New York, NY–Since the beginning of the #noNATO protests, I’d been following news and tweets from Chicago religiously, and was troubled by what I saw and heard happening: the apartment raid and its ensuing terrorism charges, the protester intentionally struck by the police van, the targeting of live streamers, the shameful and unfortunately usual police brutality—and all the while, I had friends who were there. But here at home in New York, caught between busy “real life” and a virtual experience of protest and action. The more I heard what was happening, the more I wanted to do something myself—so you can imagine my excitement when it was announced that Occupies all over were to show their solidarity with those in Chicago, Frankfurt and Montreal on Sunday, M20.
In New York City, we would meet in Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan to show our solidarity. I headed there after work and found a fairly large group of people congregated around an umbrella-covered table. This must be Occupy, I thought. I pulled over a chair and sat with the rest, everyone gossiping about what had been going on in Chicago earlier in the day, comparing facts and accounts they had heard. A couple tourists came and asked what the hubbub was all about, and listened respectfully as occupiers explained the CPD’s dubious practices over the weekend as well as our general grievances against NATO.
I myself wasn’t sure what we were specifically going to do tonight—a speak out? A meeting? A march? But shortly after 8:30 we lined up and marched north on 6th Avenue. We were to stop at three different locations in the city, where we would mic check a statement in solidarity with those in Chicago, Frankfurt and Montreal. We crossed to the west side of the street and stood outside News Corp, where we were instructed to lock our arms and stand in a circle, emulating those who had protected Jack from the media and prying eyes after his injury, after being hit by a Chicago Police van the night before. We mic checked the following statement as passersby stopped and listened:
“Mic check! Mic check! Do you know the story of our friend Jack? How he was intentionally run over by the Chicago police last night? How his comrades formed a ring around him after the assault? How they overcame fear in the face of state violence? How they showed the spontaneous beauty of affinity?
We are here at News Corp standing together in a ring of solidarity with our comrades in Chicago, in Montreal, in Frankfurt and across the world as they rise against oppression, inequality and injustice.
We are all Chicago; we are thousands in the streets! We will not be terrorized into silence as we protest the illegitimate power of financial and military elites from the G-8 and NATO.
Mic Check! We are all Montreal; we are thousands in the streets! We refuse the draconian emergecy law invoked by the government; we will continue to rise up and strike against tuition-hikes. Free education is a right!
Mic Check! We are all Frankfurt; we are thousands in the streets! We stand against the globalization of austerity and the punishment of the people for the crimes of the bankers. Another world is possible, and she is on her way!
The 1% uses the police, the military, and the media to prop up a collapsing system. We have our voices, our bodies and our hearts. We are here, we are everywhere, we are not afraid!”
During the statement, some police and white shirts tried to get those standing to keep moving, to not stop on the sidewalk and listen to us, but a few of us shouted that the sidewalk is public space and, if you’re not obscuring 50% of the space, it’s within your right to stand as long as you need or want to. By my memory, it did not seem to be an argument the police felt was worth pursuing.
With our work there finished, we continued west on 47th Street to the Times Square area. Those meandering through were now at a standstill as we passed through, watching us silently as we chanted: “From Chicago to NYC, stop police brutality!” I imagine that many of them, who likely had no idea what was going on outside of our city due to the mainstream media’s poor coverage of the protests, thought we were crazy. But the importance of tonight’s action—aside from showing support to our friends and comrades—was that we together were delivering our statement, which explained the power of affinity, solidarity and friendship against a violent police force programmed to oppress dissent—a force that many of us, if given the choice, would rather deny exists in America. Tonight, we demanded to be heard.
As we approached the plaza in front of the red steps, some in our march entreated those sitting on the steps to come down and join us. To my surprise, huge groups were leaving the steps—all of them were stepping down! But I eventually realized that this was not because they were inspired to join us; NYPD was removing everyone from the steps to set up barricades before them. Again, we locked arms in a circle and mic checked our statement of solidarity.
Obviously, there was a bigger audience to our action here than at News Corp, and to shout our statement in front of them was a moving experience. At any Occupy action or event you feel an intense sense of community, but in this case it felt especially good to express in unison the feelings I had felt throughout the past four days. And the fact that we were outward-facing, locking eyes with those standing before us—whether they be tourists, New Yorkers, or the police—made the moment especially touching. The majority of faces looking back at us were solemn, and no matter what they thought of our actions or political philosophy, they were listening.
Afterwards we walked a few blocks south to 43rd Street and 7th Avenue, stopping outside the armed forces recruitment center that’s located just across from the police department. The scene was similar to our last location, with one really great difference: after finishing our statement with “We are here, we are everywhere, we are not afraid!” a bystander shouted out: “And we support you!” Our group erupted into cheers and dancing, backlit by the American flag. The single sentence that man declared in solidarity made the entire night feel worth so much.
After our third reciting of the statement, we quickly “went civilian,” and encouraged anyone around who was not part of Occupy to ask us questions or speak to us if we captured their interest. We would return to Bryant Park at 10; it was now almost 9:30. For now, we basked in the light of Times Square, entranced and hypnotized by the larger-than-life advertisements that surrounded us.
Back at Bryant Park, a small group of us congregated at the corner of 6th Avenue and 42nd Street, where a livestream of the protests in Chicago was projected on a screen held by an occupier. It was bumpy at first—each stream we tried was either choppy, or we went offline—but eventually things were moving. We sat and chatted, and many tried to encourage passersby to watch, with the sad but true statement of “I bet you won’t see this on the news tomorrow!” Once again, what we did tonight seemed very important: passing the message along, creating awareness of this faraway thing that was happening to our friends a few states over—that was happening to all of us.