New York, NY–Monday afternoon I refreshed my Facebook newsfeed to find some unsettling news: Mark Adams, one of the 8 occupiers on trial for trespassing on December 17 last year, had just been sentenced to 45 days on Rikers Island. Admittedly I hadn’t followed the trial as well as many others, nor do I personally know Mark, but I was familiar enough with the #D17 action and trial that Mark’s sentence, 15 days longer than what the DA had asked for, seemed excessive and that charges hadn’t been dropped by Trinity was ridiculous in the first place.
So I decided to halt things and run to Foley Square that evening to show my support for Mark with other protesters.
I got there early at 7pm, meeting with a small group of comrades sitting by the fountain near the southern part of the park. A live streamer was on hand, giving anyone who was there in support of Mark a chance to tell his audience their thoughts or feelings about the trial As we mulled about, a few made signs, many of which had drawings of thick beards to hold before one’s face, because “We are all Mark Adams.” I looked across Centre Street at the Supreme Court building, whose engraving read that “the true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government.” I didn’t know what to make of those words that evening, except for a feeling that as things continue, more and more can only wake up and see that the state is not working in their interests.
I had come out to support, unsure of what we would be up to tonight. I asked a few people but others were confused as I was. And just where was everyone? I overheard we would be marching and saw on Twitter that the Feminist GA was happening. The plan was to march to Reverend Cooper’s home in the village, where we would hold a vigil. By then, the Feminist GA would be done and would meet us there, after which we would discuss our feelings about Mark and what had happened to him.
We left Foley just around 8pm, chanting “Free Mark Adams and all political prisoners.” If there’s one thing you can count on our community doing, it’s making light of terrible situations, so another popular chant was “We want the sexy bearded man (and so do you!)” It was probably not the best chant for outreach, but it boosted morale in a situation that many were angered and deeply saddened by. We eventually took the streets, mic-checking outside of opened-window restaurant fronts and tour buses to explain why we were out tonight.
One tour guide called the police, or threatened to, while we blocked her bus from moving, but we didn’t care; we’d established before leaving Foley Square that we would not be arrested, that if we saw the police we would simply rush to the sidewalk and comply with the rules. We didn’t want to be too controversial, because Mark would be upset if our rally to show solidarity with him ended up with more people being arrested. That isn’t to say there was no small drama: one man heckled us out his window, high above, and another threw an egg at us some blocks away. But we kept on.
Aside from passing a cop car that happened to be parked along a sidewalk we marched down, there was no police presence until we made it to Cooper’s home. We congratulated ourselves on marching through the streets with no conflicts with authority, and organized ourselves on the sidewalk, careful to keep it open for pedestrian traffic. Someone had brought small candles, which were passed out and lit.
A couple of police officers crossed the street to ask us what we were doing. There seemed to be nothing very accusatory about it, just asking what a random group of people congregating on a residential street planned to do there. We explained Mark’s story and that we were only here as bodies and to discuss what had happened. The police were cool about it and told us all was well so long as we kept the sidewalk open.
Eventually a white shirt came and interrupted us all to repeat to us that the sidewalk and stoop must be clear. The sidewalk and stoop were already clear, which made the whole thing redundant, and his tone lacked the courtesy that the previous two officers spoke with. He—and a couple new officers—spent the rest of the time occupying the stoop himself.
Someone who had spoken to the officers earlier said that Cooper was in fact home, that he’d called the police because he would not face us. Cooper was being cowardly and bringing in his own personal guards, courtesy of the NYPD. But still we complied with the police—we had no intent on blocking anyone from anything in the first place—and no issues arose. We watched out for each other, policing ourselves in regards to pedestrian traffic. We began our speak-out session, in which peoples words were carried down the line of us over different generations of mic-checks.
Where the march’s atmosphere was somewhere between celebratory and anger, this quiet moment was a mix between sadness and inspiration. Some talked about their hopes that Mark might organize from prison; others expressed that the best way we could support Mark would be through our actions and by looking at his enthusiasm and attitude as example. Someone pointed out that we kept talking about him in past-tense, that he was not dead and we would see him again. This comment got a few chuckles and brought the mood up a little bit.
I wondered what the police officers were thinking or feeling about all of these words. They understand sacrifice and must have understood that this trial was a moment in which we all realized that our sacrifices are in fact very real. But our group tonight was showing no signs of being discouraged, and I think the vigil presented a very human look at us that might sometimes be lost in the heat of an action. It’s consistently difficult to rank beautiful moments in the Occupy Wall Street community, but I think all of us coming together the night of June 18th is among one of the most poignant.
I went home carrying my cardboard Mark Adam beard. I didn’t want to throw it away or abandon it. So I put it on my desk, in the hopes that when I feel lazy or exasperated while working or question whether anything I do is worth it all, I can be reminded of Mark’s example and get shit done with a smile. So I’ll thank him for that when he returns, because he will.
– Joe Sutton –