A few days earlier, I’d gotten on a bus and headed to New York to visit my sister. On the day of the protest, my sister, her boyfriend and I all packed lunch and snacks for the day, and bundled up as warm as we could, as the temperatures were sub-freezing. We started walking towards the protest area. Hundreds and thousands of people filled endless blocks, streaming out past the police barricades, going far beyond what anyone imagined. First Avenue filled up, and quickly people streamed into second and third.
We were desperately cold, but the passion I experienced at that rally is something I’ll probably never experience again. The sheer amount of people, the speakers, the puppets of Bush floating around, the clever posters, and the protestors lifting the police barricades and sending them overhead down through the crowd – it was hard to complain about the cold. I think people felt even stronger, perhaps more rebellious because we were the only city that wasn’t allowed to march.
Several hours later, the rally ended, and people started streaming out and filling the streets to go home. Inevitably, though, no matter where you looked, there was a group of people beginning to march. Peaceful marching, along the sidewalks – but still, it was marching, and the cops did not like this. They were not prepared for the numbers that they kept downplaying.
My sister’s boyfriend had left us to go to work, and feeling quite energized, I convinced my sister to follow one particularly large crowd. We marched past the U.N. building; we marched anywhere the police weren’t blocking, chanting anti-war slogans and feeling so full of hope. Eventually they started forcing our large group to break up, shoving their terrified horses into the crowds, blocking us with their bodies, telling us that we weren’t allowed to be walking on these sidewalks. Whose sidewalks?
We continued to march, turning corners and avoiding the cops. We played drums on anything we could bang on as we continued to walk, we became more and more invigorated as they tried to beat us down and separate us. At one point, we had to turn into a side street, and someone led us underneath very narrow scaffolding under a building where construction was taking place. There were about 30 of us on each side of the street at this point, and suddenly, we were surrounded by cops.
We tried to keep moving, but apparently the cops had a different idea. They blocked us from every corner, and we stood there in the cold, waiting. It took nearly an hour, but soon enough, a bunch of paddy wagons pulled up and it became obvious. We were being arrested.
Not one to remain calm in situations like this, my sister started freaking out, insisting we were getting out of this, making it seem like it was so much more than it really was. I explained to her it wasn’t a big deal – that obviously hundreds of us were being taken in and processed, and that no matter who she called; she wasn’t getting out of it. Some of the cops were assholes, but most were understanding. They didn’t want to be filling up the city’s precincts either, but some major asshole gave the word, and they had to follow orders.
I asked if I would be back to Massachusetts on time because I had to be at my job on Monday, and they said possibly. One by one, they took our names, hung our backpacks in front of us, hand cuffed us, and led us to the back of the police truck.
The separated women from men. There were about 6 guys in the front, who we weren’t aware of for a while, and 12 of us women. Because the arresting had become so widespread, they had no place to take us to. In below freezing weather, we all sat in the back of the wagon, turning numb, our shoulders aching, some of us singing beautiful songs, others screaming and breaking down, and others sitting quietly, not saying a word. There wasn’t a single source of light, as it was dark outside, so we were all faceless creatures with only voices to share.
We spent nearly 5 hours in the back of the wagon, and eventually figured out how to pry our hands out of the plastic handcuffs. We had to be careful, because we feared they could open the doors at any moment and we’d get caught. Those who had a hard time releasing themselves were helped by others. Some offered hand cream to making pulls the hands out of the plastic easier. Snacks were passed around, and some who could just not hold it any longer peed in a bag, the pee stream trickling onto the cold hard floor, some of us shrieking with amusement, others with disgust.
We banged on the door occasionally, demanding to know what was happening, explaining that we had to pee, we were hungry, cold, frozen-stiff. The cops really didn’t have a clue what was going on. All they knew is that they’d arrested so many people; they had nowhere to put us. My sister started screaming at them at one point, and one asshole from the outside responded “Well you should have thought about what you were doing” like we were two year olds. Crazy. Very often, people from peace groups or lawyers would talk to us through the wagon doors, letting us know they were working on helping us.
Finally, five hours later, were headed to Precinct 7. We quickly slid our hands back into the cuffs, hid all the evidence, and filed out of the wagon one by one. They put us in a large bright room, and couldn’t really contain us. We shared food, demanded to be released from our cuffs, and repeatedly asked to go to the bathroom immediately. They processed us quickly then, putting 4 people each in a cell that couldn’t have been larger than 8 by 8 feet. There was a cold, metal toilet in there, as well as a single short bench. They took our bags away and placed them on the walls opposite the cells, out of reach, and let us take whatever food we had in them to each. I was really thankful I’d packed lunch when they handed out cold cut sandwiches on white bread for dinner.
We all started to lighten up a little bit. We started singing “In the jungle” and many other songs. We cracked jokes that were truly funny, and we passed real food from one cell to another. Some people took out cigarettes and passed them around to our faceless neighbors from one cell to another. Hours passed, and one by one we were taken to be interviewed by someone who was possibly the world’s dumbest cop.
“Uh, what color are your shoes?”
“You mean the ones you’re staring at?”
“Ok, you’re wearing a…uh… sweatshirt?”
“So uh, what were you doing when you got arresting?”
“Were you in the streets?”
“No. We were walking on the sidewalks.”
At some point, we really wanted something out of my sister’s bag which was against the wall opposite the cell. I came up with the brilliant idea of taking off a shoe, holding it by the shoelace, and swinging it through the bars to hook onto the bag. Once it was firmly against the bag, the plan was to drag it towards us and snatch some breath mints and a cell phone.
My sister failed terribly at her first time by swinging the shoe throw the bars and LETTING GO. We were now out one shoe, and everyone was laughing hysterically. I grabbed the other shoe before she could attempt again, and skillfully hooked the shoe onto the bag and dragged the bag nearer to us. We snatched what we wanted out of the bag and threw it back against the wall. One of the cops was really pissed later on when we asked for the other shoe – he couldn’t figure out why on earth we’d have thrown it out there.
The hours started to drag. They said some machine wasn’t working so that’s why it was taking so long to process us. Some of us tried to get comfy on the floor. We took turns on the hard bench. We talked to our faceless other cell mates about life.
Finally about 10 hours later, I was taken out. They took my picture and fingerprints and gave me a court date – ironically, the court date on a weekend that another anti-war rally was to take place. Finally, I was released into the lobby, where I found my sister’s boyfriend waiting for us. It was nearly 8:00 a.m. in the morning. We’d started this journey at 5 o’clock in the evening the day before. I was exhausted and famished.
For some reason it took another hour at least for my sister to get out. When she finally did, she was pissed as hell, because some officer tapped her on the head when she was dozing off and told her she’d have to “release” her shoe laces. ‘Cause, uh, she might suddenly decide to strangle herself or her cell mate after being in there for 10 hours.
We piled into her boyfriend’s car and he took us to a diner where we feasted for breakfast. We picked up the morning news paper and read the articles about our arrest, noting all the incorrect statements (the police department never wanted to admit that they arrested well into the hundreds of protestors) and we called our parents to let them know that we’d gotten arrested (because they knew we were at the rally) and that we were out and fine. My father was so proud – he really got a kick out of his two daughters being arrested in New York City.
On the bus ride home back to Massachusetts, I slept like a baby.
What happened later on at the court date (the day after the second rally I attended that year) they simply told us to stay out of trouble for six months and the records would be deleted from our files. The city essentially wasted millions of hours in man labor and court dates and whatnot because they didn’t want us to march through the streets of NYC.
Some people make it their life to be passionate and peacefully protest and get arrested. Unfortunately, reality gets in the way of life sometimes, and I really don’t think it does one any good to spend hours in a stinky jail cell – who are you teaching a lesson, anyway? From then on, any time I went to a rally, I was extra careful to just glare at the cops, and not to anything outrageous like, say, walk on a sidewalk in a city.
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