My Occupy Arrest
So, the occupy movement for me began rather on a whim. I believe it was just after the declaration of occupation had been released, and the local Occupy movement had been established, a friend and I were out buying art supplies to do some stenciling and make some posters. That day, i had chanced to remember that there was a flash protest outside a bank near my work, and we had a few hours before I had anything to do, so we went. And upon arriving, I mean, I’d never been a protester, and up to that point in my life had always found picketing rather childish and ineffectual. I’d never thought that uniting myself to something like this would become more than a hobby, but then something happened.
As I began to read, to study more, to examine closely why my rage was and is kindled by the declaration of occupation, I began to notice something: this is a passion. Occupation became the driving force of my life and from the end of September through the date of our big rally on October 15th, I was fueled by an endless curiosity and kept reading, watching other general assemblies and doing my best with Occupy Tulsa.
We had our rally on Global Occupation Day, October 15th, and we had between 600 and 800 supporters show up and show their support. It was exhilirating, I shouted myself hoarse, we had speeches, live music, and testimonies by bankers, union leaders, working people of all sorts, students, veterans and the unemployed as well. It was fantastic. We still didn’t have a physical occupation though. Then, just a bit later later, on October 28th my friend Sam and I went out and began a physical occupation. We were up to that point merely a rally movement, we’d had a few general assemblies, and they were accomplishing things, but we wanted a physical occupation. I spent most of that week taking shifts protesting outside a bank of america with a few friends I’d met through occupy, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wanted to just throw up my tent and get out there. My roommate and I had even talked about me occupying our front yard, since I live in a remodeled doctors’ office that’s now a home on a busy intersection.
But that friday, Sam and I went out there, and I remember saying “I hope we’re not the only two douchebags out here sleeping in the park tonight.” By the end of the night we had 6 occupants. The next night we had 12. The following night 18 or 19. The movement was growing faster than we could manage. People from all over the city and the outlying areas drove in to bring us supplies, food, and good company. I had basically made the occupation my second home, going home in brief stints to shower or check my mail and run errands.
Then came tuesday November first, I had to go to work right after I’d heard the announcement that the police were going to start enforcing curfew. Shortly thereafter the city parks department made a move against us, by uninstalling the outlets in the park that we had been using to do communications and website information. We’re still suffering limited communications by having to tear down tents before curfew and set up car batteries as charging stations. No tents means no laptops for livestreams, it means limited information and logistics on needs and other information, it means a movement that depends on near instant communication is being slightly limited by having to go through other channels for communications.
I went to work, and all night I was on the edge of my seat. Tensions were high, but luckily an uneventful night at the mental health facility i work at allowed me to leave early and return to camp. When I returned the tension was thick, people were nervous, the media was everywhere, spectators were there to see the action, and the occupants were nervous. We had some speeches, we took a vote and unanimously decided that Centennial Green would be for us, and for all other occupants Solidarity Square. We chose this name for no particular reason, I know my intentions in naming the proposal were to have a name that rings out, that stands for the movement, and that captures the heart of what we’re fighting for.
Occupy is after all about reacquiring public space and turning it into a center for discussion, shared ideas, and tactics that can change the future. Occupy is in many ways what the universities should have remained. Universities with their profiteering re-structuring have become places that highlight economic disparity. Academic performance not family income should determine a candidate’s ability to complete higher education. But anyways, that’s beside the point. The point is, we had renamed the site, we claimed the park as our own, and we locked arms, waiting. The police didn’t show for a while, so we moved about, stretched a bit, shared some laughs, thought they were standing down, and then…one of our supporters on a police scanner spotted swat coming to us from across town. There was lots of chatter about Occupy Tulsa, and we were apparently a big target. They had organized two swat teams, 6 paddy-wagons and over 100 officers to block off the streets and come arrest 10 protesters who had decided to sit in on the grass in civil disobedience to a city ordinance in direct conflict with the first amendment.
Now, our fight was never with the police, it remains with those in power the ones organizing and issuing orders, the ones who pull the strings in favor of corporate interests against the people. We’ve never wanted to fight the police, in fact we invite them to join us, every night. We hope that there are Occupy Police in Tulsa who have considered joining us, but we know times are tough and that the mayor is no friend of theirs. He laid off 130 officers last year. We hope that they hear our call, and that plain clothes cops, off duty guys and gals come meet us, so we can unite against abuses of power.
But nevertheless, that night, they came, 100 of them.
We circled up, and as they approached, tightening our grips. Our circle became very somber, as the police staged the counter-resistance. The crowd sang ‘Solidarity Forever’ in support from the sidewalk. We had no idea what was coming, but many of us said the Lord’s prayer, I cited a few hail mary’s and the guy next to me prayed psalm 23.
I called a mic-check, and we responded in kind to the Tulsa Police. It was something like this: “Officers of the Tulsa Police Department, we understand your request and politely, and respectfully decline. We are here because we have the right to assemble. It is our right to assemble and petition our government for a redress of grievances. Freedom does not have business hours. Liberty, does not have a curfew. We will remain, as is our right. We ask that if you step onto the grass you arrest and cite yourselves also.”
At this point they mobilized on the park. They stood abreast across the park steps separating our circle of civil disobedience from the supporters on the sidewalk. I was then asked to stand, I guess they don’t understand that people’s microphone is everyone’s voice. I assume they thought we had a leader or something, but this action was agreed on by consensus, rather than people urging others to do it.
The officer stood over my left shoulder and asked me to stand so he could talk to me, he was so inviting I almost did for a second, after all i’ve never had any trouble with the cops, i try to obey the law as best i can, i pay my taxes, and my bills, i follow traffic rules. But this was something altogether different for me. It was a matter of principle, and the persons who I was united with. It was not merely for the sake of an idea, although some ideas are sacred and should be treated as such, it was for the sake of the community that had become my neighbors over the past weekend. The officer asked to give me a citation, and I declined to stand up, telling him “you can give me a citation, but I’m not leaving this park.”
He replied very matter of factly, and pulled out his can of pepper spray, putting it up to my face, and said “If you don’t get up I’m going to have to pepper spray you.”
At this point I knew there was no way to talk this guy down from pepper spray, so I replied “Officer, you too are the 99%, do what you need to do.”
He sprayed me. I’d managed to close my eyes, and I’d managed to hold my breath, it was all so surreal. They’d pulled back my face mask and my hood, they’d held my shoulders, i think though I can’t be sure, and then they sprayed me. I held onto my brothers and sisters in the circle with all that I had. I held on, hoping that the cameras were rolling. I was fine, in fact almost too tranquil with my eyes closed, I began to meditate and embrace the burning. I could breathe ok at first, and then it hit me. I was angry when I started having trouble breathing, but I faced the anger, I let it pass through me, and I began to realize that I had joined the ranks of a movement much larger than myself. So, even despite my discomfort, I began to laugh, I began to feel the difference I was making. It seems a bit absurd, because the pain was there, but I really did focus on the changes that could be brought about by 10 people choosing to disobey on behalf of the constitution of the United States.
When we got to holding, after being appropriately walked through the doors and given room to buffer out, we began to do something I never thought I’d do, least of all in jail. With the pepper spray now officially in my eyes and causing me severe pain, we began to crack jokes and then, we did something amazing. We sang the Star Spangled Banner. The girls who could see told us that the cops were taken aback by us. I of course was very blind at this point, and feeling more useless than useful.
But, that night, we laughed, we joked, we felt tense, we relaxed. We worried because our friend The Saudi national was taken in for extra questioning by immigration, and we were unsure what they intended to do with him. When he emerged from questioning there was a communal sigh. Though, watching him get put into an orange jumpsuit broke my heart. He was in jail for 15 hours without food or water, and that really surprised and angered me. Our other guy John, the one who made Occupy Tulsa’s most noteworthy photo was put into a jumpsuit too. There was tension and exhaustion the whole next day waiting for those guys to be freed and join us. I fell asleep in booking and when asked to get up and process my paperwork, I fell over because my legs had fallen asleep. My friends laughed, the look on the jailer’s face was one of surprise and a lingering suspicion that i was high on more than life. But I regained my footing completed my booking and went through the rest of the day with a smile on my face. That sums up, in brief, my night of being arrested on behalf of Occupy Tulsa.