“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.” George Orwell
Over the last decade, it has become impossible to escape the increasing surveillance-cameras everywhere in recording our every move “in the interest of security”, and television screens mounted in banks and department stores blaring false “news” reports. But not since the 2004 Republican National Convention has the Orwell quote rung so terrifyingly true and present. And for once, the cameras that have invaded our lives have also served to expose the viciousness of the very entity whose salaries we pay. Aren’t they supposed to protect us?
In the afternoon of September 24th, I arrived at Liberty Plaza, nee Zuccotti Plaza, hoping to march with the young people occupying Wall Street demanding in part an end to the war economy and a commitment to “bringing the war dollars home”, demanding a system that ensures the right to have a home, health, education and basic freedoms for every human being. As a member of the Granny Peace Brigade, I have participated in many actions aimed at ending the unceasing invasions and occupations, creation of military bases and the United States policy of endless war on the world. For years, the “peace” movement has been kept alive by dwindling numbers of older folk, mostly female.
Where, we have asked repeatedly, are the young people?
Here they are.
So with joy and great hope, I wanted to walk with these beautiful young men and women, diverse in gender and mode of dress, but united and committed in their resolve to say no to Wall Street, because we have all learned that Greed Kills. I caught up with the marchers at Union Square for a short time. Short, because the police almost immediately began to move into the square, stretching massive rolls of orange mesh and roughly pushing us from behind, attempting to herd us together like cattle. I was startled by a hard push on my back, from a cop, causing me to almost lose my balance.
The marchers began to move slowly out of Union Square to return to Liberty Square. The signs and chants filled University Place: A Job is a Right! , Love People!, Capitalism Doesn’t Work, Wall Street is Our Street, Democracy, Not Corporatocracy, Supreme Court Says Corporations Can Donate Unlimited Funds To Politicians = Elected BOUGHT!, Tax the Rich, Mr Obama, Tear Down the Empire.
And then, without warning, police began to grab people from the crowd, hurl them to the ground like rag dolls, and jump on their backs, grinding their faces into the pavement. The shock on these young faces made me cry- the brutality of the police, as they dug their knees into the backs of their victims, twisting and wrenching their arms, many of which were so thin and fragile, behind their backs. Screams of pain and shock merged with the profanity of the police. Along with many others, I screamed back at the police that they had no right to attack us, that we weren’t doing anything wrong, but we were pushed and punched in our chests as they yelled, “Stay back”, while the assaults intensified. The men with guns literally stepped on the necks of their victims on the ground, people whose collective crime was simply being there.
Unable to move closer to these scene of violence, I walked toward Fifth Avenue; behind me, the police had netted the street and no one could enter or exit. The other end of 12th Street, Fifth Avenue, had also been blocked. I saw many people, not part of the march, people who had been shopping or strolling, being arrested. A woman left Barnes and Noble and was thrown against a wall on 12th Street and cuffed; a nineteen year old photography student was grabbed as she walked on Fifth Avenue with a camera. In fact, anyone holding a camera was at great risk of being assaulted and arrested. With a chill, I thought of my trip to Palestine in 2004 to stand against the Apartheid Wall. One of our group had been detained at the airport because she was carrying professional camera equipment. When she refused to be deported, the Israeli Secret Police held her in a large prison at Ben Gurion Airport for over a month. At her trial, the prosecution called her a “terrorist”, claiming that her camera was her weapon.
Photo: Jeff Siegel (Click on photo for a larger image.)
Now that we were caged in, unable to leave, the police walked through the street informing us they we were all under arrest. I called my husband to let him know that I wasn’t coming home. As we spoke, three woman approached, sobbing with pain. They had been deliberately sprayed in the eyes with pepper spray, after asking why the police were preventing the march from continuing. We were herded into vans, police wagons and even a NYC bus, and taken to #1 Police Plaza, Central Booking.
We sat, still handcuffed, in the van for a long time. I have osteoporosis and my arms ached. The flex cuffs tightened with each involuntary move. The women in my van eventually were moved to a holding cell, where we watched the rest of the “bodies”, as we were called, brought in, frisked, and separated from their possessions. After several hours, we were informed that the “processing” they had begun was now being changed and they were starting all over again. The police carried boxes of pizza for their dinner past our cell.. None of us had eaten, had a chance to use a bathroom or make a phone call in over five hours. But our photograph was taken three times.
We were finally moved to other cells, the men, as usual, in a large room with chairs and a pay phone, the women relegated to tiny, dank cells, equipped with an exposed toilet, sink, and bench. There were five women in my cell, so most had to sit on the filthy floor.They apparently tried to humiliate us by not announcing when male cops were coming through the cell block, while women were forced to use those toilets. After repeatedly yelling about the right to a phone call,we were finally permitted to use the one and only telephone for one minute each.
I realized that we were there for the long haul when the new shift of cops brought us “dinner”- a choice of rubber cheese or peanut butter oil on styrofoam. As food, it was inedible, so some used the styrofoam sandwiches as pillows. But a plum and half pint of milk were welcome after such a long foodless period. The cells echoed with the voices of the arrestees in conversation as we became acquainted with our cellmates and learned a bit of each others’ lives, but as it got later and later, with no sign of release, we sat with our own thoughts of the past day. I was released at 3:15AM into a deserted and unfamiliar street. A picture of the future?
That afternoon, I returned to Liberty Square. Everyone I had met in handcuffs the day before was there.
May this act of solidarity signify the real picture of our future.
– Ann Shirazi
for the Granny Peace Brigade