Halloween’s a good excuse for all manner of inappropriate behavior. You can drink too much, make out with strangers, start a fight, and do something stupid–no one has to know it’s you, after all, and no one really cares if they find out. Last Halloween I got blackout drunk, peed on the floor at a party, let my period flow down my bare legs, then had a little soiree at my place, where I puked and passed out. When random people started hooking up, my kinda-boyfriend freaked out and left, only to end the night by falling off a roof. By November 3 it was all old news.
This year, though, the election has been scary enough to make holiday high jinks seem beside the point. The Busy Beaver Button-O-Matic party at Open End Gallery on Saturday was sweet–there were cute little buttons, Jell-O shots, and Gummi Worms hiding in a pile of smushed-up Oreos–but I couldn’t get into it. I headed to Humboldt Park’s Camp Gay to see the ten-year anniversary show of local noise act Panicsville, only to find I’d missed the performance. I moved on to a loft party on Elston, but by then I had to accept the sad truth: I was more concerned about November 2 than I was with acting like a spaz. I went home before 1 AM, feeling like a grandma at the age of 27.
Lucky for me, the Chicagoland Anarchist Network’s Halloween plans involved neither gelatinous alcohol nor raging into the wee hours. On Sunday, as part of the national grassroots campaign Don’t Just Vote (I wrote about it last week), about 75 people met in Wicker Park at 2:30 in the afternoon for the first annual Capitalism Gives Me the Creeps parade. Dressed as free-enterprise offenders like Mickey Mouse and Pokemon, dead colonial settlers, deranged businessmen and -women, and such standbys as ghouls, demons, sexy witches, and sexy devils, people from CAN, Radical Cheerleaders, Chicago Indymedia, and DePaul Students Against the War chanted, cheered, and showed each other their signs.
“We’re making our resistance visible,” said CAN’s Jeremy Hammond, one of the event’s organizers. “We’re taking the opportunity to capitalize on today’s festivities and get our message across.”
Posters bore slogans ranging from the slightly clever (“Boo to Bush! Boo to Kerry! Revolution Is Necessary!” and “Don’t Eat the Rich–They’re Rotten”) to the woefully misguided (“Vote for Anarchy”) to the totally left field (“Psychiatry Is Scary”). One passerby told me he thinks individuals should take responsibility for consumerist choices “instead of blaming it on the system.” The friend I’d dragged along dismissed the gathering as “the bottom of the pyramid of social awareness.” He asked a good question–“Why dress up on Halloween to fight capitalism when Halloween is a capitalist holiday?”–and took off.
Half an hour later a woman announced that Ryan Harvey, a D.C.-area troubadour who says he writes music “for the angry anarchist,” was about to serenade the group with his acoustic guitar. A gaggle of young women sat in a semicircle around him, clasping their hands and watching him with puppy-dog eyes. “They beat up your bodies and tear down your dreams,” he sang in a quivery voice to the tune of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” Later he sang that “they gave us a few choices on which we waste our voices,” and if we found someone we liked they’d probably be “silenced or killed.”
When I asked Hammond what the parade route would be, he told me it would be determined by “the will of the people.” Of course. He added that he envisioned the march meeting up with the North Halsted Halloween Parade, where marchers in “antiwar” getups would enter costume contests–but the only political costumes I could see satirized Bush, Kerry, and big business. I saw nothing about Iraq.
Once everyone started walking, however, they began to seem like a cohesive group with a real message. Heads held high, they marched right into the street and started howling, moaning, and shrieking, passing out flyers lamenting the ineffectiveness of electoral politics and promoting direct action.
We walked north on Damen, then northwest on Milwaukee to Western, where a cop passed us on the other side of the street, not seeming to care that the parade didn’t have a permit. By four o’clock, when we reached Fullerton, the marchers were still taking up all the lanes of traffic on one side of the yellow line, and sometimes filling up the entire street. Traffic lights weren’t heeded; cars started to back up. Plenty of people honked, but I have no idea if they were sympathetic to the message, pissed about traffic being blocked, or just excited to see people in weird costumes marching down the street. “People don’t know what to think of us,” a demonic businessman said to his zombie friend. I saw several pedestrians read their flyers, though, and nod.
On Fullerton near Ashland a lone police car pulled up, lights flashing. The two officers inside urged us to move to the sidewalk, but no one except a protester dressed as Frida Kahlo, who handed the cops candy from a pumpkin-shaped bucket, paid them any mind. The police car followed us for a few blocks, then made a turn and drove away.
We turned north on Ashland. As we passed Wrightwood someone started throwing eggs from a three-flat. A woman who’d gussied up her all-black anarchist uniform with a faux-fur coat angrily told her friend, “We’ll gentrify them and put condos on their graves.”
At Diversey a man riding shotgun in a maroon minivan shouted out the window, “Hey, does anyone know the Seattle Seahawks score?” I asked him what he thought of the protest. “I don’t think anyone’s ever going to be happy with our choices,” he said, and described the marchers as “a bunch of young kids trying to make a point about nothing.”
Two police cars drove up behind us, all sirens and lights, preventing traffic from moving any further. “You cannot block a city street!” a male officer barked through a loudspeaker. About seven protesters got on the sidewalk. “Four more years!” yelled a man from his house.
Police continued to warn protesters about walking in the street, and protesters started to chant that the streets belonged to the people. We turned east onto George, a one-way street heading west–a smart move, because regular trick-or-treaters became part of our procession and the police seemed confused. Two cop cars went forward against traffic, another went in reverse with traffic, and when we met with real traffic at George and Bosworth, we just headed north on Bosworth–a one-way going south–causing a tangle of cop cars, civilian cars, protesters, and kids out soliciting candy.
When the cops caught up with us, the commanding officer got out of his car and gestured wildly at the 50 or so people still in the street. “Every one of ’em is going to jail!” he yelled to his colleagues.
Police crept behind the protesters in their cars, calmly repeating through the loudspeakers, “Blocking traffic is an arrestable offense. Please move onto the sidewalk and have a nice, happy Halloween.” The commanding officer took a slightly more patronizing tone, telling protesters that they probably weren’t making their mothers proud, which raised some hackles. “Fuck you!” screamed a green Smurf on the sidewalk. He held a sign that said “Capitalism Kills Smurfs.”
“I bet you wouldn’t say that to my face,” said the commander.
“Oh yeah I would,” the Smurf retorted. As he started out into the street to prove it, his girlfriend–dressed as Smurfette, natch–grabbed his shirt and dragged him back onto the sidewalk.
By the time we reached Belmont and Clark, everyone except a few protesters on bicycles had finally moved to the sidewalk. No one had been arrested, but seven squad cars and one paddy wagon accompanied us to the finish, driving slowly.
Around Roscoe and Halsted we saw the detritus from the Halloween parade: work crews were breaking down a stage and putting away barricades. “Where’s the event we’re supposed to be meeting up with?” I heard someone ask. “We’re going to march east to the park and rest,” said Hammond. “Then we’ll go march again in two hours.” No thanks, about two-thirds of the group decided; they turned around and headed home.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Andrea Beno.