A day of mass protests was scheduled to take place in Lower Manhattan on the 17th with the intent of shutting the city down. The day before, I took Drew, my friend from school, up to New York to participate. We had been planning on bringing a caravan of students from McDaniel to Occupy Wall St. though we weren't able to find anyone else who was willing to come with us.
After staying overnight at Drew's friend's place at Columbia University, we came back to Zuccotti Park in the early morning hours. Already there were thousands of demonstrators gathered across the street. People were prepared for the worst. The events of the past few days were still fresh in everyone's minds. Last week there was a thriving camp full of tents, free food, and a library; now there was nothing left of it but garbage on the sidewalk.
We were all set to shut down Wall St. Our demonstration was going to be split into thirds with each third taking up an intersection to blockade, right as Wall St. employees were coming down there to work.
Drew and I joined the third group of demonstrators. We sat down and waited for things to happen. Already, the police were setting up barricades around us. The street had been shut down and the activists had been herded away from the sidewalks so that Wall Streeters could get to work on time. We didn't care that these people were shouting insults at us, telling us to "get a job", or calling us selfish and "idiotic" for blocking the streets. We were just fed up and wanted to close down everything.
We formed a circle in the middle of our blockade where those who wanted to tell their stories as to why they were here could stand in the center and share. People told us about their massive debts, their foreclosed homes, and the sad state they see our society in. One person, a student activist, told us how she worked in East Africa a little while back and dealt with people suffering from the region's horrid famine. It turns out, she explained, that the entire food crisis was caused by investors who speculated on food prices after the housing bubble. This made the price of staples like wheat and rice rise so high that they were unobtainable for most people who desperately needed it, and thus a famine was created. It's a clear example of how the ultra-wealthy are able to get away with gambling on people's lives, and how these sorts of actions taken by investors on our soil affect millions of people an ocean away. Everything is connected.
Everyone could feel the police presence becoming far more tense by now. This was coupled with the fact that more and more activists began coming into our blockade from the other two. I'm not exactly sure what happened - not even after watching the footage I took - but I just remember the police demanding that we spread out and then stabbing protesters with batons when they didn't. Everyone went wild at that point. The media descended on the NYPD officers the moment it happened.
Not exactly the worst brutality from that day, but it was the first I experienced.
A short time later we all left our blockade and marched down the street once again. Thousands of us stood on the street calling out to others to join us. The cops weren't far behind. They told us we had to get on the sidewalk to unblock traffic, despite the fact that there were too many of us. Suddenly, the police began pushing us and stabbing us to herd us away from the street. Once again, everyone got out their cameras and began recording.
I was caught up in the crowd, as you can probably tell from the video. My purse got caught on someone's bicycle, leaving me stuck as I was pushed around by others who were being pushed by the police. Thankfully, both Drew and I were able to make it to the sidewalk relatively unharmed.
Once that struggle was over the demonstration picked up once again. We turned the corner only to see more demonstrators facing off with the police. Activists were huddled together on the sidewalks while the police patrolled the roads. A paddy wagon stood right in the middle of it all; inside were a handful of demonstrators who had just been arrested.
We chanted all throughout this ordeal. "Shame shame!" "This is what a police state looks like!" "Loosen up!" "Let them go!" As soon as the paddy wagon drove away with the pigs not far behind, we all cheered in relief.
Finally, we arrived back at Zuccotti. Everyone started pouring into the park as the rain began coming down. No one paid any attention to the cops, who were now swarming around us once again. Everyone was thrilled to have recaptured their park after the raid from Monday night. Out of sheer ecstasy, activists started pushing away the police barricades on the park's periphery. It was beautiful.
The barricades were piled on top of each other and made into a trampoline for anyone who wanted to join in. People gathered around to dance and sing. I haven't seen such rejoicing in my entire life.
It wasn't long before I was approached by my Facebook friend Cory (whom you may know as "Anarcho Jesse" from when he was part of the Free State Project and living in Keene; these days he wears a maoist cap with a red star painted black). He told me of the police brutality he witnessed that day and the human chain which people in his contingent formed as a way to counter it. Our conversation had to be put off as we gathered around the human microphone to plan out our next action: occupying the Wall St. subway station. I heard the activist speaking, "For those going to the 2 train, follow that flag." It took me a minute to realize that the flag he was pointing to was my flag and as such I would be the "leader" for the subway occupation. I had no idea where to go until another demonstrator agreed to take my flag and show us the way. When I asked the demonstrator who she was and where she was from she told me her name was Danielle and, like me, was originally from Windham, NH. Very unusual.
We gathered into the subway station and took the first train to the Wall St. station. During the train ride we listened to a demonstrator speak: he comes from a very well-off background while his partner used to work for minimum wage at Border's. When his partner became sick she wasn't able to take time off work to recover, and when she finally became so incredibly ill he had to get money from his father in order to pay for her treatment and take care of her. He asked, what about all the people who don't have his father there to provide a net for them? And what about the fact that Border's went belly-up after years of bad business decisions only to have their highest-level executives ask for millions of dollars in bonuses? It's truly sick.
When we arose from the subway stairs we were met by more NYPD. It turns out we took the wrong stairs out of the station. At the last minute, we decided to march back to Zuccotti. I was told afterwards that the police were roughhousing a few of the demonstrators soon after we left. It was such a fuck up on our part.
While we were walking back to the park I had a chance to talk with the demonstrator from the subway. He held a sign which read "CLASS WAR? YOU BET" on one side and "PRIVATE OWNERSHIP OF INDUSTRY IS THEFT" on the other. He told me he liked my flag and was relieved that there were more anarchists here to keep the protests radical-minded. It turns out he's part of an anarchist theatre collective in New York. When we were almost at Zuccotti we passed the Wikileaks van. It had been pulled over by a cop who was giving a lot of shit to the driver, who looked oblivious to everything that was going on. During this time, I said goodbye to my new-found friend as he insisted on staying with the Wikileaks van to record every move of the cop.
The wind and rain were coming at us much harsher by the time we got to the park. Drew went back to Columbia U. to attend the student demonstration while Danielle offered Cory and I some time at her apartment on Staten Island to warm up before the huge rally in the afternoon. We chose to go along with her.
While at Danielle's place, the three of us watched the footage from earlier that day on the local NYC news. It was apparent that the news media, always possessing their stories pre-report, was very selective of which aspects of the demonstrations they chose to show. It started off with interviews of Wall St. employees who were calling us "selfish" and "mindless" for blockading Wall St. in protest. Then it turned to footage of the lesser incidents of police violence.
I asked Cory once again about his experiences in Keene and why he chose to leave. He gave me an earful about Free Keene and how backwards he views their movement as. He described them as being the "epitome of white privilege" as they only challenge authority as it pertains to them (he pointed out that when libertarian capitalists decide they want to be consistent in their philosophy they make a leap of faith and become libertarian socialists), and choose to do so in a manner which ensures that their privilege isn't lost. Cory told me that he's been ostracized by their movement because of his anarcho-communist and insurrectionist learnings. Many in the Free Keene crowd, he said, are "militant pacifists". They complain about the police in Keene and elsewhere in NH but will not fight it; even more so, they try to silence anyone who suggests that they do fight it. He brought up Peter Gelderloos' book on nonviolence vs. violence to explain why he thinks total pacifism is not only a dead idea but also elitist in practice, where certain slaves serve the purpose of preventing other slaves from revolting. I agreed. It seems evidently clear that if you want a revolution to destroy the old system and replace it with the new, you best be prepared for violence regardless as to whether or not you choose to engage in it. Though I will say, maybe we choose not to fight back because we hold this collective feeling that we don't "need" to, seeing as how much better off we are than so many around the globe. Perhaps we feel that actual sacrifice isn't worth it because we'd much rather be able to come home to a warm bed and a fridge full of food than sit in a cold jail cell for years. (You know that quote, "It's better to die on your feet than to live on your knees,"? - well, it's obvious that most people would rather live.) Maybe it's the fact that we assume things really aren't all that bad because we have it so well compared to others, though just because we aren't seeing the majority of violence from the state-capitalist system in front of us every day doesn't mean it's not there. I told Cory, I can't imagine how people in other countries must view the lack of struggle by Americans to create a new system and destroy the old, exploitative one, especially comrades in Latin America, Europe, and elsewhere who take up arms against the state. When injustice happens in this country - or originates in this country - how do we respond? Through boycotts and marches, nothing else, no other forms of resistance. I would argue that these feelings of "we don't need to do anything so let's not" need to go. Appeasing our oppressors with the least radical tactics isn't going to solve the problem at all, and will just end up prolonging it. We might end up getting more taxes on the rich and some kind of guaranteed national income after the Occupy movement is over, but how is that going to anything to change the overall system? What will they get if the same system remains in place here and the rich are still holding on to their power? Just like the Keeniacs, we don't want to give up our privilege. I let Cory know that I admire his desire to take shit to the next level.
The other thing Cory told me about was the attitudes towards others held by the vulgar libertarian crowd he knew in NH. He told me how he and a few others in the Free State Project were insulted and put down by other free staters simply for complaining about their economic situations. Cory said, "They would be like, 'Oh, you aren't paying your rent. Are you a socialist?', like they really care more about you living up to your contract than your living situation." "Socialist" is apparently the biggest profound slur. Before, Cory had told me about his "Don't Tread On Me" flag which had been designed with the libertarian socialist colors and how it was torn down after he hung it outside his place in Keene. I found that quite ironic considering how I know of many free staters who openly identify as libertarian socialists. The only thing is, just like how Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews in zionist Israel find themselves marginalized by the European/Ashkenazi dominated zionist political system, left-libertarians and mutualists in NH find their interests, goals, and strategies to be increasingly obscured within the pro-capitalist controlled free state movement (as I've been told by quite a few free market anti-capitalists who live in NH). He also brought up his experience dealing with free staters who held extremely racist and misogynistic views. For example, he told me of one man who openly complained about how the Arabs and Hispanics moving to NH from Massachusetts were causing NH to become more statist, and then went on to advocate forming "national anarchist" white-only communities. This guy disgusted Cory so much that he refused to let him into his apartment. I responded by telling him I wasn't surprised at any of this.
As we were riding the ferry back to Manhattan we learned that our demonstrations had succeeded in shutting down the New York Stock Exchange for 15 minutes in the morning. Nothing too drastic, but a nice little victory for the day. We also learned that the Wikileaks van we passed by had been stopped because the headlights were supposedly out, and that a guy serving free pizza to the protesters was arrested because he didn't have a license. The police state will find any reason, any reason at all.
When we arrived at Manhattan Danielle split with us to go straight to Foley Sq. while Cory and I went back to Zuccotti to retrieve our friend Darian (in case you don't know, Darian Worden from ThinkingLiberty). I attempted to enter the park, which had lost the vast majority of demonstrators and was being carefully monitored by dozens of cops, but was instantly stopped. The cop told me I wouldn't be able to bring my flag with me, so I had to either give him my flag or wait outside the newly-propped barricades. I chose the latter. Once all three of us were ready, we headed down to Foley to catch the start of the big march. About halfway there we joined the Verizon workers' union.
Arriving at the Foley demonstration felt unreal. There were tens of thousands - I've heard over 35,000 - people in attendance. Unions, students, activists of all sorts, musicians, vanguardist politicians, everyone. Music was blasting, lights were shining all over the place, and the crowd was so tightly packed in you could barely move. Mind you, the cold brought on by the windchill would have been unbearable any other night, but this night was special.
Things were about to explode, I could feel it. The plan was to have all the tens of thousands of people march from Foley across the Brooklyn Bridge. As you would expect, police barricades were set up all along the roads with police making sure everyone was kept in-line. Demonstrators struggled to move out. Cory said to me that was the time for the activists to lift up the barricades and storm through or just push the barricades into the police in the same manner as the police pushed activists off the streets earlier in the day. Such actions would be easily doable. As everyone slowly passed with little police confrontation, Cory told me he was disappointed in their inability to act on the moment. The three of us managed to pile out with the others. We marched past Pace Park where police were also present. We were approaching the Brooklyn Bridge when all of us chose to stop and wait for others to join us. By now, I was so cold and tired that I decided I wanted to find Drew so we could catch the bus and go back to Baltimore. When I called him, he told me he was on the other side of the road. Turns out the cops would not let the demonstrators on the other side cross over. We all waited there chanting at the cops. It took nearly a half hour before the activists on the other side were allowed to go through.
When Drew and I were going back to Upper Manhattan to fetch Drew's belongings, he told me he was very impressed with the way the OWS actions were organized, especially the leaderless aspect and the people's microphone. We weren't able to get back to McDaniel until late Friday afternoon due to a late Bolt Bus and several attempts to find a ride from the metro station in Owings Mills. Nevertheless, he told me that despite all the hassle it was a truly worthwhile experience. I smell an article in the McDaniel Free Press.