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A Day in the Mace and Rain: An Eyewitness Report from the Occupation in Seattle


SEATTLE, WA – Partially silhouetted forms stood beaming, holding glasses of champagne or some other refined beverage. Sometimes they smiled and pointed, sometimes laughed. The mocking jokes, though inaudible, were visible through panes of glass. The backdrop of the expensive lighting fixtures glistened from the high windows of the Sheraton Hotel.

They were pointing at us. The occupiers.

The scene down below was not so refined, nor so polished or comfortable. Not with the sporadic arcs of mace and pepper spray. Not with the cops hitting us with their bicycles, or our people being jumped by undercovers when they reached down to help a fallen comrade. Not with the screams of indignation echoing, the rage permeating everything. Not with the calls to “hold the line!” as we forced cops to give ground, defiance one only hears about in stories or in dreams.

No, not so refined. But with all the dignity of the world.

This was the scene in Seattle on the night of November 2, 2011. It was the day of Oakland’s general strike. Which just so happened to be the day the CEO of JPMorgan Chase was scheduled to speak at that pleasant, refined, “suit” hotel. Perfect.

The day began with uncertainty. Did they know our plans? Would they attack us? Would they use pain tactics? Will we be hospitalized? If something happens, will those I hold dear know how much I love them? Will we be successful? What if we aren’t? Is our movement strong enough to work through such a setback?

These thoughts persisted as three of us approached a Chase Bank branch, only a few blocks away from our occupation.

The half-tinted windows made visible two young women, laughing, writing on what must have been deposit slips. Huge tubes of reflective red, silver and white wrapping paper poked innocently from their large black garbage bag. The clerks and security looked tense, but they didn’t know what we were up to. At least, not yet.

One of our people, a young man with a half-hawk, opened the door. The other two of us walked through.

“Thank you.” The words came out more softly than I had intended.

We walked to the counter, catching the eyes of the women with the wrapping paper. Maybe it was just me but I felt everything in the room get tense. The sterile beauty of the soft florescent lighting forced a sense of normality. People banking. Money exchanged. Tellers shuffling paper, having something to do with the profits of Chase.  Maybe the paper he handled had to do with someone’s mortgage, bankruptcy, or loan. Financialization hard at work. This, the daily reality of plunder and parasitism, of speculation for super-profits at the expense of millions: the spirit of accumulation above everything worth anything, including people, was what we were out to disrupt, even for an instant. It felt like all eyes were on us.  But it was probably just nerves.

The five of us converged at the counter. Our arms dove into the tubes of wrapping paper. A foot of slender steel chains fell from each of our sleeves. Fifteen seconds later carabiner mountaineering clamps clicked shut. Our arms were chained together inside the PVC hidden beneath a layer of colorful Christmas paper.

Photo: Joshua Trujillo/Seattlepi.com

“Mic Check!”

“This bank!”

“Is!”

“OCCUPIED!”

Minutes later I started to hear militant chants as marchers closed in on the bank from a distance. Hundreds of them surrounded the building. And while the bank had tried to continue business before, with us locked together sitting in front of the tellers’ station, now the bank was entirely shut down. Keys went into the doors, turning to lock out the many.

I heard our statement read on each side of the building. A mic check: “The world – Does not – Have to – Be this way!” pierced the glass. “General strike!” roared from the bullhorn.

Damn. I felt incredible. We couldn’t have hoped for such success.

We settled in for a long stay. We played word games and made up an elaborate stories. On one side of the building a dance party broke out to revolutionary hip hop. On the other I heard chanting, mic checks and agitation. All around us excitement, enthusiasm. There was a sense that we were doing it. We are changing the world. It was tangible and almost palpable.

Eventually, some of the friendly faced cops came in and sawed us out of our pipes and cut our chains. It was okay. We knew we were going to be arrested. For more than two hours we kept that bank shut down. Twice what we thought we could pull off. They stood us up in hand cuffs, preparing for our procession outside, but when we got outside it was a whole other scene.

The excitement and enthusiasm was still there. But it wasn’t alone. Someone from the crowd called out, “Mic check! – Hail! – Hail! – Hail the heroes of the revolution!” Everyone took it up. I’m not one for self-aggrandizement, so I don’t know how I feel about “hail the heroes” thing, even if it was spontaneous and heartfelt. But I’ve never felt such love from such wonderful people. These people, the occupiers, are the most selfless, passionate and high minded individuals I’ve encountered. It’s contagious.  And it’s moments like that one where you really understand how important that is. It seems to me that it is a moral code, an ethics – almost a whole culture in embryo. It’s so radically different from how people are taught to think, live, act and love. Yet it exists. Right here. As a fracture, a departure, out of which something new is emerging.

Occupy Seattle protesters link arms. Photo: Cliff Despeaux/Reuters

We were placed in a police van, only to have our fellow occupiers start to push and rock. A spray of clear liquid hit the small windows. The mace was out. We saw someone do a running dive under the van to keep it from leaving with us. We cried out in shock when we thought the van had run over him. He was alright. Even without that sacrifice, what he did, that was heroic.

A small window that looked out the front of the van revealed people laying on the ground linking arms and legs. Occupiers were shoving the bikes back at the cops. I’d never seen anything like this before.

Eventually uniformed enforcers were able to pry enough of our people out of the way to move the van. The last thing I saw peeking through those small windows was the face of one of my comrades, hidden behind a bandana. Our eyes met and his fist launched into the air. The image faded into the distance while we made our coerced journey to the precinct.

I later learned that street skirmishes and shoving matches continued between the hundreds of occupiers and the cops after we left. The police had tried force our people back to our camp. Instead, the rebels pushed the cops off the streets, holding intersections and marching up and down Broadway. Those men (yes, they were all men) in blue and black uniforms, were defeated. The protesters, now left alone, took the streets. That stretch of pavement was, quite literally, for that fleeting moment, theirs. We could win–not sometime in the future, but right here and now.

The day was a blur. The adrenaline, the ecstasy of collective action and power, makes what was hours of travel from handcuffs to processing to jail cell now seem like minutes.

“Those girls are having way too much fun. They’re in there singing. I haven’t seen anything like this since the WTO,” said a tall white man in a nurse’s coat, long brown ponytail swinging behind him.  I smiled to myself.  Back in 1999, when the World Trade Organization had tried to meet in Seattle, it too had been shut down by people putting their bodies on the line.

Photo: Anthony Bolante/Puget Sound Business Journal

The cold cement walls, the uniform sleeveless red shirts and pants, the cheap plastic sandals designed to be impossible to keep on, the smug cops sitting behind counters pushing buttons to lock and unlock doors, the phones that hardly work…They all make you think of this place as an immovable, insurmountable monolith. You ponder your own powerlessness.

I was called out to get fingerprinted. One of the cop’s forensics people asked me, “Did you hear what they’re doing in Oakland?”

“Yah, its fantastic.” Even where I was couldn’t keep me from grinning with excitement.

“No, it’s terrible. I’m concerned about the people of Oakland,” he replied.

“It’s the people of Oakland who are rising up,” I said. “The only way they can change anything is by shutting down the city. How do you think the eight-hour work day was achieved? How about things like breaks? Or revolution?”

“Well what about the baker who just wants to go to work and feed his family?”

Another cop called to him from across the room, “That’s a stupid response!”

Later, while in our holding cell, an older white man walked by. The lines of age and stress told me he must have been in his fifties. He turned his back to us for a moment. When he walked away there was a taped a sign across from us: “Nurses support #OccupyWallstreet.” We saw him raise a fist, looking at us.

There, as deep in the belly of the beast as one can fathom, I witnessed the cracks and potential division, even here, surrounded by our enemies. In the future, there are fractures and schisms that may emerge even within institutions of the State.

With our triumphant spirit, we got our short-term inmates talking about occupation, about the cops, about the general strike. I joked with a couple of older guys, “It’s time we occupy this cell!” It’s probably not very often that the jail’s officers see their prisoners so jovial or hopeful.

“>Occupy Seattle protests JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon’s speech in Seattle on November 2, 2011. Photo: Stuart Isset/Bloomberg

Four or five hours later, we were released. As soon as the five of us regrouped and hugged it out, we received word: The CEO of Chase’s speech had been disrupted by Occupy Seattle. He had to end it early and Occupiers were trying to block the hotel exits.

We began our sprint through the rain, laughing, hugging, joking about going straight back to jail. None of us, as far as I could tell, could wait to get back to our fellow occupiers and stand with them again.

Back to the Sheraton. Every eye already bleary from the day-long exposure to chemical weapons. New goggles and masks cover many faces. The spirit is different. The anger of being attacked all day, of seeing our friends and loved ones maced or beaten (or both) gave it an edge. All those who once said the cops were on our side now had little to stand on. It was undeniable: There, inside that looming hotel, was Jamie Dimon, the face of one of the most criminal and insidious institutions in the world, and here, in front of us, were the cops defending him against more than a thousand people.

When I arrived, out of breath but relieved, I started greeting people. They were happy to see us, but exhausted and tense. They were on a war footing. Dozens had their arms linked. It was the fallback tactic when facing the cops. All four corners of the intersection outside the main entrance to the hotel were blocked by damp, determined occupiers. The heavy din of honks and shouts from drivers, participants, and supporters alike rang out in the background, coloring everything.

The Chase 5: Sarah Svobodny, Danielle Simmons, Ocelot Stevens, Hudson Williams-Eynon, Liam Wright and Matthew Erickson.

I sprinted to rejoin the line facing off with the cops. There, in the line with me, were all the people I had just gone to jail with. The five of us, now called the“Chase 5” by those who argue for our defense, grinned at each other, knowing we had no choice but to stand there. We could feel the world shifting and we were on the fault line. There was no waywe could walk away.

A half hour passed, with periodic scuffles and mic checks and chants. It was clear the that the towering Sheraton Hotel was now empty of any CEOs or equally criminal people. The remaining occupiers gathered and started to march away from downtown, back toward our camp.

I have been involved in attempts to build a revolutionary movement for a number of years. Never before have I left an action feeling like we won a battle. It had always been left in the realm of the symbolic or moral: “We did good work,” as it goes. But as we marched up the long hill, grinning faces moist with mace and rain the people of this new movement cheered and shouted together, “We are victorious!”

-Liam Wright-

This story was originally published in The Occupied Wall Street Journal

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Occupy Miami Labeled Terrorists by the FBI?


MIAMI, FL – A call out had been made by Occupy Atlanta, Occupy Glen Iris, and Take Back The Block to Occupy Chase Bank and, more specifically, shut them down. Occupy Miami had been at a dormant, yet turbulent, state for a period of time. Not many serious actions have been done as of late. So a mutual feeling among many current occupiers was to turn things around. This was to be one of many serious actions we’d participate in from now on, but turns out there were other forces at work here.

We had finished getting everybody in the building together and were then leaving to the rally which would take place at our old encampment spot in Government Center. We had not even passed the parking spaces in front of the building when we were suddenly stormed by a contingent of law enforcement, which ranged from militant SWAT looking officers in dark camouflage and heavy body armor with military assault rifles and tactical shotguns to standard City of Miami police officers with pistols to what looked more like agents of some kind.

Vans, trucks, cars, and even an armored Hummer were surrounding us and we all had this variety of guns aimed at us, being ordered to get on the ground. It was a very disorienting and frightening situation as I, nor most of Occupiers and other locals present, had ever had any firearm drawn on them, nevertheless firearms of military grade.

Now, the criticism could and has been made that we should not have been compliant, that we should have resisted and refused to get down; literally “stand” for our rights. Comparisons were even made to those in Bahrain and Egypt and Syria, which I felt were a bit unfair. Normally, I’d agree and suggest non-compliance and resistance of some kind. I feel like I am ready to face danger for my beliefs, but consider this; we were in front of a residential apartment building with children inside and a couple of them were actually sitting outside in the lot watching this happen. We were all very overwhelmed and did not want to test these brutes with such big weapons at the moment.

They were very aggressive and vulgar. A couple of Occupiers were practically trampled as these heavily armed officers and agents charged into the building. Requests not to be stepped on were met with “Shut the f*** up!” Our questions regarding their reasons for all this were met with “Shut the f*** up!” Guess what our requests for a warrant for the searches they began were met with… All their yells of “Shut the f*** up!” were supplemented with a rifle to the back of our heads. As enraging as it was, we all decided not to press those issues.

Everybody in front of the building who was heading to the rally was lying flat on the floor with our faces to the ground and were being searched by MPD while the agents and heavily armed officers dispersed around the building and rounded up everyone inside and searched all unlocked rooms. I tried to grab my phone to record but as I reached down I was yelled at and had guns pointed at me so I withdrew my hands. These automatic weapons were aimed at all occupiers and tenants in the building as they were rounded up against the gates. The two children outside also had these guns pointed at them as they commanded their mother to take them inside.

Our media room was locked since we were about to mobilize so the key was requested with a drawn M16. Our guy with the key knew we had nothing to hide so he gave them a tour of the whole media office.

All the Occupiers lying on the ground in front, including me, were sent to sit with the others by the gates as they aggressively rounded up and searched everyone else in the building. I managed to grab my phone and began recording under my leg to avoid any negative reactions. I took a few pictures as well. Another Occupier and I were becoming increasingly vocal and less worried. We chanted and were told nothing.

After all that, I said to hell with it and I began to record again, but this time it was done openly and I even narrated. Others had been recording as well. As I was recording, three Occupiers were being brought down one by one in zip tie handcuffs. I was allowed to continue recording until I began asking why they were in cuffs. They then came and made me put the phone away. I did not resist as I did not want to lose what I had.

Strangely enough, these three were soon let go without any charges. They finished searching everything and began leaving. The crowd erupted in applause and there were even chants of “Cops go home! Cops go home!” As we began getting up to go on with our day, the agent in charge came and told us not to go into our apartments, that he felt they owed us an explanation.

We agreed and gathered to hear him out. He began to explain this had nothing to do with the MPD and that they supported our protests as it is our First Amendment right but they had been gathering information and suspected that a small splinter group with our movement was planning to incite violence with weapons. One Occupier asked him what kind of weapons they were talking about. The agent then said, “Long guns. We’re not talking sticks or rocks or anything like that.”

We were all shocked and confused and questioned this reasoning. After this, they left but mysteriously detained 3 other Occupiers for questioning at the station though they did not cuff them.

We all decided that this should not stop anything and we commenced with our rally and march. We marched over to Government Center and began to rally right where our camp once stood. Security and county officials tried to make us get off the grass and even claimed that they had spent $14,000 on that grass, but we did not comply as they could make no real case against us here. They even went and asked a few nearby bike-mounted police officers to help remove us; the officers did nothing.

Once we felt good and ready, we began to march to a Chase Bank in the Downtown Miami area. As we arrived, we received the usual warm welcome of doors being locked. We caused a ruckus and blocked up a few doors. Police made it difficult but we were persistent and stayed for over an hour.

In this time, I received a phone call from one of our Occupiers who had been detained and was told that they had been let out. They then met us in front of Chase and began telling me everything; It was disturbing to say the least. The Occupier who called my phone is an Egyptian. He was asked if he was Muslim, which is obviously racial profiling. They also discovered that what we thought were detectives back at our safe-house were actually FBI and the storm-troopers with military weapons were an “Intelligence and Terrorism Unit.” There was other info disclosed which we cannot release for safety reasons.

So now a lot has been left unclear. Who were these people really? What were their true reasons for raiding us with such force? Why did they refuse to show us a warrant? Is this the NDAA in action? I guess that remains to be seen. They warned the detained Occupiers that they’d be back. Our Egyptian brother then warned them that the whole world would find out about this and that this would be viral through the internet.

The agent-in-charge responded, “Please don’t…”

We feel that they wish for us to be afraid and stop. We will not comply with that. Tomorrow (M15) is Bank of America Move-In Day and we will attend, once again, beginning with a rally at our old home in Gov Center. We will also be celebrating 6 months of the Occupy Movement on Saturday (M17), which will begin with a rally at Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. Law enforcement knows where to find us, but we are not worried. Every time they make one of these over-the-top moves, it counts against them; they should have learned by now.

We are the 99 percent and we shall overcome.

-Chris Mazorra-

 

This is what a police state looks like

Video of the militarized raid of Occupy Miami

Part 1

Part 2

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