Chicago, IL–My gentle friend was returned to state custody even as I willed otherwise. Three days later, my Occupy Chicago brothers and I sat on cold stone benches, watching families visit their fathers for the hallmark holiday. We drove to visit our comrade together because that’s what families do. It was a hot Sunday, and I had finally entered the waiting area after being reminded my tank top was not welcome and I had to cover my body in a tee-shirt. At our comrade’s cellblock division, the guards did not perform the vigorous pat-down we found in other sections, even though they’re all part of the same Cook County system. In this division, number 6, my brothers and I simply dumped our nearly-empty pockets into bins and walked through metal detectors. At this entry point, the guards didn’t slap my breasts around, for which I was grateful. The last time I tried to visit my comrades and forced to consent to the state touching my body, my tits ached for days. Even though female guards were the ones searching my delicate skin for weapons, drugs, or maybe cigarettes, they still used the backs of their hands while I stood stock-still, rooted to the ground, choking on rage.After turning in our identification and while waiting for our background checks to clear, we sat on chilly marble benches, no phones or cigarettes to pass the endless time. We had hoped to also visit one of the NATO5 political prisoners that day, but it was looking unlikely we’d even see our solidaritécomrade.
One side of the cavernous waiting room boasted lockers, above which a sign reading “Visitor Lockers” was posted. Across the room, another sign read “Gun Lockers”. One of my brothers remarked it was like a high school football scoreboard: home versus visitors. He was right. They have guns. We have car keys and chapstick, our cellphones locked in my car. It’s truly an unfair fight and we are on their turf. Occupy Chicago’s lawyer told us recently that we were fighting an information insurrection. At that moment, we were defenseless. We could only compile mental notes.
Theoretically for aesthetics, tiny windows were cut in to the towering, multistory beige walls, making the square panels into block-shaped cartoon faces, with thin straight lines for mouths. I imagined them whispering to each other, reporting the sadness they had collected from the day after visiting hours were over. The energy was oppressive, depressive. At times, I could barely breathe with the weight of it all. I was waiting on the state, watching the minutes tick down as I gave them my coerced consent to check my background for warrants, forced permission for them to learn my name and address so I could offer some comfort to a fellow activist who had committed no crime. I would lean my head on my nearest brother’s shoulder, seeking reassurance that being locked in this bastard cop nest was the right direct action to take. Realizing the entire situation’s gravity, my brothers and I reached consensus that we would appear as boisterous and happy as humanly possible when we speaking with our comrade. We were all uncomfortable with Cook County’s chill, the process, and the environment and we’d only been there a few hours. Unlike our comrade, we could leave. His cold concrete cell was not our home. We were just the visiting team.
The guards would bark at the guests, uncaring they were addressing humans, with earnest need to see their dearests. Looking around, the floor in the waiting area was covered in food scraps and garbage. The restrooms had no toilet paper. Not only were the prisoners treated as subhuman, undeserving of quality and care, we, their visitors, were as well.
Groups of visitors, mostly children, mothers, and daughters came and went in 25 minute intervals. After each, I chirped to my family, “we’re up next!” until the room cleared out and finally the three of us, a couple and a man in wheelchair were directed into Visitation Room One. The visitation room was an ugly smoker’s yellow. The walls used to be white but had been exposed to so much exhaled nicotine, they began to turn a sickly morning-piss color. I longed for the open sky. Possibly as a cruel joke, we sat in plastic outdoor chairs. They were rickety and dirty. Our eyes were drawn to an unwieldy contraption before us and as one, we grimaced. A communication unit divided us from our fellow visitors and their time with loved ones, but that didn’t offer much space or privacy for conversation. In front of us all, a large black metal box with a centered video screen, an ATM-camera, and a payphone handset was the only connection to our comrade. There were no windows, just walls and a protruding box. We picked up the phone preemptively and the guard yelled at us, making everyone jump. Apparently, one mishandling of the 1990s-model telephone and the entire prison-industrial complex collapses.
Finally, we were instructed to pick up the handset and the monitor lit up, displaying our friend’s face. As one, my brothers and I beamed love and excitement into camera. We greeted him as one would a visiting dearheart, with “heyyyyyyy!’s” and grins bright enough to illumine the night. The conversation was hard, as we three had to share one phone. For the entire 15 minutes, two of us weren’t able to hear what our comrade was saying to me or our brother. The video camera which relayed his image into our screen was angled down, so we all stared at the crown of his head. We rarely saw his eyes or his smile. I hadn’t spoken to our fellow Occupier before picking up that handset. I had seen him around at our Cermak office, General Assembly and actions, but I flit in and out of Chicago so quickly, I simply hadn’t the time to befriend him past my congenial wave and smile. Now I was speaking with him, laughing with him. This person for whose freedom I’d worked so hard for staring at me from a black box in a wall. I tried not to cry. His arm was bandaged and in a sling. He said his arm had been fractured at the elbow. He didn’t say how. It was smart of him to keep quiet, as the communication device doubled as a recorder.
Realizing this and the breadth of the entire situation, my eyes widened and filled before I could choke back my emotions. I wasn’t conscious of reaching for my brother’s hand until I felt him in my own. My hand was slick and cold; my face masking my inner rage and sadness at the broken systems of government and law. We told him all of time, energy, efforts, care, and concern we were actualizing for him. We asked him how we could make his existence in there easier. He asked for Bukowski, commissary funds for toilet paper, and to let Occupy Detroit know he was all right. We promised to accomplish all of those requests. The final five minutes of our 15 minute visit was counted down digitally in the upper right corner of the video screen. We said good-bye and the video monitor blinked off. As the screen went black, I felt the forced light and levity I’d been projecting to bolster him fade away. My chest hollowed and I sat in that dirty, flimsy chair for a moment with my head hanging down, face in my hands. Simply, my brain was overwhelmed at the abject cruelty of the state and the lies of those bastards who ripped a gentle man from his world, in order to prove a point to we who speak out against repression, we who attempt to build a better world for all people.
As we walked silently through the doors and into the sunlight, the chill from that prison lingered in my bones. Leaving the cold rooms with the dirty floors and power-drunk guards is next to unbearable. Even though we go home, we’re not gone. We remain in locked away in our visited comrade’s memory, in the remains of the endless day locked away from all known beauty and joy. One of the Occupy family will be back the next visiting day. Jail support is hard on me, hard on my delicate heart, but serving jail time would be impossible without comrades, like me, like anyone who can harden their hearts and stand up in solidarity to the state. By dedicating time and energy to support our caged friends, we’re demonstrating to the state, the world, and to each other that their cases will not be forgotten.
– Natalie Solidarity –]]>
Chicago, Il – In the depressing afternoon of June 14th, I watched the same tactics from prosecutors regarding freedoms of the remaining NATO5 “terrorists.” After dejectedly exiting 26th and California, my comrades and I drove across Chicago to support another prisoner. In a different courtroom with similar ridiculous charges levied against yet another gentle comrade whose only crime was daring to stand up to the bully state, I watched an Occupier stand in front of a judge. This time, instead of shackles, he entered the room with his right arm heavily bandaged and in a sling, and his body was in disrepair. The bruised, battered and shocked accounts from thathorrible night of his brutal and unnecessarily forceful arrest at the Quebec Solidaritérally and Casserole march showed his arm was fine before incarceration. He’s being charged with a crime against police that he did not commit. The irony is lost not on us, that all those cops’ goals include breaking protester bodies and crippling Occupy Chicago’s spine, while our ambitions instead encompass nonviolently creating new structures to improve this world. Our comrade’s body and spirit have been damaged by the very state we are striving to improve for the people, even those bastard cops.
Even though I gasped in horror and empathic pain, verbally echoing the looks of sadness, pain, rage, and anger emanating from the faces of our friends filling courtroom bench, there was nowhere else I’d rather sit. I had to see, not just for myself, but for the defendant as well. I needed to sit on the front lines of injustice, listen to the lies of state, absorb the fuel to figuratively burn this society down and nonviolently establish more beneficial structures for all people, especially ones like the defendant and the NATO5, whose only crime is raising their voices against a cancerous state. Court and jail support are essential to the health of a movement. They keep the movement focused on past struggles for which our family sacrificed their freedom, and strengthen us to work even more closely, as well as remind us how quickly our own freedom can be taken away by the state. Solidarity is the tenderness between struggles. Jail solidarity means calling our dedicated and beloved lawyers to check on our comrades and setting up visits to see our friends. That solidarity manifests itself when we fellow activists attend court dates and surround the space outside prison cells. It means sitting on those cold benches, radiating love and care. Jail support is what binds us together in- and outside of the cells.
Linking any agitation for social transformation to jail support is logical. At Occupy Chicago not only do we continue to support our allies’ struggles, as in Quebec, we’re continuing to fight for a new society: one without corporate money influencing politics and policies. The myriad applications of that idea include repairing economic disparity, reversing the pandemic of home foreclosure, creating better financial lending structures, empowering people across the world to stand up! fight back!, enforcing or generating accountability structures for government, determining an education system that benefits the public without debt, providing human services like mental health care instead of wasting taxpayer resources and in reaction to the June 7 brutal and savage police attacks on Chicago’s peaceful protesters, speaking out against police suppression and brutality.
Organizing is doing what is loved and tying that love into doing what’s needed for the greater good. We become better activists, better supporters, and better friends by educating ourselves and others. Before my fellow protesters were caged, I knew nothing about prison support. After diving in to the blazing ocean of others’ pain andtears by reading haunting firsthand accounts of jail life and treading visceral, hot water after internalizing the stories of crushing loneliness and omnipresent fear which manifests itself through incarceration, listening to what can be accomplished, we determined where and how to direct Occupy Chicago’s dedicated energy, bodies and resources. To support our caged comrades, we all keep fighting by keeping their struggle present in the public consciousness through past and upcoming press conferences, noise demonstrations, fundraising, education,courtroom solidarity, radical direct actions, and political pressure campaigns. We show our comrades we love them by establishing working groups, , letter-writing parties, and visitation day/time announcements. We show them love simply by standing with them and reassuring them that they are not alone.
While I’m not physically caged with my comrades, I feel locked away. My energy, heart, and body are as dedicated to their fight and to their comfort. Precisely as Occupy fights for systemic change by highlighting the interconnectedness of home foreclosure to the education debt crisis and the corporatization of financial structures, forging the correlations of a repressive state climate coupled with brutal police repression and political imprisonment to Occupy Chicago’s overarching society-rebuilding endeavors is an exercise in solidarity.
Experiencing the waves of gratitude once we attained our victory of their freedom is enough to buoy me through the nights when I can’t sleep, thinking of people I used to stand with in the streets, now caged. Seeing, then freeing our comrades only inspires me to keep working, keep struggling, until the prisons come down, the movement for which our comrades have sacrificed their freedom will support them in our collective struggle.
Chicago, IL – Boots on the ground is one aspect of protest, arguably the most fun, most invigorating, and proffers the sentiment that our voices and bodies are transforming the system. With our manic dancing to the song of our unified voices singing, “Ah! Anteee! Anteee-capeeetalista!” in the streets under the ruling class’s nose, how could the public remain unmoved? How can they not join in and support us, even for a moment?
With our energy, spirit, dedication, and words, we are altering reality. We are unstoppable. We are building a better world with every step forward towards the heart of downtown Chicago. When we stand in the streets, screaming for social change, educating and empowering our sisters, brothers and the masses, governing power structures do their best to remove us. Police step in and attempt to silence our voices on behalf of the state by making arrests. When de-arresting fails and our family is ripped from us by the state’s savage hands and those boots on the ground are transformed into prison slippers on a cold cement floor, how does our movement stand? What do we do, as revolutionaries, when our comrades, our family-in-arms, the people with whom we make social change, are locked away from us?
We stand in solidarity, as we do in the streets. We are dedicated to one another, dedicated to social change, and, like the power of our people, that doesn’t stop when our freedom is taken away. Jail solidarity means waiting outside the holding area or prison with hot coffee, cheers, hugs and warm bodies for fellow protesters locked away. Jail support means bandaging our friends who were smashed to the concrete by the state with words and kindness, ministering the sunset-colored bruises, massaging away the aches from unnecessary and excessive uses of force. Jail solidarity means writing letters featuring silly stories and cartoons, sending reading material like science fiction, nonfiction, and art supplies like colored pencils and paper.
Linking any agitation for social transformation to jail support is logical. At Occupy Chicago, not only do we support our allies’ struggles, we continue to fight for a new society: one without corporate money influencing politics and policies. The myriad applications of that idea include repairing economic disparity, reversing the pandemic of home foreclosure, creating better financial lending structures, empowering people across the world to stand up! fight back!, enforcing or generating accountability structures for government, determining an education system that benefits the public without debt, and providing human services like mental health care instead of wasting taxpayer resources on manufacturing empty terrorist threats.
Currently, the City of Chicago chose to waste taxpayer resources to pay police informants to infiltrate Occupy Chicago. From there, National Lawyers Guild speculates that the informants, named Mo and Gloves orchestrated the scenarios that the group of arrestees known as the NATO5 would eventually be charged with. The Chicago Police, (and most notably not the FBI) were able to arrest our nonviolent comrades because they had entrapped them. Mo and Gloves initiated conversation, planned the actions and procured the items the NATO5 were arrested in connection with. The state has silenced dissent with lies and stolen these boys’ freedom. The loss of freedom for one is a loss for all.
Jail support is hard on the heart. When three of the NATO5, Brent, Jay, and Jacob were lead into court, shackled at their waists, wrists, and ankles, I leapt to my feet, eyes blurred by tears of hot rage. These children, barely old enough attend college, were dressed in mustard yellow jumpsuits with the letters DOC [Department Of Corrections] screaming from their backs. They looked so small. Bulletproof glass separated me from rushing into the court and hugging them. The following day, I watched the final two members of the NATO5, Mark and Sebastian look equally as small and helpless in their jumpsuits, powerless against Cook County Attorney General Anita Alvarez’s kangaroo court. While being lead away to their isolated cells and away from us, they glimpsed us standing and raising our fists to them in solidarity.
In the constant state of police repression we so agitate against, this is the end result: innocence in chains, with damage we can witness and scarring we cannot fathom.
We are activists, actively agitating against the world as it is currently established. Only a part of that conflict takes place in our streets. The majority takes place in our hearts, and our love of and for our fellow humans bolsters us through the cold nights in and outside of jails. It soothes us as we nervously wait to visit our friends who have been taken from us. Just as Occupy Chicago is the glue that binds the systemic struggles together, jail support keeps us strong and dedicated to one another, even through the heartbreak of visiting comrades through walls and television communication units.
New York, NY – I’ve attended many Occupy Wall Street marches and actions since last September, mostly working as a photographer, some very large, others on the smaller sides. This week’s casserole march however included a record in how quickly NYPD stepped in to crack down on marchers. We had just left Washington Square Park and entered into Thompson Street when a group of marchers took the street. I was still on the sidewalk when next to me a white shirt cop with a bull horn started shouting at protesters to get off the street. From that moment on it usually takes a few minutes for things to get heated, but other white shirts started grabbing marchers pretty much immediately. It seemed to me that the cops knew who they were after, as I saw them grab some but not others initially. Three arrests happened literally right next to me. Usually I have to muscle my way into a throng of people to get a good arrest shot. Now they were right there. And we hadn’t even marched further than 200 feet from the park …
In some ways this approach by the NYPD reminded me of the wildcat march on May 1st, where NYPD also cracked down immediately on marchers right as they set out to march. On May 1st, a group of hooded marchers got as far as the first street corner before finding themselves in a shoving match with the cops. Last night they made it maybe 20 feet further … On both cases very senior cops were commanding the troops. On May 1st I photographed Deputy Commissioner Ray Esposito, Ray Kelly’s second in command, standing right next to each arrest that was made. Last night it was a Deputy Chief, who’s name I didn’t catch, but it was the same officer who commanded the troops down at Federal Hall on April 16th, where cops and protesters collided over their attempt to sleep on Wall Street sidewalks. On both nights, NYPD scored over 10 arrests. On April 16th a poet got arrested for reading a poem out loud after 10pm. Last night they even arrested a bike, someone for walking on the bike lane.
After that initial clash protesters stayed on the sidewalks mostly, which was probably the whole point of the initial NYPD aggression. Me thinks they really want to clamp down hard on any wildcat tactics before they can take a foothold with protesters. Apart from the bike lane incident and the fact that at some point a couple of white shirts arrested a young Latino man who had absolutely nothing to do with the march, cops were much more hands off. One white shirt even made sure he’d smile every time he saw me point my camera at him …
Most excessive in my view was that a full squad of the counter terrorism unit was out in Times Square right next to the protesters as they were banging their pots and calling a mic check and otherwise engaged in peaceful conversation. Does dissent these days really equal terrorism in NYPD’s eyes?
Editor’s note: This post is one of many recounting events on June 6th, in which cities all over the world marched in solidarity with protests in Quebec. You may read about an arrestee’s account of the march here, and multiple points of view of the same march’s first five minutes here. A story recounting jail support in Chicago may be found here.]]>
Today, Liberty Plaza was taken from us. For some, it was our homes. For all, it was a symbol: a symbol that free speech was still possible, for us in the park yes but not only for us, but for us as Americans in specific and as residents of the world in general.I would have us build a new ten times better than that which was taken from us.
I wish I could tell you that for my part I felt I had ideas that were too big to risk, last night; that I felt myself too important, too ‘unarrestable,’ to put my body on the line in defense of Liberty Plaza. I was at Canal Street and Broadway at midnight when we saw a mass of approximately three hundred police officers and 30 NYPD vans gathering on that street corner as a staging area for what we all too quickly learned was just the backup to the force gathering against the Occupation at Liberty Plaza, which saw fit to go up against unarmed protestors with riot gear and not just the threat but the reality of force. I and my friends drew on our arms the number for the National Lawyer’s Guild—212 679 6018— better safe than sorry. We returned down to Liberty Plaza though we knew what was assembled against us, and that we would not be able to get within the cordon to actually reach the park. I lost them quickly in the crowds, but stood with those I found, and stood by the side of a man who identified himself to police as the district representative for the district they were taking action in, an elected official with direct authority over the neighborhood in which we were standing. This man demanded, repeatedly and very clearly, to speak with their supervising officers about the actions they were taking. I saw that man pushed by an officer behind a riot shield, and I caught him before he could fall over a fire hydrant and seriously injure himself. I saw that man bent over a nearby car and arrested with zip ties, and then I saw a woman chanting in defense of the Occupation pepper sprayed in the face.
So much for free speech. In the face of that, I didn’t see anything I could do, so I took the easy exit down a subway hatch and waited to be taken home to the bed I meant to be in hours ago. I fielded calls to our Legal team to relay what I knew of our fire safety efforts in the week leading up to that night, how we were actively stopping any generator use within the park ourselves, how we were choking the Media working group down to only as much as they could accomplish off of battery-stored power recharged during the day. If you watch the Livestream channel for last night, you’ll see that even without anything more than battery power to work from, the Media team was still able to do rather a lot. I stumbled home half in a daze, wishing tears would come but finding somehow that I could not cry, and neither could I rest as I made it to the bed I convinced myself was where I actually wanted to be that night.
I have for the past several weeks been working on a proposal for Occupy Wall Street at Liberty Plaza, called simply ‘Winter Proposal: Event Tents’ on the NYCGA.net forums. It’s still a work in progress – for example, I had been asked by our Legal department to defer any negotiations with Brookfield Properties until we received the results of a Freedom of Information request to determine the exact legal status of the park, before trampling all over the place setting precedents that the rest of the Occupation would have to honor and obey regardless of what that request determined as the current legal status of the park.
We thought at the time we had some time to burn; it wasn’t too cold yet, and save for a freak October snow the weather was mild. I let the information request go play itself out and readied my proposal for discussion with Brookfield to discuss its salient points. I met with the architecture firm Feingold and Gregory, Architects, to learn more about permits and what would be necessary for the project, before they could vet the project to New York Tent Co., the contractors I had chosen to bring the project to in order to design it in actuality using their expertise to build frames upon which to hang event tents all winter long over Liberty Plaza as a solution to all of our safety needs. It was hoped that these tents would enable us with the ability to access electrical power just by paying for it, rather than having to worry about the complexities and safety of a generator providing power to the park; the ability to have heat, common sleeping space again, and a roof over our heads all winter long without losing a single resident of the Occupation to an enemy so simpleminded and yet so implacable as the inconvenience known as snow.
It is clear we do not have time quite as I had hoped we might. I will be bringing an emergency proposal to the General Assembly tonight, to discuss the merits of waiting for the outcome of this Freedom of Information request versus moving forward on discussing this proposal with Brookfield Properties sooner rather than later, and will abide by the ruling of the General Assembly regardless of their decision. That’s the way this works. I will be advancing this proposal, then, at the timeframe they see fit: as early as tomorrow, if they so see fit, or perhaps in a week or so, after the five days required by law for a Freedom of Information request to be returned, plus the extra time it actually takes regardless of what the law says on paper, Legal tells me it’s more like two weeks, so we can expect another week on top of the five business days that expire this coming Thursday. If it’s to be discussed with Brookfield, I’m happy to advance that discussion; if it’s something we can do without Brookfield’s needing to be involved, I am prepared to pursue that as well given the information that shows this to be the case.
In the meantime, they say money is free speech, and if that is so, I would ask that if you support this proposal to rebuild the symbol that was taken from us all this morning anew, ten times better than it was before, support it with your hearts and with your words, but also with your pocketbooks. We do not believe that money is free speech, but money will be needed to make this project happen, and money is something that we can raise for this project to see if it is supported by the world that watches so intently upon us in our time of crisis. I am starting this on Kickstarter with two facts explicitly stated:
1. This will not be a tax-deductible contribution. 501(c)3 donations cannot go towards political speech or action, and this would be providing for the winter a forum for exactly that, as well as a symbol that would be the definition of such.
2. This project will not fire without the direct and expressed consent of the New York City General Assembly, and no matter how much is collected for it, nothing can happen without that prerequisite first being met.
If you wish to donate money in a tax-deductible way to Occupy Wall Street, we thank you, but we must point you here, to the NYCGA.net website and its Donation link.
The proposal I bring forward for consideration is simply this: to raise over Liberty Plaza for the duration of winter three event tents, using New York Tent Co. for this purpose and their permit expediters Feingold and Gregory, Architects, to seek all permits for this proposal on our behalf. Exactly whom we must ask for permits or permission to do this, we do not yet know, but shall learn in exacting detail as we pursue this forward, in the manner deemed best by the New York City General Assembly that represents Occupy Wall Street of Liberty Plaza and in the manner required to accomplish this legally and with full permission, so that which we have raised cannot be taken from us as Liberty Plaza was today.
These tents will serve as clean, open, and inviting space to serve as a public forum during the day, for all who wish to visit the Occupation to come and join us in discourse and debate as we exchange ideas and opinions to the purpose of repairing our financial system, our political system, and the culture in which we find ourselves living. These tents will let the sun shine on all of our faces, as well as the plants and trees that called Liberty Plaza home before we of the Occupation came to join them, while keeping rain and snow off of us, and will enable us to safely heat Liberty Plaza by day and by night to provide a comfortable atmosphere to those who visit as well as to those who call it home.
By night, the tents will serve to host our General Assembly and Spokes Council, with power turned on in the park and built-in amplification for speakers and facilitators… to answer them back, I suspect we will still be happy to use The People’s Mic. And they will also serve as shelter and home to those of the Occupation who call Liberty Plaza home and are those who actually occupy Liberty Plaza, without whom we have an idea but not an Occupation, those who put their bodies in harm’s way this evening to make a better world for themselves but also for the rest of the world as well, the 99% as well as the 1%, for it is not a very good world at all that does not accommodate for 100% of the people. With these tents in place, sleeping bags and cots will be more than enough to keep us warm at night, and we can return to the communal sleeping arrangement that served us so well at the beginning of the Occupation.
These tents will house our Working Groups as they go about their work on our behalf, changing the world or just changing a trash can, no task too big or too small to be undertaken cheerfully and with purposeful drive. And they will serve as the symbol that says to the world: change is necessary, change is coming, change.
These tents will also be works of art – living installations in addition to living spaces. We will be covering them with our words, our ideas, and the images that spring forth from our imagination as we seek to change the world into a better image.