First published on TheFasterTimes.com in October 6, 2011. Read the original here.
Days after the altercation at the Brooklyn Bridge, in which 700 protesters were detained for blocking traffic, the police presence at Zuccotti Park (also known as Liberty Plaza) remains strong. Stone faced officers stand in pairs around the perimeter of the square; plain clothes policemen walk among the many people who are in it for the long haul at the Occupy Wall Street event.
One protester, who asked only to be referred to as Kaitlyn, was among the many who were held for hours in the aftermath of the march. After sitting for hours on a bus with her hands cuffed, Kaitlyn said her shoulders were still sore from the day. (Luckily, someone had set up a station for free massages.) And while Kaitlyn is a veteran demonstrator, she admitted that for many of the group this was a first foray into activism. She was relieved to see that organizers were educating some of the greener attendees about what to expect.
Jason Ahmadi, 26, led a discussion about what to do should you come into conflict with the police. First and foremost, he stressed, you must not have any drugs or weapons on you. This advice seems obvious, but for the crowd at Zuccotti – mostly young, strongly progressive people who seem to attract the label “hippies” – it’s not a bad reminder. Also important, he said, was having at least some money on your person; police in New York City can charge you with vagrancy if you’re arrested without cash in your pockets. (An officer at the protest says this in untrue.)
If the media is present – which it increasingly is as the protest has lasted into its third week – Ahmadi suggests that anyone being arrested shout out their first and last name. You’ll be released quicker, he says, if someone takes an interest in you personally.
Ahmadi’s background is in “radical mental health,” as he call it, which focuses on healing circles and rethinking the way we approach mental illness; Occupy Wall Street, he says, isn’t all that different. While he escaped arrest as one of the “pacemakers” on the march across the bridge, bringing up the rear to keep stragglers in check, he has been arrested twice already. Once for chalking the sidewalk with hearts and Gandhi quotes, another time for struggling with a police officer who was taking a tarp off of electronic equipment in the rain.
Having been here from the start, Ahmadi acknowledges that the protest is evolving as the days go by; some of the early processes put in place by the organizers will soon need to be adjusted. Ahmadi would like to see the organizers processes become more transparent – an issue that echoes the protest’s call for more transparency in our banking system – and become more flexible in response to the changing nature of the demonstration.
Still, Ahmadi is committed to Occupy Wall Street, and to protecting his fellow activists. As the discussion wound to an end, he let out one final call: “And how do you plead?” Without missing a beat, the crowd shouted back, “Not guilty!