There was something odd about the ice cream truck that pulled up to the curb on Park Avenue near 67th Street on Friday, with its proletarian color scheme and its overdressed driver with the subversive grin.
He was offering free ice cream in the middle of a rainstorm. The ice cream flavors were fudge, cherry, grape and tropical. But the right side of the menu offered flavors like Know Your Rights, Anarchy, Protest Tips, Black Panthers and Graffiti Liberation. There were also fact sheets on Halliburton and the Patriot Act.
Inside, the ice cream shared freezer space with emergency gas masks, and the condiment shelves held equipment for protesters at demonstrations to use when confronted by the police. The ice cream inventory is limited, because cabinets are used to store rolls of film for documenting police action, Ibuprofen for billy-club headaches and rain ponchos in case of fire hoses and water cannons. There were pepper spray treatment kits and the counter-weapon of choice: water balloons. There is an ample supply of work gloves.
"These are for throwing tear-gas canisters back at police so you don't burn your hands," explained the driver, Aaron Gach, 34, who wore a skinny bow tie and black-and-white saddle shoes, and a uniform with "Art" on the name tag and the words "Tactical Ice Cream Unit" on his white captain's hat. He was not wearing his usual big fake mustache.
Mr. Gach calls the Anarchist Ice Cream Truck "the alter ego of a police mobile command unit." Mr. Gach is a co-founder of the Center for Tactical Magic, an arts group based in Oakland, Calif., that advocates "positive social transformation" and "actively addressing power on individual, communal and transnational fronts." The group says it uses tactics taken from "the ways of the artist, the magician, the ninja, and the private investigator."
The truck distributes literature developed by neighborhood progressive groups and works to "confront the rhetoric of 'Big Brother'" and "provoke thought about political engagement," according to Mr. Gach. It is appearing this week around New York City and will be on display next week at the Park Avenue Armory on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, as part of a weeklong exhibition called Democracy in America: The National Campaign, featuring dozens of artists' works. It is produced by the arts group Creative Time and the armory.