(Guest post: Miriam Danielle)
It felt like a festival, a celebration of ideas – a new melting pot.
Tuesday Sept 27, 2011 began as any other ordinary day until I checked my email. There, I found a link to a horrifying video of several young women being corralled by orange police fencing and then assaulted by police officers with pepper spray. As I watched, something in me erupted.
I viewed several versions of the same incident, recorded by several different people from different angles, and it became clear that these young women had done nothing wrong.
I knew nothing about Occupy Wall Street (OWS), but I knew that these women had a Constitutional right to protest, and that this right was under attack, by the very people who were supposed to protect it.
As I began to investigate the movement, its mission resonated within me, and released an anger that I had held inside since 2008. I closed my eyes and tried to suppress my feelings, but I was completely overcome. I felt compelled to go to New York City and stand in solidarity.
I told my grown daughters about my decision the following day, and my youngest wasn’t thrilled. “Don’t get arrested Mom!” she said.
As I began to explain my reasons for going, I felt a surge of passion swell in me that I hadn’t felt in a long time.
I had not been to NYC since an 8th grade field trip to the Bronx Zoo. This time I would be going by myself. I didn’t know anything about the city–the trains and subways or even where Wall Street was.
I was surprised by determination. I half wondered if by Friday night or Saturday morning, I would come to my senses, but just the opposite happened. Instead of feeling tired and worn out as I usually do by the end of the workweek, I was invigorated.
I put out word on Facebook to my nieces that live in Brooklyn in case I needed a place to stay… “or bail money,” I joked.
I’m not what most would consider a radical or even an activist. I support causes but usually only with donations or petitions and I do not grandstand. I’ve learned it’s better to keep my opinions to myself, particularly given that my family is divided: half Republican/half Democrat. I never believed that I was going to change anyone’s mind with an argument. I always felt that arguments were a waste of the precious time that we have to be with each other.
I’d also describe myself as a “barn happy horse.” At the time of Occupy Wall Street, I lived in a small town in northern CT, and the extent of my solo travel had mainly been “home” to upstate New York. Prior to Sept 27, the prospect of going to the city by myself on the train to take part in a protest was unfathomable. Still, here I was running out to the store to buy a backpack and a sleeping bag.
Just prior to my shopping trip, I spent an hour and a half on the phone with my sister defending my decision to support, as she put it: “The socialists, communists, and anarchists, who want nothing more than to destroy the United State of America with a redistribution of wealth.” That conversation ended with: “We will have to agree to disagree.”
The next morning I departed for the train station. My older daughter, who wholeheartedly approved of the idea, drove me. It was raining and we talked about the occupation, corporate greed, and my conversation with my sister. I bought a round trip ticket and headed down the cavernous tunnel toward the train platform. As I stood waiting, my spiritual teacher phone me. Her words made me choke up:
“What’s going on? What’s making you do this?” she asked.
I couldn’t possibly explain all the reasons before the train arrived, and still, I attempted to tell her about my rage against the big banks that turned me into their indentured servant and eventually forced me along with so many other hard working small businesses into bankruptcy. I don’t hold them entirely to blame, but their excessive interest rate increases, finance fees, scare tactics and refusal to work with small business owners like myself pushed us over the edge. Many of us had excellent payment histories, but in the end that simply did not matter.
Peacefully marching to protest corporate greed and money in politics felt like a healthy response to my anger. The most compelling reason however was the image of those young, peaceful protestors being attacked by the police. It shocked me into motion. The veil fell from my eyes. An urgency rose up in me that said: “Enough is enough!”
When I finally arrived at Zucotti Park, aka. Liberty Square, I found a group of diverse but seemingly open and welcoming people. There was menagerie of ages, ethnicities, social classes, educational experiences, spiritualities, you name it. They were passionate about their diverse beliefs but unified by one thing: their constitutional right to be there.
I wandered around looking at makeshift tables filled with literature .promoting a vast amount of causes. Some I was sympathetic to, others not so much, but I didn’t feel threatened by their presence, I felt encouraged. They weren’t grandstanding or name calling those who didn’t agree with them. They were simply expressing themselves and their beliefs; hoping someone would listen to them, hoping to open up some dialogue, hoping to change someone’s way of thinking.
It felt like a festival, a celebration of ideas – a new melting pot. There was drumming, singing, and speech making. I imagined that it was a lot like colonial days where new ideas were being fostered, new ways of thinking considered and people with varying ideas finding a way to cooperate with each other.
I was given a tour of the encampment by one of the occupiers, a member of the hospitality committee. She asked me why I came and when I told her why I was there and how I had come by myself to NYC for the first time to show my support, I was treated like a hero. She told my story to everyone she introduced me to and I felt a sense of amazement with their gratitude that I was there for them.
The truth was I felt immense gratitude toward them. I was grateful for their courage. They were doing what I only wished I had the courage to do. It was because of their courage that I was able to find my own. Their courage created a space for me to join with others to peacefully vent and heal our rage and to draw attention to what had really happened and continues to happen every day in this country.
It was only a few hours after I arrived that other people began to assemble for a march to protest corporate greed. The park quickly began to fill with thousands of people. Before the march began, there was The Peoples’ Mic announcement. One of the organizers relayed the requested codes of conduct.
The ones I recall were:
- Stay on the sidewalk and leave half of the sidewalk open for people who are going the other way.
- Remain non-violent.
- Do not engage with the police.
- Have a marching “buddy” someone who has your phone number, knows your name and information.
- Write the number of the NYC Lawyers Guild on your arm; should you find you are arrested you may need it.
- Stay together.
“We are going to march down Park to City Hall, where we will cross the street to march across the Brooklyn Bridge,” they said, “Then we’ll have a rally on the other side in Brooklyn.”
At the time of the People’s Mic, I had just started up a conversation with a woman my age that showed up at the park. She, like me, was curious about this OWS movement, and equally touched by the courage of the protestors. We were both in awe at what these young people were doing. Though neither one of us was Jewish, we used the word “faklempt”, to describe how our hearts were stirred.
Just then the announcers suggested that we each find a buddy. I turned to my new friend and said, “Will you be mine?”
She thought for a second. “I was just here to drop off groceries and find out if they needed anything else,” she said, “But I live in Brooklyn so, yeah, I’ll march with you across the bridge and then take the subway the rest of the way home.”
As we marched and chanted, “Hey, hey, ho, ho corporate greed has got to go!” we talked and quickly got a synopsis of each other’s life. It was heartening to know we were not alone in our struggle.
We followed the rules, and kept the left side of the sidewalk open, but the one thing we could not do, because of construction, was stay together. Gradually the scaffolding and barriers, created a gap. Close the gap, close the gap,” I heard others yell, but it wasn’t possible. People were coming from the other direction, slowing progress, and the gap only widened.
As we approached City Hall, things became even more confusing. When we crossed the street, there was a line of police officers standing on the other side of the road. There were a couple of officers directing us across the street, which I assumed was for safety’s sake. I wasn’t sure where we were or where we were going, not only because I was unfamiliar with the city, but because I couldn’t see the rest of the protestors ahead of us. My buddy was equally confused despite her familiarity with the city.
After we crossed the street, my buddy pointed to a banner on our right. “Oh, that’s where we’re supposed to be,” she said.
We crossed over from the pedestrian side to the crowd. The police let us go onto the bridge. Not a single officer warned us that we were in the wrong place. In fact, they were expressionless, almost stoic, as police normally are while they are doing what they do. There was no indication that anything was amiss.
As I walked forward, I recall being amazed that I was actually on the Brooklyn Bridge. I took out my phone and started taking pictures. I saw some protestors to my left under the bridge climbing around in an area that I felt they shouldn’t be. “See, they shouldn’t do that…its stuff like that that will get us in trouble,” I said to my buddy.
I turned around to take a picture of the hundreds of people who I knew were behind us just prior to crossing the street, but then I noticed that they weren’t there any longer.
Instead, I saw a line of police officers walking about a hundred or so feet behind us.
“Oh my God, I think we’re going to be arrested,” my buddy said.
I looked again and said: “No, they’re probably just making sure we stay safe; they wouldn’t have let us onto the bridge if we shouldn’t be here.”
My buddy wasn’t convinced. She was suddenly very nervous. No sooner did we have this exchange when the march suddenly stopped. I didn’t know what was happening. I started chanting, “Keep on marching, keep on marching!” and a few people began chanting with me, but it quickly stopped as we all began to understand what had happened.
I felt my marching buddy’s panic as the police brought out the orange fencing that said, “Police Line, Do Not Cross.” We were being “kettled in,” I thought, just like, I had seen on the video with those brave, young women a few days earlier.
So many things happened in those moments after the kettling fence went up. There was a call to sit down by some of the protestors; which I did at first, but then I stood up again.
This wasn’t what I had planned to have happen.
This wasn’t how this march was supposed to go.
There was yelling from the pedestrian walk way, “Let them go, Let them go!”
There was a line of police on both sides preventing us from moving forward or going back.
I called my daughters.
I called my spiritual teacher.
The tension on the bridge rose to an amazing level.
As I ended the call, I watched 4 police officers knock an elderly man down to the ground and drag him away. I watched them grab people and aggressively arrest them.
I turned to my buddy and said calmly, “I’m going to go and be arrested.”
I yelled out to the crowd: “Someone write the lawyer’s number on my arm.”
Some kind soul with a sharpie wrote the number on my left forearm as I reached it into the crowd.
I walked up to the orange fencing and to the officer in the white shirt holding it and said, “May my friend and I leave?”
The Officer did not even look me in the eye. “NO!” was his reply.
“Well then, arrest me!” I said.
In half a second, I was pushed against the Brooklyn Bridge, handcuffed with plastic zip-ties and photographed before being led to a paddy wagon waiting just behind the fencing and the line of police officers.
I was never read my rights.
I was never told why I was being arrested.
The following twelve hours were spent in a jail cell with seven of the most amazing women, from all walks of life. They were not violent, or hardened by life, or hippie types or criminals. They were professors, secretaries, nannies, retired, employed. We were diverse and yet united by one cause: Too many people were hurting in our country; too many of us were barely making ends meet despite our best efforts and hard work. Too many were falling through the cracks of our social structure.
We came together to say we’re angry and to give voice to this anger for others.
We came together to draw attention to the collateral damage the financial markets caused by their greed; the jobs being lost, the families all across the country losing their homes and their health care.
We came together to protest, to shout out toward the deaf ears and dirty hands of our representatives, the people we elected to speak for us and do what is best for the once beautiful country of ours.
Instead of hearing our collective voice they tried to keep us silent, they tried to control us. They arrested us, put us behind bars as if we were criminals and warned us not to speak out again. Instead of being silenced, one of the most beautiful memories I have is how we sang.
400 hundred women in the lockup sang.
We took turns leading
or listened in silence
as one or another sang alone.
and we reassured one another.
We listened to each other’s stories and then we sang some more.
The men who had been arrested and who were held just on the other side of the double doors, heard our voices, and they began to sing too.
I later heard from buddy, that a friend of hers in France, learned about our arrest and our singing on the news there. Nothing of the sort was reported in the US.
They used intimidation to discourage us from exercising our guaranteed right to protest our grievances. They threatened us with arrest and a police record that would haunt us for the rest of our lives.
In the cell, I began to realize that this movement was about something greater than releasing my personal rage. What the Occupy Wall Street movement had done was to bring truth to the forefront. They revealed, to me at least, that we have all been living in an illusion. The illusion that we are living in a free country, and the reality that while we were lost in our dreaming, certain people who have lots of money, slowly and steadily bought our government and our police.
In an attempt to hold onto power, our representatives have sold the soul of the American dream to corporations whose driving force is the bottom line. They have even personified them so that they can legally represent them. They have taken their money and now owe them their allegiance. They leave Washington richer than when they entered and more often than not, have a job waiting for them.
The men and women who were elected to represent us, have created laws that strip us of our rights under the guise that it is to protect us from terrorists. Instead, these laws protect them (and those corporate personages they represent) from us. We have been sold out, and they are attempting to take away our voices.
Under the new National Defense laws recently passed, and due to my participation in a march with OWS, I can now technically be labeled a low-level terrorist.
Because of NDAA passing on New Year’s Eve in 2011, I could now be held indefinitely without charges for expressing my voice and speaking against a system that holds too much power and is motivated by greed and self-interest.
The true “powers that be” have kept us divided. They throw out labels–black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Middle-Eastern, and Christian, Muslim, Jew, Pagan, leftists, neo-cons, right-wing conservatives, progressives, liberals, democrat, republican, socialist, communist, and anarchists–to keep us divided.
They hire spin-doctors to undermine anyone who may wish to voice dissent.
They use personal assassination to discourage those who may wish to speak up or lead.
They say we cannot get along, and that we cannot agree to disagree and still live side by side.
And while we buy into this spin, they hold onto and increase their power and wealth; the rest of us be damned.
In my mind, I see the actions of the police, the mayor, the elected representatives of this Nation and anyone who supports the efforts to suppress free speech and due process as treasonous.
The Constitution of the United States is not disposable and our rights as citizens should not be legislated away under the guise of National Security.
I would rather risk being arrested and put in jail repeatedly than live in a country where my voice and the voices of others are silenced for saying: “Enough is enough!”
I demand from those who have sold this country to thieves and charlatans, the return of the country that believes in the words engraved on the Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
(Note: This piece was adapted from the statement that Miriam wrote for her court appearance following her OWS arrest.)
Miriam Allen is an Ordained Minister, Shamanic Healing Practitioner, Mesa Carrier and Reiki Master. After graduating from the Wisdom School of S.O.P.H.I.A she continues to deepen her knowledge by serving as a mentor for current students as well as seeing clients at Naturae Medical.
With over 30 years of experience in world religions, spirituality and healing, Miriam offers a wide range of healing services, with respect and honor for all religious beliefs and traditions
Additionally, Miriam has undergone hospice training and “Dying Into Love” training, which enables her to assist those in the last stages of life to die consciously, in a peaceful sacred manner with dignity.
She is the glowing mother of 2 grown daughters a singer/song writer and poet.
Miriam stands with the Occupy Wall Street movement and feels that Bernie Sanders became the visible leader for those involved.