Posted on 14 January 2012.
Last night was the most amazing night of my life…
The day started like any other. We woke in the truck in Brooklyn to find Julie outside her apartment. She let us take some quick showers and gave us a cup of coffee while we chatted about anything from what we do for a living to the movement–small talk, really, but nice small talk. After that, we put in our time at Milk & Roses to knock out some work as fast as possible to get down to the protest a little earlier. Unfortunately, I had a good amount of work to sift through, so we didn’t make it down to Liberty Park until about 6pm.
As has become our tradition, Joe and I walked around the park to check out any new additions to the grounds. One small table was set up near where we entered the park. They were passing out food separate from the people’s kitchen. It was the second time I’d seen them, so I was curious. When I asked who they were and what they were up to, they said they were from the shelter (they lived there, not worked there) and they were serving food to anyone at the park. They’d made it, donated it, and served it, and they were living in the shelter, themselves! Incredible!
Joe and I hung out for a while with nothing much happening. David Peel was back leading sing-a-longs, so I hung around that circle and sang and filmed for a while. I found Joe after that, having gotten separated at some point, and he was busy grubbing on dinner. I wandered off while he ate his food and we became separated again for an hour or so, until I spotted him on the south end of the park talking to a couple people–an old Italian woman and a younger friend or relative of hers. I didn’t get their names.
After talking with those folks for 45 minutes or so, my feet were anxious to move, so I told Joe I was going to go get a couple slices of pizza since I’d missed the dinner servings in the kitchen. We said our goodbyes and Joe and I headed down to Pronto Pizza, where they overcharged me for three slices of pizza, a soda, and a beer.
After dinner we wandered back to Liberty Park, a mere block away, not expecting much to happen for the night. The crowd was relatively small compared to other nights, and it was generally quiet. A small march in solidarity for Oakland passed by once, but it was tiny, so I figured it was just a marginal march, but when they came back around the park with slightly more people, I decided to join in. I grabbed Joe and we jumped into the march.
We circled the park one more time, gathering a larger crowd, then headed off down Church past the 9/11 Memorial. We paused in front of it for a moment to gather together, chanting, “New York is Oakland! Oakland is New York!” and chants of every other sort, like “Hey hey! Ho ho! Police brutality has got to go!”
From there we made our way to city hall, trying to take the streets at every opportunity. A block down, a fireman opened a fire hydrant and yelled out, “If you stand here, you’re going to get wet! I’ve gotta open it!” “Bullshit!” I yelled at him, sticking a camera out at him.
By the time we made it to City Hall, we’d become quite a large group of people. Hundreds, if not a thousand. We circled City Hall slowly two or three times, gathering together in a close-knit group to make it harder for police to drag one of us out of the crowd. On the second trip around City Hall, people started spilling into the streets, and the cops quickly took out their clubs and threw a guy to the ground, jumping on him like a swarm of jackals, beating him, throwing their elbows and knees at everyone, pushing us all back with wild looks in their eyes as we tried to drag the person being arrested to safety and the group. That guy didn’t make it and was hauled off. A few steps beyond that, I saw three or four police officers, including a detective in a plain suit violently pushing and throwing a young girl and two young guys toward the sidewalk. The girl wasn’t taking any shit, swinging at the police officers with her fists, but they didn’t arrest her, they just violently shoved them onto the sidewalk with their clubs.
I screamed everything I could in those cops’ faces when they arrested that guy moments before. “Shame! Shame!” “The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching!” and every foul thing I could think of. I was literally nose to nose screaming in their face. When they pushed me with their clubs, I linked arms with the people around me and yelled as forcefully as I could, “Don’t you fucking touch me! Don’t you touch me!”
We made our way a few blocks away from there and by then we were riled. We were peacefully marching in solidarity against the police brutality in Oakland and here the police were beating the hell out of people and arresting them for stepping into the street. In most cities, under normal circumstances that constitutes a whistle blow and a dirty look from a traffic cop, or at worst, a ticket. Now that we were riled up, we were absolutely determined to take the streets, and we did, but we were quickly pushed back onto the sidewalk. But now, whenever they pushed us onto the sidewalk, people would run ahead of the cops and take the street again, then we’d all rush forward and we’d completely control the street, stopping traffic and chanting. It was incredible!
Another man was thrown down and beaten by at least six or seven policemen, and even more formed a circular wall around the arrest to keep us from seeing what they were doing and to keep us from trying to drag the victim away from them. The guy next to me took a club to the gut, but we all held our ground and surrounded the cops, yelling in their faces exactly what we thought of them, who they work for–anything we could think of to shame them into seeing what they are doing is wrong, but many people also, such as myself, were so disgusted and sickened by what we saw, anger took over and we very aggressively yelled in their faces, nose to nose. I’m talking centimeters away. As long as you don’t touch them, you’re good. But if you even accidentally bump them, they’ll call it assault and beat you down.
After we had to give up and let the man be arrested, we turned to continue the march, but the police had blocked off the intersection with one of their plastic orange net barricades. People plowed through over and under it. They couldn’t stop us. Once we burst through, we grabbed it and won a tug of war match with the police. I somehow ended up at the front of it, leading the way through the streets, screaming and chanting with the crowd, holding the police netting above our heads and peace and victory signs above our heads, pumping our fists, smiling and in love with life and our brief grasping of freedom. I could feel it in my hands and heart as real as the police netting. Cabbies and truckers were honking in solidarity with us, slapping us five out their car windows as we walked by. Traffic was completely shut down. Every time I passed a cab with open windows in the back, I ducked my head in and thanked the passengers for their patience.
By then, the police were largely helpless. A way up the street, there was a bottleneck in the middle of the street between to cabs. People were spilling all around them, but the people who tried to go between the cabs were suddenly met by a singular cop out of nowhere. All the other cops were somewhere else, trying to set up another block and ambush for us, but this guy was suddenly right there. “Ah, we’ve got a fucking hero over here!” I yelled. The cop started violently pushing and punching at the protesters who came his way. We yelled, “Go around! Go around!” and kept marching. I don’t know what became of that.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but we were marching toward Washington Square Park. We held and controlled the streets from City Hall to Washington Square Park and back to Liberty Park. The police were absolutely ineffective and helpless. They couldn’t control us. We chanted, “Whose streets? Our streets!” changing it up now and then with “city” and “world”, rather than streets.
Everywhere you looked people were cheering, chanting, skipping, jumping, announcing updates from other Occupancies. Someone yelled out, “Oakland just took back the park!” and we all cheered and chanted as loud as we could.
We wandered through the village and everyone came out of the bars and restaurants in awe of us. Some joined in. People leaned out their windows to watch what was happening. I blew kisses at everyone I saw and yelled to them, “We’re making history! Join us!” Then we all chanted, “Join us! Join us!”
We wound our way through the streets in many directions to keep the police guessing as to where we were going. I hadn’t seen the mounted police since city hall, where we chanted, “Get that pig off that horse!” but the motorcycles were suddenly everywhere–the same motorcycles that have been used to run us over in the past. The police would head us off at each intersection and form a wall with their bikes, but we’d just run around them. Some people ran and tried to leap over them, but they were quickly snared by police and beaten to the ground.
Joe told me the guy who tried to talk us into getting arrested at Washington Square sidestepped one motorcycle that tried to run him over, only to have another come up on the other side of him trying to do the same thing. He then kicked down a police bike, knocking over several more, and the cops spilled over him in a massive horde and beat the hell out of him.
On the way to Washington Square, one guy in the march a few people in front of me suddenly started pissing on a car parked next to him and he almost got his ass kicked by fellow protesters for doing something so stupid and foul. We took care of him instantly and reigned in any violence that might have erupted from it.
In trying to evade the cops with their cars, vans, and motorcycles, we ran down one street and dragged wooden police barricades into the road to block their path. As soon as people saw what was happening, everyone started grabbing anything they could to do the same–garbage cans, many garbage bags, more barricades–anything we could find. Then we would run forward and always stay ahead of the police. They couldn’t do a damn thing.
At one point, I got a charlie horse in both of my calf muscles at the same time. I thought, “Ah hell; not now!” I just kept moving forward the best I could and was able to jog it off, thank god.
That Sgt. who’d made national news for chewing out the NYPD at Times Square marched with us, too, as did another man in uniform.
After controlling the major streets in downtown NYC, like Broadway, we decided to head back to Liberty Park and seize our victory before something unfortunate happened, or before police figured out a way to break us up. We marched back toward Liberty Park chanting, jumping, hugging strangers… Oh! and we WERE able to drag one victim out of the police’s clutches, to which we all cheered massively.
As we made our way back to Liberty Park, we dominated the streets, linked arms, slowed down, seizing our power, and sang “Solidarity Forever”.
We entered Liberty Park arm in arm in solidarity and everyone met us with cheers, applause, and noise of all kinds. It was an incredible night! The march was followed by a few speeches of love and devotion to the people. I was exhausted and drenched with sweat. I gave absolutely everything I had in me to that march. We wanted to show Oakland serious solidarity for their dedication and we did just that. We made history, and Oakland took back the park!
We are the 99%! We are too big too fail!