Saturday, October 22, 2011

Standing with Occupy Boston - Part 2

Truth be told, I was uncertain about how much I really wanted to be involved in the arrests almost up to the end.

Let me actually take a quick step back to talk about the purpose of arrests in movements.

As far as I understand it, in the history of social movements and civil disobedience there is a clash between those in power and those who are asking for change.  Part of that clash usually involves protesters being arrested.  For the most part, one cannot plan a movement without planning for mass arrests at one point or another.

It's like a twisted game of chess, really.  Except one of the sides isn't necessarily following the original rules.  The elected officials act as the most powerful pieces, while they send their pawns to do their bidding.  But in terms of civil disobedience and free assembly, protesters are merely exercising their First Amendment rights (video reference in the form of an interview here:

It's confusing and it's messed up.  Each group will have its reasons for doing what they're doing.

In terms of the Occupy Movement, the people are finally getting educated about what's been happening...what we've allowed to happen to the financial system.  Banks, investment companies, and the people who run them have been continuing to become more wealthy while the majority of America is suffering from poverty and lack of resources (video reference in the form of a documentary here:

I absolutely believe that they need to be held accountable for putting the country in the mess that it's in.  I believe that things need to change.  The financial system needs to change, the priorities need to change, everything needs to change.

It's perhaps what drove me to stay.

As the light turned to dark, you could feel the energy of the group.  For a while, I stood near the sidewalk to help protect the camp, but soon my feet grew weary.  As I walked further into the small park, I noticed someone talking to a lady, who honestly looked like she didn't belong in the group.  I know how that sounds.

It turned out that she was the Director of the Rose Kennedy Greenway, and she expressed her concern over the expansion.  I told her that I believed a General Assembly was going to begin, and that it would be a great opportunity for everyone to hear from her.

To briefly explain the way General Assemblies work, the facilitator proposes a certain agenda (of which the Assembly can modify on the spot), the group discusses the agenda items, and before a decision is made others can be placed on a stack where they have a chance to speak.  There are several interesting tactics they used, such as wiggling fingers in a specific direction to signify agreement or disagreement and the very interesting "People's Mic" where others surrounding a speaker would repeat what's being said so that the larger audience would be able to hear without a public announcement system.
during the General Assembly
This evening's General Assembly was about whether the group should continue to stay at this park.  I went back and forth about it in my own head, as did many of the commentators did during the meeting.  Was this worth risking the so-far-peaceful protests?  Was it worth risking the credibility of the movement?  Well, the group came to a consensus and decided to stay in the park as we all recognized that growth in the movement was inevitable and civil disobedience was another non-negotiable.

Afterward, the organizers and representatives from the National Lawyers Guild helped to prepare those of us who planned to get arrested.  Some of their suggestions included:
  • If you have contacts on, remove them immediately.  If the police decide to use pepper spray as they did several days ago in New York, the contacts will fuse to your eyeballs.
  • While linking arms, hold your hand in a certain way so as to protect your thumbs.
  • Form an Affinity Group, of whom roles are made clear (i.e. who is getting arrested, who is planning to resist arrest, who will be ensured to be released first, etc.).
  • You have several options when the police arrive:  Follow their first directive and leave the premises, decline their offer to leave, or go limp as they arrest you a.k.a resist arrest.
It was really quite an interesting quickie lesson on civil disobedience.  But it's one that has stuck.

Fast forward to 11:30pm, a half hour before our time was up.  Some organizers decided to move the tents into the middle of the park, which allowed protesters to form a tighter circumference around the tents.
Greenway Tentcity
Though I was initially extremely uncertain about being arrested, I knew I wanted to stay and watch the events transpire.  It was honestly difficult to have been at the marches and at his extremely tense time without a single friend.  Though I had made new acquaintances along the way and I felt really connected to my Affinity Group, I still felt lonely without a familiar face.

At midnight, we got word that police officers were finally starting to get suited up.  Bike messengers were going around to keep an eye on the police activity.  At 12:30am, someone with a loudspeaker pumped up the crowd by stating that we were still there and still strong.

Throughout the evening, people were making sure that we had the National Lawyers Guild phone number written on our bodies.  At this late point, another person suggested that if we didn't want to risk damaging our belongings that we should give it to someone in our Affinity Group who wasn't planning on getting arrested.  This woman who had all of our belongings was like a beacon of hope to me.  She had made sure to connect with our other contacts as well as keeping our belongings safe.  I am eternally grateful to her.

At 1am, the bike messengers told us that they spotted a street lined with "paddy wagons" (a term originally referring to Irish immigrants).  At 1:30am, they told us that they were coming.  Groups of police officers were coming from 2 different directions.  I wanted to make sure that they weren't coming from behind me, but they were coming from all over.

I realized that a group called the Veterans for Peace created a blockade between the police officers and our group.  They were the first line of defense.  I honestly couldn't believe their bravery, and I couldn't even begin to thank them for what they did.

As the police bombarded through the Veterans for Peace line, injuring one of them, they surrounded us.  Some of them started to push the Occupiers in towards the tents.  As this was happening, I couldn't help but analyze their tactic and think about how they were trying to get us to either break apart or sit on the ground.
From one of the many shots published on different websites.
You can see a little me in the right, next to the green shirt.
Several of my Affinity Group members were taken at this point.  To my left, to my right, right in front of me, I watched police officers shove people face down into the ground, knee to their back as they forced their arms behind their backs.  I couldn't believe the physical force the police was using.  It angered me, and it confused me, and it worried me.  I was moved to tears only because I felt so helpless.

When they got to me, I started being uncertain if I could go through with it.  My anxiety level was on high alert, and I was having a really difficult time watching the violence towards the protesters.  But my anxiety level would have been worse had I decided to leave.  I didn't want to abandon my group or the cause.

After they took the person next to me, the police officers once again gave me a chance to leave.  All I could say was, "Nope."  And this once police officer in a suit then said to me, "Alright. You're next, Miss."


As another officer walked me to the street of wagons, I couldn't help but continue to be afraid of the unknown.  The woman in front of me being arrested began complaining about the zipties on her wrists.  Mine were also tight as hell, but I mustered the quite courage to help ease her pain.

This girl was clearly angry, however.  She was seething.  She even said at one point that she never agreed to be non-violent, which threw the rest of us for a loop.  At one point during our ride in the wagon, I spoke to her sternly about how we respected her autonomy, but that we all kindly asked that she not do anything to put us or the movement in danger.  She agreed.

They placed me in the wagon with about 9 other women and shut the doors to leave us in the dark. The way the wagon is designed is clearly not for comfort.  The seats were tiny, and even smaller after having our hands tied behind us.  Since we weren't buckled in, if the driver stopped suddenly it would throw us all off balance, requiring us to fall on each other.  It's really inhumane.  I'm sure we could go back and forth about how criminals should be treated.  At the very least, to be treated as a human is a basic right.

Before I continue on, I must unfortunately stop here.  I am planning to go on a vacation in Vegas, and I am unfortunately not planning to bring my laptop.  But Part 3 will tell you about my late night/early morning in jail, the following responses I received, and my time in court.

For now, please watch this brief documentary on the day of the march and arrests.  At round 6:55, you can catch a quick glimpse of me in a gray hoodie next to the guy in a green shirt in the far right.

"What Democracy Looks Like: The View From Occupy Boston"
from Michael Gill on Vimeo.

I promise I'll be good.  Though clearly, I can't make any promises about getting arrested anymore.

See y'all next week!

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