[from Garret Schenck’s Facebook page]:On the first birthday of Occupy Wall Street (Sept. 17, 2012), I was arrested in a planned act of civil disobedience at the corner of Broadway and Wall St. This was my first Occupy bust. While I found the actual bust to be, as usual, empowering, I was also somewhat frustrated by the whole event.
1) The plan we had was poor, from the standpoint of maximizing bust numbers. We were divided into four “clusters,” each taking responsibility for two major routes/intersections into the NYSE, with fallbacks to FORTY different “alternative” sites (the so-called “99 Revolution”). This meant we started the day divided and fragmented. Given that it’s a favorite NYPD tactic to split up marches with their scooters, etc., I’m not sure why we would have done this to ourselves! Even as organizers assured us that it was quite unlikely we would be able to even delay the opening of the NYSE, we worked with a tactical plan focused on achieving a shutdown. I’m sort of sick of “symbolic” direct actions (grin). If we’re going to be doing, essentially, symbolic actions, let’s work to make them at least as big and powerful as possible. That means sticking together, not scattering ourselves to the four winds.
2) Once again Occupy Wall Street’s FETISH with mobile tactics took the forefront. In the two hours before my bust we marched and counter-marched. There was very little tactical direction. We’d move toward one of the blockade points, the police would stop us, and after milling around for fifteen minutes we’d reverse course to go to another point, and the same thing would happen. Why we didn’t simply reverse just far enough to get away from the police clogging the immediate intersection and THEN take the street and sit down, I don’t know. We had plenty of opportunities to move out into Broadway in large numbers. If we had had any tactical leadership (or if that had been part of the plan so we knew that was a fallback, etc.) we could have produced a very powerful CD event. Eventually my action buddy (Maure Briggs-Carrington) and I ran into the Occupy Faith group, latched onto them, and preceded to our chosen intersection for the bust, which happened at approximately 10 am; about 10 of us arrested at that location.
3) We are too concerned about making absolutely sure that those not intending to get arrested, not get arrested. My feeling is, if (for whatever reason: prior record, la migra, etc.) you simply can not take the bust, don’t go on the street. (Sometimes it is simply impossible to avoid arrest anyway, plenty of people yesterday clearly had no intention of getting arrested.) There are lots of “behind the scenes” things people can do to directly help and aid those in the street, they are important jobs, and need to be done. Our constant warnings that “those not prepared for arrest should leave now” has a chilling effect on those wavering. We should be encouraging people to take the step, not discouraging them. If it means some “naive” college student can’t get a job at Goldman-Sachs because they have a Disorderly Conduct misdemeanor on their record, ehh, good for them! We don’t want our best and brightest working for Wall St. or the other corporations anyway. Traditional CD usually draws a bright line between those planning on risking arrest, and those who are witnesses. Yesterday we were all mixed together, which inevitably is going to lead to confusion.
4) I attended an action training on Sunday. This was similar to the one I attended in Philly at NatGat, and focused primarily on tactics that were likely not used (and probably couldn’t have been used in any conceivable manner) on Monday: building a “wall” of people with linked arms, shifting that “wall” to the four ordinal points, dispersing to a pre-arranged spot in small groups (called “civilian”), etc. In the event, we were usually packed in pretty tightly with absolutely ZERO opportunity (or necessity) for doing “civilian.” I didn’t see ANY “walls” yesterday and doubt anybody tried them. I am positive if any had, they’d have the crap beat out of them by NYPD. The idea that unarmored civs are going to be able to stand up to cops looking for a rumble is loopy. Have these “wall” tactics EVER been used anywhere with any kind of success? This training was a waste of time, and we could have used it instead for a more traditional NV/CD training, where we emphasize the history of NV and the logic of this kind of action. When people grasp the way that CD uses the strength and power of the opponent against them, it’s enlightening. We also create lifelong activists with arrests.
5) While the 7:30 am “Wall” action was pitched as civil disobedience, everything about the logistic plan seemed designed to frustrate that. The “mobile tactics” meant that with all the marching and counter-marching (and police actions designed to cut us up and separate us from each other) most affinity groups (many of which seemed to have been “organized” on the spot that weekend and were based on the most tenuous kind of affinity: essentially that we were Occupiers and in NYC) probably got internally separated. CD is always a bit intimidating. Nobody really wants to go to jail. It takes a bit of courage to go sit down, knowing the consequences. The larger the group you do it with, the more likely you won’t decide, eh, maybe not today. It’s human nature: doing something with 100 people is a lot less scary than doing it with 10. I was separated from my action buddy ten minutes before I was arrested, and while she had been more or less planning on taking a bust, the fact that we were separated probably led to her not being arrested. I am positive that her story is similar to others. When I got out from police custody around 5:30 pm I made my way to Zuccotti Park to find it filled with at least 1000 Occupiers (or more?), a crowd utterly dwarfing the comparative few of us who’d spent the day in custody. How many of them, properly prepared and led, would have joined me and the others in the clink? Why haven’t we done a better job of making the case for CD and its effectiveness? Why haven’t we schooled the many young people in Occupy about the historic success CD has had? Why, a year into this project, have we yet to organize a mass CD action?
6) I think we overemphasize the cruelty and violence of police generally, and NYPD specifically. Not that they don’t deliberately hurt people, THEY DO. But when we emphasize their violent power, we neglect to remember our own power and ability to set the terms of the interaction. WE are actors. WE initiate. WE have a certain amount of power to dictate how things will play out. It’s not ALL in the hands of the police. CD is a way to remind us that, ultimately, the power is within us. We’re getting arrested, we’re tossing our bodies into the maw of the machine, but the whole time we remain free inside. As a song my comrade Al Giordano wrote decades ago (unfortunately it has never been published on the internet so I don’t know all the lyrics) states: “There are no bars in my soul; bars all around me but judge can’t you see, you can lock my body up, but my soul it is free.” I have felt this power within me every time I’ve been arrested, and I felt it yesterday. Yes, the police are violent, and want to be violent. But if they use violence against rigorously nonviolent CDers, they and their overlords lose, BIG TIME. (For this reason, I have never been “brutalized” during an act of planned CD, and wasn’t yesterday, though the cuffs were on a little tight and the back of my right hand is still a little numb — but I expect full recovery, etc.)
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All my frustration vanished when I sat down at Broadway and Wall. I had found my center. Sitting is a great act. We in Occupy should be sitting a LOT more, and marching around a LOT less. We could have filled Broadway yesterday. We could have easily had 1000 arrestees, with some advance preparation. That would have taken hours for the police to clear. Or if they do it quickly, by dispersing us with gas or spray or batons, they take huge political risks. Or if they make the bust process quick, but without violence, likely charges are dropped or dismissed due to procedural errors, etc. It’s a win-win, folks. It’s worked before. It will work again. The question is, will Occupy ever try it?
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[Humorous sidenote: Those of you who know and appreciate the “Ah Ahn-ti Ahn-ti-cap-i-ta-lis-ta!” chant would have enjoyed the morph that emerged in the male holding pen: “Ah I-need I-need-a-piece-of-piz-za!”]
[A non-humorous sidenote: Don’t depend on police bureaucracy to provide timely or accurate information to National Lawyers Guild (NLG) or others. After we got separated (and my phone taken by NYPD) Maure tried to contact me on somebody else’s phone. Obviously she didn’t get through and her messages were, of course, not returned. Maure tried NLG but they had no record of my arrest, including as late as around 4 pm, by which point I had been held for probably six hours. Whether this was NYPD or NLG screwing up, I don’t know, but be aware that info provided by the cops may well be wrong. Given the apparent massive confusion among the cops we could see outside the male holding pen, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to hear that people’s names got lost in the shuffle.]
- Occupy Wall Street Kicks Off One-Year Anniversary with Discussions, March, and Arrests (nymag.com)
- Occupy Infiltrates Financial District with Creative, Decentralized Actions for First Anniversary (alternet.org)