Tag Archive | "ows"

Jail Solidarity!


From the NATO5 in Chicago to Mark Adams in New York to pending felony charges across the country, occupy activists are becoming increasingly familiar with the insides of prison cells. This is a growing collection of our #JailSolidarity stories.

 

 

Chicago, IL – Solidarity Through a Plexiglass window: An occupier who makes weekly visits to the NATO 5 brings a friend who has never visited prison before.

 

 

 

 

Chicago, IL – A visit to the NATO 5: An activist from Occupy Chicago finds solidarity even behind locked doors and iron bars.

 

 

 

 

New York, NY - A Visit with Mark Adams, J26, Part One: An activist visits Mark Adam’s an occupier sentenced to forty-five days in jail for his involvement in D17 at Duarte Square in New York City.

 

 

 

 

New York, NY - A Visit with Mark Adams, J26, Part Two: An activist visits Mark Adam’s an occupier sentenced to forty-five days in jail for his involvement in D17 at Duarte Square in New York City.

 

 

 

 

 Read all our past #JailSolidarity stories here. 

 

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Solidarity Circle


New York, NY–We gathered downtown in New York City to welcome home our fellow Occupy Wall Street protesters and occupiers from around the country who had just marched in the blazing summer weather on a multi-day trek from Philadelphia to New York. We welcomed them and of course marched on Wall Street, converging at Zuccotti Park where it all began last September. It was beautiful: we were singing, speaking out, and talking with friends whom we had not been seen in a long time. It felt a bit like the park last fall. It was peaceful, loving, and communal.

At the height of this beauty the NYPD came into the park and began arresting someone for drumming. This man had been drumming the entire day but the orders were not given to come in and make arrests until we were all at the height of our solidarity, that thing which threatens state and corporate power so absolutely. Another man was filming the arrest and then cops jumped on him, threw him to the ground, and beat him before arresting him. I witnessed this entire scene personally as did many others. The occupiers from other locations were dumbfounded by the militancy of the New York Police Department. Of course, when beatings and arrests like this happen we converge and it all becomes very emotional because the brutality of the state, while they are doing the bidding of neo-liberal capital power, is the embodiment of what we are  rising up against. It is a very direct tactic the cops use to break up our communal experience; it is when we are at the height of our peaceful experience and connecting with each other that they break it up thru violence.

Needless to say after this the momentum of our gathering was interrupted and cops began marching through the park randomly picking people and making futile efforts at intimidation. It was a scene I have seen so many times at protests, scattered people in shock. This went on for some time while the violence and threat of violence only grew as did the separation of the masses. After the police action the crowd that was originally a cohesive body of people was a mass of individuals and small gatherings who were in shock and awe of the violence.

It was in this space that I began to hear something. It was very low like a background noise but it was growing. It sounded calming, like a humming of some sort. I looked over and saw a few individuals who had come together and where ohming, you know, going “ooooohhhmmm,” a meditative sound. It was so calming that the shocked individuals began gravitating toward the sound and joining the circle.The circle slowly began to grow and grew and grew, bringing more people into it. As the circle grew the calming sound grew. I joined, and the feeling of peace while I stood in that circle ohming was so powerful that it took me away and grounded me at the same time. I closed my eyes and let myself go into that experience. When I opened my eyes the circle had grown so large that it had encompassed much of the park, and all of the cops were now on the outside of the circle, and outside of the park. What remained in that space where violence, fear, shock, awe, and fragmentation had existed only moments before was now peace, calmness, safety, solidarity, and love.

I promise you all that another world is possible and we can create it–even in the face of greed, violence, and selfishness. We created it that night at Zuccotti Park.

- Sean McAlpin -

Editor’s note: You may read another perspective of the same night in Zuccotti here. If you were there as well, share with us your story. Photo by Julia Reinhart.

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From Philadelphia to NYC: the #99MileMarch


Editor’s note: This story is one of many that recount events related to the Occupy National Gathering in Philadelphia. You may read another account from the 99 Mile March here.

New York, NY–The first Occupy National Gathering had just come to an end, and occupiers lined the fence surrounding Independence Hall, waiting to depart on the Guitarmy 99 Mile March from Philadelphia to New York. The march would take seven days, but I was only able to accompany them for the first three.

We made our way through some pretty unpleasant areas on the first day. Hours after the march had begun, we hadn’t even encountered the smallest park. There wasn’t even an attempt to recreate nature. Someone made an observation that we had lost our connection to it. “We paved paradise and put up a parking lot,” they said, making reference to Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi. We usually drive though cities so quickly. It’s harder to recognize what you’re missing when you move so fast. We slowed down time that day, and it was really unsettling seeing just how much we’ve paved away the beauty of this world. The last time I remember feeling that out of touch with nature was when I first walked the streets of Florence, Italy, where the streets are so narrow that they can’t even line them with trees. It leads me to ponder what was behind the drive to almost totally remove ourselves from that which gives us life.

We encountered many people over those first three days. Some people would look on us with an air of total confusion. “Why would anyone walk in this heat? What are these people doing? Are they crazy?”  Then, there were those who would look on with curiosity, look on as if they were searching for something and didn’t fully realize that this was it yet. They were undoubtedly intrigued. They wanted to know more. I was able to pass out a flyer for my blog in those situations hoping that they would pull up the web address and come to see the real reason why 70 people would march 99 miles in that heat, why we felt it so important to bring our message to the road. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t have the time to really relay that message in person.

Of course, we encountered a handful of people who felt the need to throw pure venom. A car would pass throwing phrases like, “Get a job” or “Take a bath.” One man even honked at us just to give us the finger. One’s first reaction to this might be anger or retaliation, but I just get sad now when I witness this because it’s so uninformed. The ones who are confused or curious are half awake or in the process of waking up, but the ones that are that angry are still so deep in slumber that it really demonstrates how far we still have to go. Luckily, those people were the exception.

I would say a good majority of the people we encountered responded in a very positive way. Some were overcome with joy at the sight of Occupy. The sound of horns honking in support of us was quite frequent and definitely uplifting. People would often smile and throw their arms up as we’d pass. The first of three encounters that had the most affect on me was where a man strung a hose out of his basement window to give us a break from the heat of the day. He told us, “I’m too old to be out there with boots on the ground, but I’m grateful that you guys are doing it.” A woman at his house offered their bathroom to the marchers, and he decided to march a mile or so with us, getting a taste of what he longed for and supported from afar. The second incident was when a young girl and her mother were running cold water out to us from their refrigerator, and the third was when we passed a bar with all of its windows open, and people came to the windows to cheer and wish us success. It was amazing to see the faces of the people who struggle with us and clutch to hope that this might bring the shift that they’ve so longing for.

There were occupiers from all over the country on the march, as well as an indignado from Spain. Among the marchers were occupiers from Houston and Portland and New Haven and Los Angeles and Philadelphia and New Jersey. All would form a real bond by the end. There was tension in the first few days arising from some miscommunication and the lack a horizontal structure that occupiers so long for. We’re all still learning how to walk. People made some mistakes, but every time we have the courage to put ourselves in these situations that can be uncomfortable, we learn from them, and that will make us more prepared for some of the things we might have to face in the future on a much larger scale.

It’s beautiful that some put so much of their time into putting such an action together, and it’s extremely beautiful that we are among people who refuse to just be taken care of. Occupiers want to have their hands in it. They prefer horizontal rather than hierarchical. It’s important that everyone is able to contribute and play a role in society, and for that week, the march was a society. Like Zuccotti, as I’m sure other occupations around the world, building a functioning society is not done without its tribulations. I wish I had been able to stay for the entire march to watch that evolve.

Another challenge that the community faced was the serious mental instability of one of the members. It was clear that the trauma this person had experienced living in this dysfunctional world had really had a debilitating affect on her. She was poised for confrontation. Even saying something nice to her at the wrong time would provoke an insult, and at times when she would come to you and seem in a better state, the littlest thing could trigger her and send her into a rage. In the time I was there, I started to observe things that would mitigate here. She liked to cook, and she liked to sing. She even expressed during one of her moments of clarity that she needed to keep busy to stay out of her head. It would have been a real sign of progress if the community had been able to keep her on and encourage the activities that made her feel good about herself. Unfortunately, she was given a bus ticket to New York. Perhaps it was too difficult a situation to really give her the time and energy that would have been required. I really feel that the movement needs to work at creating a safe and empathetic place for people like that. This society that we’re fighting against has created a lot of dysfunction and instability. I think Occupy was probably the most accepting environment she had ever been in. At times, she begged us to work with her condition. I think a great deal of healing could come from an environment that really took the time to do so.


It was overall a really beautiful experience, and nothing to me brings beauty in a way that music does. The first night at the farm, we had a concert. It was a time that we really got to see our old and new friends shine individually. Each person brought their beauty to the experience, a collective beauty that erupted when we reached the Staten Island Ferry Station. An Occupier from Houston belted out the beautiful lyrics from a song called One Day by Matisyahu, and the rest of us sang along. I can’t imagine a more relevant song for our current situation. It was a beautiful moment. The energy and love and passion and determination all swam together in a colorful symphony. Everyone was beaming with joy, accomplishment and hope.

On our arrival to Zuccotti, the marchers sang it again to all of the New York occupiers who came out to welcome them, and for one day, we were able to again experience the vibrancy and energy of our occupation at Liberty Square, and it will not be the last time. The NYPD can harass us. Congress can make laws to try and stifle us. They can even incarcerate a beloved member. We will not stand down. This revolution is happening. Embers of it can be seen in cities all over the world, and each step we take forward brings us closer to a time when it’s a blazing inferno of love. The members of this march took a lot of those steps, and I am honored to have been able to share some of those steps with such beautiful people.

 - Stacy Lanyon -

Photos by Stacy Lanyon. Check out Stacy’s website, At the Heart of an Occupation, which profiles individuals of the Occupy movement.

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How Do You Sleep at Night?


New York, NY–Wednesday, July 11th I awoke refreshed. The day I had been anticipating since leaving Philadelphia  had finally come. The Guitarmy would land in lower Manhattan via Staten Island Ferry, some 99 miles from their departure point, and would return to our home in the concrete jungle. Sitting at work I found myself scanning livestreams, scouring Twitter feeds and counting down the seconds to 5:30.

Before I arrived at Zuccotti there were a few arrests, and an elderly woman had even been knocked unconscious. By the time I had made my way down, the park, though surrounded by police, was peaceful in stark contrast to the events earlier in the day. Friends were sitting and chatting, the familiar sound of jackhammers pounding in the distance. An announcement session broke out and I listened in as report backs circled. News broke that Occupy San Diego would be planning a National Gathering for 12.12.12, dubbing the action “A Day Without Borders,” as well as announcements on the GA reboot and other Occupy projects. Acoustic music and singing flowed over the park, people were laughing and smiling again.  It was almost like we had a chance in hell at a peaceful evening.

That’s when I noticed the wall closing around us. In two tight, single-file lines, the boys in blue stood at the top of the steps. Staring down at their prey as if they were hawks on the hunt, a new addition to their uniforms piqued my interest: gloves. Thick, black, leather gloves. My stomach dropped, they descended the steps and the powderkeg began to explode.Their sights were set, and in a clear attempt to incite a negative response they narrowed their focus on an elderly woman, sitting in a lawn chair, kitting. A clear and present danger to the general public, she had to be removed, immediately.  The swarm of blue sent chills up my spine, I was suddenly surrounded. With my cellphone in hand I began furiously tweeting and taking photos, being pushed around by the massive crowd attempting to protect our comrade from the forceful hands of the NYPD. I felt a strong shove and then a sharp pain in my arm. An officer was grabbing me, screaming at me that I had to leave the park.

“GET OUT! The park is closed,” he said.

“Pardon me, Officer, but this is a privately owned public space which is required to be open to the public 24 hours a day,” I replied snarkily. “The park is not closed, I do not have to leave,” I squeaked as he grabbed my arm tighter and shoved me face-first onto the cement bench.

I threw my arms in the air in an attempt to visually reinforce that I was not resisting any type of arrest, only their blatant disregard for our right to peaceably assemble. I was thrown backwards into the sea of blue, my arm still being squeezed by the brute. I screamed “I DO NOT HAVE TO LEAVE, THE PARK IS NOT CLOSED.”

He rang my arm tighter. “If you don’t get the fuck out, I’m going to arrest you.”

I fell to the ground as the stampede swept through the park, taking with it the beautiful energy we had created.

Over the next few hours, the game of cat and mouse continued. Targeted arrests left our voices hoarse, screaming “Winski, how do you sleep at night?!”

All we could do was shout and console each other. Dazed and confused we began to join hands. Only a few of us at first, then growing gradually larger, we came together to Ohm and bring peace back to the space. Bring peace back to our home. Eventually, it seemed as if the entire park was a part of the circle. Positive energy pulsing through our park once more, we erupted in a mic check and thanked each other for the beauty of the moment. We all needed it.

I lingered a while longer, but knowing I had work in a few hours decided to call it a night when most of the tension had died down. Usually, I try to reflect on the events of the evening or write down my thoughts when I leave an action but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. July 11th marked a new dawn in the NYPD’s tactical response to Occupy that shocked and revolted me.

I didn’t sleep at all that night.

- Nicole Rose -

Photos by Julia Reinhart

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Photos: Meeting up with the 99 Mile March


Editor’s note: This post is part of our #NatGat coverage. You may read more #NatGat-related stories here.

Princeton, NJ–The National Occupy Guitarmy leads the #99MileMarch July 5-11 from Philadelphia to NYC, in honor of Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday and the Occupy National Gathering.

I met up with them on July 7th camped in Morrisville, PA. They were just setting up lunch, painting some signs for the march ahead and belting out Woody Guthrie songs. Spirits seemed high and some of the marchers said that the reception from town to town has been well received. They said residents came out and offered water or a chance to run under the hose to cool off a little. Here are some photos I took during my visit:

Hanging laundry at the camp in Morrisville, PA

The next day we marched 5 miles  in close to 100 degree weather from Trenton to Princeton.


Heading out of Trenton on Route 206 north, a main street for many small towns in New Jersey

Guitarmy walking along Route 206 on their way to Princeton

Along Route 206 some Guitarmy marchers were hanging posters left over from the Occupy Caravan that crossed the country from San Francisco to attend the National Gathering:

 

Once we arrived in Princeton, NJ, Occupiers did a small banner drop on the Bristol-Myers sign outside the company’s headquarters:

Spirits were high especially when the march arrived at Trinity Episcopal Church (link goes to contact info for the church) in historic downtown Princeton. The church offered air conditioning and showers, the first for some marchers in weeks since leaving their hometowns for the national gathering and then heading north on their 99 mile march to NYC.

It didn’t take too long after everyone arrived at the church for police to show up supposedly on reports that there was a dead person lying just outside the grounds of the church. After confirming that there was not in fact a dead person but a very tired marcher the police left but the troubles didn’t end there. Soon after this incident the pastor of Trinity Church came out to tell the 60+ marchers that the church was receiving too many complaints from neighbors and the whole group would have to leave by 9:30 PM which at that point was about an hour away. The group tried negotiating with church executives because it would be near impossible to find housing for 60+ marchers in less than an hour but to no avail the church insisted the marchers leave. We were cleared out by 9:45 PM to numerous locations and decided to regroup in the morning.

One marcher decided to rest on the steps of Trinity Church in Princeton NJ after learning that the church had changed it’s mind about hosting the weary and tired marchers.

This story reminds me of another story about weary travelers showing up at a place they thought they were welcomed at only to be turned away into the night.

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Photos: #NatGat, Day 3


Editor’s note: This post is part of our #NatGat coverage. You can read the author’s coverage of the first day of #NatGat by clicking here, and can find day two here.

Philadelphia, PA–The third day of the Occupy National Gathering was full of energy and good conversation. Speaker Amadon DellErba from Spritualution discussed the importance of ending all “isms,” Gina McGill from Alabama promoted the ideas in Beyond Plutocracy, and Matt Taibbi exposed bank collusion. Captain Ray Lewis declined to speak in the group because of the many side conversations, but made himself available for any individual conversation throughout the afternoon.

At 5:00pm, a march began against Comcast and Verizon, and in solidarity with the NATO 5 (and the NatGat Occupier being held in the federal courthouse). It included a join up of union members and Occupiers, speeches from homeowners who have been foreclosed upon from Action United, and an energetic dancing protest down Broad Street and around City Hall.

The evening included songs from Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping and a General Assembly on racism. The assembly was cut short so that Occupiers could join the veterans on Independence Mall who were going to be evicted at 9:00pm. However, the veteran protesters were granted a twelve-hour extension, with negotiations to be held in the morning. Some Occupiers went to a bank sleep at Wells Fargo while others went back to the Friend’s Center parking lot to sleep.

- Zachary Bell -

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#NatGat, Day 2


Editor’s note: This post is part of our #NatGat coverage. You can read the author’s coverage of the first day of #NatGat by clicking here.

Philadelphia, PA–The second day of the Occupy National Gathering began with some sense of stability, with Franklin Square set as the permanent location for workshops and the Friends Center’s parking lot as the permanent sleeping area. However, the day of speakers and skill-shares precipitated an evening of arrests, with 25-30 reportedly taken into custody.

The morning of thematic meet-ups was followed by a series of speeches by activists like Occupier Lisa Fithian and CounterPunch contributor Mark Provost. At around 2:00pm, Occupiers broke out into workshops that ranged from the Money Out of Politics Voting Bloc to Code Pink.

A group of protesters, including many who are part of All In The Red, led a casserole march against debt, in solidarity with Montreal’s student strike. The protesters donning red squares were blocked off at Penn’s landing by a line of police. While there were arguments with police, and brief physical contact when cops let civilians pass through the line, there was no real confrontation.

At 6:00pm, Chris Hedges addressed the crowd of Occupiers. Hedges described the state of political America, including the death of the radical class, the “monstrosity of faux liberals like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama,” and the marginalization of structural critique in political discourse. He addressed Occupy’s future, articulating Occupy’s immediate goal “to reverse the corporate coup d’état and put the power back in the hands of people.” Hedges opined that the black bloc’s tactics are destructive because it plays into the hands “of those who want to destroy us” by demonizing Occupy in the mind of the public. But he remained hopeful and urged patience, citing his experience in movements that took time to build: “This is the dress rehearsal for the end of the corporate state.”

At 7:15pm, the first Occupy National Gathering Feminist General Assembly met. Through small and large group discussions, the participants in the FemGA shared how feminism can be alienating, shared common objectives (like ending sexual violence and strict gender roles) and listed the main goals of the FemGA.

By 9:00pm, Occupiers some were getting ready to settle into the parking lot at 4th and Arch and others were preparing to march in a jail solidarity protest. At around 10:30pm, a group of marching protesters were kettled and arrested. Cops used bikes to push Occupiers and refused calls by protesters to explain the charges. Of the 27 reportedly arrested, 7 were released by 9:45am. Others are being released slowly.

- Zachary Bell -

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#NatGat, Day 1


Editor’s note: This post is part of our #NatGat coverage. You may read more #NatGat-related stories here.

Philadelphia, PA–On the first day of the Occupy National Gathering, the excitement to meet one another was hampered by police confrontation. This led to indecision and internal arguments over contingency plans, but by the evening, Occupiers were safely assembled at jail solidarity or at the National Gathering Comedy Show.

The afternoon began with workshops around issues like the All In The Red debt campaign and the War on Drugs. Through the afternoon, the Occupy Caravans delivered activists from Tuscon, Wichita, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and many more cities from around the country, who were all formally welcomed at the informational meeting at 3:30 on Independence Mall. At the meeting, National Gathering Working Group members explained issues from food to legal safety, reviewing the logistics Occupy National Gathering Welcome Packet.

At 6pm, an enthusiastic and dance-filled March to End Corporate Personhood began at Wells Fargo and looped around to the park behind Independence Mall. The heavy police presence prompted a series of mic-checks, in which Occupiers shared a range of opinions about Occupy’s relationship with the cops.

Around 7pm, an Occupier attempted to put down a cot and police officers and park rangers informed the group that any setting up of bedding was prohibited. Occupiers set down a tent and surrounded it in solidarity. Members of the Philadelphia Police strike force pushed through the protest line using bikes to clear Occupiers. In the clashes, one Occupier was arrested while others were knocked to the ground. The officers carried away all sleeping material, including those not being set up.

Still surrounded by police, the conversation was strained about what to do next. NatGat Working Group members informed the assembled that Occupiers were legally allowed to sleep on sidewalks, which would also show solidarity with Philadelphia’s homeless, or stay at 4th and Arch in the parking lot of the Philadelphia Friend’s Center. However, the ring of police around the meeting made some feel uncomfortable with a discussion about strategy, causing the attempted impromptu assembly to largely devolve. Most went to 4th and Arch, although others remained in the park or went elsewhere.

At a little after 9pm, a group of Occupiers gathered in the Friends’ Center parking lot for the upcoming entertainment, while another group went to the Philadelphia roundhouse to do jail solidarity for the arrested protester — who was reportedly arrested for assaulting a police officer on federal property. The National Gathering Comedy Show was hosted by N.A. Po of Occupy Philly and included several local comedians. Activists drank from water jugs and enjoyed pizza and snacks in the parking lot where many settled for the night.

- Zachary Bell -

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What Would William Penn Do?


Editor’s note: This post is part of our #NatGat coverage. You may read more #NatGat-related stories here.

Philadelphia, PA–I’ve done the All in the Red casseroles marches weekly in New York and was curious to see what it would be like in a different city. Arriving to the Occupy National Gathering in Philadelphia on Sunday, this was my first march as part of the National Gathering, and my first ever protest in Philadelphia, and I was unsure of what to expect but mostly optimistic and excited. It would be interesting to participate in a march that (as far as I knew in the United States) was only happening on a regular basis in my home city, but this time in a new place with a group of unfamiliar people.

Shortly after we began, there was a split between those who wanted to take the streets and those who did not. I recognized those who organized and were pacing the march were from New York; where we’re from, taking the streets is a risk in which you may be arrested immediately for setting one foot in the road. But the cops here cruised on their bicycles, letting us move freely. The pacers responded by mic checking that they supported autonomous action but were not recommending or suggesting we walk in the street. But once it seemed as though the police truly did not care, they and most of the march poured into the street.

Because many of us are from different cities, and therefore have varying experiences with different police forces, everyone seemed to react differently to the authorities. I was not in Philadelphia the day before, so I had no previous experience with the Philadelphia Police Department and could only go by their indifference to our taking the street, and felt that the police were being very permissive and respectful. But a few people taunted the police while others yelled at comrades in the streets things like “Good luck getting arrested!” Few of us from out of town anticipated the police’s leniency, and I probably wasn’t the only one who wondered how long this would last.

The bulk of the march was spent walking east on Market Street. I had been here before a few times years ago, going across the river to Philadelphia for concerts in my teen years, but the new context made the place seem rather alien. The last time I visited here was before I moved to New York, and today the city seemed desolate and devoid of people—but here on Market Street, people stopped, stood and watched us.

We approached Penn’s Landing, and many of us out-of-towners weren’t quite sure where the bridge led to. We took the bridge, and when we made it half-way across we circled around and came back. “We shouldn’t have turned around,” I heard someone say behind me. “Why don’t we cross to the other side?” A few steps after our turn-around we stopped again with a mic check from a pacer: apparently, we were originally meant to cross the bridge but the front of the march had come upon a wall of cops on the other side. Not wanting to start conflict with them, those in front decided to turn around and walk back. But some protesters took issue with this and wanted to face the cops. Would we continue on this new path, off the bridge on the side we entered, or confront the police?

Opinions divided, and the march did as well. I followed the group that went back towards the police, but there was no clear strategy as to what to do once we met with them. What were we here for? Some said confronting the police was exactly the reason why we had all come together; others said this march was only to educate and raise awareness to the student debt crisis, and that conflicts with the police would only muddy that message and invite criticism we didn’t need. So we ended up doing a lot of standing and sitting on the other end of the bridge in front of the police. I heard one guy gossip that obviously an undercover had suggested that we move back towards the police instead of re-routing; another one was showing rumors that he received on his phone that police re-enforcements were on their way to kettle and arrest us all.

There was slight conflict with civilians when the police opened up space in their wall to allow civilians from a street festival on the other side of the bridge to pass. I wasn’t so close to see what happened—I expect protesters tried to squeeze through—but I heard a lot of yelling as a mother and her kids (and then other civilians, but she was doing the yelling) walked past us looking flustered. One girl said it best: “They see us as an inconvenience, and don’t realize that this inconvenience is a public service.”

We eventually decided to march back to Franklin Square Park. Again, we were divided between those in and out of the street, but the walk back was largely casual, with fewer chants. We made it back with pretty much no conflict, and lots of support from bystanders and drivers.

- Joe Sutton -

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A Visit With Mark Adams, J26, Part 2


Editors note: This is re-posted from Support Mark Adams, who is currently serving a forty-five day jail sentence on Rikers Island. Readers are encouraged to write to Mark, and may check here for letter writing guidelines (including the address to reach Mark.) This is part two of a two-part story; read part one here.

New York, NY–We were led to an old gymnasium, decorated with an odd juxtaposition of colorful murals of the NYC skyline – including a tragically ironic depiction of the Statue of Liberty – and plastic chairs arranged in neat rows, which were sorted by the number of seats for visitors. We were pointed to a set of three chairs across a round plastic table facing a lone seat – a setup designed to ensure our being physically separate from Mark. We were allowed to hold his hands (and did so – the entire time) but couldn’t move closer to him or sit on the floor near him.

We waited in anticipation for a few moments, and then, suddenly, there was the lovely, bearded man walking slowly across the room towards us, a wide smile breaking his somber face as he saw us. The three of us engulfed him in an amazing group hug (a corrections officer chuckled that we were going to suffocate him), and then long, lovely individual hugs before sitting down. His hugs are still super wonderful and feel as they always have – teddybearish, heartfelt, and huge. He looked a bit thinner (by, he later told us, about 8lbs), but bright-eyed, rosy-cheeked, and ostensibly healthy overall.

We started out conveying individual greetings and messages from a plethora of supporters who had asked us to give their regards. We told him about the solidarity actions outside Rector Coopers’ house and which are ongoing outside of Trinity Wall Street. We related the story of a comrade who had been turned away by corrections officers on a previous visit due to insufficient ID, and how a visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles had left him so frustrated that he had three-quarters of the DMV pumping their fists in the air shouting “[expletive] the system!” And we talked about the amazing community meeting that empowered the Otter Solidarity Team to set up his visits, and all the collaborative organizing throughout the community that has gone into supporting him while he’s gone. He was especially moved by this: “That might make this all worthwhile, in some way,” he said.

And Mark shared quite a bit with us – in fact, he spoke about as much as the three of us did, combined. We’d gone in somewhat concerned that he would be withdrawn, but found him to be extremely present and coherent. What he told us, though, was at times difficult to hear. He described feeling that he had left part of himself behind when he was taken to jail, and explained that “in here, this isn’t the real Mark Adams.” He expressed some anxiety about being able to rejoin his full self upon release, but it felt to us like the stories we brought from the outside had already relit – at least, momentarily – Mark’s internal Roman-candle-in-waiting. He grinned when we assured him that the Mark we know and love is very much outside the barbed-wire fences, in our hearts and conversations and on our signs, and will be waiting for him along with the rest of us when he gets out.

He said that he knew our visit would leave him happy for the next few hours but then he would go back to how he usually is. He spends most of his time in his bunk, reading, doesn’t go outside and tries to keep to himself.

He’s received quite a bit of written correspondence – so much, in fact, that the corrections officers remarked to him that he was getting mail “like Lil Wayne did when he was in Rikers!” Some of the letters came from quite a distance, and Mark said he was particularly tickled by some childrens’ drawings of the D17 courtroom – a big round judge, and Mark sitting on a bench with a big beard. He again reiterated that he doesn’t often feel up to writing back, and we assured him that every time this statement from him has been passed along, everyone’s all “pssh” and that he shouldn’t feel any sense of obligation.

An interesting and useful bit that came up: he loves all of the books he has been receiving but he doesn’t know who any of them are from because the packages are opened and discarded before he receives the books. In the future, if you are sending him a book and want him to know it’s from you, write a note inside the cover for him. He also voiced some amused bafflement at the amount of communist literature he had received: “whoever keeps sending those books – I get it!” he told us grinningly. He stores the books in a large tupperware under his bed- it is completely full and he is trying to figure out what to do with the surplus books. There is no library at Rikers and if they get left around, books often wander off with the corrections officers.

Mark brought up his hunger strike, and how it has helped him bring his protest to Rikers. “I came to Occupy Wall Street to march and hold signs, and I can’t do that in here,” he explained. His hunger strike has brought him the power to fight back against the trauma and disempowerment of his sudden abduction, and to politicize his time in jail. The heightened medical attention he has received has brought him many people – doctors, counselors – with whom to discuss his politics and Occupy Wall Street. We shared some of the community’s concerns about his hunger strike – related to his well-being, the outside-jail politics of it, and the impact it may have on the OWS community – and he welcomed the “honest” feedback and promised to consider the concerns. “I’m not one of those comrades who won’t listen,” he promised, and we assured him that we already knew that about him.

Mark described his perception that officers at Rikers were somewhat taken by surprise by his adamant refusal to agree to any normal medical treatments given to inmates upon admittance (many of us already know of Mark’s avowed dislike of allopathy) and even more by his decision to pursue a hunger strike during his incarceration. One of the results is he sees a doctor twice a day, a different doctor each visit, which gives him many people to talk to about his statement. He is on some semblance of a juice fast, but the only juice available comes from powder – so, it’s basically flavored sugar water. The healthiest thing he has access to is three bottles of Powerade he’s allowed from the commissary each week. His sugar levels are being monitored by doctors to keep his glucose at healthy-ish levels. He told us of the awful food available to inmates, and even if he wasn’t on a hunger strike there wouldn’t be much for him to eat. All meals involve mostly meat dishes. There are two options- regular, and kosher/halal, but no vegetarian or vegan choices, and what few vegetables accompany the meal would not constitute appropriate nutrition on their own.

We tried to run the visiting schedule by him, but Mark has enjoyed the surprise of not knowing who is coming, and trusts our judgment. “I mean, you guys know who my friends are, right?” he said with a big old Mark Adams grin on his face. And he knows who his friends are, too, and feels very loved.

We were given no warnings as to how much time had passed during the course of our visit, and seemingly out of the blue, the C.O. who had led us in handed us back our boarding passes. We looked at him quizzically, not ready to understand what that signified. “Time to go,” he explained. And that was it. We took our time for another minute of loving squeezes, and watched Mark shuffle back to the door through which he came (we caught him making a goofy face at a C.O. on his way out), as we were escorted back out the door we had entered, out past security and onto the bus. For all the hours of waiting and negotiating the Rikers bureaucracy to see Mark for that one bittersweet hour, the exit was rapid and painless. By around 5:30 we were back on the city bus and headed off of the island.

The contrast was stark, and tragic: we returned to our lives of freedom and companionship; he to his of confinement and isolation. We decompress, together, in a comfortable living room, while Mark – along with 14,000 other Rikers inmates, and another 7 million across the country – are left alone to process the injustice and dehumanization perpetuated by mass incarceration.

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