NEW YORK, NY–I have had strange confrontations with Bank of America lately. In the last 8 days I was arrested twice only on the verge of approaching the Bank, steps away from the unknown possibility. And what was the NYPD working so hard to protect Band of America from? First I was dressed as a clown with a team of merry pranksters who sought to enact a short, harmless skit of pulling down the pants of “unsuspecting executives” to expose ALEC, an organization that allows corporations to draft legislation–which, no surprise, Bank of America is a prominent member.
It was raining and biting cold but the +Brigade Shenanigan team, a newly formed OWS effort of creative resistance, was suiting up in Bryant Park on F29 with bright monochromatic colors and the “executives” scavenging in trash cans for Starbucks cups to look authentic. But our pantsing skit was deterred, because as soon as we tried to cross the street, a police barricade of bodies and scooters lined up alongside us. The Bank of America tower, like the Death Star, loomed in the distance surrounded by police, like clusters of black mussels clasping onto its mammoth shape.
We had the light. There was the flashing white man walk sign taunting us with the rite of passage. Struck by the absurdity of police barring 8 clowns from crossing the street, I was immediately on my hands and knees crawling between their legs. I was promptly lifted up and put in handcuffs. I didn’t want and wasn’t expecting to be arrested. I was in that precious liminal space of free play. I felt like I could do anything.
But corporations have a way of smashing any spark of the unique human spirit rising up. As the crowd looked at me for some words of inspiration, something, I could only muster a call to bravery for the clowns to carry on, and a bad joke: “Why did the clown cross the road? To get arrested!” As they marched me off into the paddy wagon, I began singing and dancing, “I’m Singing in the Rain! Just Singing in the rain! What a glorious feelin! I’m happy again!” But as I was placed into the wagon alone, watching my comrades carry on valiantly with their march, my ridiculous wet spandex costume began to chill me to the bone at the thought of being a drenched clown in the tombs tonight. That day I was lucky to be released within 5 hours at the precinct, where I was joined by a fellow bicyclist friend, Joe, whose bike was confiscated for “evidence”; a 16 year-old mega force, Mesiah; and another cyclist, Mandolin, who tried to carry a tent on the march. In my cell, Mesiah and I did yoga and talked about housing rights. In the other cell, Joe and Mandolin were starting a men’s group to discuss privilege.
My next encounter, I was not so lucky. This time it was a call from the courageous Code Pink on International Women’s Day. The plan was to gather at the Bank of America at Zuccotti Park as super-Sheroes with message-ready breasts for a BUST-ing up the Big Banks action, harking on a thousand year old tradition of women putting their bodies on the front lines. I dressed in a denim jumpsuit with a red scarf on my head, re-appropriating Rosie the Riveter. I met Savitri in the park, that empty park once so full of life. It was hot with gusts of wind shooting through the trees. She wrote on my arm, “We can do it!” and I painted “BofA, You can suck it!” across my chest. We began to walk casually into the bank. Savitri, Medea and Rae, all wearing suits, made it in. As soon as I stepped up to the doors, the cop locked the door in my face. Ah yes, the paint was peaking out from my jumpsuit.
Mark and I walked around to the other side to look for another entrance and saw customers slipping out. People could get out, but no one could get in. Well, at least we shut down Bank of America again. I called Savitri on the inside, who said there were only three of them and they were very vulnerable. She had a beautiful baby to get to after this. We waited at the side exit and suddenly Savitri bounded out the door like a leaping gazelle and raced off to safety. Soon after, Rae ran out with the policeman close on her heels. I called out to him, “Hey Officer! Over here!” but he was hot on the pursuit. He grabbed Rae roughly. Mark was quick to de-arrest. The burly policeman grabbed her by the neck and threw her head down into the concrete, all the while she was crying out that she had a neck injury.
As they were detained in the bank lobby, the choir gathered and decided to sing in solidarity, walking along the sidewalk in front of the bank. As we walked past once and I began to circle back, a cop told me I couldn’t sing and had to keep moving. I said that I was moving and was not obstructing traffic. Instantly, the same rough cop threw me over the scaffolding to arrest me, my things spilling out of my bag. I lifted my leg over the scaffolding so as to not have my stomach jammed into metal and try to kick my things from falling into the gutter and another cop snapped, “Stop resisting arrest!” And off the 4 of us were carted away, at the bank manager’s request. I watched the rough cop throw around several woman walking by for no apparent reason.
Maybe it was the full moon, or the solar flares in the sky, but there seemed to be a lot of crazy in the air that day. In the precinct, two men in Mark’s cell seemed dead set on winning the crazy war. A white man in an all black suit skirted over to our side when he was released to go to the bathroom and starting messing with the cops, “How crazy do I have to be? What do I have to do so you’ll take me to the hospital so I can get a meal? How CRAZY do I have to be?” The other, a young black man, was far more sympathetic in his rants. Screaming bloody murder about injustice and racism. Despite all the machismo, you could understand his anger. We began to sing to try to calm him. Love, Love Love, all you need is love. When we quieted, he surprised us by calling out, “Love is what I need. Keep singin’, ladies! I need you to sing.” We sang every song we knew.
First they told me I would be there for 15 mins to an hour because I didn’t enter the bank. Four hours later, we were all taken to Central booking, which was packed with men lined up against the wall in chains. Throughout the whole process, Medea was brought in again and again to try to capture her prints, and they made ageist remarks, like she was so old that her prints were rubbed off or that she was some kind of alien. We said goodbye to Mark, fearful of what he was being led into. Later we found out there was huge brawl in his cell and he got punched in the back of his head.
Rae and I were led into the women’s cell. Medea’s fingers were still being pushed and prodded. We had about 16 women in there, mostly in their early 20s, all of color, almost all of whom were new mothers too. It was freezing cold, the window open, a fan on. We weren’t allowed to keep our jackets because of the zippers. Rae’s neck had fingerprints on it still and she was sore. We told jokes, arrest and action stories, talked about what ideal brunch we would have. For awhile we tried to huddle on one mat but I couldn’t get warm and fall asleep until hours later, when a kind prostitute offered to cover me with her fur coat and to share her mat. We snuggled tightly and she asked me if I had lice. Said she’d been there 36 hours already, had been working the same streets for 28 years.
They woke up everyone at 5am and said we had to clean up and get ready to go to court. Only 3 women were taken. Later on, everyone felt up to chatting again and they all wanted to hear why we were arrested. They laughed and laughed, couldn’t believe we’d be arrested for protesting a bank, let alone for singing. The women there were smart, knew what was going on in the world, knew all about Bank of America and its foreclosures, its corruption. There was no surprise that corporations are criminals. They were arrested for fighting back against an abusive boyfriend, getting in a screaming match with her boyfriend, bringing in a cigarette to her son in jail, smoking pot, selling fake watches. But none of them were interested in protesting. They agree it has to be done but they can’t do it. They have to work, take care of their babies, survive. They said things have to get really bad so people will get up and do something. How much worse does it have to get?
We waited and waited. Didn’t want to drink the dirty water or the milk or the vacuum packed sandwiches. Finally, after 3pm, our names were called. We were all charged with criminal trespassing.
It wasn’t until I was sitting in the courthouse next to Rae, when I saw my friends out there, looking tired but smiling supportively, that a rush of anger flooded over me. The parody of this system. There we were in this dressed up, fancy court when a foot behind us lay filthy floors covered in cockroaches and a system that has no interest in improving society. Police protect the corporate personhood and never our freedom of speech. There’s no telling what we could be arrested for any more. I can’t gauge actions by the same standards any more. As Spring blossoms, the spirit of the people is heating up again, we’ll be out on the street in big numbers. We will fill those cells so packed, the walls might explode.