A Veteran, Activist, and Teacher: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

At the beginning of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, when many activists were still gathered in a park in lower Manhattan, I was part of a small team that was organizing a community group in West Harlem.

It was in October of 2011 when David Suker, a local activist, teacher and veteran, initiated two meetings that brought together this group of activists who started a community-based version of Occupy Wall Street called the West Harlem 99%. The group was based on ideas similar to Occupy Wall Street like using open space to facilitate democratic discussions to create social justice. However, even though the group of us that organized the West Harlem 99% were all heavily involved in Occupy Wall Street, this group was much different—we focused largely on the needs of the community.

One of our first meetings brought together about ten activists in the basement of a small church in the middle of West Harlem. As we settled in, several uniformed police officers invaded our meeting and began to harass us. They tried to coerce individual members to leave the room and talk to them outside. Most of us refused.

We found out later that the police had contacted the priest (who was a supporter of Occupy Wall Street and the West Harlem community) before our meeting and told him we were a group of thugs and he shouldn’t let us gather in his church and he was in danger. The priest, of course could tell we were friendly and well-intentioned, so he tried to support us, but he asked us not to meet in his church because he didn’t want to be harassed by the police. As a result, we were forced to organize meetings in our apartments, cut off from the community, and our larger assemblies in a church 20 blocks away.

As an outspoken member of these groups, David, a fourteen-year tenured teacher, became a prime example of how corporate and government institutions use power to silence citizens who speak out against injustice.

A lot of people argue against teacher tenure. They say the unions protect lazy and ineffective teachers, but when teachers are not protected, how can they stand up to the system we all want to change? Most teachers want to teach. They want to help kids learn and get a good education: it excites them when their students light up with ideas and when they understand a new concept. Most importantly, teachers understand the school system from the inside. They know why it doesn’t work, but they are often afraid to speak out against it. David’s case is an example of why.

After becoming a vocal member of Occupy Wall Street and the West Harlem 99%, David was systematically attacked by the city of New York and the Department of Education (DOE).

David was arrested as part of a large group at Occupy Wall Street when the NYPD caged protestors on a march across the Brooklyn Bridge. He attended political demonstrations frequently and quickly became a target of the NYPD, which pulled him out of several legal protests and political demonstrations and arrested him for political activities including distributing copies of the Occupied Wall Street Journal. Furthermore, by mid-November, the DOE implemented the disciplinary action know as the “rubber room,” which meant David had to report to work but couldn’t teach because of his political arrests. Instead he spent everyday in a disciplinary room while his case was reviewed.

For months the DOE worked to compile a list of charges that led to David’s termination. Since most of the charges were minor infractions and unrelated to his ability to teach, the DOE based his termination on a fraud charge because they claimed he used a false address on his daughter’s school applications to intentionally deceive them.

 Knowing the entire investigation had been an attempt to politically silence him, David brought his case to the New York State Supreme Court. In a rare decision the Supreme Court overturned the DOE’s ruling against David because it determined that the list of charges the DOE presented were not nearly enough reason to terminate a teacher and showed no bearing on his ability to teach or the quality of education he provided. Instead, Justice Schlesinger noted that David was targeted by the DOE stating, “the conduct … regarding a false address for his daughter, never involved Suker’s own school and never would have been discovered but for the DOE’s decision to target Suker to see if an investigation could find something to be used against him.”

For a variety of reasons, including not having steady housing, David had in fact used the address of a friend’s house (where his daughter often stayed) on his daughter’s school applications in 2001 and 2006. However, whether or not David is guilty of this fraud is irrelevant because the law states that the DOE cannot bring up these charges if they are more than three years old. And since NYC high schools are open to all students through the five boroughs, his daughter’s address is irrelevant since she’s been in high school.

Justice Schlesinger determined, “The school’s leadership did not want Suker to remain there as a teacher. They did not like him or approve of his actions. They believed he was insubordinate, that he did not conduct himself properly, that he was getting arrested too often, and probably that he was not a team player.” In other words, the DOE doesn’t like that David is politically active.

People in many jobs who want to exercise their right to speak out against injustice face overwhelming challenges. It raises an important question for us as a society: do we want to live in a world where individual people can express their political beliefs freely without fear of persecution, or do we want corporate and government institutions to hold the power to oppress free speech, press, and assemblage? Do only people who agree with you or only express themselves quietly deserve freedom of speech? While unions may have a bad reputation for several reasons, including protecting ineffective workers, should we trust society’s most powerful institutions with the right to decide who can exercise freedom and who can’t?

David is a veteran who served his country, a teacher who serves his students, a son who cares for his elderly father, a father who works tirelessly to make a life for his children, and a citizen who only wants to utilize his rights and freedoms as an American. But he is still unable to return to work for 12-18 months because the DOE is appealing its case. Even though David had initially won, the witch-hunt against him continues. In a gross injustice by the NYC DOE, he has been presumed guilty until proven innocent over and over again. Now, being unable to work for almost two years, David is struggling to provide for his daughter and two-year-old son.

Do you really support the troops? Do you really believe in freedom for all? If so, call the public advocate’s office at 212-669-4102 and tweet @deBlasioNYC to let them know you want the case against David Suker dropped.

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Harry Binswanger is a total tool. Don’t be like Harry Binswanger.

Recently, Harry Binswanger, contributor to Forbes, published an Op-ed in which he argued the 99% should “give back” to the 1% because: (1) communities don’t give anything to individuals that isn’t already paid in full at the time it is given; (2) all transactions are freely and reciprocally agreed upon and therefore, mutually beneficial and uninhibited by further obligation; and (3) the 99% actually reaps the benefits of the 1% by profiting from their mental capacities to innovate and create jobs to produce products and services. His article illustrates everything that is wrong with our society.

The notion that the wealthy ought to “give back” to the community is infinitely more complex than Binswanger gives credit. Of course, he is attempting to captivate readers by cloaking his arguments in distorted interpretations of libertarian theory so they will emotionally accept what is actually an extremist and quite ludicrous point of view: that the working people of the world owe more money and gratitude to the extremely wealthy, that is the 1%. In doing so, he simply ignores the nuances of what the rest of us call “reality.”

Binswanger is wrong because: (1) the extremely wealthy not only make profits by exploiting others, but also by not paying adequate value for what they use to make profits. Furthermore, in accumulating wealth they negatively impact many people who are not involved in the “mutual exchanges,” and those people are not compensated. (2) Consumers don’t purchase products and services simply because they value and want them. Money is an inadequate measure of real value; global access to markets allows capital holders to manipulate local and national markets; consumers are lied to, coerced, and often lack real choice; and, again, many people are forced to pay costs (even non-monetary costs) for exchanges they had no say in. And (3), Binswanger’s assertion that the 1% are innovators and job creators – well, it’s not true. That claim is a fallacy created to attempt to align the 1% with small business owners and entrepreneurs. However, small business owners operate very differently from large corporations and the 1%.

It is terribly sad to see someone unable to understand the value one receives from their community or the country to which they belong. Perhaps, Binswanger is a victim of the epidemic of hyper-focused individualism and undervaluing of community in the neoliberal western world. However, let’s not harp on his opening statement and the overall tone of his article, which suggest he doesn’t believe in or value what communities give to individuals. Instead, let’s focus first on what appears to be his main point regarding community: the value one receives from the community is paid at the time it is received so those that accumulate extreme wealth do not owe anyone anything more.

Let’s take that statement as true and therefore we can assume people should be allowed to accumulate unlimited wealth without ever giving back to their community or country. Some would agree with this point. However, if in pursuing wealth you are taking resources without paying a real value for them, damaging the environment, cheating the financial system, bribing politicians, circumventing laws, preventing competition, coercing consumers, inhibiting accurate information, or exploiting employees by paying them as little as possible, then the bare minimum compensation is a fair tax rate, because even that amount would not sufficiently pay for the value you take from others.

Expecting the extreme wealthy to give back to the community is not the same as condemning the successful. Most people loved Steve Jobs for bringing us the iPhone, but when Chinese teenagers began jumping off the roof of his subcontractor Foxconn to escape their effective enslavement, we lost the love. There is no “envy-ridden moral code that damns success, profit, and earning money in voluntary exchange.” Most Americans still admire success. What we don’t like is the extremely wealthy controlling our government, forcing the rules of the playing field to their advantage, and preventing real Americans from doing the entrepreneurial work that needs to be done.

Furthermore, paying taxes isn’t the same as charity. Most Americans are not arguing for the wealthy to give anything extra other than their fair share—they want the rich and corporations to pay at least the same tax rate as everyone else and close the loopholes. You may not like the idea of taxes, but in our current structure, taxes are how we maintain a society and mitigate the effects of our oligarchical corporatist system. We all benefit from things like an educated citizenry and a healthy population, but essentially, taxes are needed to make up for the damage Binswanger’s friends inflict on the rest of us. Whether it’s environmental degradation, worker exploitation, consumer coercion, or messing up our financial systems, big corporations and the swindlers that run them owe the rest of us some compensation. Until we change the structure to one where taxes are no longer needed to mitigate the effects of our corrupt, political, and business elites, the argument for taxing the rich remains: “hey, while our messed up system allows you to accumulate unreasonable amounts of wealth through corrupt and counterproductive practices, you need to pay for at least some of the damage you’re causing and some of the benefits you’re reaping from our complacency.” Taxes are the bare minimum for these elites.

Wealth is not exclusively accumulated by exploiting people and the environment. Wealth, as Binswanger proclaims, is also created by using human brainpower and labor to turn resources into a product or service that is sold for a price. What isn’t factored into the economic calculation (or price) is the value lost by removing resources from nature or the impact a transaction has on others.

In a perfect world, wealth would be created by making products while factoring in the real costs of environmental degradation and human input: but that doesn’t happen. Furthermore, in today’s finance economy, innovators aren’t creating awesome new products that everyone needs and selling them in a free market at a reasonable cost. Most innovation is not the creation of new products at all. There are many different ways businesses innovate to increase profits that have nothing to do with making new stuff. Tony Davila, Marc J. Epstein, and Robert Shelton surveyed a large number of manufacturing and service organizations. In Making Innovation Work, they present their findings that things like product quality improvement, expanding a product’s range, creating new markets, cutting labor costs, improving production processes, and other efficiency improvements, account for most innovation.

The way we create and measure wealth in our society is so illusionary and inaccurate that wealth no longer reflects productivity once you surpass a high enough threshold. So, yes, there are those that innovate, create, and work hard to provide quality products and services, but unfortunately most of the major wealth accumulators today are in fact exploiting the people—through suppression of wages, price manipulating, cheating the financial systems, circumventing laws, and many other practices—and the environment and they are doing it with the help of our government. And no hardworking, honest American, whether anarchist, liberal, or libertarian, thinks that is okay.

Binswanger further presents his case by reciting the standard economic discourse that, “in commercial transactions, customers buy a product…because they want the product or service…for their own personal benefit and enjoyment.”

An unfortunate limit of money is its inadequacy in measuring real value. Money spent does not determine value of things; it determines value relative to supply of money and is distorted by misinformation. Also, it is limited by our capacity to accurately put a price on something. For example, a plot of untouched land has inherent value to a community even if the community cannot afford to purchase it. It is aesthetically pleasing, absorbs some pollution, and maintains local ecosystems. If someone buys the plot of land from the owner (an out-of-state property management company), they are paying only for the value of the land to an owner who doesn’t interact with the land or the community that surrounds it.

Binswanger argues further, “all proper human interactions are win-win; that’s why the parties decide to engage in them. Voluntary trade, without force or fraud, is the exchange of value for value, to mutual benefit.”

Commercial transactions are infinitely more complex than the moment of exchange of a product or service between parties. On a small scale they may be a bit closer to Binswanger’s analysis, but in the modern world the “community” for big business is the United States and the economic playing field is global. This scale allows business leaders to exploit and manipulate people all over the world for their own interest while reaping the benefits and securities that a company in the United States enjoys.

For example, in America, our labor often competes directly with workers in Thailand because owners of capital have the resources to use labor to produce anywhere on the globe; so available jobs and wages in the US are driven down. However, as an American, you can’t shop for products in Thailand at Thailand prices. Instead, the owners of businesses bring them back to America and price items low enough to undercut the products made in America, but high enough to take as much of your money as possible.

The assumed truth that all economic transactions are a “win-win” is such a gross oversimplification of reality with several flaws. First, it assumes people have all the information they need, can quickly and adequately process it, and make the best economical choice possible. Meanwhile, the multibillion-dollar advertising and public relations industries are fully committed to brainwashing and misinforming people so they will buy something against their own interests. Binswanger ignores the fact that people are lied to and misled. He ignores that they aren’t informed and don’t consciously and actively participate in many of their transactions. Any student of economics knows that capitalism requires accurate information.

Second, it assumes people make decisions because it is a win for them, while many transactions are coerced either through advertising and manipulation, pricing control, or the lack of real choice (i.e. cell phones, gasoline, and meat industries are dominated by a handful of companies with almost no difference in products, services, and price). It assumes when people take a low paying job, it is a mutual exchange based on a win-win. In reality, most of us take a job because we have no other choice. You may think, “Well just go get an education.” Many of us did that. There are still so few jobs available and the pay is so little that we are forced to take jobs to survive – we don’t choose them. This view also assumes that the wage of a job simply found is its proper value based on equilibrium reached from supply and demand. Binswanger most likely believes that because that’s what he read in an economics textbook in his freshman year of college. Again, I remind you that the reality is a bit more complex. Labor is not paid value for one’s work; we are paid the least amount possible an owner can pay in a climate where technology and outsourcing are diminishing jobs.

Third, it assumes that no one else is impacted by the transaction. Economists trivialize the impact an economic transaction has on third parties—called an externality. Often, the total value lost to third parties is greater than the gain of the parties engaging in the transaction, but this loss is not calculated. For example, if you want to turn your suburban yard into a landfill because you secured an account with a nearby city to dispose of their trash, you would decrease the value of all the houses around you, who had no say in in the agreement and would not be compensated. The total loss of value among the community would be much greater than the net gain of the two parties involved in the transaction. Now, you’re probably thinking, “But that could never happen because it’s against the law.” Exactly.

In a response to the article, Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone recently addressed the practices of the 1% and counters Binswanger’s determination that the CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, should be held in higher regard than Mother Teresa. He highlights some of the common practices of companies like Goldman Sachs that are either illegal or should be because they violate the freedom and self-determination of others just like turning your yard into a landfill would (only worse).

Binswanger perverts libertarian notions of voluntary exchange by pretending that this is somehow the reality of the America we live in. By using divisive language like, “an end must be put to the inhuman practice of draining the productive to subsidize the unproductive” he excites a following because some people love to hate — but here is a platform where all Americans should be able to stand united. Even the libertarian right knows that in a free market with access to accurate information, supported by a small government, the Goldman Sachs types would never exist. They exist because our government helps them survive because they artificially inflate GDP and American power.

People don’t oppose big businesses because they’re successful; we oppose them because they are corrupt institutions that rose to power by cheating the system and our government simply helped them do it. We could have a society where real work and innovation was rewarded and small businesses would be able to compete—but we don’t. Goldman Sachs and other overblown banks and corporations would not be able to survive in that climate. In the meantime, while our corrupt political and economic system allows them to exist, we’ll go ahead and settle for that payback.

Ultimately, Binswanger hangs his hat on the most unoriginal of all neoliberal pundits’ arguments: the wealthy are the innovators and the job creators. But what do they innovate? Well, they innovated a pretty cool finance trick where they sold bundles of bad debt as a package with a good rating and then bought insurance on the debt so when loans went into default (which they knew would happen) insurance companies paid them a lot of money. They created a pretty awesome process to target and trick lower income families into buying mortgages because of a low affordable payment, knowing it would rise and their houses would be foreclosed. They created millions of part-time, low paying jobs while simultaneously contributing to the downfall of full-time, good paying jobs. But we should say thank you because “the man who works as a janitor in the factory producing that invention, receives an enormous payment in proportion to the mental effort that his job requires of him.”

I feel bad that Binswanger does not feel like he belongs to a community and cannot comprehend the value of community because it doesn’t translate into a monetary denomination. However, the rest of us understand it. Not for charity, but for the value society will receive by preventing future distortions of reality from being projected into our collective discourse, someone ought to buy Binswanger a book that was written after 1975.

Instead of paying back the 1% with what Binswanger says we owe them, I suggest the 99% build strong human bonds within their communities to promote both mutual aid networks and environments in which small businesses are free to exchange. Let’s be honest, if we only advanced far enough to create the type of real competitive capitalism that someone like Ayn Rand believed in, one where corporations had to play on level fields and information was accessible, businesses like Goldman Sachs and Walmart would crumple to the ground under their own inadequacies.

To find out more about why Harry Binswanger is a complete tool and how you can avoid being anything like him, check out my book, “Another World IS Possible: Freedom, Economic Truth, and Creating a Society of Humanness.”


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Occupy and America: Two Years Later

Two years for Occupy Wall Street. What still saddens me is how many Americans are still letting the corporate media dictate what and how they think. Whether you consider yourself—a liberal or a conservative, left, right or whatever—most of us would agree on most things if we were having the right discussion with each other. If we listened to why others were advocating for one thing or another we would find common courses of action.

Take taxes for example—something talked about a lot in both the Occupy and Tea Party Movements. Most people would prefer not to be taxed too much and have the government spending our money. But in the current climate of overblown corporations whose actions impact our environment, food supply, wages, small business, political sphere, self-determination, and even our constitutional and human rights—all combined with a media and public relations campaign that prevents accurate information from reaching the masses—it isn’t unreasonable to seek a solution. Those who argue for a free market or some version of capitalism should not be looking to protect this model. The economic system we have is far from either. Taxes are not the solution to fix the system, but they may be a part of a comprehensive transition process. And they certainly can help mitigate the effects of the system while we develop a better way. This is a conversation we could have if we could get passed the rhetoric.

It’s difficult to have this conversation about taxes without taking a hard look at the government. Almost everyone in the country is not satisfied with the government but if we were to transition to a government that was of the people and by the people, then we likely wouldn’t look at taxes the same—like we are handing over our money to some far off, unaccountable institution. Instead, if we had a real say in how our taxes were used and could see the direct impact on our own communities and neighbors, we might not be so angry about them.

Furthermore, if you believe in the America your junior high civics teacher told you about, you should be furious that when other Americans (even if you think you disagree with them [which you probably don’t]) are exercising the first amendment rights they are caged, beaten, and arrested in mass. It should outrage you because someday you may have a grievance to redress and you would want your rights to speech, press, and assembly protected. Don’t let corporate media make you believe that protestors are getting arrested because they did something wrong or illegal. That’s not the case. And don’t let the corporate media make you afraid of other Americans participating in democracy: that’s what democracy is.

Finally, you may believe that Occupy no longer exists because you don’t hear much about it in the media. But, in addition to the activists still working on Occupying Wall Street, what we knew as Occupy in lower Manhattan and public parks around the country has grown into so many projects and movements all over the world and they all remain interconnected through human networks and around common beliefs. Those beliefs are what made Occupy so transformative for so many people: we all have the power to create change with each other. Of many things Occupy accomplished, the most important in my eyes is that it made people remember that they can be the change the world needs. What’s important now is that Americans throughout the country who are living their day-to-day lives, trying to get by, do not forget it.

I’m still positive and optimistic about change. There’s good reason to be: there are so many amazing people doing so many amazing things. I hope to see you in the streets, but even more so I hope to see you in your community park or on your block talking with your neighbors and building a better world.

#OccupyWallStreet #S17 #AnotherWorldISPossible

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Wide Awake and Ready: The Occupy Movement Set to Kick Off a New Season

The burst of exhilarating energy and national attention around Occupy Wall Street (OWS) faded by December but the arduous work persisted throughout the winter. OWS activists have been obsessively preparing for an inspiring and effective year. With weekly marches to Wall Street, an ongoing occupation at Union Square, and a sleep-in action in front of the New York Stock Exchange, OWS in NYC has shown the public what the media tried to hide: we are still here, and we are not leaving. In addition to all these activities, Occupy Wall Street organizers have been working on movement building projects that have yet to emerge.This Saturday, OWS and people from throughout New York City will converge on Central Park. The event, “Spring Awakening 2012: Occupy New York City People’s Assembly” (#A14), driven by OWS organizers, will likely develop as a new invigoration of the OWS movement. While the park occupations, direct actions, and many other types of work that came out of Liberty Plaza continue to grow, many organizers have also began to shift focus toward creating connections with other networks, merging efforts, and strengthening existing relationships. There are two main constituents that the Spring Awakening 2012 is aimed at. First, there is significant focus on effectively bringing new people into the movement by connecting them in a way that suits their needs. Second, we hope to create relationships between seasoned organizers from, both inside OWS and other organizations, in a way that fosters collaboration on existing work efforts. With long-term, lasting, and fruitful relationships being the goal, this event could be a good indicator of the next phase of OWS.

A planning group of over one hundred activists choose April 14 for specific reasons. Energizing events in early spring will pull us out of a long and hard winter where the movement had some degree of disarray and where many have felt defeated. It is designed to propel us into the spring and summer where the work that everyone has done over the last 4 months will begin to manifest, for example, the citywide May Day actions. The group also chose Central Park because the mission of the day and the process to achieve it necessitates having people invested and involved from all over the city. As the movement grows, it is more and more important to have an increasing number of people and a diversity of voices involved in planning. Central Park is a central location for people from all boroughs to converge.

The earlier part of the day will be an open space format with blanketing, teach-ins, performances, and activities. The purpose of this is to celebrate our work and accomplishments, to bring positive energy and reinvigorate people, and to welcome newcomers and help plug them in to existing organizing work. For example, parents may find it difficult to participate in OWS because of overwhelming family responsibilities and safety concerns regarding bringing their children to events. However, parents are among the most concerned citizens because they are trying to shape a better world for their children.

“As parents, we are naturally focused on creating a better future for our children. For me personally, it is important to show my children how to participate in democracy and understand the process. And as my 10 year old is fond to point out, we are here to provide a voice for those that do not have one,” says Myra Kuo Territo, an Organizer with Parents Occupying Wall Street (POWS).  To mitigate fears of parents who are reluctant to participate in activism, Ms. Territo explains that POWS is hosting a teach-in, “discussing how to safely protest with children. Like a yellow balloon campaign so that people and police recognize there are children in actions. Recognizing signs of danger and creating escape plans.”

Spring Awakening organizers will keep all participants informed about activities using an open space system that they constructed in collaboration with Not An Alternative, Occupy Town Square, and other open space experts. It works by listing all activities on a “commons board” that denotes the time of the activity and a letter. Flags with matching letters will be posted throughout the space so participants can see where they need to go to find the event they are interested in. Additionally, all participants can receive constant updates by texting “@SpringAwakening2012” to 23559.

This open space format will continue throughout the day, however at 3pm, an assembly will also convene for those interested in more structured organizing and work commitments. At the assembly, organizers and activists will submit campaigns, projects, and initiatives. Participants will then form clusters, or groups, based on these submissions and collectively plan a strategy around them. They will also form commitments to the cluster with the goal of collectively working toward creating change in that area. Essentially, everyone will combine efforts to accomplish greater goals.

This is one step toward a greater coalescence of people working toward social and economic justice, but it is a crucial one. Occupy Wall Street has shown us that we have a common enemy. Whatever issues you’re passionate about, the oppressive economic structure plays a significant role. #A14 is about merging and strengthening collective efforts, with OWS and other groups who have been doing this work for a long time. Simran Sachdev, an OWS organizer who has been working on this event, said, “so many organizations have spent years working on the issues that OWS is passionate about. Forming greater unity amongst the 99 percent, by increasing collaboration between such groups, is crucial for our success. The Spring Awakening 2012 is a big step in that direction. I’m looking forward to the long-term accomplishments to come out of the event!”

Arrested Freedom (part 2) #n17

I didn’t really know what to do. Handcuffs on, just standing off to the side against the wall, I had never felt like this before. I’ve been arrested for civil disobedience in the past, but it’s different when you choose to break the law as a form of protest. Being arrested as choice is a way to make a statement against an injustice.  This time the NYPD arrested me for legally expressing my opinion, by marching, within the law and even after following an unjust police order to move the other way. Standing by that wall, I felt compelled to sing the Star Spangled Banner, the United States National Anthem. After all, it is the “land of the free and home of the brave” we live on, isn’t it? Well, it is time for the brave to stand up for our freedom. 

By the time I was escorted to the paddy wagon, my right hand was already numb. Years ago, I was a correctional officer for a short time, so I know how these cuffs are supposed to be applied. I told my arresting officer they were too tight.  The right sleeve of my shirt was sticking to my elbow where my blood, from when the police officer unnecessarily threw me on the ground, was soaking into the cloth.  But he didn’t seem to care. Once locked in with eight other arrestees, we drove off. In the back of the police wagon, we tried to predict how long it would be before we were released. We agreed they were definitely not letting us out in time to make the night actions, which meant we were likely being held overnight. We told some stories and got to know each other a bit. The two small, caged windows blocked out most of the light and the large ragged spare tire on the floor left us little floor space for our feet. I guess it’s not supposed to be a comfortable ride to jail. Officers in the front were complaining about all the miscommunications going on. They seem to have been told the wrong place to take us and were turned away. When they started complaining fervently about the condition of their beat-up and broken vehicle, we laughed, and shouted comments like “that’s why you need to join us make the one percent give up money for NYPD equipment!” From then on, the driver was kind enough to slam on the breaks at every stop and turn corners without slowing down so the nine seatbelt-less prisoners would slide, bounce, and bang around in the back cage.

Walking into the courtyard outside prison was like a reunion of sorts. Activists found familiar faces and offered each other comforting smiles. Standing there, officers seemed incredibly laidback. Out of the fifteen or more officers checking us in, only one seemed to be consistently rude to us. Many were even nice to us. Finally, the same officers who an hour earlier threw us to the cement and piled on top of us, took the time to cut the overly tight cuffs and apply new, appropriately tightened cuffs to our wrists.


We moved through the check-in process and officers took and filed our property, then brought us to the holding cell. While in holding, the 99 percent activists were in full form. Every time a new male comrade was brought through the door or a female comrade passed our cell on the way to the female holding cell, we hugged, slapped hands, pounded on the walls, stamped our feet, chanted, sang, and danced. “WE! ARE! The 99 Percent!” It was wild. We shared our stale cheese sandwiches, stories, ideas, and poetry. The strong solidarity can be summed up by one prisoner who mic checked “I just want to say, you all have given me hope again.”

When I was taken from the holding cell to process, one officer courteously applied my fingers to the fingerprint-scanning computer, another officer in the room serenely stated, “We really appreciate the work you all are doing.” The scene was a bit surreal. After the mass police violence against protesters, all the standoffs, and being arrested violently that same morning, to hear an officer of the NYPD openly thank me as if he had nothing to hide was quite shocking.

I have always taken the position that the NYPD institution is made up of many individual people that include supporters and adversaries of Occupy Wall Street. Looking at the officers that surround the park or marches, it is easy to see that some sympathize and refrain from judgment while others are marked by disdain for the activists. However, when the lines of robotic looking riot-police approach non-violent protesters in strict formations and execute violent crowd-control tactics and arrest indiscriminately, it is easy to forget the human element of the NYPD and only see the institution. At these times, it appears that any and every officer just follows orders to dehumanize and unjustly beat American citizens. It is impossible to see any internal conflict or restraint on behalf of individual officers; rather it is one force, massively and violently oppressing people.

Back at the holding cell , the verbal support from officers continued into the next day where several of them approached us in central booking and engaged in hours of conversations that are indistinguishable from Liberty Square debates, aside from the huge metal bars bars between us of course. Conversations with the officers spanned across topics of the economic and political structures we are confronting. According to their words, they are supportive of the cause. Some disagreed with the tactics of our protests, some did not. Police are like working class folks, they just have badges, guns, power, and privilege. That said, as individuals, they are still victimized by the political and economic institutions that oppress our society. Of course some of them agree with us. But if that’s the case, why the violence?


During the conversations, I condemned them for the institutional violence. I think people that break the law should be arrested, even if it is in protest, but police power and authority must be in check. For example, protesters should not be moved from a sidewalk just because police say so. They have just as much right to use the sidewalk as any pedestrian. I also think that police have a responsibility to protect citizens and property and also have the right to defend themselves in violent situations. However, the reality of the police violence at Occupy Wall Street does not fit this analysis. First, the mass police presence escalates tensions because they are preventing peaceful protest, not deterring possible violence or property damage. If the goal was to serve and protect, the NYPD would seek an appropriate balance. Secondly, a cowardice act of violence from a protester in a crowd of peaceful protesters cannot be an excuse to attack the whole crowd indiscriminately. It certainly cannot be used to justify attacking a different peaceful crowd the next day or week when there is no act of aggression from protesters what so ever. But this is the justification we are given/used as an excuse. NYPD officers should refrain from using violence as a way of forcing compliance from nonviolent protesters. There are plenty of nonviolent methods the officers could implement. Instead, they have been using violence in hopes of preventing protester violence, which is not necessary or effective. Finally, it is not acceptable that officers beat crowds of peaceful protesters indiscriminately to “protect themselves.” We are not talking about mass riots here. If a handful of people break a law or become aggressive, arrest them and maintain control peacefully. Instead, officers are drawing batons and pepper spray and wielding their institutional power.

One officer told me that most cops are just doing their jobs and following orders. That doesn’t justify their actions. He said. “We are all individuals and make individual choices.” I pressed him, saying, “I have been at these front lines. I am telling you your colleagues are beating innocent people for exercising their freedom of speech. I was tackled and arrested violently for marching peacefully on the sidewalk.” He replied, “If I was given that order, I wouldn’t do it.” I would like to believe him. I would like to believe that individual people that make up the NYPD are not the same as the institution, but it is increasingly difficult to do so. We don’t see these types of officers surrounding us on a regular basis. It is time for brave officers, who know what is right, to follow their hearts and say “no!” It is time for the real heroes to be human, stand up as conscientious objectors, and really protect and serve.