Archive | March, 2012

Whose Bridge? Our Bridge!

In the six months since the mass arrest on the Brooklyn Bridge on October 1st, the bridge has become an iconic symbol of the Occupy Wall Street movement. We marched over it on November 17th and have kept it in our sights ever since, nearly taking it again just a week ago during a night of marches demanding justice for Trayvon Martin. As we approach the half year mark and another march over the bridge, we look back. Click here to view all the stories we have published about the Brooklyn Bridge. And read our newest feature as an occupier recounts his arrest on the bridge during a first date.

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Zuccotti Park: The Revolution of an Idea

NEW YORK, NY -

Although the Zuccotti Park occupation was forced to end Tuesday (November 15th), the idea of it is far from over. In the minds of many, that idea has just shifted. This holds true for the occupations in Portland, Oregon, shut down Sunday, and the one in Oakland, California, which was also forced to come to an end.

During my first visit to Zuccotti Park, the site of the Occupy Wall Street occupation, in mid-October, I was given a shirt on which was stenciled a powerful message: “You can’t arrest an idea.”

That is true. But you can occupy it, which is what hundreds of people with disparate backgrounds and political beliefs chose to do when they took over Zuccotti Park on September 17, 2011: occupy the notion that people, that is the 99 percent who have been suffering injustices at the hands of greedy corporations and government, have a right to demand change, call for justice, and shape a better world.

The Occupy Wall Street Movement in Zuccotti Park was modeled on the occupations that rocked Europe and the Arab world this summer and repeated in cities around the country. The movement, decentralized and leaderless, is far from rudderless. Its aim, to raise consciousness, harks back to the feminist and gay movements of the 1960s. In those movements too, the personal was political.

“We are all in this together,” its participants seem to say. In truth, every area, even the most affluent, even Fort Lee, has suffered in the economic downturn. Stores have closed; unemployment lines are growing. During the last three years, my household alone offered temporary shelter to three homeless women, two of whom are acquaintances. Last week, a homeless person was discovered sleeping on a bench in front of the Fort Lee Historical Society. As long as one person is affected by poverty and economic deprivation, we are all affected. And, as we all know this, the phenomenon of protest in Zuccotti Park was something that attracted many – those wanting to participate in the change and those wanting to witness it.

In October, a friend, Linda from Fort Lee, and I met up with two more Bergen County friends – Peggy from Fort Lee, who actually works on Wall Street and is supportive of the movement, and Patrick, an artist and activist from Hackensack, who rode his bike to and from Zuccotti Park to join the protests every day. We were struck by the attention to what is important – a library with books that helped to explain why the OWS even exists; an altar with tokens from every religion.

The messages on signs held up by Zuccotti Park protestors and by activists around the country—Tax the rich; End corruption; Greed is a family value—are deeply felt, personal and political. They don’t represent abstract ideas. Protestors are a diverse lot, and they are sharing their stories of loss, deprivation and injustice; they are individuals fighting foreclosures, looking for jobs, struggling to pay back loans, and just wanting to make a difference or help out a neighbor.

Christine, a young woman who volunteered to help provide blankets to occupiers in Zuccotti Park, said her life felt empty as an artist, working alone. She wants to make a difference. She is one of many students I encountered at Zuccotti Park who can’t repay their college loans.

Intelligent, hungry for a change, she, like so many there, appears as intent on protest as on offering herself up to benefit the cause of peace and social justice. Kristle, one of several kitchen volunteers, said she helped to feed vegan meals to approximately 800 people at the park every day. Artists, musicians, chefs, techies, medical students, union workers, the unemployed and just plain sick and tired helped to create a small, peaceful community in Zuccotti Park, modeling for the rest of the country, perhaps what could be.

It was a hopeful sign that support for the protestors was also unprecedented. Friends came from near and far, including the Bergen County contingent, to stand with activists and offer support. A network of truth, support and justice will go on and the Occupy Wall Street Movement will manifest itself in new ways.

For many activists, the Occupy Movement became a success the moment government officials and the media took notice. One thing is certain, the 99 percent in this country who “have not,” who have lost homes and jobs, who can’t repay loans, who are tired of corruption in government and oppression by a system that has failed to live up to its promises, will no longer remain invisible and silent.

© 2012 Arya F. Jenkins.

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From the anthology, The (Un)Occupy Movement: Autonomy of Consciousness, Practical Solutions, Human Equality – prose & poetry  www.allbook-books.com

 

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#M24: Let Freedom Spring

Occupiers assembled last Saturday in solidarity with victims of police brutality. A group of hundreds that included city council members marched for hours from Liberty Plaza to join hundreds more at Union Square. On the way, they shared messages on the right to assemble with evocative banners, chanting, and performance art. Photographer Rose Magno documents this expressive and coherent culture of a civil society coming together in peaceful protest.

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Cinco De Mayo Bar Crawl Farmingdale Long Island New York

Cinco De Mayo Bar Crawl Farmingdale Long Island New York

Long Island Events

 

Looking for something to do for Cinco De Mayo? Look no further… Long Island Social Events presents their 1st annual Drink’o De Mayo Bar Crawl, located in Farmingdale NY. Join us for great drink specials, while raising money for a local cause. Check out our charities page for more info!

 

Tickets bought online – $25

Tickets bought at the door – $30

You must be 21 or older to participate in this event.

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An Account of Two Arrests in One Week

NEW YORK, NY–I have had strange confrontations with Bank of America lately.  In the last 8 days I was arrested twice only on the verge of approaching the Bank, steps away from the unknown possibility. And what was the NYPD working so hard to protect Band of America from? First I was dressed as a clown with a team of merry pranksters who sought to enact a short, harmless skit of pulling down the pants of “unsuspecting executives” to expose ALEC, an organization that allows corporations to draft legislation–which, no surprise, Bank of America is a prominent member.

It was raining and biting cold but the +Brigade Shenanigan team, a newly formed OWS effort of creative resistance, was suiting up in Bryant Park on F29 with bright monochromatic colors and the “executives” scavenging in trash cans for Starbucks cups to look authentic. But our pantsing skit was deterred, because as soon as we tried to cross the street, a police barricade of bodies and scooters lined up alongside us. The Bank of America tower, like the Death Star, loomed in the distance surrounded by police, like clusters of black mussels clasping onto its mammoth shape.

We had the light. There was the flashing white man walk sign taunting us with the rite of passage. Struck by the absurdity of police barring 8 clowns from crossing the street, I was immediately on my hands and knees crawling between their legs. I was promptly lifted up and put in handcuffs. I didn’t want and wasn’t expecting to be arrested. I was in that precious liminal space of free play. I felt like I could do anything.

But corporations have a way of smashing any spark of the unique human spirit rising up. As the crowd looked at me for some words of inspiration, something, I could only muster a call to bravery for the clowns to carry on, and a bad joke: “Why did the clown cross the road?  To get arrested!” As they marched me off into the paddy wagon, I began singing and dancing, “I’m Singing in the Rain!  Just Singing in the rain!  What a glorious feelin!  I’m happy again!” But as I was placed into the wagon alone, watching my comrades carry on valiantly with their march, my ridiculous wet spandex costume began to chill me to the bone at the thought of being a drenched clown in the tombs tonight. That day I was lucky to be released within 5 hours at the precinct, where I was joined by a fellow bicyclist friend, Joe, whose bike was confiscated for “evidence”; a 16 year-old mega force, Mesiah; and another cyclist, Mandolin, who tried to carry a tent on the march.  In my cell, Mesiah and I did yoga and talked about housing rights.  In the other cell, Joe and Mandolin were starting a men’s group to discuss privilege.

My next encounter, I was not so lucky. This time it was a call from the courageous Code Pink on International Women’s Day. The plan was to gather at the Bank of America at Zuccotti Park as super-Sheroes with message-ready breasts for a BUST-ing up the Big Banks action, harking on a thousand year old tradition of women putting their bodies on the front lines. I dressed in a denim jumpsuit with a red scarf on my head, re-appropriating Rosie the Riveter. I met Savitri in the park, that empty park once so full of life.  It was hot with gusts of wind shooting through the trees. She wrote on my arm, “We can do it!” and I  painted “BofA, You can suck it!” across my chest. We began to walk casually into the bank.  Savitri, Medea and Rae, all wearing suits, made it in.  As soon as I stepped up to the doors, the cop locked the door in my face.  Ah yes, the paint was peaking out from my jumpsuit.

Mark and I walked around to the other side to look for another entrance and saw customers slipping out.  People could get out, but no one could get in. Well, at least we shut down Bank of America again. I called Savitri on the inside, who said there were only three of them and they were very vulnerable.  She had a beautiful baby to get to after this.  We waited at the side exit and suddenly Savitri bounded out the door like a leaping gazelle and raced off to safety. Soon after, Rae ran out with the policeman close on her heels. I called out to him, “Hey Officer! Over here!” but he was hot on the pursuit. He grabbed Rae roughly. Mark was quick to de-arrest. The burly policeman grabbed her by the neck and threw her head down into the concrete, all the while she was crying out that she had a neck injury.

As they were detained in the bank lobby, the choir gathered and decided to sing in solidarity, walking along the sidewalk in front of the bank. As we walked past once and I began to circle back, a cop told me I couldn’t sing and had to keep moving. I said that I was moving and was not obstructing traffic. Instantly, the same rough cop threw me over the scaffolding to arrest me, my things spilling out of my bag. I lifted my leg over the scaffolding so as to not have my stomach jammed into metal and try to kick my things from falling into the gutter and another cop snapped, “Stop resisting arrest!” And off the 4 of us were carted away, at the bank manager’s request. I watched the rough cop throw around several woman walking by for no apparent reason.

Maybe it was the full moon, or the solar flares in the sky, but there seemed to be a lot of crazy in the air that day. In the precinct, two men in Mark’s cell seemed dead set on winning the crazy war. A white man in an all black suit skirted over to our side when he was released to go to the bathroom and starting messing with the cops, “How crazy do I have to be?  What do I have to do so you’ll take me to the hospital so I can get a meal?  How CRAZY do I have to be?”  The other, a young black man, was far more sympathetic in his rants.  Screaming bloody murder about injustice and racism. Despite all the machismo, you could understand his anger. We began to sing to try to calm him.  Love, Love Love, all you need is love. When we quieted, he surprised us by calling out, “Love is what I need. Keep singin’, ladies! I need you to sing.” We sang every song we knew.

First they told me I would be there for 15 mins to an hour because I didn’t enter the bank. Four hours later, we were all taken to Central booking, which was packed with men lined up against the wall in chains.  Throughout the whole process, Medea was brought in again and again to try to capture her prints, and they made ageist remarks, like she was so old that her prints were rubbed off or that she was some kind of alien. We said goodbye to Mark, fearful of what he was being led into.  Later we found out there was huge brawl in his cell and he got punched in the back of his head.

Rae and I were led into the women’s cell. Medea’s fingers were still being pushed and prodded. We had about 16 women in there, mostly in their early 20s, all of color, almost all of whom were new mothers too. It was freezing cold, the window open, a fan on. We weren’t allowed to keep our jackets because of the zippers. Rae’s neck had fingerprints on it still and she was sore. We told jokes, arrest and action stories, talked about what ideal brunch we would have. For awhile we tried to huddle on one mat but I couldn’t get warm and fall asleep until hours later, when a kind prostitute offered to cover me with her fur coat and to share her mat. We snuggled tightly and she asked me if I had lice. Said she’d been there 36 hours already, had been working the same streets for 28 years.

They woke up everyone at 5am and said we had to clean up and get ready to go to court. Only 3 women were taken. Later on, everyone felt up to chatting again and they all wanted to hear why we were arrested. They laughed and laughed, couldn’t believe we’d be arrested for protesting a bank, let alone for singing. The women there were smart, knew what was going on in the world, knew all about Bank of America and its foreclosures, its corruption. There was no surprise that corporations are criminals. They were arrested for fighting back against an abusive boyfriend, getting in a screaming match with her boyfriend, bringing in a cigarette to her son in jail, smoking pot, selling fake watches. But none of them were interested in protesting. They agree it has to be done but they can’t do it. They have to work, take care of their babies, survive. They said things have to get really bad so people will get up and do something. How much worse does it have to get?

We waited and waited. Didn’t want to drink the dirty water or the milk or the vacuum packed sandwiches. Finally, after 3pm, our names were called.  We were all charged with criminal trespassing.

It wasn’t until I was sitting in the courthouse next to Rae, when I saw my friends out there, looking tired but smiling supportively, that a rush of anger flooded over me.  The parody of this system.  There we were in this dressed up, fancy court when a foot behind us lay filthy floors covered in cockroaches and a system that has no interest in improving society. Police protect the corporate personhood and never our freedom of speech. There’s no telling what we could be arrested for any more. I can’t gauge actions by the same standards any more. As Spring blossoms, the spirit of the people is heating up again, we’ll be out on the street in big numbers. We will fill those cells so packed, the walls might explode.

-Monica Hunken-

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Scenes From Occupy Halfway, Oregon (video)

We often hear scenes from the Occupy movement at large cities, and it’s easy to forget what’s happening in the smaller towns that are no less affected by what goes on at Wall Street. A reader submitted this video from Occupy Halfway, Oregon, which features a scene not often portrayed as part of the movement. But as Cheryl, and occupier in Halfway (population: 337) says, “Even in rural populations, we have concerns about what goes on in our government.”

 

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A Personal Account of the Eviction of Occupy the Midwest

This story was originally published at Anti-State STL

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“Hey, would you help me unfurl this banner?”

So I found myself holding a corner of a massive banner, the size of a billboard that read “Police State.” The moment that my friend asked me this question I knew that the attempt to hold the park had failed. What occurred thirty minutes prior – a group of 100 or so people successfully shouting back the police – would not occur again. Pigs amassed in force. Suddenly, the agreement the group had made before the 10pm curfew that no one would talk to the police was forgotten, and politicians from both sides of the situation began to negotiate… well, it was more of the same “Occupy Movement” attempt to convince a city official that we had a right to set up a camp. The ridiculous 1st amendment argument that some people think is a ticket to freedom… because freedom is apparently synonymous with “rights.”

As I stood there, confused about all the conversations I see occurring at the bottom of the hill, pissed off that people are talking with the cops and the mayor’s aid, the police began to multiply. The first group of pigs stood there, rubbing their batons, obviously fantasizing about avenging their earlier show of weakness. As their numbers continued to swell, it became clear that to prevent ourselves from being arrested in the context of civil disobedience, and to end this night with some measure of power, we had to move. With spontaneity, a march was called, this billboard banner leading the way. As we began to walk south, blocking both lanes of traffic due to the size of the sign, the cops stopped their conversations and conceivably received some kind of vague order. They were pissed. They were disorganized.

I found myself on the west side of the street, closest to the sidewalk with my good friend Ryan on my left. The banner was approximately my height, so the fact that I couldn’t see anything except Ryan and the cars parked to my right made me extremely anxious. Less than 20 seconds went by since we crossed into the road and suddenly, I hear screams of “get on the sidewalk!” and “holy shit, holy shit!” I freeze in confusion and Ryan grabs me and pulls me on to the sidewalk. Several feet in front of me I see another protester… already the cops had picked off their first victim. Half of his body was on the sidewalk, the other half in the street, three cops incapacitate him with their knees. After a moment, I realize that this person happens to be a close friend, and I grab Ryan as we yell “let him go!” and “fuck you!” at the cops. To my right I see another friend get chocked by an officer with a baton and taken to the ground, without any provocation or warning. In an instant, this person went from standing in silent shock, to being kicked in the face, as he lies impotent on the concrete. I stand overwhelmed between two of my friends while I watch their identities be stolen by thugs and turned in to defenseless, nameless bodies.

But I yell, and I do what I can to let my friends know that at the very least, we’re all bearing witness to this attack. For a moment I lose track of Ryan as I see pigs lunge after any bystander within their reach, some run away, some get caught. I step back towards a side street to prevent my own arrest – the cops grope for any body they can get their fist around or bring their baton down on; with this kind of disorganized chaos everyone was at risk for their brutality. A moment passes, and I see Ryan bolt down this dimly lit side street chased by 3 to 4 pigs. It was the first time I watched someone run for their fucking life with the fear that if they got caught, they might not make it out. I find myself screaming “RUN RYAN!” But I stand, immobilized. A second passes, another friend also named Ryan (to prevent confusion this person will be referred to as Ry), sprints around the corner and down the street. I instantly realize he is running to put his body between Ryan and the police chasing him. I begin to comprehend the gravity of the situation: that two people I deeply love are being chased down a dark street by 6 to 8 cops… and my feet move in their direction, just a little… and then I am struck with the disabling realization that more pigs await behind me. What good am I in this situation? How does my certain beating help my friends? Some white shirt runs a few feet down the street and commands “come back, don’t chase them!” No response.

I glance to my right, I hear a friend shouting, demanding that the pigs who are arresting him explain what he has done wrong. They provide no answer. They read him no rights. They simply take him. Another comrade standing near as this is occurring, letting the pigs know what he thinks of them, gets chosen to go down… he manages to out run the fat fuck.

Another moment has passed. I see strange faces with wide eyes all around me. I feel that I am standing in the center of 360 degrees of tumult. I have not moved. I look back down the shadowy street. Ryan is now on the sidewalk. His face smashed against the concrete. There are at least two pieces of shit taking out their dissatisfaction with their lives on his face and body. He is beaten with feet. He is beaten with an archaic bludgeon they euphemistically call a baton – as though they spin and twirl them on their nights off. I am so scared. I am so fucking scared. I think of his little daughter. This beautiful, little person who doesn’t deserve to have to experience the misery and violence of life so early. They pick him up. The very people who chased him down a street, beat him, now have the power to take away all of his defenses and determine his fate. As he is walked up the street, I see his face covered in something and I pray to a god I don’t believe in that it is dirt. I know it is not dirt, but all I can do is hope that what I just saw didn’t actually happen. His stare is blank. He looked so confused. I was the first person he saw but I don’t think he actually saw me. I asked him, “did they hurt you?” Of course I fucking knew they hurt him, but I just wanted to hear his voice and let him know that this person on the sidewalk gives a shit. His voice quivered, “Yes.” One of the pigs is repeatedly yelling, “I fucking showed you respect.”

I watch him be lead up the street and a friend comes out from the shadows and follows behind the three. The same cop who just declared himself such a respectful individual lunges at her, puffs up his chest and shouts “don’t you walk behind me, woman.” She backs up and I start following behind her, up to the main street that only minutes earlier we attempted to march down. As Ryan is being escorted through the crowd, people chant “shame.” And the white shirts start to disperse the crowds.

I find some friends, and we are all in shock. I somehow didn’t see Ry get escorted up the street. I knew what he did, but I can’t imagine how he did it. I don’t have words to describe the feelings I have when I think about him running to help Ryan. I have never seen such love for another person. I have never seen something so full of life. I will never forget what he did that night. I learn that he was also brutally beaten by the pigs. We all know our friends are fucked. They tried to hold on to their autonomy and that is what would most condemn them… later we learned that they were being charged with absurd crimes. How else would the state justify the violence of their paid enforcers?

For those that have never witnessed police violence, I want to make something clear. Nothing about this situation followed the prescription of an arrest – this media image of a “You are under arrest. You have the right…” is not what happens in real life. A friend said it best, what happened Thursday night was some gangsta shit. It was angry, vicious people jumping unarmed protesters and bystanders. It was an attack. It was intentional brutality. They did not follow any procedure of kettling, “less lethal” tactics, etc. Their actions were directly targeting individuals and beating the shit out of them. It was so fucked up.

The rhetoric of violence vs. non-violence is utterly irrelevant and insulting. My friends disappeared for 24 hours. Some strangers, who were weaponized and free from scrutiny, were deciding what was to be done with them. Pigs and judges have been given the power to determine the course of their lives. There is no such thing as non-violence. There is no such thing as safety. These ideas are complete illusions, and one can only hold on to them as long as one has the privilege to avoid the violence that maintains society. As we participate and live our lives, all we are doing is avoiding repression.

I am traumatized. I am having flashbacks, and the more I try to make the motions of my mundane life the more vivid they become. Work, school, friendly conversations all seem completely devoid of meaning. All I can do is tell the story of my experience and force the people I surround myself with to question the society we participate in. I am so fucking angry.

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A New Place to Call Occupied: A Report from an Occupied Union Square

OCCUPIED UNION SQUARE, NY – Four NYC Parks Enforcement officers stand on the outskirts of the sidewalk as the low rhythm of hand drums blend with a smooth Jazz saxophone. The crowd, about 300 strong, is relaxed and chatting. It feels like the old days again. As I walk amongst the crowd, familiar faces and new smiles greet me and I decide to sit and chat.

The now infamous yellow Occupy Wall Street banner, designed to replicate caution tape hangs high and proud over a group of occupiers. Pillows, blankets, brothers and sisters converge under its framework. Telling stories of the long winter, countless hours spent laying the groundwork for what is set to be a monumental spring, our humble beginnings in lower Manhattan and how much farther we must travel on our journey. Food donations have already begun pouring in only reinforcing that feeling of nostalgia. The spirit of the Occupy Movement that seemed all but lost not long ago has burst back to life since the six-month anniversary and subsequent raid. It feels like coming home.

In speaking with some friends I learn that OWS has once again found ourselves a loophole. We are quite resourceful for “dirty hippies”.  Our latest occupation, now in day three,  is allowed to stay for some very interesting reasons. Union Square Park is patrolled by Park Rangers or Parks Enforcement Officers during hours of operation. This means the police have no jurisdiction over the park unless Park Rangers call them in to handle a situation AFTER the park closes at midnight. Ironically, the exterior of the park, where we have set up camp, is mandated to remain open 24 hours as a major subway station is located in the square. However, the NYPD can’t enforce anything other than open flame/noise violations or the congregation of more than 25 people having a single conversation (thank you NDAA ) because the Park Rangers go off duty at midnight. It’s almost poetic justice. As I continue to scan the perimeter I see a few “white shirts” and the occasional patrol officer but as before they remain removed. No barricades or wrist band clad monsters lurking, not a single mainstream media source in sight.

As the evening continued rather than the numbers dwindling, the crowd seemed to have increased, spreading itself out along the south side of the square, mindful to remain in small groups to protect the occupation. We played sports, sang, danced—spring training in full effect. Sidewalk chalk turned the once gray paving stones of Union Square into a canvas reminiscent of just a few days earlier in our “starter home” as remnants of the once sprawling OWS Library are set up on a staircase.  Six months and two evictions later it seems we have a new place to call Occupied.

A relatively uneventful evening progressed at the new home of Occupy Wall Street and I decided it was time for me to depart. I had to work very early but promised friends, old and new, I would be back tomorrow.  My faith in Occupy and my brothers and sisters continues to be renewed with each action I attend. As I sat down on the subway for my short trip back to Brooklyn a smile comes across my face.  I take a huge bite from my fresh boston crème donut, courtesy of The Peoples Kitchen and hum to myself, “this occupation is not leaving!”

-Nicole Pace-

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New Grass Grows

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA -

 

I remember when the park was just a park

With no tents, no signs, no campfire, and no spark

Just a place dogs go to play and poop

As their owners try to hide

What they decide

Not to pick up

I remember eating lunch there

Sitting on a bench in my own solitaire

Friendless, helpless, but hopeful for change

Wondering when my life will cease to abide

Wanting to decide

For something more

I remember that cold rainy day it was said

To come support the 99% under a big white tent

There were cameras and umbrellas

A whisper of hope in the air

A defiant “we are still here”

A first meeting of radical strangers

Well, it took three hours of conversation

With much patience and most people’s undivided attention

It was decided to occupy the nearby park

So bring your tents,

Bring your signs and blankets

But most importantly

Bring your beating hearts

I remember when the park was filled to the brim

With tents, bright eyes, and an occasional hymn

The fire pit became the hearth of our self-made dens

A place I called home

Where strangers became lovers

And where I found my long lost friends

People were well fed with food and new friendships

Energized by lively discussions and beautiful mic checks

Meeting every night under the changing moon

People knew my name

As I claimed My Voice back

Not a moment too soon

After speaking our words of truth, hope, and love

We were abruptly evicted from our revolutionary abode

After eleven o’clock the police came

To take my friends away

A part of me died that fateful night

Along side any hope for my government

Since I was not allowed in the park

I cried tears on the sidewalk

And felt a familiar emptiness for days

Now when the sun is up

I still eat lunch in this graveyard park

With no tents, no signs, no voices, no campfire, and no spark

As I look around these pieces of earth

I remember all of those who stood with me

Like stepping on unmarked graves

It is like a ghost town to me today

As I eat no one talks to me now

Because no one knows my name

Next to that stupid statue

Dogs still poop and play

Their owners still don’t clean up

The messes they’ve made

Not much has changed to the untrained eye

But as I look down I see proof of what once was

What I see is new grass, growth, and rebirth

I see new grass growing where tents once stood

I see new green where the fire pit once burned

I see new life in those places once barren

With so much movement and many footprints

This park was filled with spark

And full of life each night

Truth be told,

The proof is in the soil

The earth remembers our presence

Even if no one else does

I see growth in the hearts of those who courageous stood

Up for equality, financial stability, and the right to be heard

I see progress in the connections we’ve made

Complete strangers turned into good friends

And the people we know now

Are the names we call out

When we are in need of help

Instead of reverting to old destructive habits

I see rebirth from the ashes of despair

People once isolated and alone

Prove their worth to themselves

Once dim candles find the fire within

The tears I cried on the sidewalk

Was a necessary part

Of universal transformation

True change is only birthed

When there is a release

A letting go

With a renewed sense of self

Such beauty comes from birth, death, and resurrection

How fitting to see the new grass grow as a sign of strength from within

Proving the cycle of life never dies, only changes form

And if you wait long enough

It will always come back

And better then before

As memories play their part and build on each other

My life is forever changed

By the experiences felt In this tent city

As we protested for change on a broad scale

We found a kinship of misfits

And started with the only thing you can truly change

And that is, very simply, yourself

 

-Flora Lark Baily-

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#M17: Occupy Reignited

I boarded the World Trade Center-bound E train on March 17th (M17) not knowing what to expect when I got out on the other side, a few blocks away from the now infamous Zuccotti Park. It’s been a long winter for Occupy Wall Street. The past few months have seen the movement deal with increasingly violent repression and evictions nationwide, as well as – at least in New York City – a lot of internal bickering and debate on everything from nonviolence to funding sources to housing of occupiers. Many occupiers have been referring to winter as an “incubation” period. The mainstream media pretty much considers the movement dead. Whatever it is, it is vastly different than the Occupy Wall Street of 6 months ago. Or at least it was until M17, the movement’s six-month anniversary.

I spent most of the train ride to Liberty Plaza (Zuccotti’s reclaimed name) conjuring the many nights of elation and frustration I have had in that park – the countless general assemblies, free meals, cigarettes, stimulating conversations, rain storms, arguments, marches and finally, the brutal eviction that brought it all to a screeching halt. Since the eviction, the park had been empty. Or maybe barren is a better word. A cold (literally), lifeless slab of concrete in the valley of the gargantuan buildings surrounding  it. Whatever vitality we brought to that place had long been replaced with barricades, security guards, and an eerie stillness.

When I emerged in Lower Manhattan, I was hit by a wave of déjà vu. I could hear the drums and chants inside the park reverberating throughout the neighborhood. I realized that even the sound of the neighborhood had changed since the eviction. A flash flood of warm familiarity washed over me. On the six-month anniversary of our movement, I was transported back to its beginning. I picked up the pace and almost sprinted to the park. When I arrived, I found it once again brimming over with occupiers and police.

 It was wonderful to see the park electrified with people power again. That powerful feeling of remembrance and recognition continued to surge through my body like a kind of muscle memory being reawakened.

As soon I walked into the park, I witnessed someone being arrested by the NYPD. The mood was tense and rowdy. I was surprised by the number of police, all with a dozen or so zip-tie handcuffs hanging from their belts. I saw a few old friends and gave and received many hugs. We talked about the insane tug-of-war in which we are constantly engaged with the NYPD. They show up with batons, handcuffs, guns, and riot gear and raise the tension level in the park, then put the onus on us to deescalate. There were a few other arrests, and the police shouted at us where we could and couldn’t stand and what we couldn’t bring into the park.

Throughout the day, different marches left the plaza and came back to cheers and raised fists. It was as if we were in the midst of a mighty stretch after a long slumber. As afternoon turned to evening, the overall mood of the park shifted and the police presence seemed to taper off a bit. The chants going around and the drum circle in full swing filled the park with that familiar cacophonous buzz. There is something amazing about chanting and dancing around with complete strangers. One of the more popular chants of the day was taken from the Spanish Indignados and proclaims simply and rhythmically: “Anti-capitalista!” It was refreshing to hear so many chant that radical declaration. Even through the winter, we had kept our radical roots.

At 7pm, as customary, we had our general assembly (GA). This was my first time attending a GA in a good while, and by the time it was over I was re-enamored with direct democracy and twinkling fingers. There were hundreds in attendance – probably our biggest GA of the year. It was also surprisingly lacking in rancor or squabbling, except for the traditional begging of the drum circle to keep it down or move away from GA. We consensed on signing on to a letter calling for a federal investigation of the NYPD for spying in Muslim communities and broke out into discussion groups to talk about our ideas for May Day. There was a palpable spirit of camaraderie and solidarity in the air, and many OWS veterans commented to me that they felt truly transported to “the good ol’ days” before the eviction and even before the tents went up at Zuccotti, fighting with drummers and all.

After GA a large march which included Michael Moore and Dr. Cornel West arrived from the Left Forum. Suddenly there were over a thousand people communing in the park, some playing games, some doing interviews or making media, others just talking and smoking. There was a Capoeira circle, a mic-check speak out, and of course plenty of drums and dancing. The mood was jovial in spite of everyone’s noticing that the police presence seemed to be increasing as the night went on. At one point, a barrage of bag pipes could be heard on the southwestern corner of the park. This being St. Patrick’s Day, a small Irish marching band had either purposely or by coincidence found its way to Liberty Plaza, equipped with bag pipes and snare drums. The crowd in the park erupted with cheers and applause and ran to the park’s northern perimeter to greet the band. In a confused scuffle (at least from my vantage point) the police moved in, forced the band to stop playing and moved them to the other side of the street. One officer told me they feared the band would “cause a riot.”

Suddenly an orange net appeared. Usually, this means that you have been kettled by the police and are about to go to jail. But this orange net had the words “Occupy” and “99%” stenciled on it. A group of protesters were extending the net and creating a barrier between the police and the occupiers. I admit, being surrounded by that net gave me a creepy feeling , even though I knew it was ‘on our side.’ Yellow OWS caution tape started to go up all over the park too, tied on the trees and cutting through the crowd in odd angles. I wasn’t really sure what was going on, but I could almost sense the tension in the park boiling over. An exorbitant number of police were amassing on the northern side of the park. I stood on one of the benches in the park to try to get some perspective, and I saw what all the fuss was about. A group of occupiers were erecting tents in the center of the park. The net, the tape, all of it, was to protect the tents. A light came on inside the first tent and the words stenciled on its side became visible: “You cannot evict an idea whose time has come.”

I watched as the tent was hoisted into the air and cheered with the crowd, but I knew that what had been a glorious and rejuvenating day would have an ugly ending. We paraded around with two tents for a bit, all of us enjoying what we knew were the last exquisite moments of our resurrection. Then, as if someone hit a fast forward button, we jumped from reliving those first amazing months of Occupy to November 15 – eviction day. Much like that night, the police lined up on the Broadway stairs and announced that the park was closed. They told us that being in the park was now an arrestable offense. And so those who were willing to risk arrest moved to create a human wall on the eastern end of the park, a few meters from the line of police officers. I moved toward the middle of the park and stood on a bench to see the NYPD march in and start arresting people. After about half an hour they had moved everyone out of the park and began erecting barricades around the park’s perimeter. After being pushed and shoved out of the park, those of us who remained stood on the sidewalk, most of us bewildered by the brute force we had just witnessed. We were on the western end of park, isolated from the far greater brutality happening on the eastern side. In the background I could hear people calling for a march.

By this point, I was both mentally and physically exhausted from this behemoth roller-coaster of a day, but I just couldn’t tear away. I ran through the gamut of emotions and questions we all ask ourselves in moments like these, trying to balance my sense of duty and solidarity with the sheer terror of the situation at hand and its possible outcomes. Do I want to get arrested? Or beat up? Is it worth it this time? In truth, I had to fight off the urge to wave the white flag and go home. But I was angry, dejected, and so was everyone else. In the end, I decided to march with my comrades.

A few hundred of us wound our way through Lower Manhattan, flanked all the while by police in scooters and squad cars. We turned sharply down side streets a few times, which seemed to confuse the police, but definitely caused confusion amongst the marchers. I found myself running down the sidewalks and streets with large groups of other occupiers just to keep up. This, plus the sheer volume of the police response, made for some moments of pandemonium. We took the streets several times throughout, prompting arrests and batons. Police smashed an occupier’s head against a glass door. We passed a least one broken store window (though it was unclear if it was broken by Occupy) and at one point on a side-street in the Village, some protesters emptied several trash receptacles into the streets to block the police. It worked, to everyone’s excitement. I saw several police scooters with trash and plastic bags caught in their wheel wells.

When the march reached E. Houston shortly after that, I decided to hop on the nearby F train and make the trip back to Queens. I wanted to stay, continue the march, be with my comrades, express my anger and my joy – but I just had to break away. I knew that things would only get uglier, and I was already delirious with a cogent mix of exhaustion, frustration, and the high of marching through the streets. It felt as if I had lived the whole history of occupy in the span of 10 hours. On the train ride home, I found myself thinking that despite its dystopian ending, M17 had been a success. It was a re-ignition of our imaginations; a reminder of all the beautiful things we built from scratch in that small park, and all the hardships that came with them, and how easily it can be wiped away.

Spring has definitely sprung at OWS, and it’s only the beginning.

- Danny Valdes -
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