Note: I wrote this article in 2011 and have oh so lightly edited it so people don’t know how much of an idiot I was at the time.
My team of pseudo-journalists and I arrived with business suits and a strong determination to get a feel of the movement. The communal aspect of the occupation came immediately, people were singing and playing instruments, the occupation’s library was rife with readers, and people of all ages, races (including a few from the canine species), and political ideologies gathered to hear the words of whom ever had something to say. Since sound amplification devices had been banned from the protests by powers larger than you or I, the people had to find a unique way to communicate their ideas across crowds that occasionally reached into the thousands. Enter: The People’s Microphone.
The People’s Microphone: A simple system in which an individual yells out “MIC CHECK!” to get the attention of those around her. The people around her quickly repeat the phrase until the people around THEM do the same and so on and so forth until the majority of the crowd has been called to attention. Every word that the initial speaker utters is now repeated by those around him and so on and so forth, causing a wave of a speech that is delivered by the entire audience, together. It is quite an amazing feat to see in person and even more amazing to participate in.
There were various groups present but aside from the Ron Paul campaigners, there were so few judgments passed between the organizations that there hardly seemed to be separate affiliations present at all. After mingling with the crowd for a period of time and being questioned why we were dressed so nicely (to counter the media’s portrayal of protesters as dirty hippies), we joined in with the march and chanted with the best of them.
After losing my voice marching and chanting through the streets of Manhattan, I and my cohort arrived upon the Brooklyn Bridge. That’s when the diarrhea hit the industrial sized fan. I could only see 7 police officers present and they seemed to have opened up the roadway just for us special little marchers, so we traversed the bridge with passion and reveled in the number of people. Seeking to gain a higher ground, I climbed to the pedestrian path while almost ripping open my fancy pair of pinstripe pants.
We were nearly halfway across the bridge when we were suddenly stopped by the police.
Though those of us that were on the higher road did not know this at the time, over 700 peaceful protesters were arrested, from teenagers to aging grandmothers, and most importantly one of our handsome reporters. Though Mayor Bloomberg defended the move, not many other people seemed as pleased. One arrestee later recalled a scene where a mother was torn from her small children. Considering the shaky circumstances of the event, the protesters involved are now suing the NYPD for what many consider entrapment, with statements from those present claiming that there were actual police officers present who led protesters onto the bridge illegally. The police also claim that warnings were given and show this video as proof, though anyone that was there (or anyone with decent observational skills) can see this was already at the point where the protesters were blocked onto the bridge and arrested from both sides.
Those of us that survived regrouped at Occupy Brooklyn. A Navy Medic stood atop a platform and gave a speech that still brings tears to my eyes. He told us the story of how he ended up in Afghanistan and the 24 hour period that made him realize he had to leave the country and the military. In the morning of that fateful day in Afghanistan, he had held a friend and comrade in his arms as he died. In the evening, he held a small boy in his arms as he bled to death. He realized that there was no reason for him and his friends to be there.
After the story, we and the remaining members of the demonstration returned to our camp in Manhattan with the pressure of the early evening rain at our backs. Our losses seemed heavy and many of us were worried for our friends that were carted away and taken to the darkest reaches of the earth (Brooklyn).
We attempted to remain in good spirits but the arrests and the rain had dampened the resolve of even the most stalwart activists. But as things seemed at their lowest, we were greeted at the base camp at Zuccotti Park with quite the surprise.
Despite the losses due to the arrests and the ensuing confusion, our numbers had more than doubled and the occupation remained in full swing. Fresh protesters had arrived on the scene while we were gone and they seemed adamant about keeping things going. After some announcements and collective decision making, the people decided to send out welcoming committees to each of the three precincts, wait no four precincts, wait no seven precincts in which our friends were spread throughout the city. The two of us who remained from our group descended upon the city and journeyed forth towards the first precinct.
We and the rest of the committee, including our new friend Lilly Potter (identities shall be protected here!), arrived at Midtown North Precinct and prepared ourselves for what we’d assume would be a relatively short wait. But things don’t work out like that do they?
We got word from the police officers inside that Lilly’s boyfriend was over at the South Precinct, and our dear comrade was nowhere to be found. So we headed to Midtown South on what just happened to be one of the coldest nights of that fall. The police were not as kind here and the committee present at the precinct was much smaller than the one we’d left. But by amazing chance, Lilly and I entered the station to find James handcuffed right in front of our eyes, the sheer chance of his location was intense and I gave Lilly the most brilliant high five the world had ever seen.
He was not to be released yet, so we waited…
What was supposed to be an hour long affair had left us waiting outside until 2 am. Despite the stereotypes of the rude New Yorker, residents in the area offered us food, water, and one kindly woman even allowed us the use of her bathroom, along with the promise of pizza for those who were released. And finally, somewhere around 2 am, the people began to slowly be released.
We rejoiced, we cheered, and gave cigarettes to those who were in need, and passed on food to chose who were deprived of a meal. We heard stories of sing-a-longs and impromptu meetings dedicated to deciding on suitable prison tattoos. We heard tales of men and women being left in handcuffs for over seven hours, and witnessed the reddened wound of a protestor who’s wrists were bloodied by the cuffs of NYC’s finest.
Somewhere between watching our numbers double instead of shrink, the New Yorkers welcoming us into our homes, and the commitment we all showed to both strangers and loved ones, it clicked. This is what a revolution looked like. Maybe not all of it, but it was a part that I hadn’t yet seen. It was love and struggle made real.
I walked another few hours to the other side of the city. Flat feet aching in my dress shoes. It took another two hours before our last friend was released. It is not an easy task to explain this experience, and I’ve been much more verbose than I normally am, but this movement is something much larger than basic political ideologies and angsty teenagers, this is America saying fuck you to those who control our lives with their money and their media. This movement is every single one of us, each child, each parent, each friend, each lover, each evicted geriatric, each grossly indebted college student. We need to stand together.
But do not take my word for it, check out the occupations, a lot of information can be found on the internets but being there in person gives you a true understanding of what this is about.
To those from Rowan who may be looking for a ride down there, we’ve created a Facebook group with the intent of organizing cars together to save gas and money for those looking to get down.
Thank you for your time,