OTJ presents… On Monday: a story in two parts.

On the John presents…

On Monday: a story in two parts.

Originally completed September 28, 2010

Protestors chanting and marching outside of Chicago's FBI headquarters, September 27, 2010 (photo by Alex Garcia, Chicago Tribune)

PART I

Bears-Packers Week arrived this season with more than the usual fanfare. Not since 1962 had the lifelong rivals entered their showdown with undefeated records in Week 3 or later, and excitement was palpable throughout the city. All over Facebook, Bears-Pack smack talk was raging strong, and when Sunday’s games came and went with losses to the Saints and Bucs, all Chicago woke Monday morning with the knowledge that the winner of the evening’s big game would stand as the NFC’s lone unbeaten team.

Even a reformed sports junkie such as myself was eyeing this game with particular fervor. It is special any time your team is set to pop on national television, especially if the nationally televised game in question is a Monday nighter, especially if the Monday nighter in question is Bears-Pack, especially if the Bears-Pack game in question features two undefeated clubs. I mean… hot damn! From Duluth to Gary, football fans were amped and ready.

As deep as the rivalry runs, Monday night matchups between the two clubs are relatively rare. Since MNF debuted in 1970, the rivalry has averaged two Monday nighters per decade; following a 25-12 win in 1986, the Bears did not win another Monday nighter against the Pack until 2008, and even that required an Alex Brown blocked field goal to keep hope alive.

That was the second-to-last game of the ’08 season, a freezing battle at Soldier Field to which my friend Ric offered me a ticket. And, for the first time in my life, I passed on an opportunity to attend Bears-Packers. I had just done the Freezing Bears-Packers Game routine a year earlier, and this game was set to be thirteen below with the wind chill. In the end, the travel time plus the chill plus the lesser view was more than I wished to endure…

So when Ric called me last week to offer a seat at the upcoming Bears-Pack Monday nighter, I quickly accepted.

…but then I remembered that I had a previous engagement: Steve Swiryn, father of my dear friend Mike, was performing a half-hour acoustic set at a Chicago bar, the first public guitar performance of his life. Steve is basically my second father, and with Mike living in Virginia, I felt my attendance was doubly important.

This blocked FG by Alex Brown helped the Bears bag their first win vs. Green Bay on a Monday night since 1986.

Steve was playing at 8:30 at Silvie’s Lounge, a bar on Irving Park. I decided that I would arrive at Silvie’s for the 7:30 kickoff, watch the game for an hour, watch Steve’s set, and then finish the game.

Once my plans were set, my Monday proceeded in typical fashion. I sent the emails that needed sending and made the calls that needed making. I finalized and posted a People with Passion interview. I worked on the day’s transcribing and editing. I took a look at the day’s news, starting with BBC and then working my way through the Facebook profiles from which I cull important stories.

One such story came from an old Evanston friend named Matt who, since 2003, has worked in Lebanon as a photojournalist and political correspondent. An anti-war activist and supporter of Palestine, Matt shared a CNN.com story on his page Saturday with a note that read: “fuck you and your photo editor cnn, those are my friends whose homes were raided and none of us ever wore masks.”

The story detailed coordinated raids by the FBI early Friday morning in Minneapolis and Chicago. Five residences and one office were searched, about which FBI spokesman Steve Warfield said: “These were search warrants only… They’re seeking evidence relating to activities concerning the material support of terrorism.”

Included in these raids was the Chicago home of Joe Iosbaker and Stephanie Weiner, a married couple long active in the anti-war movement, and friends of Matt. They were targeted for their opposition to U.S. military actions in Colombia and Israel. Their privacy was invaded. Their rights were eschewed. Agents spent twelve hours in their home, searching EVERYTHING. In the end, the FBI departed with a van-full of boxes from Joe and Stephanie’s home, including their elder son’s journal, an item they had obtained in his bedroom.

The story I saw on Matt’s Facebook page Monday morning told of a protest rally in front of Chicago’s FBI headquarters at 2111 W. Roosevelt Road. The rally was scheduled for 4:30 pm. When, on Saturday morning, I heard about Friday’s raids, I was already charged up from the Nicole Dunson-Bowen bogus jailing in Miami. They can assault you and then arrest you for assault, and they can enter your home and take what they please… This rally, I figured, would be an “interesting” event to attend as both a writer and citizen. And even if it lasts two hours, that still gives me an hour to get to Silvie’s in time for kickoff.

At 3:30 pm, yesterday afternoon, I grabbed my tape recorder, notepad, sunglasses, and a book, and set out for the train.

******

Mike Royko, columnist of the people.

Aboard the El, I read from Sez Who? Sez Me, a collection of Royko columns released in 1983. I was tickled by Royko’s trademark wit and ferocity, especially in the face of bureaucratic nuisance. Royko told me about Joseph Mascari, a Chicago man who, after his car hopped off the track of a ride-along car wash, was ticketed by police for “negligent driving” while “east-bound on car wash rack at 4000 W. Peterson.” He told me about Fran Lasota, a woman in her 40’s who, after being accused of “abandoning her baby,” was ordered to report to court with the “neglected baby” in question despite the fact that Mrs. Lasota’s children had not been babies for many years and the DCFS had, quite clearly, summoned the wrong Fran Lasota.

And, though I’d read it before, he told me about Leroy Bailey, a 21-year-old Chicago man whose face was ripped off in Vietnam by an exploding rocket, and who, despite having no face, could not get the V.A. to cover his hospital bills for a procedure that would allow him to eat without use of a syringe because “treatment was for a condition other than that of your service-connected disability.”

Royko feasted on stories like these. He regularly used his daily column to bring light to bureaucratic injustices ranging from the silly to the sad, and from 1963 until his death in 1997, Royko produced a column a day, five days a week, with few vacations. It is hard enough to write a column a week, much less one a day, and while I marvel at the work ethic and dedication, I suspect that the non-writer’s curiosity and wonderment stems from the wealth of material. “How can you think of something to write five days a week?” a person might reasonably ask.

It’s simple: if you keep your eyes and ears open, the stories come calling. They are everywhere. As Royko told us on December 11, 1973, the day after his first column about Bailey ruffled enough feathers to prompt the V.A. to cover Mr. Bailey’s bills: “If that is the way they do things, there must be a lot more Leroy Bailey’s out there.”

I was thinking about Leroy Bailey and Nicole Dunson-Bowen and Joe Iosbaker and Stephanie Weiner when I hopped off the Pink Line at Polk and Paulina. My phone rang. It was Mike Swiryn.

“What is the chance you are going to my dad’s show tonight?” he asked after we exchanged hellos.

“100% Absolutely, positively, no-doubt-about-it attending.”

He asked me if I would video tape a song or two, and I happily agreed. And then I told him: “You’ll like this. I’m on my way to a protest at the FBI head quarters.”

“Oh yeah? What’s up?”

While a student at University of Michigan, Mike got involved with many campus activist groups. Back in October 2001, while I was writing columns for the Indiana Daily Student with statements like “It is possible that President Bush was right to react with war, because terrorists are not going to sit down in a boardroom and discuss the problem,” Mike was already protesting our actions in Afghanistan. He organized against U of M’s partnership with Nike, registered voters in Michigan before the 2004 presidential election, and once appeared in a photo in the New York Times in his boxer shorts during a demonstration against third world sweatshop labor.

FBI agents, seen here taking things that don't belong to them. (photo by Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune)

Following John Kerry’s defeat in 2004, Mike became disillusioned with his role as an activist, and shifted his focus to working with kids through team-building exercises and ropes courses. I told him about the FBI raids – he had not heard about them, but was not surprised.

“Yep,” he said.

As I approached Damen heading west on Roosevelt, I could see the gathering of bodies and signs up ahead on my left. I told Mike I would call him after, hung up my phone, and began to hustle over.

Soon though, I caught myself and stopped running. I did not want to appear too eager, or too involved, or too enthusiastic. Who is watching this thing? I found myself wondering. Wasn’t that the reason I had brought the Royko book? For an alibi? And wasn’t that the reason I’d left my wallet at home? No officer, I’m not with them. And no, I have no ID. I was just out on a leisurely walk when I saw the signs and decided to check out the commotion. I’m just a guy with a book who passed by…

Marching in a long, narrow circle in front of the FBI building were about fifty people holding signs and chanting chants. They were shouting:

THE PEOPLE, UNITED, WILL NEVER BE DEFEATED!

NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE!

1, 2, 3, 4! WE DON’T WANT YOUR STUPID WAR!

Written on the signs were statements like “Resistance is not a crime” and “Dissent is patriotic” and “Stop FBI raids.” One sign read: “I am a material supporter of terrorism. I paid by federal income taxes.” Another read: “First they came for the Jews. Then they came for the gays. Then they came for the peace activists.” Large placards of Rambo, bare-chested and fully armed, featured Obama’s head over Stallone’s with a caption that read something like: “OBAMBO! The military mafia called him to finish the job…”

Standing on the grass between the sidewalk and the street were another fifty or so demonstrators, distributing literature and newspapers and fliers, speaking with pedestrians and with each other, drawing new signs, taking photos and video. Most were in good spirits, and many seemed to be old friends from battles past and present.

Chicago's FBI head quarters, 2111 W. Roosevelt.

Meanwhile, standing on Roosevelt Road facing the protesters or further along the sidewalk on the rim of the protest were six or seven members of the Chicago Police Department. They formed a well-spaced semi-circle around the proceedings, their hands resting quietly inside their bullet-proof vests, their eyes indifferent as they watched the people march and cheer and hoist signs and greet strangers. The police did not look antagonistic. They did not hold batons or wear riot gear. They were so quiet and sparse that, at first, I hardly noticed them.

I stood on the grass, quiet, eyes under dark glasses, Royko book under my arm. A man was distributing copies of REVOLUTION, a newspaper that calls itself “Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.” He seemed nice enough. He handed me a paper and I took it without speaking. I folded it and tucked it under my arm with the Royko book.

A woman approached me. She looked in her early 50s. She wore a scarf and a cute little hat I could imagine my mother wearing. She said “hello” and asked who I was here with.

“I’m not here with anyone,” I said through my sunglasses. I hardly looked at her, and when I did, I found that I was moving slowly and cautiously. She was taking notes in a notepad, which made me uncomfortable. The writer in me was thinking, “Don’t interview me. I’m a reporter. You’re obviously involved. I should be interviewing you.”

But another voice inside me was more concerned with what she wrote on her pad. What she wrote about me, regardless of my status as “writer.” “How did you find out about this?” she asked me.

“A friend,” I said, pausing as I chose my words, “a friend told me about it.”

Heard from a friend, she wrote in her book.

“Is your friend here?” she asked.

“No,” I said, pausing again, “he lives in Lebanon. I heard about it from his Facebook page.”

Facebook, she wrote in her book.

“Have you seen this?” She presented another copy of REVOLUTION. I pointed to the copy under my arm. She opened the copy that she was holding and began showing me stories, as if we were reading together. She couldn’t see it, but my eyes were darting furiously at this point, looking at anyone with a camera, looking at the police, looking at the tall, mighty, darkened FBI building and the windows way at the top.

“Yeah, I’ve seen it,” I said. She asked me a few more questions about why I was here and what I had heard. She was clearly trying to engage me, and I was doing my best to be evasive. Through listening intently, I managed to get her talking. This put me at ease: the focus was no longer on me, my thoughts, my opinions, and really, my fears. I let her speak, and when she sensed that I was in no hurry to open up, she asked if I’d ever heard of Revolutionary Books.

“I’ve heard of it,” I said.

“You should come by some time,” she said. I said “Okay,” and mercifully, she nodded kindly and walked away.

Meanwhile, the FBI building was quiet. A few people exited on foot, their work day done. The marchers continued chanting. Their shouts of “The people, united, will never be defeated” matched those of the Iranians I covered in Chicago in the summer of 2009.

From my spot on the sidewalk, I looked past the crowd and saw one of the police officers. I started noticing details about him. He looked around my age, perhaps a little older. He did not have a wedding band. He was not wearing sunglasses. He was not smiling, nor did he look angry, nor aggressive, nor laid back. I walked around the crowd and over to the street to talk to him.

“Hey.” It was a statement, a hello, an acknowledgement.

He nodded and said, “You can’t stand in the street. You need to be on the sidewalk.”

A portion of the street was curb-colored. I stepped forward. “Here?”

He motioned with his head, as if to say, “Nope. Up on the curb.”

I stood on the curb touching the grass. “What do you think about all this?” I asked him.

“Nothing,” he said, his eyes still forward. He neither ignored me nor engaged me. I felt stifled. I walked away and approached another officer. This one was standing on the sidewalk east of the protest, arms folded, another blank stare. “Hello,” I said.

He nodded.

“Do you have any opinion on all of this?”

“No,” he said.

“Did you hear what happened?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

I tried to prompt him. “Crazy, huh?”

“I really can’t talk about it while I’m working,” he said.

This infuriated me. I walked away and called Mike.

“I am dubious about protests,” I told him.

He chuckled. “Why?”

“I don’t know… I mean, the FBI raided these people’s homes, so they respond by just standing around outside the FBI’s home.”

“What should they do?” he asked me. “Raid the FBI building?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s not like I’m going to lead that charge. And maybe that’s a totally wrong response. This is just… this just feels…” I faded away.

Mike sensed correctly that I just needed to talk, and to be heard, and to vent, that I was confused and angry and scared and shamed and could probably talk for hours. “I’m actually at a friend’s place right now,” he told me. “I definitely want to talk more…”

“No problem buddy. We’ll talk tonight, after the Bears and your dad’s show.”

Mike tried to end our discussion on a high note. “Everybody getting pretty excited for the game, huh?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said quietly. I was not in the mood to talk football. We said goodbye and I hung up.

Joe Iosbaker leading a rally in December 2008.

The chanting had ceased, and protesters were now gathered around a man with a bullhorn. I listened as he told the crowd about the raids. The crowd booed. The man said, “Us old timers remember a great movie from the 1960s called Spartacus, and the great scene at the end. Well, that’s what today is about. I am Joe Iosbaker! I am Stephanie Weiner!” The crowd cheered. The man with the bullhorn spoke about the grand jury summons, and the way the raids had energized the movement, and the simultaneous demonstrations happening in Minneapolis and Kalamazoo and New York and other cities around the U.S. He recounted earlier victories. He talked about how so many of the protestors present had marched at the 2008 Republican National Convention. He talked about how this was the beginning.

He handed the bullhorn to Stephanie Weiner. She spoke strongly and calmly; I would have never guessed, just from seeing her there, that her home had been raided. She handed the bullhorn to her husband Joe. He too was strong, determined, and calm. A few others spoke. A meeting was announced for next Sunday. I found my hands jotting down the address and time of the meeting.

A few more speakers, a few more chants, and now the protest was over. The older folks looked pleased. The younger folks who were nonetheless activist veterans looked happy as well. Joe and Stephanie were still on the grass, speaking with friends and strangers. I found my legs moving me toward them and my sunglasses no longer over my eyes. I stood near Joe, unsure of why. I didn’t have anything specific to say or to ask. I just stood there as he spoke and – I couldn’t believe it – laughed with others. How can this man still be smiling?

One man wanted to send Joe something and Joe seemed interested. “Yes, absolutely. Let me give you a P.O. Box,” he said. My mind bounced to Victor Laszlo seated at Rick’s with Ilsa, and the desperate man who approached and offered to sell Victor a ring…

“Do you have a pen?” Joe asked a friend as the man waited for the P.O. Box. I mumbled something that, I think, was supposed to be, “I have a pen,” and handed him mine. Joe wrote the P.O. Box on a ripped sheet of paper and handed it to the man. They shook hands and the man walked away.

Joe continued speaking, and, instinctively, placed the pen in his pocket. I tapped him, embarrassed that my first communication with this man was asking him to return my pen. I could hardly speak. “That’s, uh,” I said, pointing toward his shirt pocket, “that’s actually my pen.”

He laughed, and smiled kindly as he handed me the pen. “My mistake,” he said. “You know, back when I still smoked, I used to have 20 lighters, but could never find one…” he said, his mind making connections that made sense to me. He spoke more with friends, including a young guy my age. I was still standing there, nearly lifeless, picking up only bits of a conversation that was happening right in front of me. “Yeah, the Feds took our phones,” Joe told his young friend, shaking his head in a “laugh lest I cry” sort of way. “…you know, your number’s in there.” The young man gave a “c’est la vie” shrug, and they both laughed, and then Joe realized that I was still standing there. He looked back at me, curiously.

“I’m sorry,” he said, clarifying my identity as he offered his hand, “I’m Joe. What did you say your name was?”

Apparently I had told him my name. “Jack,” I said quietly.

“Right, Jack,” he said as we shook hands. “Who are you with?”

“I’m not with anyone,” I said. He looked at me, and I found myself compelled to speak up. “Um, a, uh… A friend told me… We went to middle school together… He moved out to Lebanon in 2003 or so as a photojournalist.” Joe watched as I sputtered forth this response, and it seemed that my descriptions triggered another question in his mind, which I picked up on and answered, telling him my friend’s name.

“Oh!” he said. “That’s great!” He tapped Stephanie’s shoulder; she was having her own post-rally discussions. “This guy’s a friend of Matthew!” he told her.

“Wonderful!” she said.

“And he’s not with anyone,” he told her. “That’s what we need,” he said to me. “People who aren’t already involved with a million organizations. Just regular people.”

I began to clarify: “I mean, we’re not good friends,” I said, not wanting to seem as if I was suggesting that I was Matt’s activist equal. But then I stalled, thinking that they might think I was trying to distance myself from him, and so I stammered: “I mean, he’s a good guy. We’re just not close friends, and I’m not trying to say that I’m…” Joe and Stephanie smiled. They seemed to sense that I was jarred. Perhaps they recognized my nervousness, and understood it better than I did.

Stephanie touched me gently on the shoulder. “Did you sign up for our email list so that we can keep you informed?” she asked.

I froze. “No,” I said quietly.

She opened a thin manila folder and revealed a sign up sheet: name, email, phone, address. I stood still, unsure of what to do. She offered a smile that, I think, was meant to both reassure me and to nudge me into signing on. They were both such sweet people. Just kind folks. She was calm and casual, but her eyes were pleading.

I scanned the list. Some people had written just first names. I wrote JACK, and then wrote down my old Hotmail account. It is still active, but it is not my main email. And, more importantly, it does not have my name in it.

“Thank you,” she said. My name and email seemed to warm her. “Really,” she said again, “thank you.” I said goodbye to both of them and walked down Roosevelt toward Damen. My sunglasses were on again, and when I was far enough away, my legs stopped moving and I began to cry.

Copyright 2010, jm silverstein

Click here for Part II…

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