Two takes on the six month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. Kanene Holder and Liesbeth Rapp, a radical performance art duo share their tales of that day.
Day: Kanene. Night: Liesbeth.
Day -- Kanene's story:
At first it seemed pretty simple: the Occupy Wall Street movement, which started in the fall of 2011, was peacefully marching into the spring of 2012. We celebrated March 17th, the six month anniversary of Occupy, together creating a festive spirit, forged over the past six months by our shared discontent with current systems and our optimistic vision for the future.
As an occupier, I got up, dressed and headed down to Liberty Square to perform. Occupy is a heading of disparate elements sharing the common goal of social and economic justice. As such, Occupy encourages us to express our malcontent creatively so I, along with my co-conspirator, Liesbeth were excited to perform our satire "Searching for American Justice." While we personified American Justice as a legally blonde and blind socialite and her kleptomaniac little sister, Economic Justice, hundreds entered Liberty Park to perform or protest.
As the sun shined, people expressed their gratitude for our community and direct democracy, by singing, drumming, dancing and occupying public space. Occupiers carried a large Statue of Liberty puppet and other signs announcing May Day around the park, accompanied by 200 people chanting "This is what democracy looks like!" Others stood in the park speaking about the fierce urgency to change various policies now -- including corporate personhood, NDAA, H.R. 347 , etc. Everyone was excited to share their area of expertise with fellow occupiers, newcomers and whoever else was around, including mainstream and independent press, which came out to cover our resurgence.
It was magical. Despite a few clashes with officers, the spirit was upbeat. Some reconnected with long lost friends, while others were recharged by the hope of a brighter future. The park had not been this full of palpable energy since the violent raid on Nov. 15th.
I wanted to stick around, but, unfortunately, I had to make a deadline. In this tough economy, I have to be disciplined.
As I sat in a cafe, I received numerous text messages. The darkness of night became a harbinger of the unfolding events. A day which had been so joyous, became a night punctuated by batons, blood-soaked streets and shrieks, as skulls of the innocent were cracked and peaceful occupiers detained. Some were singing, others simply locking arms in the tradition of civil disobedience. Regardless, the NYPD assumed an aggressive posture like a skilled hunter. They preyed upon men and women with equal parts force and contempt.
I hadn't heard back from Liesbeth and was worried. I found out later she was there that night.
Night -- Liesbeth's story:
Saturday night I saw a young woman laying in the street convulsing. Twenty minutes before she was beaten by the police and as she lay there seizing her hands were still bound behind her. During her seizure she was splayed on the concrete with nothing to buffer her head. She lay motionless for over 10 minutes, while surrounded by dozens of police officers who did nothing to help her access emergency medical care. Two licensed EMT's presented their certification, but were unable to get through the police line to examine the woman. The NYPD actively refused her access to medical attention, among a crowd decrying the illegality of their non-response. A National Lawyers Guild Observer stood taking notes and speaking with the offending officers. After numerous 911 calls by activists, an ambulance arrived. Amid a crowd of over 100 police officers and more than a dozen cop cars, the ambulance arrived seventeen minutes after she went unconscious. The hospital was located less than two minutes away.
Later that night a medic sustained a head injury. He was attempting to administer emergency care to unarmed activists who were beaten by the NYPD. Both of the sleeves of his coat bore the clear markings of a red cross. As he attempted to help the injured people receive medical attention, the NYPD grabbed him and threw him against glass, bashing his head multiple times with such force that the glass shattered. There were also multiple reports of people in police custody sitting, held in vehicles for hours, awaiting processing without access to water, food, or medical care, while blood streamed out of their ears.
The narrative of police violence against activists is an old one. In fact, it is a tactic actively employed. The approval ratings of the police does not fluctuate much, and regardless their approval ratings do not affect their job security. By brutally attacking activists, they are able to obfuscate -- obscuring the validity of the activists' original concerns (Health care, jobs, fair wages, etc) by burying them under a sea of bloody images.
Many of my roommates, friends, a part of my family, did not come home last night nor the night before. They were in jail. Some were bloody, some were beaten. It's nothing new -- the system damages us in many ways. It's not enough to be watched and monitored at all times, to be randomly detained and arrested with ambiguous or no charges, to be beaten by clubs and suffer from broken bones, but by calling attention to any of these abuses, by letting the world know what the NYPD is doing, we are distracting from the causes in which we so fervently believe.
That, is a bitter pill to swallow. But still we endure.
The behavior of the state -- the government, and their agents -- the police, military and court officials, is much like that of an abusive parent. A parent who randomly metes out punishment in such a haphazard way that the child is too afraid to even open his/her mouth to speak. Rather than encouraging that child's growth and fostering its involvement in democracy, the state stifles thought and limits participation, saying with every smack of a baton, "you will never amount to anything. What are you doing here?"
Our answer? "We shall not be moved."
Clearly, the current iteration of America doesn't want us to be seen or heard. What would our Founding Fathers who fought so fervently to ensure protection against tyranny say?