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March to Freedom | Occupied Stories

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March to Freedom

March to Freedom
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New York, NY–My Mom and I live in a first floor apartment down on 9th Street, not far from the YMCA.  She works at the local grocery store a few days a week, which helps towards the rent, and I take the B61 bus every day down to Brooklyn where I work as a class assistant in the catholic high school.  Dad left us when I was 13.  I used to think it was my fault he left because I was horrible to him, but Mom told me later that he had been seeing the waitress at the diner on the next block for months before he moved out.  I don’t know whether I felt better that he didn’t leave because of me, or worse because I thought Mom must have been really hurt.  She doesn’t smile much anymore anyway.

Life is pretty boring for both of us I guess.  Mom spends her time in the apartment.  She only leaves to go to work or shop and then come home again.  I never go anywhere much because money is tight these days and I am studying from home to get more qualified.  I hope that I will be able to train to be a teacher in a year or so from now, but I need to graduate first so I can get on the training course.  We weren’t doing too badly when Dad first left.  I guess he felt guilty enough about walking out to help out with money for a while.  Eventually the money stopped though and he didn’t drop by to see me anymore.  I found out from an old school friend, whose dad knew him, that he and his new girlfriend had had a baby.  Sometimes I wondered if he would walk out on her too, but I never heard any more about him after that.  Anyway, things got pretty tight then.  I was still at school and Mom couldn’t manage very well on the money she was earning.  I wasn’t far off from graduation when I came home one day to find Mom looking the happiest I’d seen her in a long time.  She’d been talking to one of the regular customers who came in the store and they had told her about a company that was almost literally handing out loans.  She had put in an application for a loan and been accepted.  The money had hit her account that day and she had been out and filled the larder.  Not only that, but there were new clothes for both of us, which Lord knows we had needed, and she had bought a few things for the apartment too.  It felt like a birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas rolled into one.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, Mom had trouble meeting the repayments and things started getting behind little by little.  In the end I left school before graduation and took a job waitressing to help out.  Between us, we could manage just fine, but that was the end of my education for more than a few years.  That’s why I study from home now, so that I can try to catch up on what I missed by leaving early.

I guess all this is why I feel so strongly about the Occupy movement.  Strongly enough to have joined the OWS guys in the early days of Zuccotti Park.  I had heard about the New York General Assembly from one of the other staff at school who was crossing the bridge from Brooklyn to attend the meetings in Washington Square Park and Liberty Park.

Like most people who struggle to make ends meet and sit on the sidelines watching the rich get richer, I feel angry and frustrated at the blatant inequality of so called democracy.  I despise the system that promises fairness and opportunity for all, but then undermines any attempt to better yourself.  I started to join my work colleague at the meetings.  It wasn’t long before I was signing petitions, helping stop foreclosures on families threatened with the loss of their homes and joining any protest that didn’t clash with my work.  Home became a place I went to lay my head, grab a bath and some fresh clothes before dashing off again and I did the bare minimum of studying needed to make the grade.  I could see the worry in Mom’s face.  She didn’t hold with upsetting the status quo,  but I couldn’t find the words to tell her that none of us had any choice any more.  It was time to stand up and be counted.  I would kiss her and hurry out the door.

* * *

On March 17th, St Patrick’s Day, I crossed the bridge and made my way to Zuccotti Park.  It was the 6 month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street and I was determined to be there.  I arrived early in the day, maybe about 8:30am, and people were just beginning to gather in small groups.  The mood was good – we were all on a high and I could hear plenty of chatter and laughter across the open space.  Someone was doing face painting and not far away from them, another girl was painting henna tattoos on the arms of a blonde haired guy.  Everyone was sharing breakfast – some people had brought bags of bagels or donuts and coffee – no one was going hungry.

As the day went on, the crowd grew and we started chanting.  One or two tents were being put up in available spaces and a few people were catching some sleep, curled up in camping bags and oblivious to the noise and movement around them.  The cops were on the sidelines, just watching.  Occasionally a protester would wander over, say something to one of them and move away again.

The evening came and dark arrived.  I heard from someone that Brookfield, who owned the Park, were getting edgy about us all being there and they finally asked the cops to clear us all out of the area.  That’s when it started getting nasty.  We were being pushed – herded – towards the edges of the park and were resisting the movement.  Then I heard someone yell.  I couldn’t see what was happening, but then the action moved closer to where I was standing – a line of cops pushing forward, swinging their batons at anyone who was in the way.  People started falling back.  I saw a girl not far away from me catch a baton across her chest and she crumpled.  A couple of guys close to her started shouting at the cops.  They ignored them and the guys lifted the girl up and beat a quick retreat.  I saw someone else with blood running down their face from a gash on their forehead.  Suddenly I was being pushed roughly backwards.  I stumbled, almost lost my balance and fell, but managed to steady myself at the last moment.  I protested at the grim, set face of the cop in front of me.  He just gave me the hardest stare I’ve ever seen and told me to get lost before he took me in.  I almost felt, rather than saw, movement to one side of me and that was the last thing I remember.

I came round in New York downtown hospital.   My mom was there looking as though she’d been crying for hours.  My head hurt so bad I almost felt that it would split open if I moved.  I lifted a hand to reach for Mom and she shushed me quickly, told me that I had been knocked out and had a concussion.  They’d X-rayed my skull to check for damage, but it seems I got away with that one, and I was being kept in overnight for observation.

I heard later that they’d arrested dozens of protesters that night and that I wasn’t the only one to have landed up in hospital, although I was luckier than some – apparently one girl had had a seizure or something.  They let me out to go home the next day.  Mom had stayed overnight in my room, sleeping in a chair, and we caught the bus together.  Walking down 9th Street to our apartment was kind of weird.  Everything looked the same as it had been all my life but somehow it was different.   Or I was different perhaps.

– Beth Harrington –

Beth Harrington no longer writes politics using her real name, although she hopes that one day the powerful forces that oppress us all will fall just as they always have throughout history and the people will be able to live in peace. She now lives in the UK which has its own set of problems.

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