When viewed through the wall of your soaking tent, every flashing light looks like a
police raid. Every accelerating truck engine on the street a few dozen feet away
sounds like a bulldozer heading your way.
This is the second night like this at McPherson Square in recent weeks, with Occupy
DC’s “de-escalators” keeping an eye out from the perimeter and the Occupiers in
their tents listening with nervousness and dread.
The last time was a few days before Christmas. After a large, drunk, tank-shaped
ruffian kicked an arresting cop in the balls and left him puking in the street, the
camp buzzed with the rumor: Tonight’s the night we get raided.
For veterans of Zuccotti Park, Oakland, U.C. Davis and dozens of other Occupations
across the country, the conditions seemed right: wet, cold, dark, and cops had been
humiliated; it was now personal. Word was that it would happen around 3am.
On that night, our number included Occupy DC’s ambassador of goodwill, a
pipe-smoking man of substantial age who has lived in this park for years, who sits
in a prominent spot and greets every passerby with “Happy Holidays and Happy New
Year!” There’s a guy here who’s got a petition with 1776 signatures that he hopes
will get him–and his waist-length dreads–into the Coast Guard. A genial 50-year-old
unemployed laborer/short-order cook from Tennessee who calls everybody “brother.” A
40-year-old Deadhead who says that this is the best living situation he’s ever had;
he says he’s clueless about the political aspects of this venture, but if he’s truly
lived on the street for as long as he says, perhaps he has a clue even if he doesn’t
A former journalist who had stopped by regularly to donate food and blankets, I set
up a tent in early December in response to a friendly challenge from a few
Occupiers–“What else do we need? How about your body?”–who encouraged me to sleep
here as many nights as I could, even if I had to leave to go to work most mornings.
Elsewhere in the park there’s a working journalist who’s been here since October 1,
the first day of this Occupation. He’s here for the stories, sleeping here because
it gives him access that other media types don’t have, and because of the high price
of hotels in DC. I’m here for the most unprofessional of reasons: to experience
grassroots democracy in action.
I have long wondered if the people of this country would forever sit passively by
and watch our hard-earned gains in the direction of decency and humanity be reversed
by the Republicans (aided by weasel Democrats), watch as the clock is turned back to
the dark ages of crony capitalism. This group is trying to do something about that.
Sleep for many of us never did come that night in December, but neither did the
police. It was one of very few blessings that brutally cold holiday season brought;
the weather was about to take an even more drastic dip, one that would cost us some
There are those who say the movement is incoherent. In a way, I can see the
point–the causes cited by Occupiers are myriad, and it’s not being packaged in those
convenient little soundbites that media talking heads prefer. But if you actually
think about it, my erstwhile colleagues–employing your own brain cells instead of
your tendency to lazily regurgitate–it becomes obvious why that’s the case. With so
many powerful people dedicating so much time to screwing up this country for their
own narrow benefit, the fact that one can’t simply hand over a concise statement of
purpose to cover it, says far more about the size of the problem than about those
trying courageously to begin to correct it.
Some say the movement is too inclusive for its own good, that those hangers-on who
aren’t here for a specific political reason need to be booted. But how can you kick
out the already marginalized, many of whom have things to teach you about surviving
in a hostile environment?
Among the hundreds of people who have come to watch the circus, many have clearly
joined it, at least in spirit. A steady stream of messages from the street tell us
how the revolution looks from there.
“Thank you for doing this for all of us. What can we do for you?” A carload of
elderly women stopped at the light close to my tent.
“God bless you from the rest of us. Don’t lose hope; you’re making history.” A
middle-aged Hispanic man, through the window of a battered pickup, to a chorus of
honking horns behind him.
“Go home, hippies. Get a job, dirty commies.” A series of SUVs and sports cars
barreling down 15th street.
If volume is the measure, the wingnuts win; one of their favorite tactics is to park
close by at 3am and blow their horns nonstop to keep us from sleep.
One of the more blatant hypocrisies I’ve heard is “Give us back our park!” I used to
work across the street, so I know that the main users of this park before October 1
were the homeless and the rats–and both are still here.
Tonight, the rumors fly again, probably with more reason this time: On Friday, the
Park Police, our nemesis/defender, apparently caving to pressure from a rabidly
partisan neocon congressman from California, issued an ominous warning: after noon
today, they will start enforcing the “no camping” rule. Nobody’s sure precisely what
form that enforcement will take, but it involves potentially arresting those
“sleeping or preparing to sleep.”
Once again, we wait. Will the dreaded crackdown come, and if so, what will happen to
my friends and neighbors who are unlucky enough to have no other place to go?
-Story and Image by Jehovah Jones-]]>
Around 6:00pm, the officers returned to Peavey Plaza with copies of the ordinance to pass out. The ordinance itself applies to any type of item that is infringing upon the public’s right-of-way. It is important to note that while we had tents erected, they were not on the sidewalk, but rather they were upon the plaza itself. It is also important to note that the city of Minneapolis had just recently erected signs along the edge of Peavey Plaza advertising the planned renovation, and that those sit (unpermitted) upon the sidewalk itself along with the Minneapolis Police Department’s stationary cameras. They would not comment as to whether or not they felt that their own signs and camera were within the jurisdiction of the law itself.
After we received this notice, occupiers held a meeting to decide what it was we were to do when the officers chose to enforce the law itself. They had not given us a time-frame as to when they would be back to enforce this.
At around 8:30pm, the Minneapolis Police Department including Chief Dolan had returned to Peavey Plaza to enforce the law that they had found and chosen to enforce against Occupy Minneapolis. As they ordered us to either remove the structures or have them forcibly removed, we chose to pick up our tents and march through the streets. We marched to Loring Park where our other Brothers and Sisters were gathered, and were followed by the Minneapolis Police. Upon vacating Peavey Plaza, the remaining items were taken by the Minneapolis Police. They also removed all signs, sidewalk chalking, and any other trace of the day’s events from the plaza itself.
After gathering in Loring, we decided as a group that we would attempt to take back Peavey Plaza and place our structures upon the plaza itself. It is important to note that while the law has been on the books in Minnesota for a while, there was no mentioning of it prior to our reoccupation and the enforcement of the law is a clear sign that the City of Minneapolis has no respect to our First Amendment rights of both freedom of assembly and free speech. (Congress shall make no law…)
We marched from Loring Park, up Hennepin Avenue, and then back down First Avenue until we arrived at Peavey Plaza. We sat our tents and canopies back down, and began to have an open discussion as to why we all occupy. This was interrupted by the Minneapolis Police Department as they gave us a warning that the structures were in violation of the law and that we must remove them. Again, they gave no time-frame of how long it would be until they acted. After I literally forced them to give us a clear deadline (they gave us 10-minutes) we decided that we would take to the streets again. Individuals raised up our tents and canopies again and began walking up the Nicollet Mall.
While we were walking up the Nicollet Mall (in the streets) the police tried to block us from continuing our march. As they had not completed their barricade, they ordered us onto the sidewalks or risk arrest. Protesters complied with their request, and went onto the sidewalk. After passing through their failed barricade, most protesters remained on the sidewalk and continued heading North near the Target store on the Nicollet Mall. A few protesters took to the streets again but were met by mounted police (on horseback) shortly after crossing the intersection to continue North. Police then grabbed the canopy that these individuals were holding and began to bend the metal legs of it, whilst shaking the grips of protesters from it. Several protesters were knocked to the ground by the force of the police along with the fact that the mounted police were commanding their horses into the protesters. Those that remained in the streets were arrested.
While the police arrested the individuals in the streets, they also began to grab onto others that were standing upon the public sidewalk. These individuals had complied with the police, however several were still arrested without proper cause. During that time the mounted police then directed their horses onto the sidewalk itself in an attempt to intimidate and possibly injure those that were peacefully complying with their orders. I was one of those individuals. A Minneapolis Police Officer had grabbed me in what seemed to be an attempt to take me into custody, however a mounted officer began to direct his horse onto the sidewalk at that time. I was pushed into stanchions that were on the sidewalk (the stanchions were placed there to separate a restaurant’s patio from the main sidewalk itself) and as the horse pushed me, it was also kicking. If I did not have my bicycle in front of me blocking the hooves of the horse, I surely would have ended up being trampled.
During this time, across the street, Minneapolis Police Officers had grabbed onto the camera of a local reporter from KSTP. The reporter himself claims that he was assaulted. They threw his camera onto the ground and kicked it despite the fact that he had vocalized that he was with KSTP. The camera itself was ruined and his footage could not be salvaged.
According to our most recent confirmation, 9 individuals were arrested. We have been working to bail all of them out of jail tonight. After the confrontation with the police, we moved from the Nicollet Mall back to The People’s Plaza to debrief about our evening and hold a solidarity rally for those that were placed under arrest.
It concerns me that the city of Minneapolis had intentionally searched for a law to cite against us whilst claiming that they respected our First Amendment Rights. It is clear to see that the type of behavior that the Minneapolis Police Department showed to us is beyond aggression, it is clearly oppression. A reporter for a local media outlet had his camera ripped out of his hands tonight, which shows that the freedom of the press itself is not being respected. The Occupy Movement focuses upon using civil disobedience as a method of protest, and tonight’s marches were no different than those that we had last fall.
I spent most of the train ride to Liberty Plaza (Zuccotti’s reclaimed name) conjuring the many nights of elation and frustration I have had in that park – the countless general assemblies, free meals, cigarettes, stimulating conversations, rain storms, arguments, marches and finally, the brutal eviction that brought it all to a screeching halt. Since the eviction, the park had been empty. Or maybe barren is a better word. A cold (literally), lifeless slab of concrete in the valley of the gargantuan buildings surrounding it. Whatever vitality we brought to that place had long been replaced with barricades, security guards, and an eerie stillness.
When I emerged in Lower Manhattan, I was hit by a wave of déjà vu. I could hear the drums and chants inside the park reverberating throughout the neighborhood. I realized that even the sound of the neighborhood had changed since the eviction. A flash flood of warm familiarity washed over me. On the six-month anniversary of our movement, I was transported back to its beginning. I picked up the pace and almost sprinted to the park. When I arrived, I found it once again brimming over with occupiers and police.
It was wonderful to see the park electrified with people power again. That powerful feeling of remembrance and recognition continued to surge through my body like a kind of muscle memory being reawakened.
As soon I walked into the park, I witnessed someone being arrested by the NYPD. The mood was tense and rowdy. I was surprised by the number of police, all with a dozen or so zip-tie handcuffs hanging from their belts. I saw a few old friends and gave and received many hugs. We talked about the insane tug-of-war in which we are constantly engaged with the NYPD. They show up with batons, handcuffs, guns, and riot gear and raise the tension level in the park, then put the onus on us to deescalate. There were a few other arrests, and the police shouted at us where we could and couldn’t stand and what we couldn’t bring into the park.
Throughout the day, different marches left the plaza and came back to cheers and raised fists. It was as if we were in the midst of a mighty stretch after a long slumber. As afternoon turned to evening, the overall mood of the park shifted and the police presence seemed to taper off a bit. The chants going around and the drum circle in full swing filled the park with that familiar cacophonous buzz. There is something amazing about chanting and dancing around with complete strangers. One of the more popular chants of the day was taken from the Spanish Indignados and proclaims simply and rhythmically: “Anti-capitalista!” It was refreshing to hear so many chant that radical declaration. Even through the winter, we had kept our radical roots.
At 7pm, as customary, we had our general assembly (GA). This was my first time attending a GA in a good while, and by the time it was over I was re-enamored with direct democracy and twinkling fingers. There were hundreds in attendance – probably our biggest GA of the year. It was also surprisingly lacking in rancor or squabbling, except for the traditional begging of the drum circle to keep it down or move away from GA. We consensed on signing on to a letter calling for a federal investigation of the NYPD for spying in Muslim communities and broke out into discussion groups to talk about our ideas for May Day. There was a palpable spirit of camaraderie and solidarity in the air, and many OWS veterans commented to me that they felt truly transported to “the good ol’ days” before the eviction and even before the tents went up at Zuccotti, fighting with drummers and all.
After GA a large march which included Michael Moore and Dr. Cornel West arrived from the Left Forum. Suddenly there were over a thousand people communing in the park, some playing games, some doing interviews or making media, others just talking and smoking. There was a Capoeira circle, a mic-check speak out, and of course plenty of drums and dancing. The mood was jovial in spite of everyone’s noticing that the police presence seemed to be increasing as the night went on. At one point, a barrage of bag pipes could be heard on the southwestern corner of the park. This being St. Patrick’s Day, a small Irish marching band had either purposely or by coincidence found its way to Liberty Plaza, equipped with bag pipes and snare drums. The crowd in the park erupted with cheers and applause and ran to the park’s northern perimeter to greet the band. In a confused scuffle (at least from my vantage point) the police moved in, forced the band to stop playing and moved them to the other side of the street. One officer told me they feared the band would “cause a riot.”
Suddenly an orange net appeared. Usually, this means that you have been kettled by the police and are about to go to jail. But this orange net had the words “Occupy” and “99%” stenciled on it. A group of protesters were extending the net and creating a barrier between the police and the occupiers. I admit, being surrounded by that net gave me a creepy feeling , even though I knew it was ‘on our side.’ Yellow OWS caution tape started to go up all over the park too, tied on the trees and cutting through the crowd in odd angles. I wasn’t really sure what was going on, but I could almost sense the tension in the park boiling over. An exorbitant number of police were amassing on the northern side of the park. I stood on one of the benches in the park to try to get some perspective, and I saw what all the fuss was about. A group of occupiers were erecting tents in the center of the park. The net, the tape, all of it, was to protect the tents. A light came on inside the first tent and the words stenciled on its side became visible: “You cannot evict an idea whose time has come.”
I watched as the tent was hoisted into the air and cheered with the crowd, but I knew that what had been a glorious and rejuvenating day would have an ugly ending. We paraded around with two tents for a bit, all of us enjoying what we knew were the last exquisite moments of our resurrection. Then, as if someone hit a fast forward button, we jumped from reliving those first amazing months of Occupy to November 15 – eviction day. Much like that night, the police lined up on the Broadway stairs and announced that the park was closed. They told us that being in the park was now an arrestable offense. And so those who were willing to risk arrest moved to create a human wall on the eastern end of the park, a few meters from the line of police officers. I moved toward the middle of the park and stood on a bench to see the NYPD march in and start arresting people. After about half an hour they had moved everyone out of the park and began erecting barricades around the park’s perimeter. After being pushed and shoved out of the park, those of us who remained stood on the sidewalk, most of us bewildered by the brute force we had just witnessed. We were on the western end of park, isolated from the far greater brutality happening on the eastern side. In the background I could hear people calling for a march.
By this point, I was both mentally and physically exhausted from this behemoth roller-coaster of a day, but I just couldn’t tear away. I ran through the gamut of emotions and questions we all ask ourselves in moments like these, trying to balance my sense of duty and solidarity with the sheer terror of the situation at hand and its possible outcomes. Do I want to get arrested? Or beat up? Is it worth it this time? In truth, I had to fight off the urge to wave the white flag and go home. But I was angry, dejected, and so was everyone else. In the end, I decided to march with my comrades.
A few hundred of us wound our way through Lower Manhattan, flanked all the while by police in scooters and squad cars. We turned sharply down side streets a few times, which seemed to confuse the police, but definitely caused confusion amongst the marchers. I found myself running down the sidewalks and streets with large groups of other occupiers just to keep up. This, plus the sheer volume of the police response, made for some moments of pandemonium. We took the streets several times throughout, prompting arrests and batons. Police smashed an occupier’s head against a glass door. We passed a least one broken store window (though it was unclear if it was broken by Occupy) and at one point on a side-street in the Village, some protesters emptied several trash receptacles into the streets to block the police. It worked, to everyone’s excitement. I saw several police scooters with trash and plastic bags caught in their wheel wells.
When the march reached E. Houston shortly after that, I decided to hop on the nearby F train and make the trip back to Queens. I wanted to stay, continue the march, be with my comrades, express my anger and my joy – but I just had to break away. I knew that things would only get uglier, and I was already delirious with a cogent mix of exhaustion, frustration, and the high of marching through the streets. It felt as if I had lived the whole history of occupy in the span of 10 hours. On the train ride home, I found myself thinking that despite its dystopian ending, M17 had been a success. It was a re-ignition of our imaginations; a reminder of all the beautiful things we built from scratch in that small park, and all the hardships that came with them, and how easily it can be wiped away.
Spring has definitely sprung at OWS, and it’s only the beginning.
– Danny Valdes –
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People not involved with OWS were coming to us for services. We had doctors and nurses, herbalists, acupuncturists, massage therapists, chiropractors, reike practitioners, EMTS, paramedics and street medics. We had an entire social work department! We gave out flu shots! We made rounds in the park and went out on marches, we not only helped those who sought us out, we sought out those who needed our help. All of our services were free! The community stepped up and donated every supply we could think of. We never ran out of anything. We were the most amazing clinic I’ve ever worked in! It was inconceivable that the police would be throwing us out, but they were. At this point there were 3 of us in the tent – doctor, our volunteer bike rider and myself. None of us wanted to leave.
I called our lawyer to let him know what was going on. As I did this the police came in with their cameras and yelled at us to get out. I saw a knife slash into the tent and then make a long tear. I tried to cover the opening they made with a piece of cloth, but that was ripped down, then another knife slash, the were ripping the tent down with us in it. The doctor and I tried to reason with the police, but they wouldn’t hear it. They lied to us and told us that they would pack up all of our supplies and that we could pick them up at the department of sanitation the next day. Finally I grabbed what I could, a box of herbal supplies, some medical equipment, a grapefruit and a stuffed elephant. (I can’t tell you what exactly I was thinking at the time). An angry cop grabbed my arm and thrust me out of the tent and out of the park, I wasn’t even allowed to stand on the sidewalk.
We watched the police throw the remains of our medical tent into a garbage truck and then compact it. We were holding medications for young occupiers, he had expensive defibrillators, we kept records of our patient’s conditions, we had ace bandages, and gauze bandages, foot care products, and lots more. It all got destroyed. It was that night when I decided I was in, I was an occupier, this was a cause worth fighting for. Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD kicked a hornet’s nest!!!! We are not gone and we are stronger than ever….we will win, we have to, all we are asking for is a world worth living in for everyone. People maybe fighting against us, but they will wake up someday and realize we are on the same side.
– Nurse Janet –]]>
I’ve spent a large part of my life actively protesting against injustice. I can say that I’ve spent more time doing so in my life than I haven’t, and I’m only 28 years old. At a young age I was exposed to more than the average kid and throughout adulthood, I’ve applied the experience in my attempts to build awareness, and create a better life for those around me, near and far.
I can speak about what brought me into the OWS movement and what had kept me there. I’ve told the story, verbally, upwards of a thousand times. I can share my experiences with police abuse and kettling, unlawful detainments, and all of the other external injustices. After all, that was my occupy story for what feels like a great deal of time, when in reality, it was just the first 4 weeks of the occupation.
The implementation of the tents initially sparked my concern. With tents comes a great risk to our personal security. Steps were not taken to ensure the safety of our fellow occupiers. When attempts were made to raise concern, they were quickly shot down. Why? Because these tents are a victory! We must be excited about this! This is progress! This is also an open invitation to every creep in the park.
Can we all say that after these tents were erected, the police presence had taken a few steps back? Their violence has been suppressed? With the exception of the removal of our generators, we have not heard of any police misconduct. Why do you think that is? It’s simple. They’re leaving us to our own devices. It’s a common method used to control people.
When government authorities interfered with our rights, we remained passionate! Our message was clear and important! I felt genuine love for the person marching beside me. I haven’t felt that way in 2 ½ weeks. In those 2 ½ weeks I see boredom and ambivalence. I hear reports of rape and other assaults. I see, with my own eyes, syringes and crack pipes. More importantly, I see people perpetuating all of what we claim to fight against!
You can say that I’m making sweeping generalizations and that the small group of bad apples should not deter how I feel about the movement. But what happens when there seems to be more rotten than ripe? Don’t get me wrong, I do have many allies there, but they’re dropping in numbers. I often find myself looking out for a familiar and friendly face and cannot seem to locate as many as I would’ve been able to just 2-3 weeks ago.
This wonderful Women’s Tent gave me a lot of hope. Great idea! Maybe, through strength in numbers, women occupying can prevent sexual assaults from happening. If they cannot, at least there’s a safe place for them to rest. I was very excited by the idea. I found my way to the tent on the Friday night it was put up, a miserable night weather-wise. Organization was a bit off but the tent was full and that’s all that mattered to me. This truly felt like a success. On the next night, I took a shift guarding the tent from 2am to 4am (with it being ‘spring ahead’ weekend it was actually a 3 hour shift). Things went well. All of the women seemed to sleep well and my relief took over right on time. I came away from that experience with positive vibes.
Fast forward to Tuesday, just four nights after the tent was put up, and vibes are not so positive anymore. A woman seems to have hijacked the tent, claiming it as her own, verbally assaulting anyone who questions her. It has now been turned into a working group, that is not very inclusive to women that are from other female working groups. She spends a great deal of time speaking about how hard she worked to put a tent in place yet she is downright rude to anyone who speaks to her, turning what should be a welcoming place into a very ugly idea. I wanted to know more about her intentions so I signed up for a 2 hour shift at the tent. In those two hours I listened to her berate me about working groups I affiliate myself with, and accuse us for things that I can say with most certainty are not true. At one point I realized that she wasn’t working with a full deck of cards, but did what I could to assure her that no one wanted to hurt her in any way. While I was doing this I was also trying to assure those that were inquiring about the tent (many were new to the occupation entirely) that it would be alright for them to stay in the tent. She was very paranoid, fearing that the tent would be taken away from her, and wanted to control those staying inside of the tent.
I stayed longer than two hours. It didn’t feel right to leave this idea behind. Then when the woman turned to me to let me know that a friend of hers would be coming back to the table with a few bottles of vodka, I knew it was my time to walk away.
I’m not sure if I will be returning, to the tent, or to the park at all. It seems that the occupation of Zuccotti has fallen out of the hands of the remarkable people it sprung from, and is now in the care of those who have lost the will to treat one another with respect. I truly hope I can be proven wrong, though I don’t think I have the strength to make it right.