Part 2 of 2:
My activist friend, our young occupation friend and I left McDonald’s and walked the length of the sidewalk to the end of Zuccotti Park to Charley’s. The rain had stopped completely.
As we stood against the glass inside, nursing our coffees, my friend disclosed she had just read somewhere that Chase had donated over $4 million to the NYC Police Foundation. I supplied how I had read that Commissioner Raymond Kelly, ambitious to be our next mayor, was assuredly hungry for all those Wall Street fat cat donations. How important to him was it to keep the one percenters feeling nice and protected by him and the NYPD at the expense of the rights and needs of the citizens of conscience. The OWS community.
It was well after 4am I discovered through the steam of my rained upon watchface. We noted that some space had become available on the benches outside Charley’s. It would be a more comfortable perch awaiting the morning demonstration than the cold wet cement blocks over on the plaza.
I had put a small rectangular box of plastic waste basket liners into my carryall (unfortunately I had forgotten their existence earlier when I was getting drenched with rain). We stretched out two plastic trash bags over the wet wood.
Two young OWS demonstrators, farther down the row of benches, had begun discussing Spanish political history. I could not clearly hear their points, but I was certainly impressed by how well read they sounded.
Suddenly a young woman approached us and asked us if we knew of a nearby bathroom. I indicated the direction of the McDonald’s. McDonald’s had been closed down completely she exclaimed. I urged her to go into Charley’s and insist they let her use their facility. Several more people showed up in search of a bathroom. I encouraged them to try inside. Later I would find out Charley’s had continued to turn such people away.
This really burned me. Once again, a retail establishment was doing a whopping business from these young people occupying the plaza, especially at these late hours, and yet would not deign to extend use of their toilet, even on a limited basis and in the face of an emergency with the all night McDonald’s suddenly closed down. Where was the humanity? Let us take your money and cold shoulder your extenuating needs. Rigid American capitalism without heart.
I was beginning to get a sense of the constant indignities and inconveniences the occupiers of the plaza had been facing down that most of us had no idea of.
My friend also needed a bathroom she announced and set off to find one on the still, dark streets around us. When she hadn’t come back an hour later I was concerned and sorry I hadn’t accompanied her at that hour. Not a safe time for a woman to be alone on the streets of NYC.
In the meantime, I had been chatting with an engaging group of young men most of them chomping on the most savory looking and smelling small pizzas. Two of them disclosed they went to Rudgers and tried to visit the occupation as often as they could. They were majoring in American Studies. One very charismatic young man, an Irish musician (an American-Irish Irish musician?), began receiving such high praise and admiration from the group for having dedicated himself so hard to the occupation since almost the very beginning.
He did seem very knowledgeable and generous in disclosing his experiences. But when I suddenly rather indignantly began questioning the lack of port-o-potties, he didn’t have any definitive answers. He shrugged mildly and said that perhaps not having them had reduced the stench they would have created.
I wondered if they had been too costly for the OWS organization, although I had been reading they had received substantial donations. Had it been their fumbled responsibility or the mayor’s and city governance’s to leave the hundreds of occupiers so unprovided for in the middle of the night?
I would find out later from a blog of interviews on Democracy Now’s website it was indeed Mayor Bloomberg’s and the City’s fault:
PONCHO GUTHRIE [an occupier]: The park is cleaner than a lot of areas around here. Now, I’m not from the area, but a lot of people I know who have lived in the area say it’s cleaner now than it was before the occupation came in. There aren’t any rats in there. The place is very sanitary. Garbage is picked up three times a day. We take care of the recycling. It’s very sanitary conditions. The only things that are lacking are things like showers and restrooms, which could be provided with a city permit. But unfortunately, we don’t have a city permit. So, any sanitary issues are kind of on Mr. Bloomberg’s plate.
So let me be blunt about this restroom-less scenario connecting the final dots, since my and others’ cold, wet, toilet-less-hold-it-in-for-a-good-long-while experience on the Plaza. Less than half a dozen hours before the “obsessed with the sanitation of the park” Mayor and police or whomever were to inspect and enforce a cleanup of Zuccotti Park, HUNDREDS OF DEMONSTRATORS LIKE MYSELF HAD NO TOILET FACILITY TO URINATE OR DEFECATE AT because presumably the police had closed down the ONLY toilet reasonably located in the Zuccotti Park area overnight.
How is that for a crazymaking not to mention cruel catch-22? Keep it clean, folks. But let us make it all the more insultingly challenging for you with your own normal and predictable bodily needs for evacuation.
YOU JUST CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP!!!!!
Deviousness and/or inhumane obtuseness? Certainly empathyless-ness once again, from the retailers at that hour, for sure, but also from the mayor and city government. And what was this, the fifth week of the demonstration?
Yes, amoral, empathyless crazymaking. Something like taking $10 trillion of our money and then blaming us for that loss and denying they are inflicting economic terrorism on us. Telling us to suck it up and tighten our belts since it is our fault we are losing our homes, jobs, health care, even lives. The cronied corporatists and the politicians so willing to posture righteousness over “irrational mob anger and social inconvenience” when it is THEY who are responsible for defrauding us and creating circumstances of serious mass suffering and desperation. How cravenly low can they go?
Why would I be surprised at their not extending toilet facilities to a few hundred people when they are enabling those so savagely screwing millions? Hundreds of millions, in fact! Worldwide, just not nationally.
After exhausting the “why are there not more toilets” topic, I asked the young musician about what Bloomberg’s “new rules” might do to the occupation, such as no longer being permitted to bring sleeping bags into the park. He said simply, “We’ll work with it like we have done everything else” and gave me a serene smile. He did disclose some degree of frustration, however, at how the people who had brought along with them workable, state-of-the-art tents had not been allowed to use them -- at least to their full and efficient capacities. Like actually opening them up???? Say what? He said they had to lie them flat out unopened. He shook his head over the foolishness of this. Was this to make the little colony of occupiers look more makeshift and temporary, make them certainly less comfortable, GRATUITOUSLY, while encamped there?
He shared that Mayor Bloomberg had stopped by recently. He himself had walked up and given him a hearty welcome. “How did he react to that?” I asked, impressed with this young man’s charisma, savvy and bravado. “Cordially enough,” he related. He confided he had been far more impressed upon spotting Peter Yarrow visiting the park one day. I had only been down at the park when there was the group chanting to a few skilled drummers. I mentioned to him it was too bad the folk songs I'd heard in the 60s and 70s weren’t around more, since they had carried my generation through those challenging anti-war times. He assured me that he himself was leading people periodically in Pete Seeger songs. This young man was looking more and more like a super-hero to me.
At one point, while he, his friends and I were sharing, a young man in overalls, very drunk and pontificating about politics and poverty, then his own desperate straits, lumbered along the sidewalk before us. A couple of the college guys gave him some money for food and then he finally sloppily moved on. A few of them shook their heads. My superhero friend said, “He will be the one that Fox News will film as an example of how out of control we are.”
The OWS occupiers had made space in their community for this troubled young man, feeding him, offering him company and space, it seemed, but at the same time there was the double bind for them, he was harming their image to a media very eager to find titillating examples of fault or weakness.
The young musician finally took his leave. He gave me his card. I’d love to stay in touch. In fact, I thought to myself, I’d love to work for him if he ever decides to run for office. Like maybe TOMORROW??? I could think of nearly 100 senators I would like to see replaced! Or shoot for Prez? I would volunteer to be his anti-Axelrod campaign manager. Or he could start as next mayor of NYC?
My next bench sharer, attacking a delicious looking panini, was a young Californian. He had decided to hitchhike from California to OWS in New York as soon as he heard about the occupation. His intention was to do video interviews with random citizens along the way.
He apparently did pretty well until he got to Reno and then had to Greyhound bus it a good part of the way. He finally managed to cyber-connect to a car ride the balance of the way to NYC. He was part of the “media group.”
He told me more about the general assembly system the occupiers relied on. About the people’s mic, whereby phrases were repeated by some in the front of the crowd so people could hear in the back. Apparently no bull horns were allowed for the occupiers. He confided that the horizontal hierarchy of decision-making could be frustrating and cumbersome at times but it did work. He demonstrated the hand gestures. Wiggling one’s upwardly pointed fingers meant assent, downward meant disagreement, level meant mixed feelings or indecision. Making a triangle with both hands was asking for information.
I asked him where his gear was and he said the most important gear was with him, patting his laptop beside him. He wasn’t sure where his other clothes were and didn’t seem to be too concerned if he would relocate them or not. This was the third young person who had this situation and attitude. They certainly weren’t sweating the small stuff. There was clearly a communal system going on that they respected and worked with, trusted and even forgave at times if things went missing.
By this time my friend finally returned defeated from her bathroom search. A few new people nearby told her that McDonald’s had finally reopened and she could go back there, or there were finally one or two other places in the neighborhood now opening for the early early morning breakfast crowd. My friend headed to one. NOT McDonald’s.
A tall, balding man with an expansive smile, a large coffee, and a small rolling suitcase sat down on one of the nearby benches to my right. He seemed close to my age, which was unique to this crowd of overnight occupiers. We quickly introduced ourselves. Such unusual non-New Yorky behavior for sure. But given the extenuating circumstances so natural and comfortable.
He shared that he had just arrived from Tucson to join the occupation. I thought once again of the Close Encounter types, like the woman from upstate NY who had just suddenly decided to take a week off from work. They felt the “call.” Recognized it was time to commit to fighting for decency and integrity. This man, too, like all whom I had been meeting through the night, resonated a quiet grace, strength and even modesty about what he was doing.
One of the younger men brought back to the benches a copy of the early morning edition of the New York Post. I noted the provocative headline, “High Noon at 7am!” I gulped. He shared the article with me. The Post was playing up the looming showdown about the evacuation for cleaning. Playing it up for all it was worth. Absolutely drooling over the specter of police violence.
The Irish musician had earlier explained to me how the occupiers were willing to vacate 2/3s of the area for cleanup but would not surrender the last third in order to keep the occupation going. Whether the mayor and NYPD would cooperate with that condition was to be seen. The NY Post clearly hoped successful negotiations would not happen.
When my friend returned from her second bathroom pilgrimage, I told her I had better go find one myself before high noon! I was shaking a bit about what the next hour or so would mean in terms of possible violence and arrest. I could already hear some chanting from across the street. The chant sounded like, “I am not afraid.” I figured I could use some of those group affirmations.
My friend had confided earlier in the wee hours that as life circumstances stood with her this day, she could not afford to be arrested and would not engage on the plaza at 7am. I told her that she had risked arrest so often in her life with so much anti-war and human rights activism, I hoped she didn’t harbor any guilt about not risking it this day. “Today we should let it be MY turn!” She smiled in support. High time for me to seriously walk the proverbial walk. She told me she would wait until I got back from my trip to the bathroom before saying goodbye.
I rushed north two blocks and then turned right to a little empty coffee shop. It was the closest bathroom I had heard about. When I asked for the bathroom location from three very busy foreign-looking gentlemen in whites, the one at the cash register told me nervously that I could not use it unless I purchased something. I nodded my head but in exasperation. I told him, “I promise I will buy something as soon as I use the bathroom, okay?”
Actually, relieving myself and getting a bite of food before getting arrested seemed the way to go, anyway. I glanced at my forearm in the bathroom, surprised by the faded but still legible digits of the phone number for the National Lawyer’s Guild. I freshened up a bit. But my sneakers and clothes were still oppressively clammy. I had become amazingly acclimated to them, though. It helped that the temperature had been benign.
When I returned to the front of the little restaurant I glanced at my watch. 6:15 am. “High noon” was 45 minutes away. I ordered an egg sandwich and a small coffee. As two of the men hastened to accommodate my order, I suddenly blurted out, “I’m with the occupation down the street a couple blocks!”
They looked over at me in surprise. One of them smiled and nodded. Taking this as encouragement, I continued on, “So, I’m wondering if I am going to be getting arrested in the next half hour or so.” I saw three sets of hands suddenly freeze in mid-air from their food preparation. I guess I had managed to, and somehow needed to, capture their silent and not unsympathetic attention. I exhaled and finished, “You see, I’ve never been arrested. I’m a bit nervous about it all.”
The man at the register rang up my order respectfully. “Wish me luck!” I said turning to the door. He nodded. One of the other men shot me a shy smile and gave me a thumb’s up. I was grateful.
When I got back to the block I gulped down half of the sandwich and offered the other half to my friend, who declined, and then the fellow who had shared his paper with me, who accepted. I noticed a few older men with long-sleeved electric yellow T-shirts with some kind of insignia who seemed to be part of a labor union. They were looking intently at the occupiers chanting across the street. That was a good sign, but were they not going to join in, too, over there I wondered?
Apparently there were a lot more union workers than just they. My friend eagerly told me that there seemed to be legions of people arriving to join the occupation. She had walked up the block to scope things out while I was gone. What great news. We exchanged hugs at the corner and she cheered me on one more time, exclaiming at my bravery.
I re-entered the plaza, heading up toward the Broadway edge where I could hear announcements and then chanting. “ALL DAY -- ALL WEEK -- OCCUPY -- WALL STREET!!” There was a powerful wave of energy among the people. The sunlight had broken through. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. Echoing in my ears. I wondered if this were happening to my compatriots to the same dramatic degree. I had to say, the crowd certainly seemed discordantly animated for the possible pending wave of police force against us.
As I took my place beside a friendly looking couple, around my age, I looked about me and noted that now there were many different age groups represented. I had felt like my friend and I had been two visiting tourists from another generation during most of the night.
I kept glancing at my watch as the minute hand approached the 12 to 7 AM. Not exactly as benign as awaiting the ball drop at Times Square I thought. I also kept thinking of that titillating and provocative New York Post coverage. There I stood, sipping down the last of my coffee, wondering where and how the police would press upon us. How the ambush would come? What would it be like being restrained, penned and forcibly labelled and recorded as an official enemy of the state for protesting the corruption of said state?
I noticed two tall young men in dark sweatshirts who had swimming goggles pushed up on their foreheads. Aha, I thought. That is the proper wardrobe for pepper-spraying. Still, I had my glasses on and my eyewash in my knapsack.
I thought of that horrible police officer, an inspector wasn’t it, Bologna, who had pepper-sprayed four corralled young women near Union Square not long ago. They were helpless and he inflicted that pain gratuitously upon them. He and the police captured them for arrest maybe, but he was captured, thankfully, too, on video. It had been 80 people who had gotten arrested that day.
And then, the Saturday before last, I had made it to the march late, in fact I had missed all those arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge by only fifteen minutes. 700 people were “kettled” on the bridge and then arrested. 700 plus at once. Stunning and disgusting. What on earth happened during this “kettling”?
Would we be somehow “kettled” today? I looked around nervously. Apparently the police had done it with some kind of orange netting. Netting? Scooped you up like helpless fish from the sea? With the same indifference as pragmatic fishermen to the future welfare of their catch?
Those police during the bridge ambush. They had clearly given the marchers the false impression it was OKAY to march across the bridge on the roadway. Then, ENTRAPMENT!!! It reminded me of what Bloomberg also had done during the demonstrations against the Republican Convention years ago. I had escaped a close call back then when I had had to leave a march prematurely for work. An acquaintance hadn’t been so lucky.
Getting roughed up. Knocked off your feet. Having your hands pulled behind your back and cuffed for hours and hours. I girded myself for such treatment.
My friend who had just left had posted an account of her friend who had been arrested that Brooklyn Bridge day, had been successfully kettled and arrested. Another person our age.
He had shared about the experience in intimate detail on her blogsite. Even about how his dripping nose was making him crazy as the hours passed since he couldn’t blow his nose what with his hands and arms constrained behind him. Most moving in his account was how finally a young man, being held with him, offered the back of his shirt for him to use to wipe off his nose and get some relief. My friend’s friend took him up on it with gratitude. What a sweet and profound example of generosity and bonding among this movement’s standup heros and heroines.
I took my last gulp of coffee then turned to the woman next to me and said, “I wonder how the police might come at us?” ?
The woman furrowed her eyebrows for a beat, then exclaimed, “Honey, RELAX! Word came down the kids did such a good job scrubbing up the plaza they don’t need to clean it. It was cancelled.”
What????? I had apparently been standing there on a far more uncomfortable emotional channel than the rest of the crowd. WHEW!!! I exhaled and laughed. Then thanked her exuberantly for taking me out of my misery of anticipation.
I thought of those over a dozen at least young people I witnessed upon my arrival so zealously sweeping and scrubbing, even in the midst of a driving rain. A driving rain, no less. Nature had even taken a hand in shining and buffing up the place to make it clean and tidy for the mayor’s inspection! I couldn't stop smiling.
Maybe during my bathroom pilgrimage and pre-arrest speech to that coffeeshop’s tiny staff the call-off announcement had come down?
I would later read on Democracy Now’s website:
Democracy Now!'s Ryan Devereaux. "At about 6:00 in the morning, a march of union members arrived to Liberty Square, and the reception was one of pure joy, chanting, cheering," Devereaux says. He describes how protesters allocated $3,000 from their treasury to purchase cleaning supplies and then "spent the better part of all day yesterday cleaning this plaza, making sure that it was as clean as possible when the inspectors would arrive, giving the city absolutely no excuse to say that this was a unsanitary place."
JUAN GONZALEZ: The situation at the Occupy Wall Street encampment is rapidly developing this morning. Thousands answered a call for support and streamed into New York’s Financial District overnight ahead of a, quote, "cleaning" that many feared would actually lead to a [clearing] of Zuccotti Park, where protesters have stayed since September 17th. Well, shortly before 7:00 a.m. this morning, they got word that the feared evacuation had been canceled.
UNIDENTIFIED: It is 6:30 a.m. in Liberty Plaza right here. The mood is jubilant. Brookfield Properties announced they are postponing the cleaning.
PROTESTERS: The people, united, will never be defeated! The people, united, will never be defeated! The people, united, will never be defeated!
AMY GOODMAN: Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway issued the following statement about the canceled park cleaning, which reads in part, quote, "Late last night, we received notice from the owners of Zuccotti Park—Brookfield Properties—that they are postponing their scheduled cleaning of the park, and for the time being withdrawing their request from earlier in the week for police assistance during their cleaning operation," unquote.
RYAN DEVEREAUX: That’s correct, Amy. As the sun began to rise over Liberty Plaza this morning, news started to break, started to filter out, that the cleaning operation, that some had viewed as a pretext for an eviction, was going to be delayed. Cheers broke out. People blared horns. The mood was incredibly jubilant and celebratory. It was a tense night here in the park. They were cleaning all day yesterday and all through the night to make sure that this place was spotless when city inspectors came to check it out. And I must say, it is very, very clean. The rain also helped. But the mood here is one of sheer joy. A number of protesters have marched down Broadway in the direction of Wall Street, unclear where they’re headed. But it’s quite the scene here.
The crowd kept getting thicker and thicker around me and there was a lot of picture-taking going on with the increasing daylight. Vans for media crews lined up on the side streets. The sidewalks on both sides filled up to capacity. There were a lot of news people talking into mikes with the protesters in the background.
I managed to bump into the original woman I had met upon arrival over 7 hours earlier. With the red hair, green slicker and still bright smile. She seemed excited and happy. I also spoke to a British fellow next to me, sporting a peace jacket and an edgy and mischievous grin. At one point he mentioned Woodstock. I asked him if he had been there. He responded hotly that he was only in his forties. Oooops.
He pulled a serious looking Egyptian man into our conversation. The Egyptian shared a bit of his recent life story. Apparently six months ago he had been in a life threatening attack in Egypt and had watched over 200 of his fellows get killed. Dear God, this man must have serious PTSD I thought to myself. He seemed calm, serious and clearly well read. He said he doubted that the occupation could really clean up corruption and help the citizens of the United States. “You should focus on something important but narrow and catchy,” he advised, “as a goal and slogan. Maybe ‘Bail Out the Kids’ or ‘Bail Out the Students.’” Sounded good to me.
He then mentioned the conspiracy behind 9/11 and the war crimes of Israel. I said, “Those are two third rail issues you are bringing up now, even for many of us on the left.” Then I had to first explain to him what a third rail was. He said that these issues may be denied or minimized by Americans, but not the rest of the world. I told him I also was dumbfounded by our collusion with Israel. I had been horrified by the Gazan War. The killings on the flotilla. I also told him that lame joke I had once heard about why Israel would never become a fifty-first state. “Because then it would only have TWO senators.” He didn’t laugh.
His anger was so intense about Israel. I told him that there was a lot of denial in our country even among so-called progressives about Israel’s oppressiveness. I also said, “Don’t you agree, though, that over in Israel there are people like us fighting for peace and justice? Just terribly disenfranchised by, in Israel’s case, a kind of borderline personality government that seems incapable of serious negotiation and trust of other countries and peoples?”
He never had a chance to answer. The Brit we had been standing with had decided to go sabotage the news commentary of an attractive young Asian woman holding a mike a few yards away from us. It was hard to tell in that sea of people where these news crews were from. Whether alternative news or corporate. That is why I was so stunned when the Brit slyly walked behind her and then lifted his middle finger to the camera, spoiling the shot.
The Egyptian man and I looked at each other nervously, startled by his brazenness. Instead of walking back over to us, he did it again after circling back. What on earth? This time one of the camera men went after him, pushing him hard and back into the crowd and knocking over a few people. The Brit rallied and came back at him shoving him the opposite direction knocking over still more people. Whoa. High noon had apparently come for this reckless British cowboy!
I turned to see that the Egyptian man had moved significantly farther away from the breaking conflict. I decided to myself. To have escaped general arrest and then be possibly arrested in this guy’s one-man and seemingly irrational anti-media campaign would have been too cruel. I saw people pulling the two men away from each other. There was such rage on both their faces.
And then, much to my astonishment, the Brit was dusted off by some of the news people as they set him up in front of their collective cameras and mikes to pop off on HIS political position and why he had acted this way. What on earth? I could not hear him. Though he looked glowing and confident. To me it looked like he was just being a jerk and a troublemaker. I thought of that young musician’s concern about the media focusing on the wrong people while covering the occupation. This was certainly one of those occasions to my way of thinking.
I said goodbye to the Egyptian man and wished him luck. I decided it was time to go home. I headed toward Broadway and the Wall Street subway. I had done right by the occupation for this day at least. My legs were wobbly, my clothing damp still with rain and maybe what they call “flop sweat” awaiting the police violence -- looming in my own mind if not reality there at the very end.
I felt like a fish swimming upstream as the corporate workers and/or new occupation attendees streamed down Broadway toward me.
My activist friend and I had participated in history I knew and I was grateful. Some further exciting events would be happening at Zuccotti the following day and I was determined to go back. Also I wanted to go to an anti-war rally at Times Square Saturday late afternoon. “Wall Street is War Street” was an apt chant I had recently heard.
For now, I simply wanted to shower and sleep. I thought of the occupiers for whom those luxuries may not be available for an uncomfortable while. For the thousandth time that day I felt gratitude and awe about them and what they were sacrificing for America and the world. I saved a little gratitude and awe for myself, too. I may not have been arrested but I proved to myself I was willing to go that distance.