My Occupy Story

ThisisDemorcacy t-shirtOn November 30, 2011, I was arrested for failure to disperse from the park at City Hall in Los Angeles with the Occupy Wall Street movement. I used to stay out of politics, but a shift in consciousness made it impossible to continue ignoring the state of the planet and the need to reclaim our planet for the people. This is my story.

I would like to begin by telling you why I am involved in this movement at all, and what brought me to that point. For most of my life I stayed away from politics, and only rarely felt the need to vote. I had always felt voting was pointless, and the pain and suffering in the world was so great and so beyond my reach to help, that I kept my head in the sand for the most part. I avoided political discussion, and the troubles of the world seemed far removed from me. A series of events caused a change within me. Newly divorced, I struggled to get my career in the film and television industry off the ground, but this came screeching to a halt in 2008. I lost my job, car, and apartment. I decided to go back to school and get a degree in order to change careers. While in school I studied history, both ancient and that of the United States, the latter in an African American Studies class taught by Dr. Lisbeth Gant-Britton. My perspective of our country, government, and its financial power began to shift. Then I heard about the Occupy Movement, the numbers who were joining, its solidarity with Egypt and Spain, and its goals of reclaiming our country from the corporate powers that control not only the U.S., but which are attempting to control the resources of the entire planet. I decided to join the protests in Los Angeles, which began on October 1st, and on the 15th, with a couple thousand people, I heard a speech by Peter Joseph of the Zeitgeist Movement, which so resonated within me that it solidified my resolve that it was indeed time to pursue change. On October 21, after attending a protest at the Fox News shareholders meeting, I set up my tent and ‘moved in’ to Solidarity Park at City Hall, downtown Los Angeles.

My decision to get arrested that night was not made lightly or easily. After two months of residing with Occupy Los Angeles (OLA), we had become a working community. I have written an essay about the OLA community entitled, “The Future is Now,” if you would like to hear more about it. Regardless of the bond I felt with the community, I arrived at City Hall on November 27, the night of our scheduled eviction, undecided if I would stay and get arrested. It wasn’t that I was afraid, just uncertain if this was indeed time for me to take my stand. I came prepared to get arrested; I had eye and face protection against tear gas and pepper spray, wrote the phone number of the NLG (National Lawyer’s Guild) on my arm, packed only what I needed, e-mailed my teachers just in case, and joined the block party. I joined my chosen tribe (as we called the various villages that had formed within the camp) which was Kid Village, so named because those with children had gathered together to make a safe place for them, and helped them continue to pack and move. The mothers and children were leaving, but I found a group of about a half dozen older women who had decided to stay and hold down Kid Village and were willing to be arrested. Among them was Ruth, who was nearly 80 years old and, like me, was trying to decide if she would stay. We decided together. Rather than join with the circle of protestors in the main square, who planned to passively resist arrest, hanging on to one another in solidarity, our group of about 5-6 women decided to stay and take our stand in Kid Village together. I stayed all night, though it became obvious in the wee hours that the raid would not happen that night. Apparently our numbers overwhelmed the efforts of the police force, and they decided to wait.

Two days later, on November 29, I furiously worked on my schoolwork at home, watching the internet for word that the raid was happening. My bag packed and ready, as if I were pregnant and waiting to go to the hospital. When it became apparent that riot police were gathering, with busloads of officers being held at Dodger stadium, I knew the time had come. I posted my announcement on Facebook (my constant companion of late) and headed out, texting my friends about the raid on my way. I arrived at City Hall about 8:30 PM, and there were only a couple hundred people there. By the time they closed the park at 10:30, the crowd within the park had doubled, and despite the blockades erected by the police, another couple thousand had gathered in the streets outside the park. I had arrived to find Kid Village completely disassembled, and my band of women no where to be found. This left me once again trying to decide if I was staying to be arrested, which would mean joining the circle in the center of the park, something that seemed a bit more frightening to me. As 10:00 approached, I was sitting with a couple of friends in a sacred area which had been built by some of our Native American residents, still contemplating, when suddenly the sky exploded in fireworks! Not little bottle rockets set off by some adventurous protestor, but a real, 4th of July-style fireworks show set off by whom, I still do not know. I felt such a surge of love and support, my mind was immediately made up. I joined the solidarity circle and waited for the police with the others. As I sat in the circle with the others, my best friend arrived to give her support while we waited, and then to my great joy, Ruth appeared in front of me to join the circle as well. Then I realized a couple other women from our Kid Village group were there next to us. I felt strong and ready for whatever came next.

At 10:30 the police began moving in, warning us to disperse. The group who had been out on the street to meet the police hurried back to the square to form two more circles around ours. Police in full riot gear poured into the park, not only from the street, but also came pouring out of the doors of City Hall. Because the entire episode reminded us of the storm troopers from the movie Star Wars, our chanting immediately turned into humming the Darth Vader theme music, all of us in unison. Though this seems silly, it was actually rather poignant, and I even caught a few officers trying not to crack a nervous smile. We chanted and sang, sending messages to our chief of police, who stood nearby. At one point, Mayor Villaraigosa appeared, and one of our well-informed young people began calling out to him, reminding him of our First Amendment rights and his own verbal support of the Occupy movement. One by one the protestors were taken, sometimes quite forcfully as they went limp or or clung to the others in the circle. I witnessed one girl right in fron of me, mistaken for a boy because of her hair and dress, treated quite brutally as she clung to the girl next to her. I could tell from the officer’s face that he thought she was a boy, until people began yelling, “That’s a girl!That’s a girl!” to which I heard him respond with the question, “You’re a girl?” During the arrest process, which took many hours, I made it my personal mission to look into the eyes of every officer in my sight. While others were taking names and badge numbers, and yelling messages such as “shame on you,” I looked into their faces and collected their expressions. Some avoided my gaze, staring straight ahead in robotic fashion, while others looked sad. While there were some whose aggression was obvious, there were more who, I could tell, hated what they were doing. I even caught a few half-smiles as I searched their faces. As I made eye contact with them, I calmly told them that we were doing this because we had to; that just as they were doing their duty, so were we; and that this was the only way. As they led me out, I spoke to my arresting officers, as well as those standing guard throughout the park, suggesting that they research why we were there. I did not wait for them to get to me, as my discomfort and full bladder made it apparent it would be better if I controlled my own arrest. So as they got down to the last 20-25 people, I turned to my fellow protestors and told them to close the circle behind me and I stood up, hands on my head, and exclaimed loudly, “I am ready for my arrest, officers, but I need to use the porto-potty on my way out,” and they accomodated my request. As it turned out, this foresight saved me from the plight of so many others as we sat waiting for hours on transport buses to be admitted to Jail.

The bus ride transporting us to jail was by far the most abusive part of our journey, and the Sheriff’s deputies the most ruthless, sarcastic, and cruel of the law enforcement we encountered. Our belongings were taken, including shoelaces, and we were cuffed with plastic zip-ties. Some women were able to wiggle out of the zip-ties, but others were cuffed so tight that the circulation was cut off and some women’s hands began to swell and their shoulders to ache to the point they could no longer sit and had to stand to alleviate the pressure. When we called to the deputies that a couple of the women were in severe pain because of their cuffs, and that one of them was 80 years old, he responded, “Well she should have kept her 80-year-old ass at home.” We began “mic-checking” and in unison informed him of his error, the consequences of his actions, and demanded an apology, which he finally gave. One woman was in so much pain she finally fainted while we waited outside Van Nuys station, and if some of the others had not gotten out of their cuffs, she would have hit her head and fallen to the floor. The deputies had two of the women, who were supposed to be cuffed, carry her to the front of the bus, where the unconscious woman began to revive. Apparently, she did not respond quickly enough for the deputy, who grabbed her by one of her aching arms and dragged her off the bus, causing her to fall on the ground. Several other women had to urinate so badly, they decided to use a plastic bag we found on the bus, which one girl tried to hand off to the officers as we exited the bus; they understandably were reluctant to take it. Apparently, we were better off than many on other buses. We heard reports from the others of waiting up to 10 hours on the bus, being unable to get out of the cuffs, and urinating on themselves, which they were then forced to sit in for hours. On one bus, a woman who suffered from mental illness and was without medication, told us she began vomiting repeatedly in the small cage where she was being kept with another woman, causing others to begin vomiting. My prisoner’s receipt says I was arrested at 3:30 AM on November 30, and I was not booked until 1:30 in the afternoon.

Upon our arrival at Van Nuys Jail, we were issued sheets and blankets, which became our only possessions and followed us everywhere. We were fed lunch, which consisted of heated frozen burritos, an apple, and a box of pink drink. I had to wait an extra 30-40 minutes for mine, as I claimed to be a vegetarian, which was not entirely true but there was no way I was going to eat anything that this institution called meat. I used the cellophane wrapper to make a shoelace, as my shoes would not stay on. I found during my stay that the vegetarian choices were pretty meager, and not really any more appetizing than those that contained meat. I finally just pulled the sandwich meat off of a sandwich, and ate the cheese-like slice and bread. I have since decided to, upon my next arrest, claim, “I don’t eat processed foods,” and be willing to fast for the duration. This is more accurate, and preferable to the week of constipation and indigestion I suffered from even after my release. After several hours we were finally moved into our cells.

The most important thing I learned in jail, aside from the fact that Converse make terrible jail shoes, was that if you place a group of protestors in jail, they continue to protest the violation of their rights.  There were 18 women in our cell, 3 other cells of women next to us, and we soon discovered we were joined by several cells of men located on the other side of a roll-up door across from us. We were confronted with the realities of being in jail; there is no soap or toothbrushes (these things are provided only on bathing day), if you need medication you better be up at 3AM when the nurse comes through, and television is enforced, even all night for some. As we encountered these various indignities, we protested against them until some of the more feisty members were sent to isolation. A couple of the girls had honestly and proudly answered the question regarding their sexuality with “homosexual” or “bisexual” and were promptly put into isolation, against which they protested and claimed discrimination until they were returned to the cells with the rest of us. We continued to remain unified, communicating with the other cells, sometimes chanting, passing news, having meditation, prayer, and Om circles, which were picked up and passed from cell to cell. At one point some girls in the next cell were caught passing a newspaper to the men through a space under the roll-up door, and we were all “punished” with the revoking of our television “privilege.” When the guard got to our cell to turn off our television, exclaiming, “you can thank your friends for this!” she found our TV already off. In order to escape the incessant commercials, cop shows, and infomercials, I had claimed we all wanted it off “so we can pray.” Of course this clever ploy backfired later when we wanted the TV back on to watch “Zombie Land,” and were denied, even though the others had their privileges already returned. It was, of course, turned on again when the movie was over and the infomercials began. There were moments when each of us broke down, experiencing frustration and crying or anger and yelling, but the strength of this band of protestors was more powerful than the any psychological warfare that those working for the jail system slung at us. When one was weak, the rest of us gathered around to be strong for her. Ruth, our oldest inmate who is nearly 80, was allowed to keep her coat, which was floor length and down-filled. As she herself was wearing several layers under it and did not feel cold, her coat was passed around to others who were cold. On the day we were to be arraigned, our blankets were taken at 6:00 AM, but we did not leave till about 10:30, which meant over four hours in our cold cell. It was my turn to wear Ruth’s coat. I left that jail enlightened, but horrified, at the system in which so many must enter alone and without the support of 150 or so other strong revolutionaries by their sides.

I was released on Friday, December 2, detained for 3 days, longer than the maximum allowable time without being charged. It began to be apparent to me that they had no plans to charge us with anything, merely to detain us long enough to secure the park at City Hall. Some of the others were arraigned the day before, it seems that those are the ones who would actually be charged, and others had gotten out on bail. A couple of people, upon our arrival, were able to get through to the Bail Review Board and have the bail amount lowered or even dropped, and so were released the first day on their own recognizance, however it was not long before we were no longer able to get through to Bail Review, so most of us remained with $5,000 bail, which was absurd for the charge we were brought in on. On Thursday afternoon, connection to Bail Review was restored and I was able to speak to the board, however this did not have any affect on my bail amount. At around 10:30 on December 2 we were shackled together in groups of four and loaded on the bus and taken to Courthouse for our arraignment, where I was released without being charged but with a notice to appear at a courthouse in Glendale on December 30 for an old traffic warrant they had uncovered, which I thought I’d paid. (I went and the judge dismissed it because it was so old) As I ran out into the air, greeted by my husband and close friends waiting outside with about 40-50 other supporters, I felt so much gratitude at my freedom it felt like three years had gone by instead of 3 days.

The affect that the camp closure and our arrests has had on the movement was explosive. If the goal was to discourage us, it backfired. My own circle of supporters more than doubled when I became willing to be arrested. I spent the day and well into the night wearing my prisoner number around my neck, causing complete strangers to ask me what it meant and their response was always “thank you for doing that” and “what is next?” Indeed, what is next? The focus of the Occupy movement, now stripped of the camp, has been into the city. We have been “occupying” foreclosed homes, the offices of our local congressmen, and many other plans in progress. People from all over the country, and even beyond our borders, plan to decend on Washington DC beginning in January. I will be attending an occupation of the Washington Monument, that starts on January 17, for which I have been raising funds. Other events in Washington DC are also planned for March, May, and in September for the election. I have watched on the internet the solidarity of this movement throughout the world grow to phenominal proportions, and the fearful reactive response of our government and financiers as they try to gain control of it, and I am encouraged that this movement will not die until there is major change. I am excited to see what is next and thankful for my own awakening. See you in the History books!

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