2pm: The next day, Sunday, m25, when I got to 100 Centre Street, there were half a dozen Occupiers holding camp outside. They had a supply of food, water and cigarettes ready for anyone who might be released. There were several others inside the courtrooms as well; they were tracking docket numbers and arraignments, and liaising between the National Lawyers Guild, those of us on the outside, and off-site Jail Support coordinators.
The off-site coordinators handle a phone and text line that people can contact to insure the NLG has been notified of an arrest and to get information about a comrade after arrest. By reaching out to the jail support team via text and email, and the larger OWS community via Twitter, the team helps to make sure that people—jail support—are at the precinct or courthouse whenever someone is being detained. They also provide “Know Your Rights” and Jail Support training. This educates people on the roles and tasks that are essential to keeping track of our comrades as they move through the system. Additionally the training outlines the information required by the NLG during the arraignment process, as well as preparing for potential future court dates.
Although we are there specifically to provide support to Occupy Wall Street protestors, we will offer support to anyone getting out of jail, if it is within our means to do so. If we have food available, and they’re hungry, we feed them. If we have water or juice or coffee, and they want some, we give it to them. When people ask to bum or buy a cigarette—the most common post-release request—we oblige, free of charge.
This is arguably one of the most important and effective outreach efforts that OWS partakes in. The opportunity to talk with working class people, mostly black and Latin@, who are especially targeted by the NYPD, allows us to reach members of targeted communities on an incredibly personal level and make a connection between their situations and a larger political struggle. We’re all at the arbitrary control of the system, dehumanized for profit, and made to to struggle so others may gain.
Hopefully they share what they saw and talked to us about with their friends, families, and communities.
3pm: Ravi, who was coordinating inside the court rooms, came outside to report that the NLG believed that ten of our comrades, including Amelia, Negesti, and Mesiah, would be arraigned and released before the courts closed at 11pm.
There was a lot going on on Sunday. Despite nightly evictions, we continued a 24-hour occupation of Union Square. There was a pop-up occupation in Fort Greene Park, in Brooklyn. This was the latest in a series of Occupy Town Square outreach events that brought the Movement to parks throughout the city for one day.
Sitting outside of the Tombs is neither fun nor exciting. We try to entertain ourselves, but many of us have firsthand knowledge of the conditions inside, so it’s difficult.
But even with all of these fun activities going on, there were never less than 12 people at jail support. By sunset we were pushing 30.
In fact, there were so many of us that we were getting on the nerves of the court police, and we were asked to move. Out of concern that our presence might effect the treatment or arraignment of our comrades, most people relocated to Foley Square just one block away. Our new location was far enough away avoid confrontation with, and the constant glare of, the police, but close enough to get back within a moment’s notice should anyone be released.
10pm: With only an hour till the court’s closing, a comrade announced that Mesiah’s arraignment was imminent. Within a few minutes she was released.
When she appeared at the top of the steps there was a tremendous burst of noise and excitement. People ran up and hugged her. Her smile was incredible. Friends from Foley soon ran over to join in the celebration.
Her arm, wrapped in a large sling, discomforted her, but as I tweeted shortly after seeing her, “She’s tough as fuckin’ hell.”
After a few minutes, her mom, who had flown in from Oakland after hearing of her daughter’s brutal arrest, whisked her away to get some sleep and lay low for a few days.
We were thrilled, but the clock ticked for our other comrades. Amelia and Negesti, already locked up for almost 33 hours, were seemingly not lined up for arraignment.
10:44pm: A friend inside the court said that they would be up in five minutes.
10:50pm: Court was adjourned. Amelia and Negesti would spend another night—at least 10 hours—in jail.
The week before, following the raid on Liberty Square, 18 comrades were released from jail at 3:30am, several hours after jail support had left. There had been no one to greet them.
I was not going to risk that happening again.
After commenting on Twitter that I intended to stay the night, two friends, Kira and Kyle, offered to come out and spend the night with me. They brought snacks and blankets, and we had a slumber party on the steps of 100 Centre Street.
From 11pm to midnight, there was a steady stream of court employees, and police, leaving the courthouse for the night. They walked right by us, but we no longer seemed to be much of a concern. Not one of them spoke to us until nearly 9am the next morning.
There were about twelve of us doing jail support until 2am, including members of the Accounting Working Group who were coordinating a bail payment for Angel, an Occupier who had been brutally arrested—grabbed by the hair while asleep and dragged across the ground—in an early morning sweep of Union Square, for lying down in the public park.
Because he’d been arraigned in the early evening, the court wouldn’t allow us to pay his bail until nearly midnight, and he wasn’t released until after 2am. The timeframes are always shifting, always arbitrary. The rules are made up on the spot, and we are forced to play along.
There were six of us on the steps when they finally brought Angel around. Jo and Jonathon came to stay the night with Kira, Kyle and I. Mark hung out until Angel was released, then he went to a friend’s place to crash for the night, disappointed that he didn’t have enough warm layers to stay.
Angel was someone I had seen around the community but had never met or spoken to. When he saw us sitting on the steps, he figured that we’d be there all night, and he was overwhelmed with joy. He hugged me and kissed my cheek. We chatted for a little while. At one point, he put his hand in his pocket, and his demeanor shifted. He asked if we wanted to see something fucked up; then he pulled a fistful of hair from his pocket.
“This is what they pulled from my head when they dragged me across the park.”
Mark put his arm around him and told him to get some rest.
For the next seven hours Kira, Kyle, Jo, Jonathon and I waited with only a small glimmer of hope of seeing Amelia and Negesti before court resumed.
6am: I woke up. A cold wind kicked in, and sleeping on a pizza box on top of marble steps, even with fleece blankets, was not working. We sat close together, huddled for warmth. We alternated between chatting and staring off into the distance.
For an early Monday morning, the area was surprisingly busy. Every 15 minutes or so someone would wonder by, early for their court appearance or just passing by and wanting a cigarette, and inquire about why we were there.
“Is this a protest thing?”
We’d explain that we were waiting for friends who had been arrested. Sometimes we’d say that we were Occupy. Other times we chose not to. Or we didn’t have to.
Regardless of what we said, they were impressed. They were touched. They seemed to know that we’d been there all night, perhaps from the blankets, and the small stockpile of food. They may not have used the word, but they knew that this was what solidarity looked like.
9am: Negesti was brought from the Tombs to the pre-arraignment area. She sat there for over 90 minutes watching dozens of other people get arraigned before her.
11:30am: I stood at the foot of the steps, looking up at 100 Centre Street. A handful of Occupiers, including some that spent the night with me, and others who joined in the morning, walked joyously out of the courthouse.
I saw Negesti first. Still wrapped in a fleece blanket, I stretched my arms out, and she ran over to me. I hugged her as tight as I could.
“Its nice to see you,” I told her.
I stepped to the side and saw Amelia a few steps back. Again, I unfolded the blanket just in time for her to run over and wrap her arms around me. I kissed her cheek and she cried into my neck.
45 hours after their arrests, they were out.
Disorderly conduct for walking in a public street. Resisting arrest for lying down in a crosswalk when arrest was imminent. No bail, released on their own reconnaissance.
They stood up for their First Amendment rights to peaceably assemble, to speak their minds, to protest the government and spent 45 hours in jail for it.
After a low-key afternoon, Amelia came with me to a Community Meeting to discuss action steps for OWS’s move into the spring.
The next night we visited comrades in Union Square. At midnight, the police moved in to evict us. They set up barricades and harassed us for being in a public park.
Amelia made sure to let them know that their behavior was shameful.
When we got to the 7th Precinct we immediately noticed the blue NYPD barriers erected in front of the building. They blocked the stairs and most of the sidewalk, restricting access only via the handicap ramp. Our comrade Jamie, of the People’s Library, was already on location, having rushed to the station after word of the first arrest.
We were told that 12 people were being held inside the precinct—Amelia, Negesti, Mesiah, and 9 more Occupiers.
Jamie beat the first police van to the precinct and saw all of our comrades enter the station. She reported that Mesiah looked shaken and sad. Amelia and Negesti were upset but not hurt. The van had been hot, their handcuffs too tight, the cops less than cordial.
Shortly after we got there we saw Mesiah escorted out of the precinct, her arm wrapped up in a makeshift sling, and into an ambulance. Presumably she was headed to Bellevue Hospital on 1st Avenue at 27h Street, where people who are injured and in custody go, including those injured by the police during their arrests.
We showed our support from across the street. We jumped up and down, yelled out her name, and fashioned our hands into a heart shape—a “point of affection” in OWS sign language. Mesiah was all smiles, which was surprising considering her afternoon ordeal. I was overwhelmed with joy when she smiled back at us.
Over the next hour several more friends and comrades, including Eli, a medic, and Oscar, one of the Occu-puppies, joined us. Eli was on hand to do support for her partner, Daniel, who had been arrested for the third time in about a week. According to Eli, Daniel had been in the march for about 15 minutes before he was harassed and targeted by the police for arrest.
Our emotions were high and intensifying—the police were offering us very limited information on the status of our comrades. It was reassuring to have Oscar on hand. Sitting with him in my lap helped to settle some of my anger.
While we sat on a public sidewalk, in front of a non-operational construction site across from the precinct, two officers approached us to say that they had received complaints from the tenants of a building half a block away. Apparently, we were blocking access to the sidewalk. They asked us to move.
“Do we have to?” I asked.
Was it a request, or were we breaking the law? We knew that we were allowed to sit on the sidewalk, as long as half of it remained a throughway. We lined ourselves up along the construction wall to keep most of the sidewalk clear.
A few minutes later, two different officers aggressively approached us. The one who we had nicknamed “John Goodman” asked, “Alright, who’s the funny guy?” He demanded that we move around the corner, not sit down, not block the sidewalk, and not rest anything (food, bags, etc.) on the ground.
Too tired to put up much of an argument, we relocated, waited for them to leave, and then made ourselves as comfortable as possible on this new patch of public concrete.
Not long thereafter, a third set of cops came over to harass us. When told that we were blocking the sidewalk, I pointed out that we were taking up less space than the police scooters parked on the sidewalk, as well as the barricades blocking 90% of the sidewalk in front of their building.
When one of us remained seated, one of the officers condescended, “This isn’t difficult; just say, ‘Yes, sir. We’ll stand up.’ And then stand up.”
I yelled, “We don’t have to say anything to you.”
He said, “No reason to get emotional; this is simple.”
So I replied, “Earlier today we watched five of your buddies beat up a 16-year-old girl, so you can understand why our emotions are a little high.”
We stood long enough to watch them walk away, then sat right back down.
Over the next several hours, we were joined by over a dozen of our comrades. We ate food, recounted the day, sang songs by candlelight, and comforted each other.
A few Occupiers were released with DATs, Desk Appearance Tickets. These are in lieu of an arraignment by the court system. Instead, one must appear in court at a later date to respond to the accusation of criminal activity. DATs are the preferred outcome of an arrest, resulting in only a few hours locked up, as opposed to the typical 24-48 hours that comes from a trip to the Tombs.
When someone went into the precinct to inquire about Amelia’s personal belongings, the officers said that she wasn’t there. We then spent the next hour making calls to the NLG, other precincts and Central Booking, in an effort to find our friend. The NLG finally confirmed that she was, in fact, inside of the 7th.
They lied to us simply because they can. They lied to us because the State has dehumanized us.
As Mesiah was brought back to the 7th, we got as close as possible and sang at the top of our lungs:
SOLIDARITY FOREVER! SOLIDARITY FOREVER! SOLIDARITY FOREVER! REVOLUTION MAKES US STRONG!
She smiled ear to ear, as she walked back into the precinct, her arm still in a sling.
Daniel was sent to the Tombs in Central Booking, at 100 Centre Street. Eli, his partner, had been led to believe that if she retrieved his ID from home he would be released. They moved him once she had already left. We sang for him too.
A little while later Amelia and Negesti were transferred to the Tombs. As they came out, nearly a dozen of us ran over to surround the van. We held up Points of Affection. They smiled back at us. If their hands hadn’t been bound, they would have been in the same heart shapes that we were showing them.
SOLIDARITY FOREVER! SOLIDARITY FOREVER! SOLIDARITY FOREVER! REVOLUTION MAKES US STRONG!
We sang to let them know they weren’t alone. We sang to show them our love. We sang to show our solidarity.
We sang because we were exhausted and we missed our friends and we knew that tomorrow we would continue the struggle.
SOLIDARITY FOREVER! SOLIDARITY FOREVER! SOLIDARITY FOREVER! REVOLUTION MAKES US STRONG!
Three people were brought into the 7th at some time after midnight. They’d been arrested in the nightly raid on the Occupation of Union Square. One was working the Anarchist literature table. And one tried to lay down in the public park.
I went home around 1:30am. It had been raining for a few hours by that point. I didn’t have enough layers on, and only a cheap drug-store poncho protected me from the rain. I didn’t want to get sick. I felt guilty leaving, knowing I could take a shower, change my clothes, eat a meal, while several of my comrades did not have that privilege. But I left knowing that my staying would not make their situation better.
There were six of us doing jail support for the four still inside, including Mesiah, who was transferred to the 20th Precinct, not the Tombs, to await arraignment at 2:30am. I was sorry not to be there to sing to her again.
By 6am everyone had been transferred out of the 7th.
March 17 was the 6-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street moving into Zuccotti Park, renamed it Liberty Square and the beginning of the Occupy Movement worldwide.
We celebrated all day, in style—chanting, dancing, marching, holding a General Assembly that needed three waves of the People’s Microphone—until the police brutally crashed our party—beating and violently arresting over 73 Occupiers in the park and on the march that ensued. It was probably the most violent day in our short history, and we have not been able to determine that any of the incidents were warranted or incited by an Occupier.
Our response was two-fold. On Tuesday, March 20, we held a press conference at 1 Police Plaza with allied communities—Muslim, Latin@, LGBT, the undomiciled—to call for an end to police repression, brutality, surveillance, and explicitly for the resignation of NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly.
The second part, which was much more in line with our style, was to take our energy back to the streets. We, again joined by our allies, held an anti-police-brutality march.
On Saturday, m24, I got to Liberty Square around 11:30am to meet with about 10 other Occupiers, who had also volunteered to act as pacers for the march—folks who would help direct the march, respond to police kettling or obstruction, close gaps and maintain continuity in the middle, and help protect stragglers in the back from getting picked off by police.
We discussed the plan for the day. It would begin in Liberty Square with a series of speakers talking about their personal and communities’ experiences with the NYPD, which mostly consisted of violence and repression. Afterward we would march north on Broadway to Union Square, where a new, 24-hour occupation had been in place since the violent eviction at Liberty Square on m17.
The march route would pass in front of five locations at the heart of New York’s police and prison system—City Hall, 100 Centre Street, aka “the Tombs,” 1 Police Plaza, the Federal Building, and the ICE Detention Center. The exact route would be at the discretion of the pacers at the front of the march, and largely based on how much space the police gave us. Our primary mode of communication with each other was via a private text-message loop, which would help us coordinate throughout the march.
An interesting addition to this march was a group of about 30 folks from Veterans For Peace. They appeared to be somewhere in between their late 50s and late 60s. They were mostly white men and women who had served in the armed forces. Their gray sweatshirts bore their logo, and every one of them had plastic goggles hanging from their necks. They were prepared to be peppered sprayed.
Having seen photos, videos, and reports of the violence the week before, Veterans For Peace reached out to OWS. Not only did they want to march in solidarity with us, they wanted to put themselves on the front lines, or positioned anywhere in the march that we felt was vulnerable. They wanted to stand between us and the police, in order to protect our constitutional rights—to put their bodies on the line and spare us the brutality for one day.
I nearly cried when I saw them gathered on Saturday, and I’m crying now as I think about it. I’m crying because their sacrifice honors and humbles me. And because it didn’t work.
The first speaker of the day was Eric, an organizer and street medic with Occupy Wall Street, who was one of those arrested during the m17 eviction of Liberty Square. Eric chose not to speak of his own experiences, as violent as they were, but instead to connect our current struggle and experiences with those of people who have come before us. With Sean Bell, Troy Davis, Amadou Diallo and so many more black and Latin@ men and women murdered by the NYPD and the police state.
A speaker from the National Lawyers Guild, which provides all of the legal support for Occupy Wall Street, highlighted how some people are treated as criminals based on their actions, but in New York City, the NYPD has criminalized the entire Muslim community simply because of who they are.
City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez (Democrat, District 10, Manhattan) and Jumaane Williams (Democrat, District 45, Brooklyn), longtime OWS supporters spoke on the history of NYPD violence.
“It is not an accident that all the people killed by the NYPD are black and Latino,” Rodriguez said.
On OWS, Rodriguez asserted, “This movement is the voice of the working and middle classes.”
Councilmember Williams flipped up his hoodie, which he said that he wore in solidarity with Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old black youth murdered by a man in Florida who targeted him because of his clothing and his race. Williams asked those of us with hoodies to put on our hoods as well. We wore them with pride.
It was nearing 1pm, the crowd in Liberty Square had filled out dramatically, energy was building, the sun was shining, and we were ready to march.
The pacers spread out, the drums started to beat, and we marched.
It was a large procession, stretching for at least a few blocks. For the first half hour or more we stayed on the sidewalk.
One of the first chants that I remember was “RACIST! SEXIST! ANTI-GAY! N-Y-P-D GO AWAY!” This is a favorite chant for many of us. It is confrontational without being physical, while making a bold statement to the police, as well as bystanders, on how Occupy regards the NYPD.
We slowly made our way up Broadway until we passed the home of the FBI and Homeland Security at 26 Federal Plaza. Both of these federal agencies have played a role in the suppression of the Occupy Movement. In the weeks leading up to the violent evictions of Occupy encampments nationwide in November and December, Homeland Security provided assistance to local cities in the form of intelligence monitoring and information gathering.
As we passed the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge, the sight of six cops on horseback could not be ignored. Following the October 1st action that took over the Brooklyn Bridge, resulting in close to 700 arrests, the NYPD has been very protective of this monument.
The march veered east past Foley Square on its way to “The Tombs” of Central Booking at 100 Centre Street, where at least 7 our comrades were being held for arrests from the day before.
I was one of about 5 pacers holding up the back of the march and trying to ensure a tight formation as we moved through intersections—a typically vulnerable point, where police can kettle, redirect, or break up a march if there are gaps.
Instead of reciting our usual chants, the back of the march had a bard of sorts leading us in song, which we repeated for many blocks:
Mama, mama, can’t you see What police have done to me; They keep trying to beat us down, But we’re rising all around;
Mama, mama can’t you see What police have come to be; They keep trying to beat us down, But we’re rising all around.
As we lined up in front of the Tombs, we held a die-in. Everyone melted to the ground, and we lay there until our bard sang, “… but we’re rising all around.” As if on cue, we got up, cheered, and continued marching.
Because of the slow pace of the march and in an effort to maintain energy levels high, the pacers decided to skip some of the more out-of-the-way destinations and head for Union Square, while we still had a large number of protestors. It’s not uncommon for marches to peter out after the initial momentum and energy wears out, even when a final destination is set and events are planned. If marches are slow, or winding, or met with significant police blocks or resistance, people tend to peal off gradually, and the march shrinks.
Shortly after this, the tone of the march changed dramatically. The front of the march saw an opportunity and decided to take to the streets, veering off the sidewalk and breaking through the line of cops along the edge of the street monitoring the march.
As has become common practice, the NYPD targeted two female protestors—Amelia and Negesti—who could be isolated and arrested. A white-shirt pointed to them and said, “Those two.”
They were quickly surrounded and told that they were being arrested. Since there was nowhere to go, they decided to lie down in the crosswalk.
Word of their arrests made its way through the march very quickly.
Sensing that the police were getting tired of escorting us, we decided to make the march a bit more militant and active, diverting off of major streets into the more intimate, consumerist, and tourist-destination Nolita neighborhood.
The narrower one-way streets allowed us to more easily move in and out of the street, filling it with Occupiers who continuously chanted about police brutality and about the better world we know is possible.
Walking north on Elizabeth Street, as we approached Prince Street, suddenly, I heard the all-too-familiar shout for cameras—an unmistakable signal that the police were doing something that required monitoring.
I looked up the street and saw Mesiah, a 16-year-old girl, being held up by two cops. She looked shocked. Someone called for a medic. She started to cry.
I took a step off of the sidewalk and into the street, which was being blocked by a line of cops on scooters along side the march. Then I turned around to address the crowd of people that had amassed on the sidewalk behind me.
“MIC CHECK! MIC CHECK!” I yelled. After it was repeated back to me, I continued, “SHE IS 16-YEARS OLD!” The crowd repeated it over and over, but they only encountered the NYPD’s blank stares and deaf ears.
Turning back toward the street, I saw five cops carrying Mesiah down the street, her shirt pulled up, much of her torso exposed. I screamed at the cops that they should be fucking ashamed of themselves. I called them fucking animals. I asked if they were proud to have beaten up a 16-year-old girl. I asked why it took so many of them to carry her off.
As the march continued up the street, I had a heated exchange with the white-shirt officer who oversaw Mesiah’s arrest.
“DO YOU FEEL GOOD ABOUT YOURSELF? MANHANDLING A 16-YEAR-OLD GIRL? YOU FEEL REAL FUCKING TOUGH IN YOUR WHITE SHIRT? 16-YEAR-OLD GIRL! IT TOOK FIVE OF YOU TO CARRY HER UP A PUBLIC STREET.”
“OK, well you have a nice day.”
“OK, YOU HAVE A NICE DAY, YOU PIECE OF SHIT.”
On the northwest corner of Prince and Spring Sts. a group of tourists watched us pass by. I stopped in the middle of them and recapped, as loud as I could, what had just happened a mere few feet from where they stood. My voice cracked, and my stomach cramped. I can only hope that they shared with others what they heard.
My friend Anthony came up to me, put his arm around my shoulder and told me to take a breath, to center myself and focus, we still had a long way to go until we reached Union Square, and we had a role to fill.
I tried. But I was so angry.
As we walked along Houston I think I yelled at the line of cops acting as our escorts. I know that I had three separate interactions with the police, but with the exhaustion of the moment, I don’t remember the second one clearly. I remember holding my stomach. My muscles ached from yelling, I was hungry, and my throat burned. I was fuming.
When the march had mostly crossed Houston on Broadway, we encountered another large pack of tourists. My anger overwhelmed me. I stopped in front of them and yelled with all of my remaining energy.
“THE NYPD CALLS ITSELF NEW YORK’S FINEST. THAT IS FUCKING BULLSHIT. JUST A FEW BLOCKS BACK THEY BEAT UP A 16-YEAR-OLD GIRL FOR WALKING IN THE STREET. THEY RIPPED HER SHIRT OFF. IT TOOK FIVE OF THEM TO CARRY HER OFF WHILE SHE CRIED. REMEMBER, NEW YORK’S FINEST IS BULLSHIT.”
I turned the corner, not feeling any less angry. This time, Anthony ran up to me, put his hand on my back and said, “A Community Affairs cop just pointed at you and said, ‘He’s next.’ Get out of here.” And he pushed me forward.
I ran up the march; took off my bandanas, my hoodie, and my glasses; and stashed them in my bag.
Turning onto Great Jones I shot west towards Lafayette, and then ran up to Astor Place. While I was disappointed to leave the march, I was overwhelmed with pride. I could hear our chants reverberating off of the buildings blocks away.
“ONE! We are the people! TWO! We are united! THREE! THIS OCCUPATION IS NOT LEAVING!”
I watched the march make its way up Lafayette and then snake along Astor back to Broadway. I ran up a few blocks to stay ahead of it, and, hopefully, well away from the cops who were targeting me on its south end. I found out later that, just after I left the march, a group of white-shirts were examining a photo on a phone, and one said, pointing, “This one; I think he just ran off.”
On Broadway, as a line of police marched by, I ran into a friend making his way south from Union Square. Usually one of the happiest, funniest, and most loving Occupiers, his rage was palpable that afternoon. He’d heard about “a 16-year old being brutalized” and was trying to find the march.
When he found out that it was Mesiah, he almost lost it. He looked at me and said that he was afraid he was going to do something stupid. I put my hand on his shoulder and told him to consider that he was more good to us out here than inside.
“We need you.”
He looked at me, and the tears ran off of his face. I pulled him close. He held on to me, as if letting go would only add to the day’s tragedies. And all I could say was, “I know.”
The march caught up to us and we continued, rather uneventfully, for 4 more blocks to Union Square.
The mood in the square was energetic, but something felt off. We intended to do our spring clowning training as a way to burn off any remaining energy. But we had just been brutalized on an anti-police brutality march. The irony was not amusing.
Two of my closest friends, Nathan and Jason, entered the park with the march. They could tell how angry I was. And they knew that I had been targeted, both from a tweet that I sent out after leaving the march and from witnessing the cops examining the photo on their phone. We decided not to stay in the park. Several of our comrades, including two close friends and a scared, potentially injured underage Occupier, were in jail.
We left the park quickly. We needed to find 19 Pitt St, somewhere beneath the Williamsburg Bridge. Our friends were there, at the NYPD’s 7th Precinct, and they needed jail support.
Sunday 1/1/2012 – the first day of the year – the first General Assembly of the year – and Liberty Square was closed by Brookfield Properties and the NYPD, who claimed that damages needed to be addressed and the park had to be cleaned following the previous night’s OWS events in the park.
Since September 17th, not rain, nor cold, not barricades, or raids, direct actions, celebrations – nothing – has stopped Occupy Wall Street from holding its General Assembly in Liberty Square without consensus of the General Assembly.
We, members of the Facilitation Working Group, began planning to hold the GA at the nearby privately owned public space located at 100 William Street. It’s a beautiful atrium covered on the top and bordered on the sides by an office building and stores, but open on either end to the streets. This space was used once before when a GA consensed to move due to rain. Word of the change in location was spread via social network, word of mouth, and eventually the OWS ComHub text message blast.
As people started to assemble shortly before 7pm, a building security guard came out and told us that we could not be gathered on the stairs, the area in front of the stairs, or really anywhere within the atrium. When we informed him that this is a public space, he said, no it’s not, you need to leave. We asserted, yes it is. And guess what, there’s a sign over there that says, “Open to the Public.” He advised us that the “public space” referred to by the signs was essentially the sidewalk.
When we asserted that was incorrect, he said, “Fine, I’ll be right back.” At this point, we knew were minutes away from being joined by the NYPD. We let everyone know that the police were probably on their way and called the National Lawyers Guild hotline (212-679-6018) to notify them and try to get a legal observer to come down.
Within minutes about ten police officers arrived including the “white-shirt” Winski, who I’ve learned in the days since has quite a history of involvement with OWS that I’m sure you can imagine is not amicable or friendly.
With cameras rolling, capturing both stills and video, we were systematically intimidated and pushed (verbally) out of the space. When we tried to reason with Winski, telling him, this is a public space, we were told, “The owners of the building don’t want you here. You have to go.” “But this is a public space!” we said. “Tell it to the judge in the morning, I’m going to arrest you,” he told us.
We mic-checked, and using the people’s microphone read the contents of the sign, which include, “Required to be open to the public from 7am to Midnight.” And written in giant font at the bottom – “OPEN TO PUBLIC.”
Winski wasn’t having it. Video of this interaction can be seen here, courtesy of live-tweeter extraordinaire, @diceytroop.
We moved to another POPS across the street to begin the General Assembly, but Occupy Wall Street was not done with 100 William Street. Almost immediately, plans began to form.
As an aside, an awesome new chant was developed because of our ongoing saga with Officer Winski – “W-I-N-S-K-I! You are why we occupy!”
… planning …
The next day, Monday, several friends and I discussed how perhaps we missed an opportunity the night before. Our 1st Amendment rights had clearly and blatantly been violated, and maybe we should have taken the opportunity to expose the NYPD for oppressing the right to peaceably assemble in favor of a corporation that didn’t want to allow us near their building. Some of us thought that maybe we should have sat down, begun the GA in front of the sign declaring this space public, and force the NYPD to arrest us.
The General Assembly, at its heart, is a radical and revolutionary act – a group of people collectively participating in direct democracy through a process of discussion and questioning to reach consensus.
Lucky for us, the General Assembly meets four times a week – we had roughly 29 hours to plan for the next one.
At the same time we were having this discussion, the OWS Communications Hub had been in contact with the Legal Activist Working Group who was trying to ascertain all the details of the previous night’s events. Being looped into these conversations were members of the National Lawyers Guild, longtime civil liberties lawyer Norman Siegel, members of the City Council, as well as State Senators.
The prevention of OWS from using a public space to peaceably assemble, as it had the right to do, was being taken very seriously.
After speaking with a coordinator of the ComHub, and being assured that there would be significant support from the community outside of OWS for holding the Tuesday night General Assembly back at 100 William, there were two more groups that needed to be added to these discussions – Facilitation, as a full Working Group, and Direct Action.
The issue of the previous night’s GA was able to be brought before the Direct Action Working Group at the tail end of their meeting, and a few of us were able to discuss at greater depth what we were hoping the following night’s GA would be – business as usual while standing up for our right to peaceably assemble.
Tuesday’s GA would be radical, with the intention of having a run-of-the-mill GA, but with many of us willing to be arrested should the police illegally and unconstitutionally prevent our assembly.
After discussion with the Facilitation Working Group and reaching consensus on moving forward with holding the General Assembly back at 100 William Street, I contacted ComHub to ensure that the Legal Activist Working Group and the NLG would in fact be in attendance. This was confirmed, as was the solidarity and presence of members of the City Council.
Later that evening at the OWS Operational Spokes Council, the Facilitation Working Group made an announcement via our Spoke, Nathan (@NaSH12), about Tuesday’s General Assembly and urged everyone to attend and spread the word. For us to be able to stand our ground in the face of police intimidation, we would need as many people as possible from our community together in solidarity.
I was pleasantly surprised how many Working Groups were already aware that the General Assembly would be in part a direct action and already mobilizing. The Direct Action Painters, for example, were already planning signs and banners to hold in the front of the Assembly.
Also fortuitous for this General Assembly was that it would cap off j3, a day of demonstrations and protests to raise awareness and draw attention to the National Defense Authorization Act. The NDAA is seen by many as the death of due process and habeas corpus while introducing the terrifying prospect of indefinite detention of American citizens arrested on American soil by the US military – in effect instituting martial law in America.
The fact that President Obama signed the NDAA into law in the dark of night, on New Year’s Eve, highlights how ashamed he, and all of us, should be about this.
… j3 …
j3 began with a press conference on the steps of the New York Public Library in Bryant Park. Speakers discussed the facts of the NDAA and the possible future it presents for us. A Muslim American expressed the solidarity of his community, knowing they are on the front lines in this ongoing struggle for freedoms and civil liberties, and stating that they stand with OWS.
Throughout the press conference, Occupiers dressed in military jackets snatched protestors from the crowd, black-bagged them and dragged them off to detention. We yelled “SHAME! SHAME! SHAME!” as they were dragged off, but the glaring reality of the NDAA is that President Obama, 86 Senators and 283 Congress-people who voted “Yes,” have no shame, no honor, and no respect for the Constitution or the people of this nation.
Following the press conference we marched from the Library to 3rd Avenue and 47th street to a building in which both New York Senators, Chuck Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand, have offices. Schumer and Gillibrand, both Democrats, voted yes on the NDAA.
We demonstrated on the sidewalk in front of the building with roughly a dozen NYPD, including a small scooter unit, lined up in front of the building and on the street behind us.
We chanted “N-D-A-A! Why’d you sign our rights away?” We demanded the Senators come out and face us, answer to our faces why they supported an unconstitutional law.
Although I had to step away after this demo, the day of action continued with a demonstration in Rockefeller Center that ended almost before it began, as the NYPD and Rockefeller Center shut down the square, kicking out tourists as well as protestors to prevent the space from being used for political discourse.
As an alternative, the march went to Fox News.
The planned events of j3 ended at Grand Central Station. A flash mob of Occupiers spread out through the Main Concourse to mic-check information about the NDAA, the destruction of habeas corpus, due process, and civil liberties.
Throughout the hour-long demonstration, the mic-checked speech was repeated three times. From the information I can gather, three protestors were arrested.
In the video seen here, citizen journalist Jake (@jdegroot) asks the cops to say why Jose, a medic, was being arrested. Their silence forces Jake to ask if this is the NDAA in effect and whether Jose is suspected of terrorism.
Trusted friends who were near Jose at the time of his arrest in Grand Central tell me he was in fact not mic-checking, nor was a mic-check even going on at the time.
… final hours …
Back at 60 Wall Street, I was with the Facilitation Working Group discussing, among other things, the planning of the night’s Call to Action General Assembly.
On my way to the meeting I received a text-blast from ComHub saying that Liberty Square was open again, and subsequent tweets/texts wondering if the GA would move back there. The consensus was to keep moving forward with the plans for 100 William Street.
Liberty Square is our home, but I believe we should return only on our terms – when and how we decide to – as we did on New Year’s Eve. It’s entirely possible the NYPD and Brookfield reopened the park specifically to try to get us to not use 100 William as advertised. The thought was that we must hold our ground at 100 William, and not crawl back to Liberty just because some third party says it’s ok for us to be there.
At the meeting, two of my favorite people in this movement, Marisa, an Occupy Wall Street organizer from the beginning of the occupation, and Nathan (@NaSH12), volunteered to co-Facilitate the General Assembly and the three of us met to discuss the messaging of the assembly and how we would frame the night.
Nathan, having been at the roving GA on Sunday would explain the situation and describe the series of events that occurred then. Marisa would then provide a historical context for the meaning of our General Assemblies, how our very gathering is a radical and revolutionary act in which we must stand up for our right to assemble in public space.
As it got closer to 7pm, a few of us walked through 100 William Street to scope the situation. Throughout the day we had joked that the police would probably just barricade it closed from the beginning. Fortunately that wasn’t the case and we discussed where to position the Facilitation team. While we loved the idea, and potential photo opportunities, of having the Facilitators stand in front of the “This Is Public Space” sign, it would not actually be ideal placement for conducting an assembly. We decided to have the team stand on the steps, much like in Liberty Square, to maximize their visibility to the assembly, and vice-versa.
… a call to action …
By 6:50 the atrium was filling up, by a little after 7, it was packed.
I saw representation from so many working groups – Facilitation, Direct Action, Homeless Occupiers, Legal, Accounting, Minutes, Screen Printing Guild, DA Painters, ComHub, Info, Tech, Library, Media, Meditation, Mediation & Non-Violent Communication, Medics – and so much more.
In addition, as promised, the National Lawyers Guild was out in force, including their president Gideon Oliver. Norman Siegel was in the assembly and on several occasions intervened with building security or the NYPD. City Councilmen Stephen Levin (D-Brooklyn) and Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn) attended and I saw both Councilmen intervene on behalf of OWS when police interference seemed to be overstepping.
There was a large but not overwhelming police presence around 100 William Street. Unlike during the demonstrations throughout the day, there were not many uniformed officers within direct sight of the General Assembly. Lined up on the streets nearby, however, were several police vans, mobile Command Centers, and paddy wagons.
The impression was that the NYPD was there to support and back up decisions made by the private building security, but did not try to use their presence, or the arrival of reinforcement units, as the intimidation tactic we so often see.
All things considered, it was an extremely successful night, and an incredibly productive General Assembly. We discussed six proposals, including budgets for Metrocards for use by the OWS community, as well as a proposal that would declare solidarity with the Occupy Congress actions on j17. The first, having reached consensus, moved forward. The second, after healthy and important debate, failed to reach consensus or pass via modified consensus.
There were verbal clashes between Occupiers and Security who tried to enforce a list of rules taped up around the atrium well after our Assembly began.
Police tried to intimidate us.
But we stood our ground and held our assembly.
We were within our rights.
We were right.
(photos & videos courtesy of @buddhagem, @poweredbycats, @diceytroop, @jdegroot)