Sounds of the Town in Revolt: Music Enlivened Anti-Trump Protests — and OPD Noticed

Police effort to prohibit a mobile sound-system at anti-Trump demonstrations in Oakland seemed to confirm the power of noise and music to energize protests.

On the third consecutive night of anti-Trump protests in Oakland on Thursday, a flatbed rental truck-cum-mobile sound-system that had led thousands of marchers the evening prior was prohibited by police officers from staging again at Frank Ogawa Plaza. Undeterred, Anti Police-Terror Project cofounder and demonstration co-organizer Cat Brooks stood on a flagpole pedestal and — using the “mic-check” call-and-response tactic popularized during Occupy — told protestors that police “accused us of inciting violence from the truck.” She continued, “This is censorship.”

The night before, the truck blared music and speeches as it led an estimated 10,000 people through the streets in protest of celebrity real-estate mogul and President-elect Donald Trump. Speakers decried Trump’s hostility towards women, immigrants, and Muslims, as well as local issues such as displacement and police brutality. The truck left at about 9 p.m., when Brooks told the crowd to go home and return the next evening.

Afterwards, protesters responded to teargas with fireworks in the midst of rampant property damage — including destruction of three police vehicles and a small fire inside the Chamber of Commerce — and OPD later confirmed thirty arrests.

As far as “inciting violence,” Brooks told the Express, “I was standing on the truck with my eleven-year-old daughter and next to us was a father who’d been pushing his infant in a stroller all night — all of that was visible when [the police] first shot teargas.” And anyway, she continued, “When things started to pop off a couple times it was actually only because of our amplified sound that we were able to control the crowd.

“I mean, yeah, we were playing ‘Fuck the Police,'” Brooks added. “But so what? We have the right.”

At the very least, police effort to quiet organizers — which on Thursday ultimately failed, since an ally arrived with an amplifier and held it on top of his head while activists passed the microphone — seemed to confirm the power of noise and music to energize and sustain protests. There’s ample precedent: A makeshift, pushcart sound-system invigorated local marches in the wake of Darren Wilson’s non-indictment for shooting Michael Brown — until police seized it (see “Why Protest Songs Are Still Necessary,” 01/07/2015).

So as the Express this week provides guest contributors a platform to reflect on the election of Trump, it’s only fitting to focus the music section on sounds of the town in revolt.

“We keep a movement playlist in our head,” Brooks said. “Songs that will enliven the crowd and keep them going and complement the energy of being in the streets, challenging power.”

The music emanating from Wednesday’s throng of marchers, which at one point extended eight blocks, skewed hip-hop. A teenage boy clutched a small speaker playing Tupac’s “Keep Ya Head Up,” a 1993 gesture of solidarity with Black women that’s dedicated to Latasha Harlins, the fifteen year-old shot in the head by a shopkeeper who dodged jail-time. The truck blasted Baton Rouge, Louisiana rapper Boosie Badazz’s personal and trenchant “Fuck the Police,” which begins, They killed Venelle when I was twelve / Turned me against ’em / Sent me to my first funeral / Now I’m a victim. And for another mood, there was Kendrick Lamar’s nationwide protest staple, the persistently affirming “Alright.”

(Perhaps purposefully, it was the extended version written by the Compton rapper to accompany the “Alright” music video, which was directed by Berkeley native Colin Tilley and largely shot in the Bay Area, something most media coverage neglects to mention.)

Unsurprisingly, ubiquitous that night was Los Angeles rappers YG and Nipsey Hussle’s “FDT (Fuck Donald Trump),” its gurgling, distinctly West Coast low-end and chorus kiss-off bumping from passing cars, boom-boxes, and the flatbed sound-system alike. YG claims that the song’s music video, the shoot for which was disrupted by Los Angeles police, provoked Secret Service inquiries at his label about the content of his forthcoming album.

When the march circled back to 14th Street & Broadway, a street preacher with an amplifier on the corner implored protesters, “Don’t come to a political party — come to Jesus Christ,” and intermittently ceded the mic to his friend, a Christian rapper. More persuasive, considering crowd response, was the truck’s selection of a track by Public Enemy.

And Wednesday’s protest was cacophonous aside from the chants and songs, considering the whizz-crack of fireworks, ambient putter of helicopters, shrieking beeps of car alarms, and competing crescendos of “aye” and “boo every time someone thwacked a window with a hammer. Present, of course, were members of Bourgeois Speedball — field recordists who document and construct beats from the errant clamor of local protests (see “Bourgeois Speedball Loves the Sound of Breaking Glass,” 6/10/2015).

On Broadway, protesters passed the Paramount Theatre, where the marquee read “Lost Romantic Symphonies,” and Brooks, during a lull between directions and speeches, intoned the lilting chorus of an old song, “Which Side Are You On,” written in 1931 by the activist Florence Reece in support of striking Kentucky coal miners and inspired melodically by a Baptist hymn. It received as spirited a sing-along from the crowd as any contemporary anthem.

“One of the beautiful things about the movement right now is that people are demanding you take a stand — you’re either part of the solution or not, and that’s what that song says,” Brooks said. “It’s a call-out, and the tone and tenor of the song also reminds me of what happened when we were kidnapped and dropped off here hundreds of years ago.”


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