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David Rovics on Brad Will

Forward | 29.10.2006 09:54

brad will was a dear friend, and a true revolutionary. he died the way countless and uncounted numbers of beautiful people have died in recent centuries -- he was shot in the chest by rightwing paramilitaries. he was filming the scene around one of thousands of barricades that have shut down oaxaca city since last june, when the rightwing governor there tried to ban public expressions of dissent, thus throwing one more historical spark into one more historical powder keg.

brad embodied the spirit of indymedia. he was not just covering stories that the "mainstream" press ignores, such as the exciting, violent revolutionary moment which has gripped oaxaca for several months now. brad was not risking his life to get a good shot of a confrontation at a barricade because he might get a photo on the cover of a newspaper, get some (perhaps well-deserved) fame and money -- he was posting his communiques on indymedia, for free. sure, brad was filming in order to cover history. but he was there also to make history. brad knew that a camera is a weapon, or hopefully a shield of some sort, and sometimes can serve to de-escalate a situation, to protect people from being violated, beaten, killed. and brad knew that if the independent media didn't document history, nobody else would.

brad deeply appreciated the power of music and culture. if he didn't have a camera in his hands, he often had a guitar. during some of his many travels around latin america he wrote emails to me about the musicians he met, with whom he shared my songs and recordings. he particularly liked my song "saint patrick battalion," and reportedly shared his rendition of it with lots of people. he would not live to know just how much his life and death would resemble the san patricios, who died fighting for mexico during the first u.s. invasion of that country in the 1840's.

through all brad did and saw on large swaths of three different continents, he somehow continually brought with him a boundless enthusiasm and obvious love of life, love, a good party, or a good riot. he was my favorite kind of person, my favorite kind of revolutionary -- the sort who is just as comfortable talking about revolutionary theory, current events, music, relationships or smoking a bowl on a manhattan rooftop at sunset. the kind of person who is alive, in mind, body and spirit, in equal proportions.

brad became a radical long before it was briefly fashionable (with the wto protests in seattle), and long since it became unfashionable (september 11th, 2001). the kinds of tactics and politics that the global justice movement became briefly known for were pioneered by people like brad in the squatters' movement in new york city and the radical environmental movement on the west coast in the 1990's. brad was in both places and many more. brad was somewhere near the ground floor of many other more recent anarchist institutions -- food not bombs, critical mass, reclaim the streets, guerrilla gardening, indymedia. he saw the connections, deeply understood the concept of "the commons," and went for it, as an activist, a videojournalist, a musician and a cheerleader.

i never knew brad's last name until he was murdered. for me he was just brad. in my cell phone he was "brad nyc" (to distinguish him from another good friend named brad, who lives in baltimore). i don't remember talking with him much about his past, where he grew up, how he became a revolutionary, though we may have talked about that sort of thing. but generally i saw him in the course of events, whether it was a film showing/concert on a brooklyn rooftop, a land occupation in the bronx, or, more often, a large demonstration against an evil financial institution somewhere in the world.

i've sung at many such events, and brad has been at most of them -- and he's been present at many which i didn't make it to. they're all such a blur, i don't remember which ones anymore. but the many encounters always start out with a warm smile and a hug, and usually involve some kind of chaos going on, with brad comfortably in the middle of it. sometimes -- all too rarely, i suddenly realize -- the encounters would continue after the chaos subsided, and we could be in a quiet place with a small group of people, smoking a bowl and talking about life, my favorite bits.

there have been many debates about whether it is more useful to organize large events or to focus on community organizing locally. whether to focus on recording history or making it. whether to educate or to act. whether to have a party or have a meeting. brad clearly decided that the correct answer is "all of the above." the reality of this is easy to demonstrate -- talk to anybody in new york city involved with just about any aspect of the progressive movement. it's a city of 8 million people, but if they are serious participants in the movement, they know brad. though, like me, they probably don't know his last name. he's just brad, the tall, thin guy with long hair who is often flashing a warm, gentle smile with a compassionate, intelligent glint in his eye. he's often described with a connector like "brad from indymedia" or "brad from more gardens" or "brad the musician."

brad had his critics. i recently heard one young person in the anarchist scene in new york say something like "brad is all about brad." it's the sort of thing that people say about each other. sometimes it's true -- there are lots of self-interested assholes on the planet, that's for sure, and the u.s. seems to have more than it's fair share of them. but to me it always seemed evident that this kind of accusation of a guy like brad was born out of jealousy. and that's ok, brad had a lot to make fellow activists jealous. he'd been around the block a few times and was known by many. he was charismatic, competent, opinionated -- this sort of thing can make some people uncomfortable. i'm sure they would all have gotten over it eventually. and now, suddenly faced with life and death, with what it really means to be committed to the people of this earth, i'd be willing to guess that nobody feels that way anymore.

i haven't seen him in a while. several months at least. but suddenly i miss him so much. i miss hanging out with him in the lower east side, chilling at his place there, swapping stories. i miss the rejuvinating warmth of his presence. i miss the unspoken, mutual admiration. i miss the feeling that i was in the presence of someone who so deeply felt his connection to the world. the feeling that here was someone who would die for me, and me for him, no questions asked. and now, like so many others before him, he's done just that.

like all of the rest of us, over the generations his memory will fade and eventually disappear. but for those of us alive today who had the honor of being one of brad's large circle of friends, his memory will be with us painfully, deeply, lovingly, until we all join him beneath the ground -- hopefully only after each of us has managed to have the kind of impact on each other, on the movement, and the world that brad surely had in his short 36 years.



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