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August, 2012 | Occupied Stories - Part 2

Archive | August, 2012

Sick

I was one of those people who always paid every bill on time! I worked extra shifts and never had a late payment! I paid off my student loans and paid my rent on or before the 1st! I had excellent credit.

Then, I was laid off–could not afford the COBRA insurance–and had the audacity to get sick.

Aside from the physical and emotional stress of cancer, I acquired–in 5 short months–$200,000 in debt. The bill collectors started before the end of round 1 of radiation–and my credit score has plummeted 200 points!

I have been personally responsible and now would have a hard time getting a lease on an apartment! Jobs now routinely do credit checks, and due to illness I could be denied employment!

Debt is a racket–corporations profiting off people and destroying lives in the process.

I am not at all ashamed of my debt–but I am angry!  I am angry and determined! The system of enslaving the poor and shackling people to debt servitude must end–by any means necessary!

-Billy Livsey-

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“In the Street for Social Strike,” Montreal, Night 110

Editor’s Note: This story is part of our ongoing first-person coverage of protests in Quebec against student debt, tuition hikes and Law 78, as well as actions elsewhere in solidarity to those causes. This post originally appeared at Outside the Circle.

Montral, QC–Despite a weather forecast calling for rain all day, the drops held off until just as the last section of the Mile-End neighborhood’s Dans la rue pour la grève sociale / In the street for social strike was being cleaned up and taken away. The folding tables from a nearby collective house/space were being wheeled away on a handcart along with the Outremont Popular Autonomous Assembly’s banner, which our next-door neighborhood friends had accidentally left behind. The disassembled pieces from the outdoor station for silk screening (sérigraphies) were on their way home too, and someone had probably already recycled the sign for it, as part of meticulously collecting any garbage in the trash bags we’d brought along. It was about 4:00 p.m.

At 9:30 a.m. earlier on this same Friday, August 10, a bunch of us from the Assemblée populaire autonome de Quartier (APAQ) met at “our” pocket park (private property, as a sign on the building next to it notes) at the intersection of Waverly and the main Mile-End commercial drag, St-Viateur. It’s where our orchestrole convenes every Wednesday — every Wednesday as of five weeks ago, that is — and where the casserole met before that earlier in the summer. The people living in the apartments above this “park” are clearly sympathetic to the Quebec student strike, since there are large red squares and anti-law-78 banners hanging from several balconies plus some cookware, in homage to the casseroles, dangling from a string. The French-language bookstore on the ground level, inside the building on the other side of a powerful political mural that abuts the park outside, is sympathetic too; someone mentioned that this small business is struggling to survive, as Mile-End gentrifies and moves increasingly toward English-language speakers.

When we decided about three weeks ago to do this street takeover, inspired by a “call” from the St-Henri APAQ for all APAQs to do some sort of festive and unpermitted “day of action” in their own neighborhoods on August 10 in solidarity with the student strike as it nears the crucial August 13 onward “forced reentry” couple of weeks, numerous good ideas and much enthusiasm filled our weekly three-hour mobilization working group meetings and additional three hours of weekly assembly, not to mention discussions on the street corner after the weekly orchestrole and the daily barrage of emails. We had a growing list of things we wanted to offer for free (teach-ins, music, food, hands-on art, performance, literature, and more), things we thought were crucial as infrastructure (bilingual posters, flyers, and other promotion and thus translation work, press release and getting CUTV to livestream, safety logistics and supplies, water, electricity, tables, chairs, and a laundry list of other materials), and things we had to discuss as dilemmas (whether and when to inform the businesses on the street, say, and what to do when the city bus wanted to come through our “social strike” area). We figured all the other APAQs would follow suit, and that we had plenty of time and people for all the details. But only two other neighborhoods signed on, both doing something later in the day. And thus we also agreed at the last minute to coordinate and host an all-APAQ press conference in addition to our block appropriation — during it — so that the assemblies could all voice their support for the student strikers even if they weren’t doing anything on August 10.

As of about a week ago, many of our ideas still seemed just that: concepts, filling up an ever-expanding bilingual Google Doc and filling out a bilingual Facebook events announcement, of what we aspired to do, publicly and illegally:

“On August 10th, the Mile End Popular Assembly (APAQ Mile End) is blocking a street in order to raise awareness about the strike, the effects of neoliberalism in Quebec, and the importance of collective action. A block party with food, music, art, workshops/teach-ins, performances, screen printing, and lots and lots of talking — all in the form of a mobilization around a social strike — disrupting society’s business as usual by taking over the street for an afternoon to start the mobilization toward real autonomous change! Come fill the street with us, and add your voice and your body to the movement!”

Yet when push came to shove, it all congealed, thanks to a remarkable — as in noteworthy but also extraordinary — feature of the Mile-End APAQ. All of its regulars in this approximately two-month-old directly democratic body and even many of the occasional participants are go-getters, full of energy and imagination and follow-through. Folks are self-motivated, and possess great ingenuity in making something from nothing. Everyone pitched in wholeheartedly, concentrating on what they were particularly passionate about doing, but also willingly pitching in when others needed assistance. It became a nonstop whirlwind of activity, but something that clearly all of us were loving. At somewhere between 4:00 and 5:00 a.m. on the early, early morning of August 10, for instance, several of us were busily “liking” each other’s Facebook posts promoting our Dans la rue pour la grève sociale, and just as glad to see each other in person a few hours later.

The one thing we didn’t plan for, because none of us wanted to admit it was possible, was rain. At 7:00 a.m. when I heard a torrential downpour outside my window, I pulled the covers over my head to dampen the noise and tried to sleep.

Back to 9:30 a.m. at our park. I and other Mile-End APAQs trotted a line of orange chairs over from one of our assembly folk’s nearby homes; others had brought the chairs two blocks from the collective house/space the day before, to store in her backyard, taking care not to crush her plants. The plastic seats were wet from the rain earlier, and someone joked when we had them all stacked up in our pocket park that it looked like we were going to put on a Québec solidaire (QS) event, since orange is the color of this social democratic and sovereigntist political party, an underdog in the current provincial elections.

We scurried to grab additional red, the color of the Quebec student strike, as a counterbalance, such as balloons and fabric, even though many folks in the APAQ favor QS in the elections over Jean Charest’s neoliberal Parti libéral du Québec and the xenophobic sovereigntists of Parti Québécois. And even though a good chunk of the APAQers are Left-leaning or anarchist, it seems most are planning to vote, especially given the weight of this election in relation to the student strike. If nothing else, there’s the strong feeling that Charest has to go, symbolically, after all the outrage directed toward him by the movement (“fuck Charest” is always popular as chant and graffiti). Already there’s speculation about what will happen if he does get reelected on September 4 — riots that night? — or doesn’t — huge street parties? This isn’t just among my friends or people I know. Everyone seems to be talking politics since the elections were announced. At a farmers’ market today, for example, I was buying tomatoes, and the guy working the stand said something about my carre rouge (“red square”). I thought he was comparing the red of felt safety pinned to my shirt to the red of the tomatoes, but when I explained that I didn’t understand French well, he said in English this time, “I was thanking you for wearing the red square and supporting the strike. Me,” he continued, “I’m too scared to be around police so I stay in the background.” He looked to be traditional college age, but told me that he wasn’t in school, so anyway, it wasn’t really his issue, and besides, he really wanted Charest’s party to win again and was going to celebrate in the streets when that happened.

Our preparations for the street takeover continued. A couch appeared, with pillows labeled appropriately for our event, and tubs of vegan wraps and cake, along with red cardboard to mark our teach-in classroom space on the city street and a whiteboard to list the course schedule on, a bunch of red-felt squares and literature to give away, the folding tables, and so much more. Suddenly a couple dozen of us were scrambling to get everything set up in the park and on the sidewalk, hovering in wait for when we were going to pull it all into the street and grab one block of roadway between Waverly and St-Urbain, another corner often used as public space since the private church there has big steps to loiter on. We hung banners from various APAQs off the front of the church, as backdrop for the press conference, and set up a portable sound system there too.

Because of the looming gray clouds, it was clear that a tarp needed to be hung over what was going to be the on-site silk-screening station, so one APAQ person raced up into the apartment building next to our park, knocked on the door of the second-floor apartment, and told the person who answered that she needed to cut through to their balcony. Whether because they were still just waking up or too surprised to object, this stranger instantly let her walk through their home, and she and several other folks rigged up a tarp with ropes off the balcony. Electricity was run from the bookstore, even though apparently our new second-floor apartment comrades offered up their electricity too. Water was brought in as well; clotheslines for drying prints were hung; and sérigraphy screens and materials, such as ink and big sheets of paper and cardboard to print on, were all put into place.

Our plan to take and hold the street was this first step of meeting at 9:30 a.m. to pile a good percentage of our materials for that day in this private-property park, right on the edge of the city street. We also wanted to take over parking spot after parking spot as cars left when their meters ran out, before our 12:00 noon start, so that we would really have the whole of street. Someone at an earlier assembly had also said that if worse came to worse, and the cops kicked us off the street proper, we legally could occupy the parking spots — that is, if we fed the meters. That was Plan B. Plan A was the whole street. So each time we saw a car pull away, we ran over with orange chairs, threaded string between them, and taped a hand-written sign reading “occupé” on the string. We managed to clear most of the spots, as someone else went to each business to inform them that we’d be using the street for three hours (the plan we settled on after much discussion about when or whether to tell businesses). Most were fine with it, or already knew, since we’d heavily wheatpasted/taped up posters around the neighborhood earlier in the week; one grumbled, “Do I have a choice?” Unfortunately, that grumbler was from one of the cornerstone businesses of Mile-End, Café Olimpico, right across from our staging area, and a favorite for Italian coffee and schmoozing outside on a patio. I noticed that a big SUV had pushed aside some of our chairs, and it turned out to be related to this cafe. Someone managed to talk them into moving, but as noon neared, the cafe owner-grouch brazenly pulled another SUV (this time a BMW) into the spot right next to our park, removing our orange chairs again, with a flourish of attitude. I’m not sure how someone else got him to move his SUV, but he did it slowly, and was yelling about hitting us with his car (and, I seem to recall, how crazy we were) as he careened away. He was yelling a lot, and for a while. Fortunately, he was our one problem of the day. And so our orange chairs ultimately managed to save all the parking spots for us, so we could then move them once we’d secured the whole area — or rather, let them be what they were: chairs for sitting on in our reclaimed street.

Other neighbors, passersby, and delivery people were chill during the lead up to our social strike. Most were just curious, asking what was happening, and many said they were excited to return later, which many did. One woman came up to me with a pot and spoon in her hand at about 11:30 a.m. “When it is going to start? I’m so glad to see you people back. Everything quieted down so much, but we can’t let the students down,” she remarked, even though she then had to wait a half hour or so to join the orchestrole/casserole that kicked off our street takeover. We obligingly moved several orange chairs at one point to make way for a big truck to do deliveries, and delayed our bloc(k) party by five minutes, so they could finish their drop-off. Meanwhile, the lead person on our safety team unveiled reflective yellow suspenders for volunteers to wear as they took turns, later, staffing the two ends of the street, both to welcome folks and ensure we kept the block to ourselves. Originally, we’d planned on running red rope fully across both ends of the street to block it off, and then hang big red squares, literature, and posters from it as further barricade and educational component, but some APAQers had concerns about the ability to quickly get an emergency vehicle such as an ambulance in, so we settled on utilizing bright-orange chairs and bright-yellow caution tape, but leaving gaps to walk through, since the chairs could easily be pushed aside. Our safety crew also put up signs on the surrounding streets, redirecting traffic — signs made on the backsides of Charest’s political posters, which somehow had been torn down by someone and somehow had then found their way into the garbage, and so could be repurposed as traffic signs.

At noon, everything stood ready — ready to be dashed into the street once we’d made it ours. But there clearly weren’t enough people. A few of us tried to rally everyone to one spot, so we’d at least have a solid crew, and some coordination. We realized, suddenly, that we didn’t have a plan for this moment. We decided, quickly, to wait for the delivery truck to leave and also wait a few minutes until we had more of a critical mass (which did indeed happen, filled in by folks who’d come to teach the workshops, sing songs, do performance-art dance, set up a knitting and see-through “make-your-own” red square art area, play their instruments or bang their cookware, be part of press conference and lend solidarity from other APAQs, hand out literature, and offer up food, and just a whole lot of neighbors of all types). Those of us getting it going thought that the orchestrole was going to start playing on the St-Viateur and Waverly side, but saw they’d begun at the other end for some reason, and that the orange chairs and caution tape popped out to block the street there. So several of us ran to the other end, and more orange chairs popped out, followed by a table covered in red cloth, then other tables, and then the classroom signs taped on the ground. Viola! In the street for social strike!

A few police cars had appeared at noon sharp, but had stayed in the background. They then parked on either end of the street — but only after we’d already closed it off completely. A cop asked one of our APAQ crew, “What is this?” And when he told her that it was “a social strike,” she asked, “What’s a social strike?” He explained, and she responded with something like “oh, that sounds cool,” and mentioned that the police had asked the twice-hourly bus to reroute from the street until we were ready for it to resume again, and then the police left us alone. Our plan for the bus was to escort it down our street, opening and closing our orange-chair barricade, but we originally thought it only came once an hour, and were worried when we discovered that morning that it came through twice an hour. One APAQ person later said that they were glad the police took care of the one thing that would have made a mess of our day: get the buses to steer clear of us. Whether related or not, one of the first chalkings on our street was this (almost-done) piece:

Then, with a whole block of city street as ours, we turned the pavement into a temporary social strike for three hours. Or rather, I should say not “we” but all those who meandered into this autonomous zone of redesigned civic space. I’ve just spent a lot of time — well, my words, and your time — portraying how we grabbed this space. I often think we forget to document our own histories of how we remake the world, even in little ways, or maybe especially in all these micro-experimental ways (a picket line at one school; professors coming to stand by their striking stands at another; parents forming a baby bloc at a demo; and on and on for these many months until there’s a full-fledged social movement). But I also lingered on the preparation because it illustrates that fine, magical line between what seems a given — that parking spots are for cars — and what is possible — that an official-looking orange chair can reclaim space for something far more enlivening.

It’s not always possible, of course. It helped that we only had one irate business owner bothering us, although his threats of hitting us with his car were somewhat triggering, since a bunch of us had been next to or directly part of the hit-and-run during a casserole a couple weeks ago (for my report of it, see http://cbmilstein.wordpress.com/2012/08/03/popular-power-fuck-the-elections-montreal-night-101/), along with several likely bored and near-invisible cops. It also helped that it was taking place in Mile-End, an increasingly upscaling space that’s also been home for a while to artists and musicians, radicals and progressives, queers, intellectuals, bohemians, and other hip and increasingly hipster types, many of whom have flexible and/or comfortable livelihoods, such as freelancers or professors. Then too, it helped even more that this whole thing was taking place in the context of a long-lasting and relatively popular social movement, at a time when everyone knows that this movement is heading into the August drama of provincial elections and multiple striking schools being forced to decide whether to keep striking or not. Indeed, day by day of late, there’s a mind-boggling calculus of student assemblies deciding to stay on strike, to stop striking, to remain on strike if twenty thousand other students stay on strike, and so on, with Monday, August 13 looming as the onset of blockade battle zones. People are thus aware of the “why” for our street event, often are in support of the student strike, and frequently want to show solidarity in various ways, and I think, right now, are in extra need of sociality, community, and enjoyment before the intensity of next week. And alongside this context, which is key to making other things possible, it helped that our APAQ has been determined to do tangible things for the striking students as well as the neighborhood in particular and society in general, even when we disagree with each other (we don’t use consensus, nor really ever vote, but rely on dialogue, the autonomy of working groups, and trust, built largely because APAQers really take the time to listen to and understand each other, truly taking concerns in account).

Possibility, however, is always there in different ways; it’s more a matter of recognizing those “it helps” parts that are specific to different experiential undertakings of resistance and reconstruction. Because as I highlighted in my previous blog piece, “Social Goodness & Austerity,” the Quebec student strike has cleverly blended the “against” and “for” into nearly every moment, breaking down an easy binary. So part of the reason I wanted to lay out some of the preparation time of our day was to show how we were trying to deal with bringing something festive to life that was, at once, illegal and potentially confrontational, even as it probably reveals the almost-mundane quality of just bringing people, ideas, and stuff into a space and doing something different, something that’s not the usual — for (a) change.

My second reason for focusing on the time before our social strike was to somewhat demystify the idea of a social strike, which is at once so powerful as a concept unto itself, so ubiquitous here in Montreal as a notion of the “what’s next?” and so simple in terms of what it might be — sort of. I’ve sat through many a consulta, assembly, or informal discussion about what the hell a social strike is, or engaged in conversations about it on the streets while in all the many types of illegal demos, and there’s both an incredible lack of agreement or clarity on its definition, on the one hand, and an incredible abundance of agreement that it should happen. In my Mile-End APAQ, for example, it’s been tossed around from the beginning with little contestation or even much dialogue about it, and when the notion of our “In the street for social strike” came up, everyone almost instantly thought it was a good idea.

When I say that a social strike is simple, I mean that it gets at the simple but hard fact of the contemporary social reality that capitalism shapes everyone’s lives, not just the worker’s life, or even the person or people who sans wages help to reproduce the worker. And conversely, the “simple” way to strike is by collectively not doing what you’re supposed to — business as usual — but throwing a wrench into the everyday of all of what we do, work, school, leisure, street life, urban space, and anything and everything else. Even if definitions disagree here in Montreal, people seem to concur that it isn’t just about disruption, though that’s essential, but what you do during that time of disruption to create something different. I haven’t heard it expressed this way, but it could be said that the idea is for people to “strike” in various ways, and while striking, give new meaning to “social” through the doing of it in new ways.

Remaking society for three hours is obviously a far cry from a long-running social strike that would, in turn, transform society such that we never have to go back to a hierarchical business as usual, but can continually play with better versions of communities from below. Still, there’s a way in which the concept of “social strike” opens up possibility, in the same way that a “general strike” has kind of a grinding-to-a-halt industrial feel about it, making it seem far less possible or, in my view, even desirable comparatively. The few times I’ve heard talk of a general strike here, it’s been to hold up the social strike as better and also more doable. That is, the general strike would involve trade unions, and by and large, those aren’t the most bold, daring, and dynamic sectors; most haven’t even been all that forthcoming in terms of solidarity with the student strike, unlike the newborn APAQs, say. There’s also a mafia here — a real, working one. The beauty of the social strike is that it can really happen anywhere — anywhere that there’s a collectivity of people who want to stop the routine and jump-start some potential.

Again, I don’t want to minimize the difficulty, typically, of shutting down a street even for three hours to do what you want in it with a bunch of other people, or way beyond that, moving toward what people call here, often, the “infinite” or “unlimited” social strike, with the added play on the French word for strike (grève) as holding within it also the word dream (rêve). That in itself captures the distinct beauty of a social strike over a general one: that there’s a dream inside the making and doing of it.

So what did we make and do for our three limited yet infinite hours of dreaming together in the newly liberated space of our one block? We socialized it. Communized it. Made it anarchistic. All in the lowercase senses. That is, between the cheerful orange chairs and happy red balloons could be found an egalitarian and generous spirit, valuing everyone for what they brought into it, from each according to their abilities and passions, to each according needs and desires, all self-organized and self-managed with intention and spontaneity, without compulsion, for a delight that can only be found when we manifest it ourselves, even if it took a lot of work (and even if, as one of my co-organizing APAQ folks mentioned today when I ran into her, she went to bed at 9:00 p.m. last night after it and woke up at 2:00 p.m. today, still exhausted — and still pleased, and also wearing the T-shirt that she’d gotten silk screened during our time in the streets).

Tangibly, what we did was nothing particularly special or even unique, and involved many of the activities that are merely the stuff of regular life: eating, talking, creating art, listening to music, educating and learning, relaxing, reading, making friends, setting up and cleaning up. Even the way that we did it was nothing special or unique in the countercultural circles I’m used to: everything followed a do-it-ourselves sensibility, as it does in collective projects on the antiauthoritarian Left. So I kept wandering up and down the street, focusing on keeping the twelve teach-ins on track and taking photos, among other organizational odds and ends, and thinking, “It’s going well, but so what?”

Then one of my friends who I’d asked to do a teach-in came up to me, after his workshop had ended. He’s an anarchist too, and I figured from the look on his face that he also thought it was a sweet day, but nothing special; we’re used to participatory endeavors and unpermitted undertakings. Then he launched into an enthusiastic depiction of his teach-in, underscoring how distinctly different it felt to be engaged in free and popular education, literally in the streets, centered on issues directly related to this social movement, and offering a vision of what education might be like if the social movement has some success. A few minutes later, someone else found me to offer thanks for my friend’s teach-in, since they knew I’d asked him to do it, saying how smart he was, how he could and should be a teacher, how much they learned, and how different — in a good way — it felt to be sharing in learning with others. “We need to bring him back again,” they exclaimed, “for a lot longer conversation, for us and others.”

I refocused my own lens on how I was seeing these few hours, and started really looking at what was going on. Groups of people sat circled close together on the grungy concrete, conversely intently and eagerly on topics like “Understanding and Fighting Austerity and Crisis in Montreal,” “Solidarity across Borders,” “Why the Student Strike Matters: Tuition, Debt, and Neoliberalism,” “Bodies/Protest/Public Space,” and “Four Points about Neoliberalism and Its Impact on the Common Good.” Many of the “teachers” had moved their “classrooms” to more personally agreeable spots on the streets by simply picking up their red-square sign and taping it down elsewhere, and took initiate to gather a group of “students.” A lawyer who’s also part of our APAQ was going to do a teach-in on special law 78, but only a few people came to sit by her red-square classroom sign. One of them was a military person who had served a tour of duty, and on their return home, had received a couple citations under law 78, so her teach-in ended up doing a close reading of this real-live case; the military person had never heard of the law nor knew much about the student strike before. The person leading the “Making Our Movement Green and Red” teach-in had brought his own butcher-block paper, markers, and an easel, but ended up using the giant chalk we’d contributed for the day to create a participatory mapping of his topic on the street itself.

The Alternative University Project and CUTV (live broadcasters for the Quebec Spring) were on hand to lead teach-ins, but seemed to end up more informally sharing ideas or, perhaps better yet, showing by doing. CUTV, for instance, taped the press conference, where various folks from different APAQs met each other for the first time, and chatted about future ways to collaborate and lend solidarity to each other, even as they explained the genesis of the APAQs, how they were demonstrating wider social support for this movement, and why they would stand behind the striking students. Displaying solidarity too, Anarchopanda had kindly agreed to show up for the first fifteen minutes or so to draw crowds and ward off police, and thus help us hold down the street, but the person inside the animal suit must have been enjoying himself. He joined in the teach-ins, socialized, and stayed for nearly the whole time — fulfilling his light-hearted comment to me on Facebook (when I asked him to offer a philosophy course, his specialty) that he was coming to learn from others.

An area filled with red yarn, red fabric, red-berry muffins, and red translucent “paper” — courtesy of Le Milieu, which concentrates on dialogue, popular learning, and empowerment while supporting creative processes — became a hands-on learning lab as people shared knitting skills, a center of solidarity as people jotted down their thoughts for the students and movement on the see-through red squares, and a subversion of our decision not to put rope across the street for safety reasons — proving that the best-laid DIY plans will thankfully be rethought by others who have a better idea. That’s how red squares filled with words came to dance merrily on the breeze above people’s heads, as nearby participants munched gladly on the the vegan wraps and vegan cake that the Midnight Kitchen –a volunteer collective striving to provide working alternative to current market-based systems of food collection and distribution — had made in quantity the day before along with folks from our assembly and others as part of a big cooking day for us but also a bunch of other educational events and actions over the weekend.

I noticed as well that that saucepan overflowing with red-felt squares was nearly empty now, and watched as parents pinned the symbol of solidarity and struggle on to their kids’ colorful clothing, and saw other folks reading the CLASSE manifesto and other political material that had been on our literature table, and then discussing it. I watched a group of five women dressed in red weave in and out of crowds in an at times humorous, at times serious, at times enigmatic performance-dance — only the second time they’d tried it, they told me; it was an experiment in creativity and solidarity, and captivating for anyone they dance-performed near. I listened to the people’s chorus sing, after they’d handed out lyrics so others could join in. And I got just as caught up in the silk-screening station as everyone and anyone else who happened by it. Like many others, I couldn’t resist zipping home to grab a T-shirt to bring back for on-site transformation. Artists Clément de Gaulejac and Mathieu Jacques brought their screens, talents, and politics to the streets, and told me that they’d done this before as part of the movement, not merely printing for others, but trying to create interactive spaces of learning, while designing work that spoke to the politics of this moment. The clotheslines around their print station started filling up with air-drying prints and T-shirts on clothespins, and then some of the trees were encircled with prints on cardboard to dry, and when those were filled, people gladly held wet prints until they were dry.
Mostly, beyond the DIY activities that we’d envisioned, and that others than re-DIY’d to their own satisfaction, what I witnessed, and what person after person kept underscoring as distinct, was the open and accessible space to converse, to talk, to meet, to socialize, and often with people who hadn’t known each other before. One of my friend said that they noticed that in particular: mingling among strangers, who then weren’t strange anymore. There are other festivals on this street in the summer; Montreal is a city of festivals at this time of year. But they all mostly involve things being sold or things been hawked at you, even if they are good projects trying to do outreach, or performances you merely watch. These other festivals are events that you visit as a spectator. They don’t make you feel like randomly walking up to people to chat. I thought back on when we’d first settled on our “In the street for social strike” as an APAQ and particularly a mobilization working group, before we even had a name for it, and how much this short organizing time together had worked its social glue on us too. One APAQ person remarked to me at the end of our social strike, as we were cleaning up, that it was good our neighborhood in particular had done this day of action, per the St-Henri call, because our APAQ is made up of people of all ages, few of whom are actually students, so it really does illustrate that society at large is in solidarity with the strike, but also wants something profoundly different for the city and its communities. More than that, though, I mused, it highlights what it is about a social strike that makes it potentially more potent than students engaging in a student strike, workers joining in a general strike, or even what’s been called a caring strike, in which those who supply affective labor withdraw it from commodification.
What we did in Mile-End was miniscule, and merely playacting at what might be a substantive social strike someday, a long and eventually infinite one. But even in this tiny window of three hours, and through all the planning and set up beforehand, and now in the closer connections that have come out on the other side, especially needed for what may be a difficult couple weeks ahead — not knowing whether the strike will hold or not, whether the law and riot cops will gain the upper hand, whether politics as usual and Charest will take charge again and this Quebec uprising will be quieted — it hints at what’s essential for a new society: new social relations. Yes, there is a lovely dream bundled tightly within the social strike, however brief and fragile.
-Cindy Milstein-

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Occupy as an Invitation

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared on Shareable.

New York, NY–I went to Zuccoti Park on Saturday, October 22, 2011 to participate in Occupy Wall Street with the little time that I had as someone with a family, a mortgage, and who is also managing a startup nonprofit. I was in New York for a short stay to attend Contactcon and help promote Shareable’s upcoming event ShareNY.

I went down the park with my friend Lazlo from Budapest who was intensely interested in Occupy as a meme. We had intended to do a little research to explore Occupy as what he called a “memetic creature”. Roughly what that meant to him was to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the central themes of Occupy. That proved impractical with the time we had, but the idea stuck in my head that I’d come home with an impression to share about Occupy.

As we headed to the park on the subway, Lazlo commented on Occupy stories from a fresh copy of the New York Times. There was a story that quoted a Tea Party activists and Senate candidate saying that Occupy protesters were “unemployed, uneducated and uninformed.” It seems everyone had an opinion, and I wanted to see for myself.

When we arrived on Wall Street, I was startled at what the police had done to control the environment. The sidestreets next to the park where barricaded. The flow of pedestrians was heavily controlled the way they are at airport security checkpoints. This had the strange effect of quieting pedestrians. It was like walking in a church, all quiet in obedience to a higher authority. There were mounted police, which seemed absolutely silly to have there unless you wanted to intimidate people.

We actually got lost for about 20 minutes looking for the park. We felt a little silly for getting lost on the way to the revolution. Lazlo suggested we ask a cop for directions. We laughed. He opted to ask the clerk at a newstand instead. That helped, but thinking back I don’t think it was an accident we had trouble getting there. The barricades restricted our ability to move freely and explore.

When we finally got to the park, it was even more controlled. The whole park was surrounded by barricades. It felt as if the police where tyring to choke the movement. In fact, I felt choked. When we actually got in the park, I felt better but it was very crowded. Thankfully, everybody I encountered was friendly. I felt welcomed. We roamed around the park to take it in. It was a lively scene. I saw teach-ins happening, educational material being passed out, a table for free cigarettes, many who were going about their daily routine as campers, a donation table (I gave $20), and a drum circle when we arrived at the far end of the park.

There we met up with some friends who had also attended Contactcon. We chatted, trying to make sense of it all, but then reverted to talk about what was happening in each of our lives. After the chat exhausted itself, Lazlo and I headed back with our friends to the other side of the park where the General Assembly was just getting started. We participated for about an hour, and then left to find a meal together.

It was anti-climatic to say the least. I left not knowing what to think about Occupy. Not to mention that I felt like a total tourist. And I had nothing to say that hadn’t already been said before. This went on a couple weeks. I just sat on the experience, a sidelined melancholy suburban revolutionary.

That changed yesterday. I started to feel that the nothingness was the message. That the openness, the undefined and emergent nature, the lack of or multitude of demands, and that my own unmade mind about it was an invitation to participate, to help shape the movement and to make a contribution in my own way. No one has a monopoly on its meaning. No one is telling me what I should do. There is no button on a web page that says, “Take Action!” The movement, like the blank field of a search engine, is asking me what I want to learn and what I want to do. It trusts that I know.

-Neal Gorenflo-

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File Bankruptcy Now

Graduated from college with $25,000 in debt and my family handed me a pile of credit card debt, $30,000, in my name.  Accepting the fate that I would be in debt for 10+ years on my meager college graduate income, I contacted a bankruptcy attorney.  She told me to pay one card so you don’t have to notify them and they won’t cancel on you.  Then you FILE!

Four and a half years later Wells Fargo was beating down my door to buy a home since my debt/income ratio was now under control.  But please know that I have been recently denied for a credit increase on my credit card because of the bankruptcy.

File bankruptcy now to clear your conscious and to stop those monsters from calling you and telling you how immoral your behavior is for not paying your debt.  The banks sell your debt to these vultures and you file to make them go away.

Save your future income and your family all this pain and file bankruptcy now.

– Matt –

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Willing Victim of Predatory Lending

Years ago, being broke, I picked up the phone and called Ditech after seeing those wonderful “solve all your problems” ads. I talked to the nicest guy in the world, whose only mission in life was apparently to help me. Sure enough, two days later, after faxing in a paystub and tax info, a lady came to my door with a nice check that she gave me after I signed a bunch of papers. I was a willing victim of predatory lending. Ditech later sold my mortgage to Greentree, who tried to double my payment. I bucked enough, though, and won that one so far.

– Anonymous –

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I am NOT a Slut, and I am NOT Lazy!

My (now ex) husband is in the Navy.  We were married for over 8 years and were expecting our third child when I discovered he was addicted to incest and child porn.  He refused to get help or quit, so I decided the best thing for our children was to leave.  He controlled all the finances, so I had to borrow $8,000 to pay for a lawyer and moving expenses.

So there I was, 2 kids, a third on the way, all by myself, and I only qualified to make minimum wage.  I enrolled in college; I’m almost done and I have $36,000 in student loans.  While I go to school, we live on my ex’s child support (a whole 20% of his income) which puts us below the poverty line.

A little over a year ago, I reunited with an old friend that I had known since childhood.  Birth control failed and I became pregnant.  My daughter was born with special needs: Erb’s Palsy and clubbed feet, so we thought.  She is 8 months old now, her treatment has cost over $25,000 so far, and it’s not working.  She is now being tested for Osteogenesis Imperfecta (also known as Brittle Bone disease).

So now I’m raising 4 children (3 conceived with their father who I was married to, one conceived with a man I’ve known for 30 years),  all while going to college full time, taking care of a 2 bedroom 1 bath house that is way too small for all of us, and making it to all of the 3 to 5 Doctor appointments each and every week.  I’m also drowning in debt, and with all the medical attention my daughter needs, I have absolutely no hope of ever finding a job that will allow me to work around my baby’s many doctor appointments.

I am sick and tired of people looking at me and assuming I’m a slut because I have 4 kids.  I’m sick and tired of people looking at me like I’m abusing my baby just because she has casts on her poor little legs.  I’m sick and tired of people assuming I’m lazy because I live below the poverty line and I’m accumulating massive debt.  I work my butt off taking care of my children and my responsibilities all while trying to make our lives better; I deserve a little bit of respect…. is that really too much to ask?

– Heather –

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The Cost of Helping Others

A massage therapist. An acupuncturist. 7 years of schooling, and dogpiled under $134,000 worth of debt between two degrees: an Associate’s (2 year) degree, and a Master’s degree (3.5 year), plus 1 year of community college. This is the deep cost of the small, private colleges that teach people how to help with their hands, their minds, and notwith pharmaceuticals, but with the immense power of the human body to heal itself.

We’ve been indoctrinated by Big Pharma to believe that our bodies can’t possibly know how to fix itself, and that only their expensive puppet-doctors and pills are the only thing that can possibly help.

Reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

The body has an immense capability to fix it, whether through herbs, through diet, exercise, massage, meditation or acupuncture.

A fervent Occupy Oaklander, during every event, you would find this healthcare practitioner at the heart of Oscar Grant Plaza, offering free acupuncture and massage treatment for any one who was willing. It’s a firm belief that anyone who wants healthcare should be allowed to have it, and that is the deepest base idea of this blooming medical practice.

A staunch practitioner of the Buddhist ideal of nonviolence. Do not misunderstand: Nonviolence does not equate to cowardice. In fact, there is a monumental amount of courage required to maintain such a lifestyle. There’s a deep level of compassion for all living beings, including those doing the oppressing. To walk up to those people with open hands held high and a bright smile takes nothing but the utmost level of courage.

There is no hate, no malice, no violence, in this heart. It would be easy to regret the tens of thousands of dollars that was required to come to this point. But why would anyone shy away from this depth of love, at any price?

The photo included is of 5 acupuncturist brothers and sisters treating patients on the steps of Oscar Grant Plaza during the Oakland General Strike on November 2, 2011.

– Jon Nelson –

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Just Wanted a College Degree

All I wanted was to do what I was taught was right when I graduated high school: to get a college degree and make my parents proud.

My passions fall into art. I searched and searched and found the perfect art college I could join, right by my parents’ house. This way I could still live with them while I finished my schooling.

Little did I know that “The Art Institutes” are for-profit private schools that have been building a reputation as loan farmers. What they do is use scam business practices and fake numbers and statistics like “85% of our graduates have a full time job the first 6 months out of school.” These statistics were what got me to join.

They then force you to get federal student loans and go through their recommended private bank partners, like Sallie Mae, to loan your money to you.

I’ve seen 7/10 of first year students get tricked into joining the audio productions degree program there because they were led to believe that it was something that it was not. They also brush the tuition of $90,000 under the table while they register you and make sure you are confident and trusting when you join.

I realized their scam too late. After two years in the program, I realized there was no real guaranteed jobs for my degree–that this degree was just made up out of no where, and that I could have went into this field and been successful without even going to college! I also witnessed the school screw over my classmates first-hand and put them $15-20,000 in debt for a year only to realize they were lied to from the beginning about what the school was really about. I am already a senior in the school so it is too late to pull out now. I’m going to finish the degree and hope I will find a job that will be good enough to pay the 600 monthly payments on student loans I will have to pay as soon as I graduate. But I know already that this is unlikely. I understand this field now, and now I will have to be very lucky to ever make enough money to pay this off easily.

With Sallie Mae’s ridiculous, selfish interest rates, I will pay $120,000+ for a stupid art degree that doesn’t mean anything.

These for-profit private schools the Art Institutes are loan farmers, are selfish. They don’t care about art or music. They care about manipulation and money, and I was a sucker. Now will have to struggle the rest of my life with no guaranteed job at all to pay this mistake off.

Thank you America.

– Anonymous –

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99 Picket Lines: Justice for Jazz Artists

New York, NY – I’d heard about the Justice for Jazz Artists group and their work, but it wasn’t until last night that I met up with them. They have been assembling for some months for different actions surrounding the unfair treatment of musicians in New York City nightclubs. Last night they were assembled under the vision of 99 Picket Lines, an Occupy working group that seeks to foster consciousness and cross-sector solidarity for the city’s labor groups, from sanitation to desk workers, through assembling picket lines across the city.

On this evening the labor in question was jazz music, and we had in the march a full brass band, including a jazz piccolo player, an assortment of friends and wishers-well, fellow musicians from the musicians local 802 (there’s GOT to be a way for a pianist to play and march, right?), and a few Occupy folks, including myself and my friend Tony from the music working group.

We met across the street from Dizzy’s, one of the clubs in the Jazz at Lincoln Center complex at the super upscale Time Warner mall at Columbus Circle. From what friends have told me, playing for any Jazz at Lincoln Center gig is pretty much a musicians’ top gig, and to start a protest at that spot seemed a particularly bold move.

The group played a number of tunes as onlookers snapped photos and the banner holders got themselves together. We crossed the street passing out flyers and starting the show. Immediately dozens of people stopped and listened. Little kids passing by instinctively danced, and even some adults couldn’t help it (jes grew). A half dozen security guards came out and stood by with that trademark hands folded in front of their bodies gesture of relaxed anticipation, nodding their heads after a particularly good solo, and the police stood away from the music talking with the organizers, their three vans parked with lights just around the corner.

We walked south past the main entrance of the mall and some musicians passed us. When people asked why we were marching, we said, “There is this agreement that jazz clubs made to pay into the musicians’ pensions, for which they get a tax write off. They got the write off, but don’t pay.” It’s so so simple it’s not even about music: it’s just about keeping a promise. People get that right away, and it’s hard to disagree. Then there’s clubs recording musicians and selling the recordings without paying them, that’s to tell the many musicians who walk by and understand in a sound-byte’s time how wrong that is. Almost everyone took flyers, and some joined the march for a block or two, dancing and talking with the musicians and organizers.

We walked across the south of the circle and to Broadway, playing its Lullaby. The sidewalk is big there and a few restaurants with outdoor seating were treated to a lovely spectacle and joyful sound. Most whipped out cell phone cameras and smiled, a few waiters moved railings in a little tighter: perhaps out of fear of us, or acknowledgement that the street is not just for dining, or because we looked like we needed a stately ground.

As we headed into the Times Square district, the mood changed to tourists and those who serve them. The tourists always think such things are a delight, what makes New York so special, and it was the punctuations of “What do we want? “Justice,” “When do we want it?” “Now!” that shifted our passing by from spectacle to statement, and sometimes they would seem confused or better yet, turn a wry smile in acknowledgement.

I asked one of the folks walking with the march if there would be a mic check. “We’re not there yet,” the person said. Indeed, in the moments when the musicians were not playing, they stood silently, waiting for the next tune or talking among themselves. As an occupier, I was a little weirded out by that, but then it reminded me of myself when I first started going to Zuccotti.

I was so freaked out by the human mic concept, by the idea that someone just shouts out loud if they need something, by the bursts of group noise calling attention to an action. And it also reminded me of my early meetings, being afraid to speak and worse, disagree, based on my own beliefs and principles. Actually, it was, and still is, hard for me to even state these beliefs among strangers. As I talked to one of the local 802, who told me of the unique difficulties of organizing a group of so many different types of workers spread all around the globe all the time under incredibly different conditions, I understood how hard the musicians’ struggle to find a voice as labor could be. My respect for this group coming out into the streets at night, protesting in front of the mightiest institutions of jazz, grew as I stood there.

We arrived at the Iridium, sandwiched between the singing-waiter diner and Mama Mia! on Broadway. A couple sitting outside and eating smiled and welcomed us. We assembled on Bloomberg’s polka dot pedestrian zone and played tunes and talked with passers by, who built up into crowds then ebbed between tunes, many asking questions or snapping photos of the musicians with their Justice For Jazz Musicians signs.

Someone came from one of the venue doors and asked us to quiet down. But it wasn’t Iridium, it was Mamma Mia! The horns could be heard in the theater, and there were union members in the pits. The brass turned their bells away and continued playing, thought we were running out of flyers and thus would need to quit after one more tune. A woman on the street was having fit, “I just can’t remember the name of that song, what is it” I asked a horn player. “Cabaret,” he said. “Yes!” she said, her whole body relaxing. “Oh,” I said. “I really should know that but I’m more of a punk musician and we have . . . different standards.”

“No, you just need to live longer,” the musician said, and went back to playing.

When the last one ended the group again did the call and response, then spontaneously led into a new chant they’d invented along the way. To a rolling snare the shouted, “No justice, no jazz, no justice, no jazz,” with blurts of horns and piccolo runs snaking through.

When we ended, a server brought us all cold bottles of water, and only moments later Mama Mia! let out. They’d already packed up, and some of the musicians gone, but those left were bummed and really wanted to engage this now thick throng of potential sympathizers. “But we have no more flyers,” someone said, then commented how they’d made so many more than they thought they’d need.

“So next time…” another said: a lot more flyers, a night timed to hit those post-theater crowds, and  with a new chant in their protest march songbook. They’ll be more organized.

-Daphne Carr-

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#M17: An Actor’s Long Day’s Journey Into Occupy

Editors note: re-posted from the authors blog here

New York, NY – For the past several months I have been cheering on Occupy Wall Street: I have defended their message in my own intellectual and artistic circles; I have supported their stances on social and economic justice; I have defended the movement to anyone I know who has questioned or doubted their motives; I have studied the similarities between the Occupy movement and what most pundits have come to regard as the Arab Spring; and I am proud to say that I have participated in several marches and demonstrations (both massive and minimal). I have been involved in several Occupy general assemblies and even sat in on a couple of think tank discussions. I have never directly participated in any work groups, committees or things of that nature. The truth is I’m scared to get involved that deeply. The efforts of this new generation of activists have been astounding and I fear my own efforts may slow down their work and progress. At the very least I felt my presence at Occupy demonstrations would show stronger solidarity with the movement than just giving them a ‘thumbs up’ on facebook.

March 17th was different.

As a former graduate student of Pace University, I was able to attend The Left Forum 2012. For those who may not know The Left Forum is a conference of radical Leftists ranging from academics to intellectuals to activists and so on. It lasts for a weekend at Pace University, which is located in the financial district of Manhattan (ironically) and I usually find it to be highly engaging and educational. The conference consists of many panels. Everything from the environment to the wars to civil rights to social media is discussed and debated from a Leftist perspective. I attended the conference all throughout graduate school and this was my first year attending the conference without being a student. I was excited. Artists like Amiri Baraka would discuss the historical legacy of figures such as Malcolm X and Wallace Shawn was set to do a reading from his new book of essays. The theatre nerd in me rejoiced!

On the second day of the conference Michael Moore was set to speak. I wasn’t particularly enthralled by his presence. Not that I don’t appreciate his films or some of the work he has done in the past, but I wasn’t really interested in hearing him lecture. It just wasn’t appealing to me. The last panel for the day ended at 7pm. Moore was scheduled to speak at 7:30pm. Once the clock hit 7pm the halls of Pace University were quickly flooded with people. Leftists of all branches and kinds were still in engaging in dialogue and still entrenched in their dialectical nature as they exited the classrooms where the panels took place. At that moment, I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do next. I had been at the conference almost all day (I slipped out briefly to attend a rehearsal for a play I was in) and, more than anything, I felt odd. I wasn’t interested in seeing Moore speak, but I didn’t feel right about going home either. Much of the conference was spent speaking to and about Occupy Wall Street. It felt almost wrong to be a part of this conference and then go home and not do anything. But, then, something happened. As I was trying to exit Pace, a large group of Occupy activists started chanting,

“Out of the forum and into
the streets! Out of the forum
and into the streets!”

The occupiers were dancing in the streets outside of Pace University. They had made signs and banners and they were encouraging the Leftists waiting to see Michael Moore speak to join them instead.

“You talk the talk! Now walk
the walk! You talk the talk!
Now walk the walk!”

The energy was incredible. The question didn’t even dawn on me whether I should join the occupiers or try to see Michael
Moore. It was no contest. The time for talk and praise of the Occupy movement was done for the day. We had to march. Only so much can be accomplished with intellectual analyses and academic discussions; only so much can be done with praise or criticism from a comfortable distance; only so much can be gained with inactive dissent. The moment was now and, as an actor, I know that if a moment so precious comes along, one must seize it.

We tried to get as many people as we could to march with us to Zuccotti Park, which is about a five minute walk away from Pace University. Many joined us. Many would later join us. We marched on the New York City streets and declared them as our own. Oddly enough, I found myself near the front of the march. When I realized it I was suddenly struck with worry. I had been following the brutality which had been visited upon Occupy demonstrators all throughout the country and it deeply disturbed me. My instinct of reluctance was proven correct. The NYPD’s response to the march was almost immediate. With little warning, police officers started to push and shove marchers onto the sidewalk violently. Police officers started to swing batons at the marchers in order to force them into submission. The response was, without a doubt, excessive, but we kept marching. If I remember correctly about two marchers were arrested on our way to Zuccotti Park. People were terrified, but they stood their ground. Cameras appeared everywhere instantly and recorded these brutal actions by the police. People shouted,“Shame! Shame! Shame!” to the officers, but it had little impact on their intention to repress. I was unaware that blocking traffic and/or jaywalking in New York City is an arrestable offense and is deemed so dangerous that the violator(s) must be subjected to police brutality and then violently detained. Or maybe that’s naïve.

But this was only the beginning.

As we marched on, an almost endless string of NYPD motorcycles trailed the march very closely. When we finally reached Zuccotti park there were already many people there. They welcomed us with open arms. The NYPD eventually surrounded the park. Most of us reached the park safely. I breathed in a sigh of relief. I was glad I arrived safely. It’s always a strange feeling for me personally when I go Occupy Wall Street demonstrations alone. Not a bad a feeling, but strange. I feel I belong and don’t belong at the same time. I have so much to say in moments like that, but, when I’m there, I become particularly quiet. I always find I learn more when I listen to other people and that’s exactly what I did at Liberty Square a.k.a. Zuccotti Park. Soon after the march arrived, an Occupy General Assembly began. It was declared that this would be a 24 hour occupation. People cheered. I began to walk around the park and notice the eclectic collection of people Occupy has attracted. I saw musicians play songs, artists choreograph tableaus, people played a game called Silent Ninja, and a young woman led a very large and elaborate exercise, which, I believe, has come to be known as Spring Training. It was more than thrilling. The energy was unmatched compared to anything at The Left Forum. I began to strike up conversations with people and many of them were completely fascinating and many of them were as ordinary as any Jane or John Doe. The diversity of people seemed infinite and, all in all, it was a fun time. There were points where I was entirely content just sitting and observing people. And as I sat and witnessed this movement grow before my very eyes, I realized that I had been wrong. I was not a part of an apathetic generation. My generation would not sit by silently and watch our world be destroyed by the corruption of those who hold power. My generation would fight back. And it seemed, for the briefest of moments, that we had reclaimed our public space.

The triumph was short lived. As I wandered through the park observing and taking note, I saw a marching band on the other end of the square. The band was across the street and it looked like an Irish bagpipe marching band. Why not? It was Saint Patrick’s Day after all. They began to play their music as they marched toward the upper end of the square where most of the people in the park were standing. People became ecstatic when they started to play. People ran toward the marching band in order to welcome them. But, again, the excitement was short lived. Soon after the band started playing, the NYPD stopped them. The band didn’t even reach the park. We started chanting, “Let them play! Let them play!”It was no use. Lawyers from Occupy crossed the street in order to make sure none of them were detained. I don’t think any of them were arrested, but I could be wrong.

I was furious. Not allowing people to play music in a public park on St. Patrick’s Day? It was nothing short of despicable. And it only got worse.

It was around this time that uncertainty started to fill the park. I got worried. I wasn’t sure what exactly was about to happen, but I had a pretty good idea. The NYPD started to surround the park on a greater level. More and more of them came. The officers marched almost like soldiers with guns, handcuffs, and batons. The people in the park started to worry. One of the high ranking police officers in a white shirt used a megaphone to make an announcement, but the volume wasn’t nearly loud enough. It would have been impossible for most people to hear him. I only saw him make the announcement once and, shortly thereafter, the NYPD started to raid the park. The officers tore at people with a kind of vengeance as they destroyed signs, ripped banners, and assaulted peaceful demonstrators. Officers were followed by more and more officers and they were clearly armed.

The park was thrown into a great unease. No one knew what to do. Finally, someone yelled, “Sit down!” Almost immediately people sat down and locked arms. I looked over at the police who were approaching us like a wave. They were already manhandling people and hitting them with batons. They were anxious to clear the park and were going to do so violently. That much was clear. What was unclear was what I was going to do.

I froze. As I stood in the middle of the park, the air became thick. Time didn’t slow down, but it certainly seemed out of measure. But, then, something interesting happened. It’s hard to explain in so many words, but the best way I can describe it is that I shut down. I mean, in that moment, I emotionally and intellectually shut down. Many people were screaming at the police, others were chanting, and everyone who sat down prepared himself or herself for what was about to happen. And in my strange state all I could do was join them. I sat down with the protestors in solidarity. I had to do this. Because we had every right to be in a public park; we had every right to participate in a general assembly. This was not about confronting the police. This was about protecting and exercising our right to freedom of speech. The actions of the NYPD were wrong. I knew that. But none of this rhetorical thinking absolved my fear. There were quite a number of people sitting in front of me as the police officers made their way toward us. Police officers struck people with their batons, other officers threw protestors tothe ground, punched people, etc. The scene was ugly, but I had no emotion. I would sit there. I would exercise my rights in the face of tyrannical gestures. And I was willing to suffer the consequences of my decision.

By the time the police reached me I think I was the only quiet person in the park, even with all of the intensity surrounding me. There was a young man in front of me with an orange helmet who was being dragged and pulled by the police. They eventually detained him. I was next. I took a breath. Everything was happening so fast; it was difficult to process. But, according to my own memory, this is what happened next. After the young man in the orange helmet was detained, a police officer struck me with a baton. I think he was attempting to hit my left arm. He didn’t really get a good shot at me. I felt it mildly, but I’m sure the person next to me felt it fully. He then grabbed very forcefully and pulled me up. I didn’t resist. In fact, I put up my hands immediately and said very loudly, “I’m not resisting arrest!” He proceeded to throw me to the ground, get on top of me, ram his knee into the lower part of my back while handcuffing me, all the while another police officer stepped on my face and pushed my head into the concrete with his foot. I was screaming, “Jesus Christ! I’m not resisting arrest!” The officer who had handcuffed me got me to my feet. My right knee was already bleeding from having been thrown to the ground and my jeans started to soak up the blood. The officer said, “Let’s go!” He took me to a curb outside the park where the police officers were stashing those they were arresting.

I sat on the curb. Still, I remained fairly quiet. Many of the protestors (arrested and not) were screaming at the police officers. They were consumed with anger and they had every right to be. I wasn’t. I just sat quietly. I accepted what was happening to me. More than anything I was nervous about what would happen to me and to the rest of the arrested protestors. As I looked around I saw police officers laughing and taking pleasure in what they were doing. That disgusted me. I couldn’t say I was surprised, but watching them laugh about what was happening to us was truly appalling.

I had no idea what to do. It was around this time I noticed the handcuffs on me were made of plastic and were on extremely tight. They were on so tight that I was in agonizing physical pain. I started vocalizing my pain a bit, but I tried to keep quiet. (Eventually, the handcuffs would cut off blood circulation almost entirely and my hands would remain numb for weeks.) I politely greeted some of my fellow arrested protestors. I gave them a smile and a couple of them smiled back. They were not quite as calm as I was, but it was a relief to know that I wasn’t alone and that they were all in solidarity. I noticed to my left that there was a young woman who looked like there was something dramatically wrong. I found out later that she was in the first stages of having a seizure. She was begging to have her handcuffs taken off. The police officer standing in front of us refused her request. She kept begging and pleading and he would not help her. At one point she got up and tried to run to a medic and was quickly and viciously pushed to the ground. Her body seemed like it was about to start convulsing. At the time I didn’t understand why, but it was clear she needed some kind of medical attention. After she was thrown back to the ground, her body couldn’t stop moving. I was scared for her. I looked up and saw the police officer, to whom she had been pleading, and he was reaching for his gun. It was at this point that I and a couple of other protestors started yelling at him.

“Why are you reaching for your gun?!?! She’s already in handcuffs! Why do you need your gun? She’s
detained! Why are you reaching for your gun?!?!”

He took notice of us and stopped. It turns out this young woman’s name is Cecily McMillan. I’m not sure what the updates on her are aside from that she was arrested, sent to the hospital, and the New York City chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (Occupy’s legal team) had a difficult time getting into contact with her while she was in jail. She was eventually released and is being charged with assaulting a police officer while she was having a seizure.

More details on Cecily McMillan:
http://www.democracynow.org/2012/3/23/exclusive_ows_activist_cecily_mcmillan_describes

It was around this time I noticed a public MTA bus had stopped in front of us. It was empty. I quickly became confused. I assumed we would be taken in a police wagon. But a public bus? I wasn’t even sure if that was legal. As the officers began to put people on the bus, a few demonstrators went limp and refused to give any assistance to the police. Because of their civil disobedience police ruthlessly tried to get detained protestors onto the bus in the only way they know how: violently. I complied. But as I saw the police manhandle people in order to force them on the MTA bus, I became increasingly frightened for my own safety and for the safety of the other peaceful demonstrators

I walked to the end of the bus and sat down. I was soon joined by others in handcuffs. The bus soon became filled with sound and fury, signifying everything. Many of the protestors were still yelling at the police. They accused the police of being corrupt, of being fascists, of being the pets of tyrants, etc. I didn’t participate in the name calling. I didn’t see a point. Nothing I could have said at that point would have changed my fate. And, frankly, I was so completely repulsed by the vulgar actions of the
NYPD. No words would have been sufficient enough to express what I felt. But I remained calm. As the police brought in more and more protestors, their treatment only got worse. The police slammed one protestor’s head into each step while they dragged him on the bus and I was terrified they were going to break his neck. This was another point where I shouted at the police officers. They eventually got him to a seat. The bus was put into motion. We received cheers from the demonstrators outside of the bus. They celebrated us. That felt nice. This was, indeed, my first arrest.

As the noise on the bus died down and as the protestors calmed down, we became creative. Most of us began to sing
together. Everything from Queen to Bob Marley was sung. One occupier laid down a beat and another started to freestyle as they hauled us off to jail. At one point, I said something entirely in character of myself. I waited until the bus became quiet for a moment and then I yelled, “So, does anyone know any showtunes?!?!” The occupier in front of me said, “Only one.”

“Do you hear the people sing? Singing the song of angry men.
It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again.
When the beating of your heart echoes the beating of the drum,
there is a life about to start when tomorrow comes!”

It was magical.

As I’m writing this my hands still feel numb from the handcuffs, even though it has been almost a month since my arrest. I visited a doctor and she told me there was no nerve damage, but I’m growing more and more concerned that the marks on my wrists caused by the tightness of the handcuffs may be permanent.

More than one person has asked me, directly or indirectly, whether all of this was worth it. Whether it was worth being arrested for this cause; I find it to be a strange question. My civil rights were violated: my right to sit in a public park, my right to exercise my freedom of speech, and my right to peacefully participate in a general assembly. Was it worth it? By bringing this next example up I am by no means comparing myself to the brave and honorable civil rights activists of the 1950’s & 60’s who intentionally broke laws in the segregated south by sitting in segregated lunch counters, but I’m sure at one point each of them was asked the same question: was it worth it? Well, fifty years later, what do you think? Was it worth them getting beaten ruthlessly by police and then being hauled off to jail? Again, I’m not comparing myself to these civil rights activists, but I’m sure each of them found the question to be just as absurd as I do.

It’s safe to say, however, the events of March 17th 2012 have changed me and I will never be the same. Whatever your feelings are about Occupy Wall Street, I think any rational person can see the tactics used by the NYPD are absolutely unacceptable. Cecily McMillan left for the hospital on a stretcher with a broken rib. Another protestor suffered a panic attack and
was manhandled for it. One protestor had a black eye and marks all over his face from police officers punching him. One occupier suffered a broken thumb and an injured jaw. It was a disgraceful scene and the NYPD was entirely responsible for creating it.

I don’t believe my efforts here were remarkable. I simply did what I had to. In truth, I chose to be arrested. I chose to stand up for what I believed to be right and I stand by my decision. I was told that all of the charges were dropped, but, in fact, they were never even brought. I spent roughly 29 hours in jail before I was released. Any citizen of the world should be concerned with the corruption of power and what it has done to our supposed democracy. Our economic system has been destroyed for a generation because of people like Charles Prince, Hank Paulson, Ben Bernanke, and many others who have not seen an hour in jail for theft, corruption, and fraud. This is what really angers me. According to the established order, it’s fine to steal billions of dollars and destroy the lives of millions people, but it’s not okay to speak out against it. What I learned on March 17th was that I have civil rights as long as I don’t exercise them. Was it worth it? Needless to say, I have gone back and participated more at Occupy demonstrations. And I will continue to do so. Because a profound change in this world is not just inevitable, it’s for our very survival.

-Sergio Castillo-

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