Getting Arrested at Occupy Chicago, and Other Wonderful Experiences

I am very proud to say that I volunteered to get arrested early this morning, October 16, 2011, when the Chicago Police Department moved in on Occupy Chicago’s camp at Grant Park. I got to spend more than a good few hours in a holding cell with about twenty other protesters, getting to know each other well, sharing knowledge and experiences, organizing further and discussing/debating several topics in a jail cell General Assembly. (Normal GAs are at about seven every night, come check it out.) It all went down very peacefully—there was no use of violence by any side, and in fact, it took so long to arrest us all (about 175 protesters were arrested) that I got to spend probably an hour talking to two former Marines, both Iraq veterans, now in the CPD.

We chatted about everything from our time in the Marines, some about my subsequent visits to the Middle East, and what this movement is really about. The Marines seemed to actually respect what we are doing, and a few other police were excitedly listening. It really looks like the Chicago police are on our side, but just carrying out orders—orders which we are working diligently to change by pressuring Rahm Emmanuel (feel free to join in +1-312-744-3300). Our struggle is not with them, but with the few who are greedily controlling so much in America, frankly the 1% that has acquired 40% of the nation’s wealth, with a few outspoken exceptions supporting us. While we certainly are the 99%, we remind ourselves that we are also the 100%, and that’s all we want the bankers and corporations, who have managed to control Congress and shift almost all the tax laws in their favor, to realize—that we need to all be here for each other now, and not just for ourselves. America needs help right now, and we can easily be here to help each other, but the ones who work so hard to control the tax laws by hiring lobbyists to ensure loopholes and non-enforcement clauses only seem to work so hard for themselves. We are working to get our democracy into the hands of the American people, and from there, the American people can figure it out. I truly believe that if our collective will was honestly reflected in our policy, foreign and domestic, our country and the world would be almost an infinitely better place, and that’s why I’m involved—because I’ve seen much of what the world is, and I cannot just sit back and be taken along with it, but instead I only feel right if I am working to change it, as I have been for many years now.

Chicago is a pretty liberal, highly unionized city, and it’s very clear that just about the entire city is with us. Teachers, medical workers, immigrants, priests, veterans, union representatives and all sorts of good people were there at Grant Park giving speeches after our two-thousand person march there. The march was unfortunately a one-time experience, but luckily there are plenty more one-time experiences ahead. The hour before the march set off, thousands packed the intersection of Jackson and LaSalle at the Federal Reserve Bank and the Bank of America, making so much noise, with their voices and a microphone, drums and all sorts of other percussions, cymbals and even some wind instruments. Parents brought their kids and babies to join the march, and all over everyone looked happy and excited, smiling and having conversation under the roar.

The march started and as the huge gathering massed in a column facing east down Jackson, we were shouting chants together like “One! We are the People! Two! We are united! Three! This Occupation is not leaving!” and “Whose streets!? Our streets!!” along with many other ones more people should hear, and we marched this way and carrying signs that declared things like “Human Need Not Corporate Greed” and “I Spent All My Money Getting Here—I Guess I’ll Stay” down Jackson and down Michigan to Van Buren, where we flooded into the Grant Park pavilion between Van Buren and Congress. As hundreds poured in, quickly becoming thousands, the portable loudspeakers played the famous address Charlie Chaplin gave in character for the 1940 film, The Great Dictator. Then the speeches started one after another, the speakers keeping their parts close to a minute or less and this going on for more than an hour while tents were erected one after another starting in the center near the concave stair seating under the horse statue and moving out, slowing pushing the group outside of the tents back and back till about two dozen tents were up and adorned with everyone’s protest signs while dozens of quality, informative and inspirational addresses were given.

After about an hour I went up north to Buena Park to stop by a benefit party and art auction at Dollop after hours for our friend Dave who recently had emergency spine surgeries to save his life and is now $300,000 in debt without being properly fixed still. Up there Dave told me about his experiences with the doctor, his surgeries, and about his poor treatment in the hospital and his life since. This all struck me very hard, and all I could do was tell him how happy I was that he’s alive and that we’re down there fighting for him and everyone like him. I said he should come down and join us, maybe speak about his experiences, and he said he thinks he will, and that right now he is just trying to focus on what he still has in his life instead of all that’s been taken away. We have each other at Occupy Chicago as we are trying to be here for all of America and the people of the world.

I got to see a lot of great friends there, and all my friends I talked to thought what Occupy movements all over the world were doing is great and expressed solidarity and a few asked what they could bring to help out. Eventually before 11 pm, when the park would be declared closed and the prevalent word said police might start moving in, I called a friend down there, Andrew, and asked what was happening. He said they were surrounded and it seemed like they were eventually going to close in. I came back down in a cab and found Andrew with a group of protesters among the tents, and we met up with a few more of our friends, hugging and talking among ourselves, along with helping with the chants, some directed toward the police to show solidarity, like “C-P-D needs-a-raise! C-P-D needs-a-raise!” Waiting for the police to close in, the group spoke loudly among itself with the human microphone to keep us updated—most people repeating loudly what one speaker says, statements broken down into short lines.

Some of us there since the very beginning, like Andrew, Mark, Natalie, Lenny and Sugar, among a few other really great people, spent our time in a huddle with our arms around each others’ shoulders talking about what this movement has become and how quickly and smoothly we have come to this, where we would like to see the movement lead, and also pausing some just to feel the energy in the air among all of us at the occupation/celebration. Almost the entire crowd actually came together at one point and sang all of “Bohemian Rhapsody” with only very little mumbling. We decided to get on the mic and make a statement of solidarity with everyone around the world in struggles for their rights, dignity and justice, especially in the Middle East and a moment of silence for them. Sugar went up to the mic and captivated everyone with her impromptu and sincere statement of solidarity, and then she called a long moment of silence for all those who have sacrificed so much, by giving their lives or their lives just being stolen, by being tortured, raped, beaten or detained for their country’s freedom. I got emotional thinking about all 2011 has been so far, and we all got pretty emotional remarking on how far this movement has come in just 23 days, but my silent tears were because we all agreed this was such a long time coming, and it’s happening in such an incredible way all around the world. Thank God—the people need to be free. The priest who addressed us said that Christians pray every day for the Kingdom of God to reign on Earth, and a sign of that will be when everyone’s daily bread is assured. Amen.

Before the police came in, they kept communication with the group and many of their warnings were passed along to us by the human microphone; that we were in violation of park curfew and if we did not leave we would be “physically arrested.” I wondered if we could be metaphysically arrested. Protesters began forming a human chain around the tents and remaining protesters inside. A few of us decided that we were going to stick together and get arrested with each other, both to stay together and because we all believed what we were doing was right—the message we are sending to the world and in the way we were doing it, through nonviolent civil disobedience. All of us in the group huddle broke and began different tasks of either organizing counter protests outside the park to distract the police, as Mark was doing, and letting others in the tents know that this was it, so if they wanted to leave, now was the time. Four of us stayed in the middle of the tents as police began moving in on all sides taking protesters away one by one. Most stood up and voluntarily walked over to where they asked all the people getting arrested to sit. Some stayed in their tents, however, and a couple people that I know of had to be picked up and carried off, but with no more struggle than that. Natalie, Lenny, Andrew and I found ourselves close together in the middle of all this so we decided to put our arms around each others’ shoulders and stand together in a small huddle feeling that we were protected by each other. We talked a lot about how much better we felt this way, and how there was no doubt we were doing to right thing and happy to be doing it. We sang some of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”: “Every little thing… is gonna be alright.” And we even did an interview with a WGN reporter without breaking our huddle.

As the police picked up or dragged away tents all around us, they were very polite about asking us to watch out as they went around us, “Excuse me… sorry…” There was one tent that protesters refused to get out of. We called it the Liberty Tent as police gathered around, and instead of trying to mace anyone or pull anyone out, they cut the tent open, and then the protesters stood up and walked over to where everyone else was sitting, waiting to be arrested. Our huddle was close to there, and as all the tents were eventually taken away, and police were just making one arrest at a time, telling everyone first, “You are free to go right now, but if you do not wish to leave, you will be physically arrested.” We felt more comfortable and eventually let each other stand on his or her own, but still in a huddle. We stood around talking, and there were dozens of police surrounding us, hundreds altogether, standing around looking unhappy to be there. Protesters engaged the police by telling them they were on the wrong side of history and if they were with us they’d be out here in our protests. I told some of the police that I know what it’s like to just be doing the job—I was a Marine in Iraq. Two officers said they were Marines too, and I told them that I actually thought they should stay in uniform and help us from the inside of the department.

For anyone who says police are not part of the 99% but only part of the system that oppresses us, I will simply state that police have unions too, and since we are working on reforming police brutality and corruption, if the police want to help our cause from the inside they are welcome to. Many reports from multiple officers state the nearly the entire department is with us. They are not happy with Rahm Emmanuel or where American has gone over recent years either. I once heard a wise Satyagrahi say that no social movement against a system of oppression is successful without getting its security forces on the side of the protesters. That’s something to meditate on.

When I eventually started talking to the Marines more they really got me and why I was concerned about the state of the world, about the inconsistencies in U.S. foreign policy, domestic economic issues and government overreach. While we were talking many of the police were listening in, most looking like they were hanging on my every word as I told stories of different trips around the Middle East as a civilian and protests in the West Bank and Cairo, along with my reasoning for being there and volunteering to get arrested. More officers joined in and some of the protesters were paying attention to our chat too. Later I found out that almost the entire department is with us and respectful because of our attitude about how to deal with the police and our stance on the use of violence in this movement.

I kept up conversations with the protesters and they took the last few protesters away, they started taking our little group. Natalie was taken first, and then Lenny. Andrew went next, and I went right after him. As I was getting handcuffed I shouted to my new Marine friends across the way, “Semper fi, gentlemen!” for them and everyone there to hear, and they gave me respectful civilian-style salutes and both shouted, “Semper fi!” back to me.

My arresting officer, who introduced himself as Officer Thomas, really thought it was cool what we were doing, and most of the police seemed to appreciate that this is how real change has always been made in America, and we’re just doing our part. My zip-tie cuffs were slipping off, so I told Officer Thomas in case he wanted to tighten them, and he said, “Oh don’t worry about them, those are just symbolic.” The protesters showed plenty of solidarity and respect for the officers, as they did for us.

Being locked up for doing the right thing, in a civil rights movement like this, was incredible and a great honor, and my time in the cell with the other protesters will always be one of my happiest memories. It was a social bonding experience, it solidified our movement, and was an education in itself. The bonds and connections that existed between us since the beginning were all strengthened and we were all suddenly family. I am so proud, happy and honored to have shared this historic experience with these inspirational, high energy people. There were a few cases of police zipping the ties down incredibly tight on people’s wrists, but the proper documentation was made, and appropriate legal action will be taken against this type of thing.

When we got to the jail at 17th and State St. the officer in charge told us they were turning us all out the revolving door. They would just hold us while they did our paperwork and issued I-bonds which don’t require any payment. Inside the jail garage, as protesters came in, one wagon was opened up and protesters inside were singing “Twenty-seven bottles of beer on the wall, twenty-seven bottles of beer! Take one down…” And the rest of the protester joined in till the song was over. As they got us in our holding cells, the whole environment seemed more like a party than a jail. Often the doors were just left open, and some protesters were told by officers, “What you guys are doing is right. I support you, but I can’t say anything more than that or I lose my job.” I know police brutality and the “prison-industrial complex” is a huge problem in the United States, but I can see that to fix that, our struggle is not with the police themselves, but with the people high above them. Brutality and corruption needs to be taken seriously so we can overcome these problems in our society, but the actions of a few should not soil the reputation of the many. And the many who don’t want to be corrupt or work for a corrupted system will be great allies to have with us in this struggle.

The media likes to use photos from other protests sometimes to accompany articles about Occupy Chicago, but one report I saw said something that is very true and highly remarkable, something that makes Chicago really stand out in the world right now—so far, Occupy Chicago has remained completely peaceful. That was something a few people and I really stressed in the early days when that type of thing was under discussion in the small General Assemblies. I am incredibly proud of Chicago for showing the world that “this is what democracy looks like.”

There are dramatic changes happening all over the globe, so it is appropriate to remember the old Italian proverb, “Only the spoon knows what’s stirring in the kettle.” The news can’t figure out how to rightly explain us, so I suggest everyone get out there and get involved, because all views are welcome to be discussed, and this movement is only going to be what you want it to be if you get out there and make it that. I am working hard to ensure this movement remains peaceful, as are so many other dedicated activists, because we know very well that the only weapon we need for this struggle is our Voice. So, as things are changing, and the leaves are turning after the Arab Spring, don’t be nervous or scared, but enjoy this historic time and learn something about yourself and the world that is only possible in revolutionary days like these.