: we will lose every battle but the last one, but we will learn to lose better, and we will keep advancing.

We refused to negotiate. We rallied hundreds to our side through our intransigence and we avoided mass punishment. We hurled defiance at the pigs for hours and only a handful were arrested or hurt. We are part of a global movement. May 1 was a victory.

Be illegal, early and often. Look out for your friends and be brave together. Escalate and expand. Go Wildcats!

“At the barricades the pain is over. The transformation is complete. It is completed by a shout from the rooftops that the soldiers are advancing. Suddenly there is nothing to regret. The barricades are between their defenders and the violence done to them throughout their lives. There is nothing to regret because it is the quintessence of their past which is now advancing against them. On their side of the barricades it is already the future. Every ruling minority needs to numb and, if possible, to kill the time sense of those whom it exploits by proposing a continuous present. This is the authoritarian secret of all methods of imprisonment. The barricades break that present.”

- John Berger, G.

                                    Photos: APSA Media Collective


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