Anarchy How?

Can an anarchist with a law degree break the rules of modern activism and still save Tempe Butte?

Hanna sits back down, and sighs. "Well," he says. "I'm sorry all the fun has gone out of this."

Outside, a security guard is looking for Dillon, who cannot be found. Amster and other Friends of the Butte are fuming.

"We've gone to every one of their meetings, we've played by their rules, we've jumped through their hoops in meeting after meeting," Amster says. "There's seven city staffers in there, and they're going to make this sound like it was done with the public's approval."

Activists take to Mill Avenue to protest Tempe Butte development
Paolo Vescia
Activists take to Mill Avenue to protest Tempe Butte development

Amster is furious, but also a bit embarrassed.

It's not like him to lose his temper and force his opinion on others. He's no ego-driven cult leader, like Durrenberger says. He used to be angry, he admits that, but he's different now. He is still an anarchist -- hell, yes -- but he's a mellow and reasonable anarchist. So why did he disrupt the meeting?

The next day, Amster sends out an e-mail to the commission members apologizing for his outburst. He doesn't want to give the opposition any ammunition to marginalize the resistance.

Tomorrow is the protest march.

It's 102 degrees in Tempe Beach Park on the day of the march and vigil. The park, with its nonfunctional swirls of sand, grass, desert and concrete, is a much-derided symbol among the protesters of what's wrong with Giuliano's leadership -- too much corporate influence on public property.

Amster arrives in good spirits. This morning's East Valley edition of the Republic features a column by Durrenberger mocking the efforts to save such an ugly hill. Later that night, a group of protesters will sneak over to Durrenberger's home and plant a Save the Butte sign on his lawn. The next morning, Durrenberger will find the sign and pose with it and his dog for a keepsake photo.

In the column, Durrenberger rhetorically asks: If the Butte is so special, where were protesters when such disruptive features as the water towers and flour mill were built? And why aren't they trying to improve the Butte instead?

"Uh, where were we 50 years ago?" Amster responds. "And before this, we weren't down to the last isle of land in Tempe. We can't even get the city to stop from blasting the damn thing, and he wants us to talk about water fountains."

Amster does wish Durrenberger had mentioned the march and vigil, however. The protesters here are a lively group -- street kids, students and longtime residents -- but there are strikingly few of them. There are little more than 60 participants when the march begins. Organizers keep using the adjective "diverse" to describe the group, trying to give the turnout a positive spin.

Amster, carrying a sign with the nicely clever slogan "Don't Make a Molehill Out of "A' Mountain," makes a brief speech before the march, but otherwise maintains a low profile. He says he doesn't want the media coverage, including this story, to focus on him. So Amster marches unobtrusively in the middle of the group next to his girlfriend, who beats an African drum.

The protesters march down Mill to Fifth Avenue in a lengthy stream. They cheer, hold up their signs and are joyful. Local news cameramen run alongside the protest line, getting good footage.

Only a couple cars honk in support.

Most passers-by give odd looks. One woman yells that they're idiots. Hooters waitresses stare silently from their upstairs perch. Employees from Tempe Mission Palms gather to watch the procession, arms folded.

Considering that the group is marching through a college town for a seemingly popular cause -- restricting development of a public park and university monument -- it is a strikingly cold reaction.

Most of the protesters seem not to mind or notice, and continue to the Butte.

Once on the mountain, the group splits in two. Dillon leads half the marchers to a makeshift shrine, while Amster stays with the rest of the group at a midpoint. Then a third group breaks off to hike to the peak.

For illumination, some have candles, others have glowsticks or nothing.

For music, some bang on drums or play guitar, but there's never a sustained chant.

Some marchers are unsure where to go, and one local news crew stops midtrail up the Butte, seemingly unsure which action to follow.

The vigil has become completely disorganized and chaotic.

Smiling contently to himself, Amster beats on a drum, eyes closed.

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