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Gimme an A!

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  • Clore Daniel C
    News for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo New Times Broward-Palm Beach August 2, 2001
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 8, 2001
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      News for Anarchists & Activists:
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo

      New Times Broward-Palm Beach August 2, 2001

      http://www.newtimesbpb.com/issues/2001-08-02/feature.html/page1.html

      Gimme an A!
      Anarchists in Lake Worth have spread their subversive good
      cheer from Seattle to Québec City and beyond

      By Amy Roe

      On an otherwise quiet, balmy night in Auburn, Alabama, in an
      otherwise empty, over-air-conditioned Taco Bell, three
      young, blond women huddle over a fast-food dinner. Suddenly,
      the door to the restaurant swings open and about 50 people
      -- mostly young women -- burst inside, chanting in unison:

      Hey Taco Bell
      You better listen, listen
      cause we ain't kiddin', kiddin'
      and we are stayin', stayin'
      till you are payin', payin'
      a living wage (clap-clap-clap-clap)
      for blood (clap)
      sweat (clap)
      and tears! (clap)

      Some clang metal mess kits; others shake water bottles full
      of pebbles, forming a makeshift percussion section. The
      restaurant has protest acoustics: The sounds echo off the
      walls. A tall, thin, blond woman in a hot pink pleated
      tennis skirt waves pompons made of strips of shiny,
      blue-and-gold Mylar. Punk kids and anarchists in tattered
      T-shirts and olive-drab army fatigues dance and stomp on
      chairs and tables, their flesh pierced and tattooed, their
      noses and mouths covered, cowboy-style, with bandannas.

      The customers in the corner are outnumbered by protesters by
      more than ten to one. They stare in disbelief; eyes wide,
      hands clasped over mouths full of refried beans. In their
      surprise they seem to forget their food. Bean burritos,
      chalupas, and tacos lie amid sheets of waxed tissue paper
      like abandoned Christmas gifts.

      After a couple minutes, an employee phones the police, then
      calmly informs the protesters of that fact. They don't leave
      immediately but instead start another round of chants,
      gleefully circling the dining room as if taking a victory
      lap.

      Regrouping outside on the sidewalk, they debate the legality
      of blocking the drive-thru. Two police cars glide up,
      without sirens or lights. A bespectacled, middle-aged
      officer emerges, inquiring what they're up to.

      A young woman comes forward and raises her trembling voice.
      In an awkward, roundabout way, she explains that Taco Bell
      is the largest buyer of tomatoes from Six L's Packing
      Company, Inc., an Immokalee, Florida-based firm that, she
      says, pays its workers paltry wages with no benefits.

      He gives her a satisfied smile and pauses. "OK," he drawls
      patiently, "so if y'all are through with Taco Bell?" In
      other words it's time to leave.

      These activists aren't nearly finished with Taco Bell, but
      for tonight, at least, the protest is over. Their display
      was bright and brief, excess enthusiasm burning off like the
      flame from a kerosene lamp. Though it seemed to come from
      nowhere, the ten-minute spontaneous demonstration had been
      building since early afternoon.

      The participants in this impromptu action were among the
      roughly 500 activists in town for the Third Annual Southern
      Girls Convention at Auburn University July 20 through 22.
      Southern Girls was organized to make radical feminism
      visible in the South, to combat discrimination, and to
      challenge stereotypes about life here. It was also devised,
      the program explains, "because we have an intrinsic desire
      to revolt." It was summer session, though. Few remained to
      hear them scream.

      The show went on anyway. The schedule included workshops on
      do-it-yourself pet care; ecofeminism; preparing for the
      upcoming International Monetary Fund protest in Washington,
      D.C., this fall; and "big women in the porn industry." There
      were also a few workshops organized by and for men,
      including one about peer education to end violence against
      women.

      Because the weekend of workshops, discussions, speeches, and
      impromptu parties drew attendees who'd met at earlier
      radical conventions, Southern Girls had the friendly feel of
      a reunion. Participants were mostly white women in their
      early twenties along with a sprinkling of Asians, blacks,
      and Hispanics; a few men; and a few who identify as
      transgender.

      Workshop organizers took pains to include minority
      participants. On the fourth page of the convention program
      is a "trans policy" that advises which of the student
      union's toilets transgendered participants should use. "We
      apologize," it reads, "for the gender-segregated bathrooms."

      Meanwhile, parts of the conference were intentionally
      gender-segregated. A man was asked to leave a workshop about
      sexual assault, while a white woman was kicked out of a
      workshop aimed at women of color.

      No one, however, was barred from attending a radical
      cheerleading workshop held by Classic City Chaos, a squad
      from Athens, Georgia. About 60 mostly female conventioneers
      scattered about the sun-scorched grass in front of Foy
      Student Union to learn stunts, cheers, and matching moves
      from a squad of young women dressed in matching camouflage
      miniskirts and black T-shirts with the squad's name
      emblazoned in red letters across the chest. They focused on
      popular feminist and anticapitalist cheers; the repertoire
      also includes chants against harassment, consumerism,
      sweatshops, and work and in praise of bicycles, anarchy,
      gender-bending, and being fat.

      One woman wondered aloud whether Cara and Aimee Jennings of
      Lake Worth, Florida, would show up. When another gave her a
      blank look, she smugly launched into a spiel about radical
      cheerleading's origins, proud to be an insider in an
      outsider's scene.

      The Jennings sisters never did make the workshop, though
      their attendance at Southern Girls lent the event an aura of
      authenticity. They wanted to go but were stuck at a nearby
      copy shop, battling a jammed paper tray while furiously
      reproducing copies of a cheerleading handbook. "Story of our
      lives," Cara moaned afterward, sprawled on the floor of the
      student union.

      If the nation's anarchists sat down and (collectively, of
      course) drew a map of Florida, the Villa de Vulva would be
      marked with a red-and-black X. An unprepossessing ranch
      house on B Street in Lake Worth, the Villa sits 15 minutes
      north of the posh shops of Boca, past the throbbing,
      well-lit worlds of Crate & Barrel and Victoria's Secret yet
      just out of the reach of the grasping hands of
      acquisitiveness. By comparison, the Villa is a clenched
      fist. There are real wooden crates and barrels here -- and,
      one suspects, secrets too.

      Above the front door, in place of say, a windsock or a
      welcome banner, Villa denizens have hung a flag that reads,
      "Rise Up!" Plastic Halloween skeletons are strewn atop the
      hedge like the grisly remains of garden gnomes. Behind a
      door plastered with posters for upcoming political events
      lies one of South Florida's most active cells of all things
      radical feminist, anticapitalist, antiracist, anarchist,
      queer, vegetarian -- or none of the above. An ever-changing
      configuration of four to six residents lives in the
      four-bedroom, two-bathroom, one-loft house they rent for
      $1050 a month. (At least one resident's parents pay a share
      of the rent.) The Villa is also often crowded with visitors.
      It can get hectic, and in the summertime, sweltering,
      because residents choose not to use the air conditioner.

      Although they no longer live here, Cara and Aimee Jennings
      established Villa as an anarchist collective two years ago.
      The two now live together at another nearby house, but the
      Villa still functions as the unofficial headquarters of the
      area's radical cheerleaders and local anarchist scene.

      Villa regulars are punks, skateboarders, students, slackers,
      riot grrrls, or hippies, but with their potluck suppers,
      food- and literature-distribution, sewing circles, and movie
      nights, the group has the cozy feel of an
      interdenominational summer camp. People come from all over
      the country to visit. In fact, in winter, when the Florida
      sun is most sought after, legions of fellow travelers
      inhabit the sparse living room, crashing on a futon, the
      floor, or a lumpy sofa bed.

      As its name suggests, the Villa is woman-identified:
      "There's no way you're going to be sexist here," says
      Melodie, a resident who, like most of the Villa people
      interviewed for this story, asked to be identified only by
      her first name. A male counterpart, Casa de Cock, existed
      nearby for a while, but it was short-lived. Most Villa
      residents say the Casa was about partying.

      Melodie helps keep the house anarchist yet orderly. There's
      a phone list and a nonhierarchical chore wheel on the wall.
      Above the sink is a hand-written reminder: "First the
      dishes, then the revolution." Food is stored and cooked
      communally. Some residents are vegan, but in practice, the
      house is "freegan" -- meaning members will eat dairy as long
      as they don't have to pay for it. Decisions are made by a
      long-winded process of consensus, a practice in which
      several residents have been trained.

      Despite this, Nicole insists the Villa is women-led. "The
      women are paying the rent, doing the activism," she says.
      "The boys are pretty much staying on the couch."

      Among the current couch crashers is Blake, an 18-year-old
      Miamian with a mop of wild curly hair and a theory he calls
      anarcho-robotics. Obsessed with electronics, Blake believes
      a class of servant robots could eliminate class distinctions
      and liberate humans from the evils of capitalism. Others
      just laugh and call him Dr. Roboto.

      For the record Blake thinks radical cheerleading is silly.

      It is nearly ten o'clock and still humid and hot by the time
      Aimee and Cara Jennings arrive at the eerily empty Villa one
      recent evening. Hungry and exasperated, they show up
      separately. They were supposed to meet earlier at Kmart but
      somehow missed each other. Now they're bickering about who
      went to the wrong store. Ladling leftover tofu curry into
      bowls, they collapse at the table and dig in hungrily.
      Within minutes the tension has dissolved, the food has
      disappeared, and Aimee leans back in the chair and sighs.
      Stomach full from dinner, she unzips her pants.

      Self-professed loudmouths, the Jennings sisters are
      delightfully unselfconscious, yet it is with trepidation
      that they agreed to be interviewed. They shun publicity but
      not because they're shy. As anarchists, they don't want to
      create a hierarchy or lay claim to the radical cheerleading
      concept. Decisions are made by consensus; there is no
      leader.

      Their faces glow in the humid air as they turn to catch the
      breeze from a nearby fan. Though they are of the same mind
      about politics, the Jennings sisters are hardly twins. Aimee
      is 25 years old, tall, and imposing, with freckles and long
      reddish hair she often wears in braids or ponytails. Cara,
      by contrast, is short, with brown hair cut in a blunt bob, a
      wide, ruddy face, and impish grin. She is 24 years old. They
      like to be called the Jennings sisters; they are more
      powerful, they insist, as a unit.

      Radical cheerleaders fascinated the mass media at recent
      "antiglobalization" protests, but the Jennings sisters
      complain that their message gets obscured in a fixation on
      pompons. Though the cheers are straightforward, the essence
      of radical cheerleading involves complex political theories
      that, for corporate media conglomerates, are both difficult
      to put into sound bites and rather threatening.

      In the interest of countering this, Cara stipulated that a
      cheer of their choice be included in this story so that if
      the whole thing missed the point, at least one unadulterated
      message would make it through. The cheer they chose is
      called "Hell No":

      Hell no we won't
      Hell no we won't
      Hell no we won't
      Go there with those tired old chants
      My activism is more like a rant
      A rant of rage of resistance
      This system I speak out against.
      One, two, three, four
      Boring protest no more
      five, six, seven, eight
      Resistance let's activate
      No justice
      Here's a piece of my mind
      No justice
      A piece of my behind
      No justice
      Piece it together you'll find
      Radical cheerleaders on the frontline.

      It's a mild cheer compared to others, like the one that
      encourages the assassination of the President. ("Guaranteed
      to get you arrested," Aimee warns.) "Hell No," by contrast,
      barely hints at anarchism.

      Perhaps this is no accident. After all, the media's
      most-talked-about anarchist is Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.
      Environmental anarchist John Zerzan also draws much
      attention for his antitechnology stance, which frustrates
      Villa anarchists who don't share his views.

      Moreover, in their quest for strategic anonymity and
      solidarity, protesting anarchists have often hidden beneath
      the hoods and masks of the "black bloc." As such they have
      been categorically dismissed as terrorists by the media and
      relegated to political irrelevance. This is another reason
      why the Jennings sisters agreed to be interviewed.

      "I think it's super important to put a face to anarchism,"
      Cara says. "Anarchism isn't chaos, anarchism is..."

      "Mutual aid," her sister chimes in.

      The second and third of five daughters, the Jennings sisters
      credit their parents, devout Catholics, for instilling in
      them a strong sense of social justice. Growing up in the
      Cutler Ridge neighborhood of Miami with their three sisters,
      Cara remembers feeling tremendous empathy for the plight of
      homeless people and panhandlers. She would go home and make
      food and gather clothes for them; her parents would
      patiently help her.

      As teenagers the two sisters attended Peace Camp organized
      by the Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice -- Aimee
      reluctantly. "I was forced to go," she remembers with a
      laugh. "I wasn't gonna have none of that hippie shit!"

      In 1996 the sisters attended the Active Resistance anarchist
      conference in Chicago. "That's when the pendulum swung,"
      Aimee recalls. Their compassion morphed into radicalism.
      Cara had been considering leaving Florida State University;
      the conference helped convince her. "I traveled," she says,
      "and that broke the mold for me in terms of how you could
      live your life."

      They went on to Sister Subverter, an anarchist women's
      conference on a remote patch of land in the Midwest, then
      hitchhiked back to Florida, staying with and meeting
      anarchists and radicals throughout the country.

      While excited about this newfound world of activism, the
      Jennings sisters were also critical of it. Protests too
      often seemed dominated by whoever held the megaphone
      (usually a man), could be intimidating to newcomers, and
      frequently devolved into senseless mugging for the
      omnipresent television cameras.

      Later that summer, in a van on the way to the Youth
      Liberation Conference at New College in Sarasota, Aimee,
      Cara, and their sister Coleen ("the third cofounder," Cara
      quips) came up with the idea of cheers instead of chants.
      "Part of it was wanting to have more of our voice be heard
      and wanting it to be fun."

      When they taught three cheers at an impromptu "radical
      cheerleading" workshop, 25 people showed up, some of whom
      the sisters vigorously recruited. "We're obnoxious," says
      Aimee. "That's the hidden secret. We were like, "So, are you
      coming to our workshop?'"

      The next summer they performed at a talent show at Sister
      Subverter in Arkansas. Seemingly all of a sudden, radical
      cheerleading went from being "really dorky" to universally
      embraced. "We got an encore to do [the cheer] "Shoot the
      Rapist' again," Cara says, smiling wistfully. "Still a
      favorite."

      After that conference, a number of attendees went home and
      started their own squads. "That's where radical cheerleading
      broke," Aimee says. Though there is no formal organization
      of members, squads now exist all over North America, plus a
      few in Europe.

      At the time, late 1997, the Jennings sisters had no idea how
      far radical cheerleading had spread. It wasn't until nearly
      two years later, in the summer of 1999, that Aimee got a
      glimpse of the concept's contagion. When activists were
      being arrested at a land struggle for the Minnehaha Free
      State in Minneapolis, protesters broke into the Jennings'
      "Pigs" cheer. They called out "Give me a P," and so forth,
      and when they got to the end, the crowd spontaneously did
      the whole cheer.

      Aimee was amazed at the sight -- "I had to keep my jaw from
      dropping," she says -- but the scope of radical cheerleading
      did not hit Cara until several months later, when friends
      returned from World Trade Organization protests in Seattle
      in December with mini cheer handbooks protesters had made
      and circulated among themselves: "I was really shocked. Then
      at the IMF/ World Bank protests in Québec City last April,
      we were on the street and someone says, "You should do a
      cheer.'" She did, and 50 people called out the response.

      "I was floored," Cara remembers. "I was like, We didn't even
      know them!"

      Radical cheerleading had by then seeped into Canadian
      activism. Kate MacLean, who works at the Womyn's Center at
      Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, first learned about
      radical cheerleading from an out-of-town friend of a friend.
      Enamored of the idea, the 23-year-old helped form an
      18-member community squad for Access 2000, a Canadian
      national students' strike in protest of high tuition fees.
      After another action, at the fall 2000 March of Women in
      Ottawa, MacLean was invigorated. "I was like, "I want to
      meet everyone who does this. Let's have a conference!'"

      Her Web-posted conference notice garnered responses from all
      over the world, including queries from would-be radical
      cheerleaders in Germany and the Philippines, who, MacLean
      notes, have since started squads. She invited the New York
      City radical cheerleaders, a close-knit and active troop,
      but one of them said she wouldn't feel comfortable attending
      unless the Jennings sisters were there.

      MacLean agreed, obtained the sisters' e-mail address, and
      offered to fly them to Ottawa.

      "They said, "We're tickled pink!'" MacLean recalls with a
      chuckle. "You know how cute they are."

      About 100 people attended the conference in March 2001 at
      Carleton University. Meanwhile in Florida, many activists
      were still oblivious to radical cheerleading's origins. When
      the Eve Chapter, a newly formed women's group based in Boca
      Raton, was setting up Femme Fest, its first annual women's
      celebration held at Florida Atlantic University in March,
      organizers were hoping to find some radical cheerleaders to
      perform.

      "We were hoping to fly some in," says Justina Hook, one of
      the event's coordinators. Hook says she was surprised when
      an out-of-state radical cheerleader informed her that the
      movement had started just a few miles away.

      The disconnect is far from arbitrary. Though the Jennings
      sisters see radical cheerleading as a collective phenomenon
      and assert no ownership of the concept, the success of
      radical cheerleading is due in part to the sisters'
      charisma. They know a lot of activists, and they make sure
      the activists know the cheers, which speak for themselves.

      "It's genius," says Hollywood activist Ali Bateretz. "Not
      many people these days pay attention to protesters, but with
      radical cheerleading it's performance."

      Bateretz, who is 30 years old and uses a wheelchair because
      of a nervous-system disorder, is hoping to start a
      Miami-Dade/Broward county squad including cheerleaders who,
      like herself, have disabilities.

      Bateretz also admires the way radical cheerleading inverts
      gender stereotypes. Many radical cheerleaders would not be
      found on a traditional cheer squad. Some are fat, some have
      hairy legs and armpits, some are male, some are transgender:
      "You're taking something that's not exactly a feminist
      thing, and you're making it into something so powerful and
      feminist and nonhierarchical."

      But it's not wholly or intentionally satire, though some
      squads, much to the Jennings sisters' chagrin, read it that
      way. When they see such ironists, Cara and Aimee give them
      dirty looks. While the protests are supposed to be fun, the
      cheerleading is no joke.

      "I was a junior-high cheerleader," Aimee exclaims, proudly
      throwing her arms into a stiff V for emphasis. "I'm like,
      "I'm glad you asked. I did make the squad.'"

      "I was rejected," Cara says with a sideways smirk at her
      sister.

      Aimee is not the only former cheerleader to turn radical.
      Narrowing her eyes in mock scrutiny, Cara says the sisters
      can usually spot a squad member with previous experience:
      "It's like, Hey, where'd you get those moves?"

      Both say they're inspired by the skill and athleticism of
      conventional cheerleading, and it motivates them to perfect
      their moves. In fact, Aimee says, the aggressive sexuality
      of modern cheerleading inverts the demure moves of
      old-fashioned pompon girls: "There are some stomps and some
      grinding the hips that I don't think cheerleading ever
      intended," she says, arching an eyebrow.

      Aimee cheers every day, repeating her favorites like a
      mantra and busting out the steps to boost her mood. It
      bothers her, for example, that the squad's most daring
      stunts are so-called "cheater pyramids" -- not the legit,
      stacked formations of the top teams.

      "I'm constantly practicing," she says. "If I pass by a
      full-length mirror, I'm like, "Tighten it up!'"

      Even though it conflicts with their goal of inclusiveness,
      the Jennings sisters admit they can't help but cringe at the
      sight of limp, sloppy moves. They want their cheers loud,
      their moves tight, and their routines synced. Aimee dreams
      of elevating radical cheerleading to its sporting-world
      equivalent: "I'm all watching ESPN and saying, "We can do a
      basket toss!'"

      The cheerleaders strutted their subversive stuff at Fort
      Lauderdale's Museum of Art last December as part of a
      program by their friend, Miami artist Naomi Fisher, who
      designed the squad's posters. While preparing for that show,
      Cara had to keep her natural perfectionism in check. She
      wanted the squad's performance to be impressive, but "you
      know we're antiauthoritarian, so we can't be that tough!"

      The national media is also beginning to catch the spirit.
      Cara says Seventeen magazine contacted the New York City
      radical cheerleaders, hoping to accompany them to anti-FTAA
      rallies in Québec City, but the squad ultimately said no.

      The Jennings sisters have also been interviewed for an
      upcoming article about radical cheerleading in Spin magazine
      and were sent an application to be included in a show at the
      Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Though the
      concept has changed in ways they never imagined, the
      Jennings sisters don't sweat it. Dissent always gets
      co-opted, Cara notes. Ideas that were once radical get
      absorbed by the mainstream and commodified.

      For example she heard that the Spice Girls were a commercial
      outgrowth of the riot grrrl movement, and while they might
      not be explicitly feminist or anarchist, Cara concedes that
      the perky girl-group does have attitude -- and a song in
      praise of nonmonogamy.

      "It'd be nice, though, if they looked like other women,"
      Aimee interjects.

      "OK, I take it back," Cara says dryly. "The Spice Girls are
      fucked."

      Radical cheerleading may have struck a chord globally, but
      it's only one aspect of life at the Villa de Vulva. On
      Tuesdays the residents hold a "stitch and bitch," which is
      sometimes suspended in favor of 99-cent bowling at a local
      alley. (To save money, they share shoes.) Thursdays they put
      on a theme movie night using a borrowed VCR.

      Villa residents work to keep things free, cheap, or DIY -- a
      practice for which un- or underemployment is both cause and
      effect. Since it's hard to keep both your job and your
      principles, residents are sometimes fired or forced to
      resign for speaking their minds. It's just as well, they
      shrug, for while they usually need to work to live, they
      don't live to work. Chronic joblessness forces Villa
      residents to rely on the excess of capitalism, which they
      find all around them in forest-green bins.

      Everyone who Dumpster-dives, like everyone who fishes, loves
      to tell the story of his or her greatest catch. For Mel it
      was the time she found a pink Hello Kitty hair set in an
      Eckerd Dumpster. "I was so happy," she gushes. Another time
      she and a fellow Dumpster-diver unearthed a perfectly good
      boom box with just a few messed-up buttons.

      Peter's fondest memory is the time former Villa resident
      Waffle found toy swords in the trash behind a drug store and
      the two fought a Dumpster duel amid the garbage. He laughs,
      but Sue keeps a straight face. Things have changed at that
      particular Dumpster: "They got a compactor now. Fuckers. All
      of them."

      In fact Sue says Dumpster-diving has gotten tougher as more
      and more stores padlock their trash bins or do away with
      them altogether in favor of irretrievable methods like
      compaction. She doesn't want the location of the remaining
      Dumpsters revealed. It's not that she worries they'll get
      caught. "No," Sue laughs, "we don't want the competition!"

      Villa residents Dumpster-dive the way some people shop at
      7-Eleven. If they pass one late at night, they pop in to see
      what's available. Like most consumers, Villa residents go to
      the store that specializes in what they need, be it auto
      parts or home-improvement supplies, but instead of grabbing
      a cart and perusing the aisles, they wander out back to
      "browse" through the trash.

      They don't always wait for things to be thrown away. Most
      anarchists, including those who live in the Villa, feel it's
      OK to steal from corporations because they are corrupt and
      oppressive. In essence such stealing is a strike against the
      capitalist system and also happens to have the added benefit
      of letting one take what he or she wants or needs. Moreover,
      anarchists argue, stealing from corporations enables those
      who steal to work less, which is good, since work under
      capitalism is inherently oppressive. Some don't keep the
      things they steal but instead return them for cash.

      There's no telling a pro-theft anarchist (and most of them
      are) that filching merchandise from a corporation drives up
      prices, thus hurting the working poor, or puts the screws to
      the workers and management, who are paid to prevent theft.
      Prices, they argue, are artificially low because they don't
      account for true labor costs, and if workers get fired as a
      result, well, they should quit working and take to stealing,
      too. Theft, one anarchist giddily suggests, could help
      hasten revolution.

      For most anarchists, however, there is a sort of ethical
      code to theft. Stealing from individuals is wrong, as is
      stealing from independent, mom-and-pop stores. Stealing
      overpackaged merchandise is not as acceptable as stealing
      bulk foods, for example, since overpackaged products are
      wasteful. But ultimately, they say, the ethics of stealing
      are (conveniently) left up to the individual, which means
      some forgo deep thought in favor of impulsive shoplifting:
      "I'm not fronting like that," says one Southern Girls
      participant when the topic turns to "revolutionary" theft.
      "If I want a candy bar, I take it."

      In any event Dumpster-diving poses fewer risks than
      stealing, though the spoils are often exactly that. One
      recent night, on the way home from a show at Soundsplash, an
      indie record store in West Palm Beach, Peter and a friend
      pulled behind a certain health-food grocery store and
      snagged some grapes, lettuce, and a papaya from a mass of
      smelly wet cardboard. It was a disappointing Dumpster run,
      Peter admits, but it was better than nothing.

      The best thing about Dumpster-diving, everyone agrees, is
      the donuts. Dumpster donuts are a diver's manna, and the
      sugary serendipity is surprisingly easy to find. Donuts
      packed in boxes, often only a few hours old, can be salvaged
      from grocery stores, Dunkin' Donuts shops, and Krispy Kreme
      franchises. "Oh yeah," Melodie agrees, "Never buy donuts."

      The wheelchair hits a crack in the pavement and shudders to
      a halt just steps outside the Villa de Vulva. Melodie leans
      over -- again -- and frees the stuck wheel. Plastic boxes
      the size of steamer trunks sit in the chair, loaded with
      surplus food. Under the weight of the load, the
      wheelchair-turned-roach coach picks up speed on the sloping
      street, wobbling with the comic unpredictability of a
      toddler's first steps.

      It rained earlier, leaving the sky dim and bluish gray,
      bereft of a postcard sunset. The streets are empty save the
      omnipresent prowling of police cars. Battered pickup trucks
      that ferry migrant workers to their farm jobs out west have
      long since come to rest beside boxy, putty-colored one-story
      homes bordered by small, sparse front yards. Curtains made
      of sheets or tapestries are pulled back from open windows in
      hopes of catching an infrequent breeze.

      "Quieres comidas gratis?" Melodie calls out. It is a
      rhetorical question, an open invitation yet to be accepted.
      An ice cream truck's tinkling theme plays in the distance,
      interrupted only by the bleating reveille of a low-rider
      horn.

      Melodie takes a few steps and calls out again. Her simple
      Spanish query would seem an unlikely chant for an anarchist,
      but the ritual known as "distro" is the very sort of direct
      action that anarchists such as Melodie consider
      revolutionary.

      Waffle began distributing food about a year ago in the Lake
      Worth neighborhood just west of downtown, inspired by his
      work with the Miami chapter of Food Not Bombs, which cooks
      free community meals. He's traveling now, so Melodie has
      taken over the route.

      Her social-justice efforts weren't always this
      straightforward; while a student at Rollins College near
      Orlando, she spent time working for a film festival but was
      turned off by bureaucracy. In May 2000, just two classes shy
      of graduation, she moved back to South Florida and into the
      Villa. Now about once a week she instead takes to the
      lettered, grid-patterned streets, which are riddled with
      one-way signs and crisscrossed by low-slung chainlink fences
      that, like a length of butcher's string, seem to both
      dissect and restrain the neighborhood.

      Melodie modestly says she's not nearly as good at distro as
      Waffle -- in part, she suspects, because her Spanish is
      lousy. She's also a bit shy. With tiny hair clips tucked
      into her short, brown, bed-head hair, she has a grrrlish
      look and a warm, irrepressible grin. Her short, wool tartan
      skirt and lavender T-shirt were culled, like most of her
      wardrobe, from thrift-store racks -- a practice she adopted
      in high school, where secondhand clothes were considered
      cool. Now 24 years old and usually un- or underemployed,
      Melodie wears thrift-store clothing and eats a steady diet
      of expired food.

      Every week or two, Melodie or one of her housemates backs
      her turquoise, late-model pickup truck behind local
      health-food stores and produce stands to collect damaged and
      past-pull-date merchandise the stores cannot sell. There is
      usually more than can be distributed in the neighborhood;
      the Villa people eat the rest. No one, Melodie notes, has
      ever gotten sick from it.

      At a house overgrown with foliage, a white-haired man in a
      tank top with "Key West" printed across the chest emerges, a
      ball of plastic bags in hand. He opens one and begins to
      fill it with food, and hands the rest to Melodie, so she can
      give them to her other "shoppers."

      >From a nearby alley, a man and a woman holding a little girl
      walk barefoot in the gravel. They take a few items and
      wordlessly express gratitude, their smiles revealing gold
      teeth.

      Melodie speaks with persuasive authority when she advises an
      uncertain young mother about the food's safety. That bulging
      carton of milk is still good, she says. After all, she
      drinks it, too.

      Tonight's haul features a dairy mother lode. There are
      dozens of cartons of Stonyfield Farm yogurt in flavors like
      maple cream and "banilla" as well as the children's version
      -- tiny tubs called Planet Protectors. Melodie also offers
      stacks of soy cheese, water-packed tofu, cappuccino-flavored
      kefir, vegan "chicken" patties, organic orange juice, and
      the occasional tough loaf of millet bread, which costs about
      $4 when fresh. Cartons of Zendon soy milk are emblazoned
      with a panda and a series of haiku poems.

      To the neighborhood's population of mostly low-income
      Hispanics, the selections are often exotic. A man picks up a
      plastic bottle of cappuccino kefir and turns it over
      curiously.

      Melodie tries to explain. In Spanish she calls it "coffee
      milk," but her description doesn't quite fit the thick,
      sour, drinkable yogurt. Later Melodie confides that she
      feels a little guilty calling the rectangular cartons of
      vanilla soy milk leche de soya or meatless patties pollo.
      She laughs at the subversiveness of it: "I wonder if people
      go inside and say, "This isn't chicken!'"

      The man finally decides to take the kefir and smiles.
      "Gracias," he says.

      "De nada," Melodie replies and wheels the chair around a
      corner, following the route she knows by heart. She knows
      where people will sidle up to her makeshift cart, picking
      gingerly through the bins. She knows which families will
      take whatever she has left and which ones will always wave
      her away, her persistent but unheeded calls a shared joke.

      Like most of the Villa residents, Melodie is painfully
      self-conscious about her place in the neighborhood. "We're
      gentrifying it by being here," she says matter-of-factly.
      And she knows how weird it must look: a young, white woman
      with a wheelchair and rolling table full of exotic food,
      calling out like a barker from some bizarre carnival.

      A car drives by, a small, fringed Cuban flag hanging from
      the rear-view mirror. It slows down, and the twentysomething
      men inside refuse the food but suggest a house nearby: "The
      people are hungry there."

      Melodie continues down a potholed street to a cluster of
      small apartment buildings shrouded in weeds. At the gate an
      elderly man and woman wait, staring and gesturing anxiously.
      Another woman shuffles out, her white hair sticking straight
      up, as if she just hurried out of bed. She tries to speak,
      but her words are slurred and unintelligible, obscured by a
      picket fence of missing teeth. She asks for spare change.

      The elderly residents accept the food with apparent
      satisfaction. As Melodie leaves they stay at the fence,
      nodding and muttering, watching until the carts are out of
      sight.

      It is dark now; the streetlights cast an eerie amber glow.
      Cars drive by, and the drivers stop to chat with friends
      standing astride bicycles. They surround Melodie curiously,
      and she appears overwhelmed by the attention. No one takes
      food any longer. Instead they talk to Melodie in Spanish,
      Creole, and slanged-up English, flirting boldly in the
      patois of the street. A faint blush rises in Melodie's
      cheeks.

      Finally, with difficulty, she extricates herself from the
      throng of young men and starts home, but two young Haitians
      insist on walking her back to the Villa, one pushing the
      now-empty cart in a gesture of chivalry. She relents to this
      patriarchal courtesy, and they start back toward the house.

      Before long, a police car rolls up and stops. The officer
      gets out and walks around the car. He is tall and thin, his
      ramrod-straight posture making him all the more imposing.
      "What've you got there?" he asks, apparently meaning the
      cart but eyeing the two young men.

      "Yogurt," Melodie answers good-naturedly, explaining the
      food distribution. "Would you like some?" He declines and
      asks where she "operates" from. When she tells him, his face
      registers familiarity. He knows the house on Lake Street, he
      says cryptically. (Everyone does, Melodie says later,
      particularly the police.)

      Then he pauses, looking at the empty boxes, at Melodie, at
      the young men. She offers what's left of the food again, and
      again he declines, explaining that he's about to get dinner.

      After he drives away, the men, who remained silent during
      the whole exchange, look relieved and resume their
      conversation.

      "Fucking pigs," Melodie mutters under her breath.

      Everyone laughs.

      http://www.newtimesbpb.com/issues/2001-08-02/feature.html/page1.html

      --
      Dan Clore
      mailto:clore@...

      Lord Weÿrdgliffe:
      http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/9879/
      Necronomicon Page:
      http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/9879/necpage.htm
      News for Anarchists & Activists:
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo
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