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:
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.
“What took so long?” was the general sentiment among those gathered in Washington Square Park in Manhattan last night for Occupy Wall Street’s first ever Feminist General Assembly.
Despite being woefully overdue, May 17 was a beautiful and significant night: Not only was it the eight-month anniversary of our movement, it was also the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia and the 181st anniversary of the First Women’s Anti-Slavery Convention. This intersection of issues created a perfect backdrop for discussing the challenges and importance of feminism to Occupy Wall Street–a movement often criticized for being stubbornly multi-issue.
I arrived to find a diverse crowd of around 300 people. Members of the Occupy Wall Street women’s caucus, Women Occupying Wall Street (WOW), were giving a shout of solidarity to Occupy Maine. The people of Lafayette, Ind.; Bend and Portland, Ore.; Chicago and a handful of other cities were also holding feminist GAs. The Raging Grannies sang “Evolution is too slow, revolution’s the way to go!” and things were off to a raucous start. I pitched in with a paintbrush to help record the shared values we were brainstorming–“Trust!” “Creativity!” “Justice!” “Humor!”–and, ignoring my friend’s smirk, embraced the consciousness-raising exercise as though I were encountering it for the first time. After focusing almost exclusively on women’s organizing for the first six months of Occupy Wall Street (OWS), I was happy for the chance to just participate. More importantly, I was happy to see so many new leaders and so many of the elusive “unfamiliar faces” we had spent meeting after meeting trying to attract to the movement.
When we broke into smaller groups to discuss feminist goals for the Occupy movement, the fresh spring air had a cleansing effect on issues that felt dusty and spoiled. One young person who had never been to an Occupy Wall Street event and didn’t identify as a feminist shared a concern about not being taken seriously when calling out sexist behavior. A woman in a wheelchair spoke about how her disability had led her on a journey of liberation from societal standards of beauty. A member of OWS’ Safer Spaces group reminded us that:
Ally is a verb. It means more than just saying you’re anti-racist. It means doing something.
Someone with a sign that read “Women against Ableism and Sexism” argued that we can’t be feminists without being against war. We discussed how being a feminist means moving beyond capitalist conceptions of productivity to value things like food and family and fun–and how we can model this in our own lives and in our organizing.
The Assembly closed with a moving performance from the Mahina Movement, and I silently checked “fun” off the list of feminist accomplishments for the evening. As I biked home to Brooklyn with two friends from the OWS men’s circle, which had offered childcare for the event, I learned that they spent most of their time “baby-sitting” disgruntled men who would otherwise have disrupted the evening’s proceedings. Figuring their active allying made up for the shortage of actual children, I checked off “family.” My stomach was empty–OWS lost their kitchen space at the last minute–but I figured that for a first attempt at re-imagining OWS as a feminist community, two out of three wasn’t bad. A new world–a feminist world–was definitely possible.
Photo by Christina Daniel.]]>
NEW YORK, NY – March 17 was the 6-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street moving into Zuccotti Park, renaming it Liberty Square and the beginning of the Occupy Movement worldwide.
We celebrated all day, in style—chanting, dancing, marching, holding a General Assembly that needed three waves of the People’s Microphone—until the police brutally crashed our party—beating and violently arresting over 73 Occupiers in the park and on the march that ensued. It was probably the most violent day in our short history, and we have not been able to determine that any of the incidents were warranted or incited by an Occupier.
Our response was two-fold. On Tuesday, March 20, we held a press conference at 1 Police Plaza with allied communities—Muslim, Latin@, LGBT, Black, undocumented, and the undomiciled—to call for an end to police repression, brutality, surveillance, and explicitly for the resignation of NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly.
The second part, which was much more in line with our style, was to take our energy back to the streets. We, again joined by our allies, held an anti-police-brutality march.
On Saturday, m24, I got to Liberty Square around 11:30am to meet with about 10 other Occupiers, who had also volunteered to act as pacers for the march—folks who would help direct the march, respond to police kettling or obstruction, close gaps and maintain continuity in the middle, and help protect stragglers in the back from getting picked off by police.
We discussed the plan for the day. It would begin in Liberty Square with a series of speakers talking about their personal and communities’ experiences with the NYPD, which mostly consisted of violence and repression. Afterward we would march north on Broadway to Union Square, where a new, 24-hour occupation had been in place since the violent eviction at Liberty Square on m17.
The march route would pass in front of five locations at the heart of New York’s police and jail system—City Hall, 100 Centre Street, aka “the Tombs,” 1 Police Plaza, the Federal Building, and the ICE Detention Center. The exact route would be at the discretion of the pacers at the front of the march, and largely based on how much space the police gave us. Our primary mode of communication with each other was via a private text-message loop, which would help us coordinate throughout the march.
An interesting addition to this march was a group of about 30 folks from Veterans For Peace. They appeared to be somewhere in between their late 50s and late 60s. They were mostly white men and women who had served in the armed forces. Their gray sweatshirts bore their logo, and every one of them had plastic goggles hanging from their necks. They were prepared to be peppered sprayed.
Having seen photos, videos, and reports of the violence the week before, Veterans For Peace reached out to OWS. Not only did they want to march in solidarity with us, they wanted to put themselves on the front lines, or positioned anywhere in the march that we felt was vulnerable. They wanted to stand between us and the police, in order to protect our constitutional rights—to put their bodies on the line and spare us the brutality for one day.
I nearly cried when I saw them gathered on Saturday, and I’m crying now as I think about it. I’m crying because their sacrifice honors and humbles me. And because it didn’t work.
The first speaker of the day was Eric, an organizer and street medic with Occupy Wall Street, who was one of those arrested during the m17 eviction of Liberty Square. Eric chose not to speak of his own experiences, as violent as they were, but instead to connect our current struggle and experiences with those of people who have come before us. With Sean Bell, Troy Davis, Amadou Diallo and so many more black and Latin@ men and women murdered by the NYPD and the police state.
A speaker from the National Lawyers Guild, which provides all of the legal support for Occupy Wall Street, highlighted how some people are treated as criminals based on their actions, but in New York City, the NYPD has criminalized the entire Muslim community simply because of who they are.
City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez (Democrat, District 10, Manhattan) and Jumaane Williams (Democrat, District 45, Brooklyn), longtime OWS supporters spoke on the history of NYPD violence.
“It is not an accident that all the people killed by the NYPD are black and Latino,” Rodriguez said.
On OWS, Rodriguez asserted, “This movement is the voice of the working and middle classes.”
Councilmember Williams flipped up his hoodie, which he said that he wore in solidarity with Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old black youth murdered by a man in Florida who targeted him because of his clothing and his race. Williams asked those of us with hoodies to put on our hoods as well. We wore them with pride.
It was nearing 1pm, the crowd in Liberty Square had filled out dramatically, energy was building, the sun was shining, and we were ready to march.
The pacers spread out, the drums started to beat, and we marched.
It was a large procession, stretching for at least a few blocks. As we left Liberty Square, a headcount put the march at over 600 people. For the first half hour or more we stayed on the sidewalk.
One of the first chants that I remember was “RACIST! SEXIST! ANTI-GAY! N-Y-P-D GO AWAY!” This is a favorite chant for many of us. It is confrontational without being physical, while making a bold statement to the police, as well as bystanders, on how Occupy regards the NYPD.
We slowly made our way up Broadway until we passed the home of the FBI and Homeland Security at 26 Federal Plaza. Both of these federal agencies have played a role in the suppression of the Occupy Movement. In the weeks leading up to the violent evictions of Occupy encampments nationwide in November and December, Homeland Security provided assistance to local cities in the form of intelligence monitoring and information gathering.
As we passed the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge, the sight of six cops on horseback could not be ignored. Following the October 1st action that took over the Brooklyn Bridge, resulting in close to 700 arrests, the NYPD has been very protective of this monument.
The march veered east past Foley Square on its way to “The Tombs” of Central Booking at 100 Centre Street, where at least 7 our comrades were being held for arrests from the day before.
I was one of about 5 pacers holding up the back of the march and trying to ensure a tight formation as we moved through intersections—a typically vulnerable point, where police can kettle, redirect, or break up a march if there are gaps.
Instead of reciting our usual chants, the back of the march had a bard of sorts leading us in song, which we repeated for many blocks:
Mama, mama, can’t you see
What police have done to me;
They keep trying to beat us down,
But we’re rising all around;
Mama, mama can’t you see
What police have come to be;
They keep trying to beat us down,
But we’re rising all around.
As we lined up in front of the Tombs, we held a die-in. Everyone melted to the ground, and we lay there until our bard sang, “… but we’re rising all around.” As if on cue, we got up, cheered, and continued marching.
Because of the slow pace of the march and in an effort to maintain energy levels high, the pacers decided to skip some of the more out-of-the-way destinations and head for Union Square, while we still had a large number of protestors. It’s not uncommon for marches to peter out after the initial momentum and energy wears out, even when a final destination is set and events are planned. If marches are slow, or winding, or met with significant police blocks or resistance, people tend to peal off gradually, and the march shrinks.
Shortly after this, the tone of the march changed dramatically. The front of the march saw an opportunity and decided to take to the streets, veering off the sidewalk and breaking through the line of cops along the edge of the street monitoring the march.
As has become common practice, the NYPD targeted two female protestors—Amelia and Negesti—who could be isolated and arrested. A white-shirt pointed to them and said, “Those two.”
They were quickly surrounded and told that they were being arrested. Since there was nowhere to go, they decided to lie down in the crosswalk.
Word of their arrests, as well as the arrest of another Occupier, Chris, in the same intersection, made its way through the march very quickly.
Sensing that the police were getting tired of escorting us, we decided to make the march a bit more militant and active, diverting off of major streets into the more intimate, consumerist, and tourist-destination Nolita neighborhood.
The narrower one-way streets allowed us to more easily move in and out of the street, filling it with Occupiers who continuously chanted about police brutality and about the better world we know is possible. In order to protect marchers from being hit by police vehicles, some people began non-violently laying barricades in the streets.
Walking north on Elizabeth Street, as we approached Prince Street, suddenly, I heard the all-too-familiar shout for cameras—an unmistakable signal that the police were doing something that required monitoring.
I looked up the street and saw Mesiah, a 16-year-old girl, being held up by two cops. She looked shocked. Someone called for a medic. She started to cry.
I took a step off of the sidewalk and into the street, which was being blocked by a line of cops on scooters along side the march. Then I turned around to address the crowd of people that had amassed on the sidewalk behind me.
“MIC CHECK! MIC CHECK!” I yelled. After it was repeated back to me, I continued, “SHE IS 16-YEARS OLD!” The crowd repeated it over and over, but they only encountered the NYPD’s blank stares and deaf ears.
Turning back toward the street, I saw five cops carrying Mesiah down the street, her shirt pulled up, much of her torso exposed. I screamed at the cops that they should be fucking ashamed of themselves. I called them fucking animals. I asked if they were proud to have beaten up a 16-year-old girl. I asked why it took so many of them to carry her off.
As the march continued up the street, I had a heated exchange with the white-shirt officer who oversaw Mesiah’s arrest.
“DO YOU FEEL GOOD ABOUT YOURSELF? MANHANDLING A 16-YEAR-OLD GIRL? YOU FEEL REAL FUCKING TOUGH IN YOUR WHITE SHIRT? 16-YEAR-OLD GIRL! IT TOOK FIVE OF YOU TO CARRY HER UP A PUBLIC STREET.”
“OK, well you have a nice day.”
“OK, YOU HAVE A NICE DAY, YOU PIECE OF SHIT.”
On the northwest corner of Prince and Spring Street a group of tourists watched us pass by. I stopped in the middle of them and recapped, as loud as I could, what had just happened a mere few feet from where they stood. My voice cracked, and my stomach cramped. I can only hope that they shared with others what they heard.
My friend Anthony came up to me, put his arm around my shoulder and told me to take a breath, to center myself and focus, we still had a long way to go until we reached Union Square, and we had a role to fill.
I tried. But I was so angry.
As we walked along Houston I think I yelled at the line of cops acting as our escorts. I know that I had three separate interactions with the police, but with the exhaustion of the moment, I don’t remember the second one clearly. I remember holding my stomach. My muscles ached from yelling, I was hungry, and my throat burned. I was fuming.
When the march had mostly crossed Houston on Broadway, we encountered another large pack of tourists. My anger overwhelmed me. I stopped in front of them and yelled with all of my remaining energy.
“THE NYPD CALLS ITSELF NEW YORK’S FINEST. THAT IS FUCKING BULLSHIT. JUST A FEW BLOCKS BACK THEY BEAT UP A 16-YEAR-OLD GIRL FOR WALKING IN THE STREET. THEY RIPPED HER SHIRT OFF. IT TOOK FIVE OF THEM TO CARRY HER OFF WHILE SHE CRIED. REMEMBER, NEW YORK’S FINEST IS BULLSHIT.”
I turned the corner, not feeling any less angry. This time, Anthony ran up to me, put his hand on my back and said, “A Community Affairs cop just pointed at you and said, ‘He’s next.’ Get out of here.” And he pushed me forward.
I ran up the march; took off my bandanas, my hoodie, and my glasses; and stashed them in my bag.
Turning onto Great Jones I shot west towards Lafayette, and then ran up to Astor Place. While I was disappointed to leave the march, I was overwhelmed with pride. I could hear our chants reverberating off of the buildings blocks away.
“ONE! We are the people!
TWO! We are united!
THREE! THIS OCCUPATION IS NOT LEAVING!”
I watched the march make its way up Lafayette and then snake along Astor back to Broadway. I ran up a few blocks to stay ahead of it, and, hopefully, well away from the cops who were targeting me on its south end. I found out later that, just after I left the march, a group of white-shirts were examining a photo on a phone, and one said, pointing, “This one; I think he just ran off.”
On Broadway, as a line of police marched by, I ran into a friend making his way south from Union Square. Usually one of the happiest, funniest, and most loving Occupiers, his rage was palpable that afternoon. He’d heard about “a 16-year old being brutalized” and was trying to find the march.
When he found out that it was Mesiah, he almost lost it. He looked at me and said that he was afraid he was going to do something stupid. I put my hand on his shoulder and told him to consider that he was more good to us out here than inside.
“We need you.”
He looked at me, and the tears ran off of his face. I pulled him close. He held on to me, as if letting go would only add to the day’s tragedies. And all I could say was, “I know.”
The march caught up to us and we continued, rather uneventfully, for 4 more blocks to Union Square.
The mood in the square was energetic, but something felt off. We intended to do our spring clowning training as a way to burn off any remaining energy. But we had just been brutalized on an anti-police brutality march. The irony was not amusing.
Two of my closest friends, Nathan and Jason, entered the park with the march. They could tell how angry I was. And they knew that I had been targeted, both from a tweet that I sent out after leaving the march and from witnessing the cops examining the photo on their phone. We decided not to stay in the park. Several of our comrades, including two close friends and a scared, potentially injured underage Occupier, were in jail.
We left the park quickly. We needed to find 19 Pitt St, somewhere beneath the Williamsburg Bridge. Our friends were there, at the NYPD’s 7th Precinct, and they needed jail support.
(photography and videos in this article via @poweredbycats, katertott129, juliacreinhart, Sign0fH0pe, jskagon, shammiches, & owsNaSh)
I spent most of the train ride to Liberty Plaza (Zuccotti’s reclaimed name) conjuring the many nights of elation and frustration I have had in that park – the countless general assemblies, free meals, cigarettes, stimulating conversations, rain storms, arguments, marches and finally, the brutal eviction that brought it all to a screeching halt. Since the eviction, the park had been empty. Or maybe barren is a better word. A cold (literally), lifeless slab of concrete in the valley of the gargantuan buildings surrounding it. Whatever vitality we brought to that place had long been replaced with barricades, security guards, and an eerie stillness.
When I emerged in Lower Manhattan, I was hit by a wave of déjà vu. I could hear the drums and chants inside the park reverberating throughout the neighborhood. I realized that even the sound of the neighborhood had changed since the eviction. A flash flood of warm familiarity washed over me. On the six-month anniversary of our movement, I was transported back to its beginning. I picked up the pace and almost sprinted to the park. When I arrived, I found it once again brimming over with occupiers and police.
It was wonderful to see the park electrified with people power again. That powerful feeling of remembrance and recognition continued to surge through my body like a kind of muscle memory being reawakened.
As soon I walked into the park, I witnessed someone being arrested by the NYPD. The mood was tense and rowdy. I was surprised by the number of police, all with a dozen or so zip-tie handcuffs hanging from their belts. I saw a few old friends and gave and received many hugs. We talked about the insane tug-of-war in which we are constantly engaged with the NYPD. They show up with batons, handcuffs, guns, and riot gear and raise the tension level in the park, then put the onus on us to deescalate. There were a few other arrests, and the police shouted at us where we could and couldn’t stand and what we couldn’t bring into the park.
Throughout the day, different marches left the plaza and came back to cheers and raised fists. It was as if we were in the midst of a mighty stretch after a long slumber. As afternoon turned to evening, the overall mood of the park shifted and the police presence seemed to taper off a bit. The chants going around and the drum circle in full swing filled the park with that familiar cacophonous buzz. There is something amazing about chanting and dancing around with complete strangers. One of the more popular chants of the day was taken from the Spanish Indignados and proclaims simply and rhythmically: “Anti-capitalista!” It was refreshing to hear so many chant that radical declaration. Even through the winter, we had kept our radical roots.
At 7pm, as customary, we had our general assembly (GA). This was my first time attending a GA in a good while, and by the time it was over I was re-enamored with direct democracy and twinkling fingers. There were hundreds in attendance – probably our biggest GA of the year. It was also surprisingly lacking in rancor or squabbling, except for the traditional begging of the drum circle to keep it down or move away from GA. We consensed on signing on to a letter calling for a federal investigation of the NYPD for spying in Muslim communities and broke out into discussion groups to talk about our ideas for May Day. There was a palpable spirit of camaraderie and solidarity in the air, and many OWS veterans commented to me that they felt truly transported to “the good ol’ days” before the eviction and even before the tents went up at Zuccotti, fighting with drummers and all.
After GA a large march which included Michael Moore and Dr. Cornel West arrived from the Left Forum. Suddenly there were over a thousand people communing in the park, some playing games, some doing interviews or making media, others just talking and smoking. There was a Capoeira circle, a mic-check speak out, and of course plenty of drums and dancing. The mood was jovial in spite of everyone’s noticing that the police presence seemed to be increasing as the night went on. At one point, a barrage of bag pipes could be heard on the southwestern corner of the park. This being St. Patrick’s Day, a small Irish marching band had either purposely or by coincidence found its way to Liberty Plaza, equipped with bag pipes and snare drums. The crowd in the park erupted with cheers and applause and ran to the park’s northern perimeter to greet the band. In a confused scuffle (at least from my vantage point) the police moved in, forced the band to stop playing and moved them to the other side of the street. One officer told me they feared the band would “cause a riot.”
Suddenly an orange net appeared. Usually, this means that you have been kettled by the police and are about to go to jail. But this orange net had the words “Occupy” and “99%” stenciled on it. A group of protesters were extending the net and creating a barrier between the police and the occupiers. I admit, being surrounded by that net gave me a creepy feeling , even though I knew it was ‘on our side.’ Yellow OWS caution tape started to go up all over the park too, tied on the trees and cutting through the crowd in odd angles. I wasn’t really sure what was going on, but I could almost sense the tension in the park boiling over. An exorbitant number of police were amassing on the northern side of the park. I stood on one of the benches in the park to try to get some perspective, and I saw what all the fuss was about. A group of occupiers were erecting tents in the center of the park. The net, the tape, all of it, was to protect the tents. A light came on inside the first tent and the words stenciled on its side became visible: “You cannot evict an idea whose time has come.”
I watched as the tent was hoisted into the air and cheered with the crowd, but I knew that what had been a glorious and rejuvenating day would have an ugly ending. We paraded around with two tents for a bit, all of us enjoying what we knew were the last exquisite moments of our resurrection. Then, as if someone hit a fast forward button, we jumped from reliving those first amazing months of Occupy to November 15 – eviction day. Much like that night, the police lined up on the Broadway stairs and announced that the park was closed. They told us that being in the park was now an arrestable offense. And so those who were willing to risk arrest moved to create a human wall on the eastern end of the park, a few meters from the line of police officers. I moved toward the middle of the park and stood on a bench to see the NYPD march in and start arresting people. After about half an hour they had moved everyone out of the park and began erecting barricades around the park’s perimeter. After being pushed and shoved out of the park, those of us who remained stood on the sidewalk, most of us bewildered by the brute force we had just witnessed. We were on the western end of park, isolated from the far greater brutality happening on the eastern side. In the background I could hear people calling for a march.
By this point, I was both mentally and physically exhausted from this behemoth roller-coaster of a day, but I just couldn’t tear away. I ran through the gamut of emotions and questions we all ask ourselves in moments like these, trying to balance my sense of duty and solidarity with the sheer terror of the situation at hand and its possible outcomes. Do I want to get arrested? Or beat up? Is it worth it this time? In truth, I had to fight off the urge to wave the white flag and go home. But I was angry, dejected, and so was everyone else. In the end, I decided to march with my comrades.
A few hundred of us wound our way through Lower Manhattan, flanked all the while by police in scooters and squad cars. We turned sharply down side streets a few times, which seemed to confuse the police, but definitely caused confusion amongst the marchers. I found myself running down the sidewalks and streets with large groups of other occupiers just to keep up. This, plus the sheer volume of the police response, made for some moments of pandemonium. We took the streets several times throughout, prompting arrests and batons. Police smashed an occupier’s head against a glass door. We passed a least one broken store window (though it was unclear if it was broken by Occupy) and at one point on a side-street in the Village, some protesters emptied several trash receptacles into the streets to block the police. It worked, to everyone’s excitement. I saw several police scooters with trash and plastic bags caught in their wheel wells.
When the march reached E. Houston shortly after that, I decided to hop on the nearby F train and make the trip back to Queens. I wanted to stay, continue the march, be with my comrades, express my anger and my joy – but I just had to break away. I knew that things would only get uglier, and I was already delirious with a cogent mix of exhaustion, frustration, and the high of marching through the streets. It felt as if I had lived the whole history of occupy in the span of 10 hours. On the train ride home, I found myself thinking that despite its dystopian ending, M17 had been a success. It was a re-ignition of our imaginations; a reminder of all the beautiful things we built from scratch in that small park, and all the hardships that came with them, and how easily it can be wiped away.
Spring has definitely sprung at OWS, and it’s only the beginning.
– Danny Valdes –
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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.]]>