It just so happened that I was also on a date that day. My first date with my former boyfriend and good friend John. On the bridge the police began separating men and women for arrest and to my surprise I was told “never to come back again” and let go. I immediately returned to the park and waited until 3am when John was released from jail. That night we had incredible conversation and were shocked in the morning when mainstream media, who had been invisible just twenty four hours before, were crawling all over the park. Over the following days and weeks John developed the initial idea for the site and before I knew it we were hanging up flyers in Liberty Plaza calling for stories and volunteers.]]>
Until this moment I had shrugged any time Occupy Wall Street was mentioned. I read about cases of police brutality online, but when the topic came up in conversation I didn’t really have much to say, hadn’t given any of it much thought. Discussions went like this: a friend making some criticism that didn’t in any way address what the protesters stood for (“They marched by my work and I smelled a waft of weed—and I’m like, ‘Really, guys? Is that what you’re doing with your time?’”) with me just nodding in agreement. But I wanted to see what it was all about for myself.
Inside the park, I was immediately impressed by the people’s ingenuity, how the park had become its own self-sufficient community: the kitchen preparing and passing out food to anyone who needed it, the library with hundreds of books donated (and where I dropped off a few of mine), the group of volunteers powering the tech hub on stationary bicycles. To forget the politics for a moment, politics I wasn’t sure yet if I understood clearly, the alternative society that Occupy Wall Street had set in motion in the park looked innovative, felt inspiring.
But that would be my only visit to the camp. Just shy of two weeks after my visit, I decided to check my Twitter feed a final time before going to bed. It was around 1:30 in the morning and I noticed a lot of buzz was going on about police at the park. The people were being evicted. So I sat in front of my computer for another two hours, refreshing Twitter in one tab and watching the action on Ustream in another.
Reports came in of a media blackout, that the NYPD was keeping reporters away. No one would know about this but from the reports on Twitter and the live streamers. And I was not simply fascinated by what I was watching, which deeply troubled me, but also by how I was observing it all: piecing together loose bits of the narrative from those there—happening right now!—and experiencing it all live. Alternating livestreams and Twitter feeds, the whole experience felt investigative; even though I sat in my bedroom in front of my laptop, I felt like I was there. Facilitating re-tweets and asking questions to get a better idea of what was happening, I felt like how a journalist might feel while happening upon a big scoop. As a student studying writing, and who dreamed of writing for the New York Times, that’s the one thing I’ve wanted to experience the most.
Shortly after, I went home to New Jersey for Thanksgiving. My mother, my uncle and I sat with my grandmother in her living room. Someone asked how my semester was, and I shared my most recent educational experience: after the eviction, I showed up to my Thursday night class of five students, and my professor told us he was deeply troubled by the events that had taken place at Liberty. He gave us two options: we could have our regular class, or we could all march across the Brooklyn Bridge with the occupiers and show some support. So we marched, which was my second time with the people of Occupy.
My family, who had never before seen any evidence of Occupy Wall Street first-hand, scoffed. They slung the standard criticisms: What are they doing? What are they even trying to achieve? I recounted to them everything I had seen on my visit to the park, all I had seen of the protesters’ exit from their home instigated by the NYPD. Do you feel comfortable, I asked them, living in a city where peaceful protesters are blinded in the middle of the night, caught off-guard and dumbstruck, beaten, have their property taken from them and destroyed—all this while the media is turned away so none of it gets reported to the public? News had spread that the federal government had given these tactics to the NYPD, and other local governments throughout the nation, over a conference call. Do you feel comfortable in a country that promises liberty and freedom but deals with social criticism this way?
My voice and lips wavered and quivered as they always do when I feel heated about something or distressed. Voicing these opinions aloud for the first time made it very apparent to myself that this was something I deeply believed in. It would be some time before I would give real thought to the economics behind Occupy Wall Street, but for now I was troubled beyond measure by a government that I saw for the first time as dangerously oppressive.
It would be months, though, before I would get involved: between finals, my part-time job, outside writing, and Occupy’s long struggle through the winter, there didn’t seem to be any good opportunity for me to jump into the action. But when spring came I decided enough was enough; I would attend a meeting and see where I could get involved. I made the mistake of jumping into the deep end by attending a large meeting in which participants were meant to speak their grievances on what they perceived to be imbalances of power within the community.
Of course, I had no grievance because I was not yet a part of the community. But because Occupy is built around everyone having a say, I was constantly asked throughout the six hour-long meeting how I felt about my humble position in relation with the community’s more networked individuals. “I don’t really have much to say,” I told the break-out group I sat with, in which words like “spokes council” and “affinity groups” and so many other terms I couldn’t fathom were tossed about like confetti. “But I am new and trying to become involved,” I said, “and don’t know where or how to begin.” Others had expressed similar feelings when they started out, that the community as it stood now was not beginner-friendly: a huge problem in power relations and tackling hierarchy in the community.
So they told me to join an affinity group, because once each of them had done so, everything else worked naturally.
I’m a writer, so I searched the NYCGA website for a group that would be relevant to my interests, a way I could become involved without it seeming like a chore in my already busy schedule. I found Occupied Stories which, after the media blackout that so scared me during the eviction, seemed to be an important resource for the movement. And maybe with that I could keep that satisfying feeling of being a journalist, or serving an important function in the media.
I met with John, Danny and Nicole at Liberty Plaza in March on Occupy’s six-month anniversary. Immediately my opinion—I, who at the time felt as though I knew nothing—was being asked for, and I was surprised by how quickly these people placed trust in me and regarded me as a friend. Soon enough we had inside jokes, which pretty much is proof that you’ve found your group.]]>
Anyway, watching the government give up billions and trillions of taxpayer dollars to the very people who had screwed us in the first place, I fucking lost it. I lost my faith in dissent, in people, in the solidarity of mass protest … What could I do? I was just some guy with three wimpy signs in his yard— and it rained constantly, drooping the cardboard until you could no longer read my short stab at the government, blindly swiping at big business, mega-banks and the auto industry. And there were the airlines and a morbidly obese defense budget slaughtering people all over the world in the name of democracy and commerce to boot, too, but that was old hat by then— it’d been done for so long people didn’t know any different. It seemed like no one cared enough to scream and shout anymore. A dissenting voice to the Great Bail-Outs of the 21st century was nowhere to be found.
“We’re behind enemy lines, man!” I’d tell my wife. “Jesus… no one gives a shit! If this doesn’t get people in the streets, what the fuck will?” She’d shrug and we’d eat dinner with the kids. “Eat your fucking rice,” we’d say. “Good fucking beans.”
“SHIT, MOM!” my oldest son would yell. “THE GODDAMN BANKS ARE STEALING MY FUTURE! ASSHOLES!”
“No b-word at the dinner table,” my wife and I would scold him. “You know how we hate that fucking word.”
This is the caricaturized domestic life of a man who was not censored, who grew up memorizing late-night comedy routines on cable, who rolled and cried with bellyaches on the floor at George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy till his mother came home drunk from the bar and would lay down the most basic of life’s lessons— “Tell the truth,” she’d say. “Your life will be a lot easier.” So, I gave myself permission to express myself however the hell I pleased, like those funny people on cable, as long as I was honest, as long as it was the truth and sincere, and as long as the heart was involved.
A year floundered by and the world continued to stink, spin, and spew on down the line. Sure, there were puppies who found homes, bake sales were held. There’s a different colored ribbon for every f-ing cause under the sun. But anyway, a year went by, and in that time my wife and I purchased our first home.
“Put these fucking boxes in that room, and put those fucking boxes in this room,” we told the kids— even our toddler.
“DAMN IT, MOM! OUR GOD DAMN MORTGAGE IS FUCKED!” our eldest son yelled, storming off for the boxes, which our youngest echoed in tearing off his diaper, bending over and shaking his ass in the air.
Our mortgage was not fucked. It was quite fucking good, actually, but by then the media had crop-dusted so many Aqua Net politicians across the news, proclaiming and analyzing fault with the housing market, that our son began parroting all that b.s. back at us. “VARIABLE INTEREST RATES ARE STEALING OUR JOBS FOR CHRIST’S SAKE!” There was no real need to explain it all to an eight-year-old, but a good mortgage didn’t matter so much in the end anyway, either. He might as well have been right. Two years later, my wife lost one of her jobs, and the jobs we had left started providing less work. “THOSE DOUCHE BAGS ARE RUINING EDUCATION! CHILDREN ARE OUR FUTURE!” My oldest yelled again from behind the boxes, helping his little brother learn how to flip the bird—a prediction we agreed with long before.
By then, the whole country had its legs straight up in the air; my household’s income dropped by 75% soon after.
“This shit is all over the world!” I’d shake my head at my wife.
“Yeah, it’s disgusting,” she’d agree, shaking her head, too.
Then one afternoon, pissing away some time on the computer, avoiding discussions in my online classes and working on a novel that’s been ready for a final edit for months now, I came across the Occupy Wall St. movement.
“Some people are camping out in the middle of New York for a protest,” I told my wife.
“In the fucking city.” “Really?” she said. “What for?”
What for is old news now, but that afternoon I was still in my pajamas, still bleary-eyed and willing down a cup of coffee, waiting for it to shock the monkey back to the steering wheel, when this strange protest— this camping protest that had been going on for a little more than a week by then, with no immediate plans to stop— woke me right up, like I pissed myself ice-fishing or something— a sudden, exciting chill grabbed me and shook me around feverishly. “This shit is interesting!” I said, turning to find an empty room, my wife evidently somewhere else.
I’d been interested in counter-culture movements for years. It was always what I considered my passionate hobby reading— mostly 60’s revolutionary swag. I read a lot of books about (and by) a number of Black Panthers. I read a fair amount on the White Panthers, too, and a whole slew of bio books on different 60’s rock groups. I came across AIM at some point, and the Weather Underground, the Motherfuckers and the Yippies, which all came naturally after my earlier interest in the existential Beats, the Wobblies, the Diggers. My father is a musician and my mother’s a medicine woman; I’m Irish and Eastern Cherokee. My grandpa was a junk man and his brothers were hobos who used to fish for chickens from an old shack along the Flat River— I’m primed for this shit, and my wife knows it. Hell, I didn’t even mention Che Guevara, Martin, Malcolm, and Means…
For three or four days and nights I couldn’t work, I couldn’t sleep. Every few minutes I was back on the computer rummaging around the Internet for more news and developments about the movement. “Holy fuck!” I’d blurt out now and then. After a while, my wife didn’t even respond. I had to come up with something else to get her attention. “Holy fuck!” no longer did it. I combed every social website I could think of looking for Occupy Wall St. news, marveling at how fast it spread, and how far! Hell, it had already reached New Zealand! People were talking! Online, that is; mostly online, and I followed. I made it my personal duty to help the various Occupy pages stay connected, shuffling through the various sites obsessively, doing anything I could to feel part of it, helping to spread the information and solidarity.
And then BAM!— 700 people were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge. Watching the footage, my mouth fell open like a rockslide. I shook with a chill that went from my nuts to my chin and all down my spine. An involuntary grin pulled itself up from out of nowhere and put a gleam in my eyes— that wild spark that always makes my wife look at me as if my name is Willis, still pushing Different Strokes after all these years: she sees a scheme in my smile and deflects it with a prudent smirk that makes her squint her eyes slightly.
“Look at this shit!” I told her, pulling her away from her own online classes.
“They arrested 700?” she said, “What the fuck?” ”They kept chanting, ‘THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING! THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING!’ and ‘SHAME! SHAME! SHAME!’ at the police! I have to go!” I told her. “You know me; I’ve talked about this for years! I have to go … It gave me chills just watching it. I have to do this!”
Then I said, “Holy fuck!” again, because I knew that this time I meant it. This time, I saw something I felt instinctually different about. The energy and approach of it all was too high. Liberty Park was constant high noon; it was a line in the sand. Camping out in front of the White House had been something I’d ranted about for years. “I should just take a fucking tent and go set it up right outside that damn place,” I’d say, coming out of the bathroom, tightening my bathrobe, running my hands through my hair, checking for thin spots. “What the fuck have people got to lose?” But camping out to take over Wall St. made even more sense than D.C. You’ve got to show up on the doorstep of power, and OWS had its finger on the bell from the beginning.
But, primed as I was for a more liberal outlook on life, I still gave myself a cushy excuse for inaction. My claim: I didn’t know where to start, how to get involved in a way that makes you feel like you’re making a difference, that you’re not just some asshole pissing away his time when he should be at home, showing the kids how to swear in new and interesting ways so they can really wow their friends on the playground and around the daycare. Those old Andrew Dice Clay rhymes don’t cut it anymore, trust me. Ya, hear? So, recognizing where and how-the-fuck to start can be a catalyst for major change in the way a guy like me lives his life. It can help lend enough direction to spark continuous action— a lifetime of it!
When I saw Occupy Wall St., I knew; I just knew, right from that first sleeping bag unrolled in the name of freedom and democracy— I was Occupy through and through. Suddenly, I had a location and a purpose. I had the interest, the motivation, and I begged, borrowed, and scrounged for the money to get to Liberty Park. The arrow had been released.
Before I left, I called up my cousin and said, “You want to go to New York for a protest?” and he said, “Why, hell yes!” He had to sell a deer rifle to do it. We left two days later, having assembled funds and donations from a handful of kind souls in the local community.
As we drove east on I-80, facing a good twelve hours of driving into the night, I wondered what would be in store for my cousin and I, whether we would be beaten, arrested, or both; whether we would get separated and whether we would be able to find our way back to each other; where we would sleep, use the bathroom and shower … Having gotten a late start, the sun was well above as the wheels spurned us forward. In my head was rock and roll; every movement I’d ever studied; every revolutionary I’d ever had the honor to meet and speak with, learn from; and the last protest I’d been a part of—the sky gray above the land, old WWII bombers circling and roaring in the rain, fake bombs bursting in the mud around me— the lone person who saw fit to call foul on celebrating Brig. Gen. Paul W. Tibbets’ presence at the local air festival in order to raise ticket sales— a festival that has since collapsed.
My sign read, “F the A BOMB!” and “THE A BOMB IS NOT CELEBRITY!” Both sides were printed over large orange mushroom clouds I’d painted days before, and stood out against the darkness like a sudden torch in the metallic gloom.
-Dylan Hock –
(((video from the bridge)))http://www.youtube.com/embed/-ZL27BXh_AU
Case in point: Saturday’s march over the Brooklyn Bridge. Truly one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I was one of the 700 marchers kettled and arrested en-mass by the NYPD on that famed expanse of stone and steel. It began at Liberty Plaza, where thousands gathered to rally in solidarity with the occupation. From there, we marched through the streets of the Financial District and toward City Hall. At the outset the march was united and organized, with none of the weaving through traffic and violent pepper-spray scuffles with police that marked the march of a week earlier. We were determined to get to our destination together this time – just over the Brooklyn Bridge to Brooklyn Bridge park where another contingent would be waiting for us with food, speakers, and activities. Or at least that was the plan. I was toward the back of marching crowd of some 2,000 people when we arrived at the bridge only a few blocks from Liberty Plaza. The exact details of what happened next are still fuzzy to most. The planned route was for marchers to use the pedestrian walkway to cross the bridge, but at some point a contingent of marchers broke away and took to the roadway, walking past a slew of cars already caught up in the spectacle of the march. Once the initial crowd of protesters marched onto the road, some 500 or more followed, most (including myself) not knowing that they were risking arrest by doing so.
The NYPD claims that they warned the initial group that stormed the road that doing so would mean arrest, but in reality they did little to deter us. In fact, I assumed that they were clearing the pathway for us because there was simply no way 2,000 people were going to use the pedestrian walkway at once. Once on the roadway, we were ecstatic. It was like no other feeling. Here we were, walking with 500 other people over one of the world’s most iconic structures. We chanted “Who’s bridge? Our bridge!” We drummed loudly and waved fists in the air in solidarity with the marchers 20 feet above us on the pedestrian walkway. Then suddenly, before we had even reached the first stone tower, the march came to a screeching halt. Nobody was really sure what was going on. I couldn’t see far enough ahead of me to know that the police had formed a blockade with the same orange nets they used at Union Square the week before. When I looked behind me and saw yet another line of police approaching, I knew that things had suddenly taken a turn for the worse. It wasn’t long before they had surrounded us with orange netting and panic overtook the crowd suspended hundreds of feet in the air over the East River on a slab of concrete.
Some 40 feet higher still the marchers who had used the pedestrian walkway luckily had a bird’s eye view of what was going on. Using the people’s microphone, they kept us updated on what was going on. I could feel the intensity of situation but also felt a wave of calm and solidarity. Like some ragged guardian angels, our fellow protesters were keeping on eye on us, telling us what was happening on either side of us, and livestreaming it all to 30,000 people around the world. We anxiously repeated their updates verbatim. “Mic check! It looks like they have surrounded you on both sides and they’re not letting anyone through. The best thing for you to do is to sit down and lock arms!” And so we did.
We spent the next eight hours in anxious limbo. We waited for what seemed like an eternity on the bridge for the police to arrest each and every one of us. They grouped us in fives and cuffed us, then put us on any vehicle they could – I was put with about 30 others on an MTA bus and taken to the 90th Precinct in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Once we arrived at the station we sat on the bus and kept waiting, this time for the police to process the inordinate amount of arrestees. As we waited, all manner of conversations erupted on the bus between protesters – gender rights (the police had separated us by gender before arresting us), organic farming, community organizing – the usual fare at an activist gathering. It was something of a party. Even our arresting officers engaged us in conversations, and they seemed genuinely interested in “what we’re all about.” Some were even borderline sympathetic! Others poked fun at our dreadlocks and discussions about GMO foods. “A tomato’s a tomato, don’t matter how it got there.” One officer, who as one protester later jested was “too Italian for his own good,” was especially talkative. He told us he agreed with the Verizon worker’s strike and was disappointed when they returned to work without a deal. I asked if he would arrest the strikers if he was given the orders to do so. He responded with a smirk and said “yeah, it’s my job.”
Inside the station, more waiting. First to be searched, then to be put in a one-person cell with 5 or 6 others. We passed the time singing and starting conversations about our lives outside of the occupation. After a while, an officer came by with cheese sandwiches and water and promised us we’d be out “in one or two hours.” Three and half hours later, close to 3:00am, we were finally released into the cold night air. It was heart-warming to find a group of people from the occupation and the National Lawyer’s Guild waiting for us.
A group of us took the J train back to Liberty Plaza, laughing and recounting the whole way. Six hours earlier, we had no idea the other existed, now we were the best of friends. This is what the NYPD doesn’t understand. The more they arrest us, the more solidarity they create between us. We built a community on that bridge and on that bus and in that cell. All of us went through this experience that was dehumanizing, but also jovial and absurd. All the arrests did was reinforce our resolve, commit us more to the occupation and make us even more connected.
I remember during the intense moments on the bridge when we all knew arrest was imminent someone yelled out and we repeated: “Mic check! It is an honor and a privilege to be arrested with you all today. 50 years from now, when you tell your grandkids about this, you can say that you were a soldier in the Battle of the Brooklyn Bridge!” And there among the tears and the worries and the panic, we found a place to cheer and stand together.