Whew! This past week was a wild ride! Ally and I decided to bring Edna Lu the Free Tea Bus to the DNC both for personal reasons, as well as to make sure people stayed hydrated and cool, while performing the main function of my existence (serving free tea). The weather report called for 90- and 100-degree humid days, so we prepared by bringing a cooler and 5 gallon carboy for making iced sun tea.
We arrived in time to make it to the Climate Revolution rally at Vernon Park in North Philly on Sunday – the day before the DNC started. The lineup was spectacular, with Danny Glover, Susan Sarandon, Nahko Bear, Shailene Woodley, and more. The speaking and music culminated with a film screening of Josh Fox’s newest film, How to Let Go of the World and Love all the Things Climate Can’t Change. It was a bumpy ride of segments of how we’re messing up the world, but with each segment offering inspiring concrete examples of how people are taking these problems into their own hands. We parked alongside the park where people coming in and out would catch us. This event was particularly interesting because it took place in a predominately black low-income neighborhood. The mix of passersby and folks there for the rally was perfectly interesting, and the intermingling reminded me of the early days on Hollywood Blvd.
It was good to see Shailene Woodley, who we met at Mountain Rose Herbs’ festival Rootstalk in 2011 (before she was famous). Her and her friend had helped us serve tea and spent quite a bit of time in the huge tea tent we created. Leading up to the DNC she had spearheaded the #UpToUs movement – a cross-country caravan from LA to Philly for the DNC that had gathered folks from all over the country to arrive in Philly to let their voices be heard. They had arrived 200 deep just a day or two before. Shailene was also a Bernie Delegate for the convention. Mad respect, Shai!
That night we ventured over to an abandoned city lot where the Rainbow Family had been gifted a home-base for the week. It was again a beautiful juxtapose, with teepees, school buses, and dread loch hippies amidst a low-income inner-city neighborhood.
The next morning we got the runaround when trying to find water. Each hippie told us to find a different hippie, who told us to find another hippie, who told us to wait for another person to show up who had the key to a community garden. This went on for quite a while until Ally and I decided to take the situation into our own hands and went across the street to a community organization. Ally went in. She too got the run around – one person had to ask a supervisor, who had to ask maintenance, who had to ask their supervisor Tom, who was in a meeting. A security guard named Ray who came in said he would go ask Tom directly. Tom said yes, and came out, but had to go find a water key (even though we had one). This all took 45 minutes or more. When we finally hooked up our hose and turned the spigot on it only ran for about 2 minutes and then dried up. We tried another spigot, and the same thing happened.
That’s when we decided to head across the street to one of the organization’s other buildings. When we were pulling out, I could feel a weird bumping under the bus. I jumped out in the middle of the street to find a brick from the abandoned lot had wedged between two of Edna’s rear tires. Dang! As I tried to bang the brick out with a hammer, the security guard, Ray, showed up and directed traffic to keep me from getting run-over. I weighed my options: I could keep pounding and hope to break it apart, or I could jack the bus up and take the outermost wheel off. I opted for the first option, as the brick was chipping. I lay there on the concrete as the morning temperatures were starting to rise for the day, slowly chipping the brick away. I ended up getting a cold chisel and BANG, BANG, BANG. In the end, it took 20 minutes on that hot ground, swinging until my arms hurt, my knuckle had split, and a ppol of sweat to form for the brick to finally break apart. All the while, Ray had our back.
Finally, we got across the street to the other building and started filling the water. Tom told me about his previous life as portfolio manager, where he managed $10 million worth of real estate and such. He made good money, but lost his job when his boss died. Now he works for this small community organization, but swears he is happier now more than ever. His takeaway message was that being happy with less money is dramatically better than being stressed with more money. Finally, after more than 2-and-a-half hours of trying to find water, we had succeeded.
From there, we navigated the crazy traffic, I-95 closure to large vehicles, and the heat, all the way down to Marconi Park. We instantly found a great parking spot along side the plaza, where folks were setting up for a #BernieOrBust / #OccupyDNC rally. We already had some sun tea brewing, so we grabbed some ice from the pharmacy across the plaza.
Our day was busy, busy, busy. People were hot, so the tea was popular. Folks were carrying signs, speaking over the PA on the stage, sharing stories, and generally sharing both their disappointment in the democratic process, as well as their support for Bernie Sanders. Even the Black Men for Bernie bus was parked right in front of us (who said only white people like Bernie?). The day kept getting busier and busier, with multiple marches coming from City Hall streaming past on their way to FDR Park, across from the convention. Just as it seemed like we were too busy to keep up, my friend Misty’s 11-year-old daughter Karma appeared and lent a hand. Like a pro, she interacted with people, asked what they wanted, handed out tea, and even helped clean up a bit. Folks from the crowd went and got ice for us, and we were able to keep up with the demand. We were mentioned in a NYTimes article here (scroll down to “Sanders Die-Hards Make Some Noise”), but they obviously failed to realize we were serving iced tea (luckily they did us better the last time they wrote about us).
In the evening, we ventured down to FDR Park to hear Jill Stein speak. As she started, a dark storm cloud began to move closer and closer. Just as she was finishing, it began to rain. Lightning struck around us, and as most people left, we gathered under the tent with the stage. Rapper Immortal Technique took the microphone and began to spit conscious lyrics sans beats. The rain began to dump and dump, and what was left of the crowd was huddled together in an intimate space. Just in front of us, with Immortal Technique onstage was Jill Stein and Cornell West. The confluence of these people was beautiful. The energy from them, from the crowd, and from ourselves was magical.
Ally and I walked back toward Marconi Park and the bus. It was raining too hard to care about not getting wet. We enjoyed it like we were kids, and when we finally got back to the bus, there wasn’t an inch of us that wasn’t soaked.
Marconi Park became a safe-haven and common spot for us to park throughout the week. This was in part due to these early rallies, its proximity to FDR Park and the Wells Fargo Center, as well as its non-existent parking restrictions. It was a blessing to have a place to sleep where we could be around other DNC goers, as well as not have to worry about moving the bus.
On Tuesday, we filled water from a water machine at a Rite-Aid and headed up towards City Hall. There was plenty happening, so we emailed some organizers of various marches, and tried to find parking for a Bernie rally across from City Hall at Thomas Paine Plaza. Traffic was terrible, and we couldn’t find good parking. We got an email from one of the organizers of the large Racial Justice march who invited us into the march. We arrived just in time to serve a gang of iced herbal tea where everyone was gathering in the intense heat. Once the march started, we wiggled our way in between the several rows of cops and the rear of the march. Someone began handing out signs for people to carry, each with the name of someone who had been shot by the police. Each time a sign was handed out, the crowd said their name and “We honor you.” In the end, there weren’t enough hands to carry all the signs (not because there weren’t enough people at the march, but because there were so many people who had been shot), so we plastered the bus with them, alongside some others we had gotten.
The march was passionate, emotional, and peaceful. Even though the several rows of cops behind us was a little unnerving, we went on undiscouraged. Edna’s school-bus lights were flashing, and we honked Edna’s guttural horn along with drummers’ beats. Fists were in the air, and chants echoed through the streets. Every now and then, the march would stop, and a rally would happen, with people speaking over megaphones, and whoever was in the area would stop to listen. Throughout the march we took passengers who needed a break or wanted a ride. We had some interesting folks of many walks of life onboard.
Three-and-a-half hours later we arrived at Philly’s landmark City Hall. Because we were part of the march, we were allowed into the street, which had been blocked off to other vehicles. This is what we were waiting for! We pulled Edna into the middle of the street at the edge of the rally and opened her doors to serve up some iced tea. The towering buildings, concrete landscape covered with people, and the excitement of the crowd made for an exhilarating 45 minutes. We passed out tea, filled folks water bottles, had some great little conversations, and finally shut down in a hurry as the march continued south towards FDR Park and the DNC.
Here’s a great article from The Daily Dot that talks about the march and the Free Tea Bus.
We continued down Broad St. At one point, Ally got on the roof and held her fist up. It instantly became a beacon of attention. First, photographers and reporters started taking lots of photos of Ally and Edna, then people of all colors and classes began giving her a fist back. These were moments of utter solidarity for her and many others, and it happened over and over. Only, this moment was occasionally thrown off kilter on half-a-dozen occasions when a bystander would yell something to Ally like “You’re white!” or “Put your fist down” or “All lives matter.” All of these people were white men. Coincidence?
We continued, undiscouraged, until the heat and driving got to me. At Marconi Park we peeled off from the march. It was 9:30pm and seven and a half hours after we had gathered 5 miles north. I had a bad headache, was dehydrated, and needed to rest. I realized that I had left my coolant line running to the dirty WVO tank (instead of the hot water heater), which had been re-radiating heat back up into the already hot bus all day long. We made dinner and slept at the park.
Our next day we decided to take it easy at Marconi Park, make a little tea, and recuperate a bit. We were exhausted from the previous day, but we finally found some parking and set out a rug to relax on. Up pulled a short yellow school bus with a sign that read, “Bernie or Bust Bus.” The owner, Mike, was a character. I tried to help him fix some electrical issues, and we chatted politics. Even though he was so jaded and mildly negative with it all, I liked him. Him, and several other random folks all began to gather around our rug. We shared iced tea, our home-brew kombucha, and took the time for the rest of the day to re-gather our energy.
On Thursday, after a refreshing night’s sleep in the air-conditioned apartment of our friend Jon Watts (remember him, from Blues Recess Massive?), we headed back towards the DNC. We were on a personal mission to reclaim the fence that surrounded the DNC. Every time we stopped at a stoplight or stop sign, Ally would pick some flowers or branches. We parked for a moment in order for me to make a sign that said “Overgrow the System.” We kept moving towards the DNC.
We circled the Marconi Park trying to find a parking spot. Just as a we pulled up to one and began to parallel park, a police car pulled up behind us with its lights on. We were so used to seeing all sorts of police lights all over the city, and especially near the convention that I wasn’t sure what their intentions were. Regardless, they were blocking me from parking, so I pulled forward and over on the side of the road at the next stoplight. The light was red and there was plenty of space to pull behind me, but they didn’t. This made me believe that they weren’t pulling me over. But still, they weren’t pulling forward to the light. I didn’t know what was happening. When the light turned green, I made a right turn, and they followed. At the end the block, I pulled over in front of a street that had been blocked off. At this point I realized there were two police cars, so I pulled a little farther forward to make sure there was space for both of them to pull out of the road. This angered a female officer who yelled at me to “STOP already!”
Several officers came up against the back of the bus and were hemming and hawing while looking at Edna’s rear end.
“License and registration.”
I reached over and got it for them.
“Did you know you had a light out?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“I don’t know if is had a short in it, or what.”
“Okay, can I come out and see?”
“No! You stay right in the vehicle! It’s for your safety and our safety!” one of the officers said rather rudely.
The light they were referring to was not an essential light. It was not a brake, tail, turn, or reverse light. It was located above a second area where a license plate COULD be mounted. On the other side of the bus, the light worked, and needed to because it not only shines through a red lens straight back, but through a white lens facing down to illuminate the license plate.
“Just get it fixed when you can.”
“Thank you for letting us know!” said Ally.
There were four cops and most of them had been extremely rude and antagonistic in their tone. At this point, all the cops left and got in their cars. It seemed like our interaction was over. They had just told us to get it fixed and we had thanked them. Realizing that they still had my license and registration, Ally stepped out of the bus and waved at them and yelled, “We need our license and registration.”
Ignoring her words and yelling over her, one of the officers got out of his car and yelled abruptly, “Get back in the car!”
It was already feeling like none of the police actually wanted to have any kind of conversation. In my mind, it was safer for them to show me the light, so I could know what the problem was. In my mind, it was safer to have a gentle conversation, but all they wanted to do was yell, antagonize, and be rude.
At this point a plain-clothed detective joined the scene. With all five cops present, they said I could exit the vehicle to inspect the light. When I opened the door, one of the officers rudely asked, “What’s that!?” pointing to the obviously labeled jugs of coolant, oil, and distilled water in the stairwell next to the driver’s seat.
“Um.. coolant, oil, and distilled water.”
“Why is it there!?”
“Um, that’s the best place to store it. Some people still do maintenance on their own vehicle.”
They pulled me around back and showed me the light. They told me they were just going to give me a warning, and to get it fixed. I said, “Okay, I will. But, just to make sure, is this light required? I mean, it’s not turn signal, or brake light, and there’s a tail light right above it that’s 4 times as big.”
“Look, I’m not making you do any light check, or checking your turn signals or reverse lights or anything like that. Just get it fixed. If it’s attached to the vehicle, it has to work.”
I doubted that. Either way, he kept rudely saying things to me as if he was doing me a favor. There was no favor being done here. If he thought an antagonistic warning was a favor, he was mistaken.
As I was out back, the female cop, at the direction of the plain-clothed detective peering over her shoulder, began sternly asking Ally about what all the various stuff around the front of the bus was, like some junk on a front shelf (teapot, and miscellaneous home stuff), as well as the switches and gauges above the drivers seat. Ally began telling the cop about how the bus runs on recycled vegetable oil. This is when I came back in.
“Oh, so y’all like, created this whole entire vehicle?” This is when she began to lighten up.
“Yeah. This was just a little empty yellow school bus when I bought it.”
“Oh, so you created to like a natural version?”
“Yeah, it’s got all salvaged wood, solar panels, wood stove – all the fun stuff, solar-powered refrigerator.”
“Alright.” And with that, they closed the door and we were free to go.
The whole interaction had been so aggressive. There was no point where Ally or I felt like they were protecting or serving anyone. They hadn’t communicated well, and most of the cops had been very rude. After having so much in the news about the way police treat minorities, I couldn’t imagine how bad it would have been if we had been people of color. This is whose hands we place our protection in? I’ve had great interactions with police in the past, but this whole scenario destroyed that.
Feeling morally-jaded in regards to the current power structure that includes cops like this, we hurried down to the DNC, where we quickly zip-tied a sign that said “Overgrow the System” to the fence. Our pot of flowers and greenery was swiftly emptied as we wove the stems and stalks throughout the fence around our sign. With lots of protesters, police, and media around, people began to take notice. There were photos being taken, video being shot, and police pointing and trying to decide if they should do something about it. No one did, and the final product was beautiful. Ally (and my sideburn) even made it on to this video about the DNC from The Atlantic.
That evening was mellow for us again, with some tea serving and dinner-making at Marconi with Jon Watts, and discussing the past week. We had experienced the beautiful, the wicked, the heat and humidity, the kindness of old friends, the hopefulness of people wanting to make change, and the oppression of those who don’t want to see it change. Our outlook was a little sad from Bernie not getting the nomination, but we weren’t devastated that real change hadn’t happened. Instead, it helped us view a more accurate picture of the corruption of our current system, which enables people like us to make better decisions in overcoming the injustices of our current democracy.
Ally and Jon wandered down to the DNC during Hillary’s acceptance speech to find FDR Park and the surrounding streets to be more packed than any day we had be there all week. Even though most people who had come to the DNC had been disappointed early in the week as Bernie had nominated Hillary, the energy had not dissipated. Even though no one knew exactly what there was left to do, or what message there was to send, they were doing the one thing they could do: gather. In times like this, with undeniable corruption in the political process, at reaches beyond that of the average person, the most important thing we can do together is connect. In doing so, we are no longer divided.
BIG THANKS to the Rainbow Family for giving us a place to park; to all the organizers of different rallies and marches; Jon Watts for deep friendship, an air-conditioned place to sleep, and much needed showers; Ray and Tom from Congresso for helping us out with water and the brick issue; Karma for all the awesome, proactive help; and all the random folks who went on ice runs for us. Respect!