New York–I was in NYC from September 14-18 to support the one year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. I met so many great people, learned so much and even marched into the Financial District to protest the horrible income inequality in our country. But this story is about what took place after the action. This story is about my participation in Jail Support. Occupy Wall Street took amazing care of all the people involved in the three-day gathering, but if by chance you were arrested while serving your country with OWS, you were provided with loving, focused attention. They call their working group Mutant Legal and they take their work very seriously.
As soon as you were arrested lawyers from the Lawyers Guild of New York got your name and immediately provided legal service. I can’t say enough about The Lawyers Guild. They were present everywhere during the three days of gatherings, with their bright green hats, and they provided legal counsel for each person who was arrested.
My job with Occupy was to make sure that people coming out of jail were well taken care of. This involved making sure that they had a good snack or meal if they needed it. Or even a cigarette if they needed one. It involved staying close by for a hug or a suggestion about what to do next. Here is my jail support story.
During one of the Jail Support trainings the day before the actions in the Financial District one of the trainers mentioned that the police often take away a person’s shoelaces and then don’t return them. On Monday afternoon I went down to the courthouse, where some of the people that were arrested on Monday morning were being let out of jail. I sat down on the sidewalk in front of a man and woman who had just been released. They seemed rather shaken and talked about their experience getting arrested. Mostly they were happy to be out of jail and they were happy to have cigarettes and food.
As we talked, I looked down and noticed that they didn’t have any shoe laces so I asked, “Would like me to go and get you some shoe laces?”
“Yes!” was their amazed and appreciative response.
So I walked up to a store on Broadway and found them some shoelaces. After we laced them up together they got up and danced joyously in front of the court house.
Later in the afternoon I moved to another location, One Police Plaza, where people were getting out of jail. A group of Occupy Wall Street Jail Support people had set up shop in a small park close to this spot. I walked there with a small brass band who were also on the way. It seems that one of their friends had been arrested. They welcomed their friend with a rousing brass number.
The mood became more serious and intense when a priest and a nun who had just gotten out of jail appeared among us. I was concerned about the sister because she was shaking all over. She said that she had not been able to eat any of the jail food and she was starving. Fortunately, with a little food and some hugs her shaking stopped and she felt much better. The priest was extremely concerned because he had left his drivers’ license in jail. Later, a police officer came out and returned the drivers’ license. I even heard a report from a friend who said that when the sister was talking to the whole group in jail he saw tears in the eyes of a female police officer.
On Tuesday morning I was back in front of the courthouse. It was a rainy, windy day and one of the Jail Support people had asked me to bring some ponchos. This time I went right into the courthouse with one of the Lawyers Guild lawyers. As people came out of the courtroom I took some basic information from them. These folks were just getting out and they were kind of disoriented. I really wanted them to get outside and get some fresh air, and some food and human contact.
After lunch I went back outside the courthouse. Lots of folks who had gotten out of jail plus other Occupy people were there. Suddenly a woman came up to a young guy who was standing beside me. She was sobbing and saying something like, “They have destroyed my son’s life, they have destroyed my family’s life.” A young man, who was also doing Jail Support, whom I will call Billy hugged her and consoled her. She told us that her son, a 27- year- old Algerian, had been entrapped by the NYPD. He had emotional problems and they used this to their advantage to get him into trouble. She gave us some leaflets with information on how to help her son and left.
Billy started handing out the leaflets to people passing by. A man and woman walked by him and the woman snarled at Billy,“Get a job!” Billy got upset and started talking to the man and woman, explaining that he had tried to enrol in college but he couldn’t afford the tuition. Suddenly the man opened up his coat revealing an NYPD badge. At that point I walked toward the woman and said, “I am a retired school teacher. I have taught for over twenty-five years!” When she saw me walking toward her she shouted at me, “Move back!” It frightened me, and I moved quickly away from her. Billy kept on talking to them.
In the middle of all this I recalled the Jail Support training we had received earlier. One thing the trainers stressed, “It is a really bad thing if jail support people get arrested. Do everything you can to avoid arrest when you are doing jail support!”
So I said to Billy, “Remember, we don’t want to get arrested. Why don’t you move away?” My advice was not well taken. Billy said to me, “I have a right to talk to them!” At that point I just sat down on the steps and hoped for the best. Before too long the police walked away and a bad situation was averted.
I feel so fortunate to have been able to assist, even in a small way, those people who were arrested near Wall Street on September 17. Many of the people arrested chose to participate in non-violent civil disobedience. I remember the saying from the civil rights movement, “Keep your eyes on the prize!” I think that the people with the courage to accept arrest placed their entire beings in danger for all of us. They knew why they had taken the trip to the financial district. A remarkable cross-section of people came to New York on this first anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. I think that what the people had in common was their powerful level of commitment and their deep understanding of the injustices in our country.
They took the risk of being arrested, and in spite of the extreme difficulties they faced all around them, they experienced so much love and support from their Occupy friends. I can’t help feeling that for those who were arrested their work will continue with an even greater sense of urgency and commitment.