Steve Iskovitz: Occupy Wall Street, Wednesday, November 16

Steve Iskovitz, a friend and former Green-Rainbow Party candidate for Cambridge City Council, has started emailing his thoughts from the front lines of the Occupy movement.  Since this blog has lain dormant for so long, I decided to lend it to him.  I will post the backlog of messages about once a day and then start posting them as they come in.  I am posting them uneditted.  His words are his own. You can find all of his posts under the Occupy tag.

Hi everyone,

First of all, I'm okay. I did get arrested but was released later that day, it wasn't too bad.

So here's my take on Monday night/Tuesday morning.

I was in my tent around midnight getting ready to go to sleep when I heard someone yelling. Someone's always yeling there, but this was different, more frantic, and someone else yelled, "Get out of your tents." I opened the flap and saw that the police across the street (the side street on the north side of the park) had set up a huge panel of lights and were flooding the park with them. Another similar panel was on the other side. There'd been a lot of strange police behavior since I got there, but never anything like this. I knew something was up, so I put my shes on and ran out.

For a while I milled around in the park, not sure what to do. I was thinking of leaving. I ran back and got my bag out of the tent. It was a chaotic scene. We all pretty much knew they were going to raid. People were yelling and screaming different things, some people were afraid, others defiant, others confused. I was pretty nervous, my hands were trembling a little, and I was confused. I talked with a few people, let someone write legal aid's phone # on my arm with a sharpie, and discovered that a few level-headed people I knew were planning on staying and getting arrested, and I decided I would stay, too.

Of course, staying and going down with the ship was the more principled decision, and this was the main reason I did it. I should add, though, that I wasn't sure where else I could go! Sleeping in a warm jail surrounded by colleagues seemed in some ways preferable to being alone on the street. (I didn't know about the Foley Square gathering.

Quickly, plans came together. The kitchen area, in the center of the park, became the focus. A group of ten or so decided to lock down in the kitchen, that is, lock those D-shaped bike locks around their necks, locked to each other, and link arms. The rest of us sat in a big circle around the kitchen and linked arms.

The police entered the park and began dismantling tents, cutting them open with knives, dragging them off. Then a team of sanitation workers came in behind them to take stuff off. People around the circle reacted angrily to this, but I tried to be positive and said, "It's just material. It doesn't matter." When they took the medical tent people reacted woth horror, and I yelled back, "Don't worry, we've got more!" I know this, because I spent the weekend re-organizing the medical supplies shelves back in the storage space. My point was that this wasn't a big defeat. We'd get media attention, we'd be out of jail soon, and be back as strong as ever.

We sat there in the circle for a long time, maybe an hour and a half. "Come on, arrest us already!" someone yelled half joking. It might have been me, I don't remember. I actually tried to sleep but couldn't. Someone grabbed some snacks from the kitchen and we passed them around. One guy had some tent poles and was flailing them around, ready to use them on the cops. I yelled at him to not do this, besides, he almost hit us with them. Anyway, finally, in the middle of the night, the police got around to us. They started on the left end of the line, grabbed one guy. he resisted, linking arms with the people on either side. Four or five big cops trying to grab one skinny dude, you'd think it would be easy. Yet the struggle went on and on, it was amazing. One guy in the middle of the row began freaking out, yelling. His eyes were nearly popping out of his head. A bunch of us yelled at him to calm down. It looked like he was going to have a seizure or something. (Actually, I heard later that he did end up having one.) Eventually the cops carried the first kid off, and on to the next one. Again, four or five large cops took a really long time to take one person. Lots of screaming and yelling, etc.

I asked the girl to my left what she planned to do and she muttered, "I'm going to go peacefully." I needed to know whether I was supposed to link arms and try to hold her back or not. Also, her answer gave me the excuse to do the same. I'm 51 and have been having trouble with muscle strains lately. I knew if I resisted they'd get me anyway, and didn't see the point. Still I didn't know if they'd rough me up anyway, as I've seen police do to even the most non-violent people many times. Gradually they worked their way down the line, and took the girl next to me. I was next. But instead they went the other way, into the kitchen. For quite a while I sat there with no-one on my left. I thought at one point they might just forget about me altogether, but eventually there they were towering over me. I looked up at the cop and told him I'd go peacefully, and he said okay. I stood up, he grabbed my arm and walked me over a few feet away. He told me to drop my bag, said I'd be able to get it later (which was a total lie, all my stuff is gone), then cuffed me fairly loosely. Soon we were standing near the police busses on the corner. The girl who had been sitting on my other side was freaking out, saying she was epilleptic and could die. A few of us talked her down and she seemed to relax.

On the bus we joked constantly. "First day of school," etc. After 20 minutes or so we rode off, past Foley Square where the big rally was a month ago, and on into the parking lot at 1 Police Plaza. "We'll be here two minutes," one of the cops said. That was around 3 or 3:30 a.m. We were there until dusk. Then we drove about 20 feet, and sat for nearly another hour. People made jokes and insults toward the cops, who merely joked back. A girl complained that she had to pee badly. No-one responded. Eventually, she got up, walked to the front of the bus, and peed into a garbage can. The police weren't even on the bus for long periods. People were squirming out of their cuffs. We could open the windows on the bus, and joked about escaping. The engine was running, the keys in the ignition. There was even some discussion about driving off in it. That would have been interesting!

All sorts of dramas about people's cuffs being too tight and losing feeling in their hands.Eventually the cops loosened them. It sounds mundane in the larger picture. They're just plastic cuffs. But losing circulation is serious business, and by then we'd been cuffed for five hours. Finally, we were led off the bus. Stand in line outside. Try to get comfortable with hands cuffed behind my back. Lean against the fence, stand this way, stand that way, tried even to sleep leaning against the fence, with no success. Then we go inside. More waiting in line. It was then that I managed to squirm my right hand out of the cuff. Big improvement. I still had the cuff on the left hand, but I could stand properly now.

The cop on the bus had said a number of times that he was trying to get us inside to get things over with as soon as possible. I thought he was just playing "good cop," but once inside I began to think he was right. The whole operation was totally confused. The delay for us was that they needed the arresting officer present to process us. It seems simple enough, but everything kept going wrong. They couldn't find the right photos, they couldn't find the arresting officer, again and again people asking the same questions over. Finally "my" officer showed up. Tell the lady at the desk my name, age, address, wait over here, walk over there, wait, okay, over here now. Finally four of us were led to a little cell. There were a few other little cells, and the rest of the OWS people were in one or two large rooms.

Our cell consisted of one padded bench and a toilet. My main problem was fatigue. I'd slept maybe a 20 minutes total on the bus, otherwise had been up all night , and by now it was maybe 8 a.m. The cell was a big improvement. One guy sat on the floor and the three of us sat on the bench, which I suppose you could call a bed of sorts. One of them curled up and slept soundly the entire time, while the three of us talked quietly. Really nice guys, reflecting on the movement, talking about what we'd been doing over the past few years, etc. I managed to get some more sleep. Cops would come back and ask for one of us, for finger printing or something or other. When I was in line to get printed, the cop taking me was talking on his cell phone, to his wife, I guess. She was mad that he was still at work. These guys were supposed to do a 4 pm – midnight shift, but were still there, by now nearly noon. The guy was yelling back at her about what a mess the whole thing was. "It's so stupid, they went about it all wrong, there was no planning," etc. On and on he went about the confusion of the operation.

The whole scene there was really depressing. I was only in there for about four hours (in custody for 10 or 11 hours). They were on duty now for close to 20 hours, and they have to be in there every day! I have to say that among all the cops I passed in the narrow hallways and was around on the bus and in the parking lot, and I mean probably a hundred or so, I didn't witness any overt rudeness or abusiveness. (One cop did look at me as if to say, "What are you doing walking toward me being taller than me?") My sense is that the cops were almost as irritated by the whole process we were. And I had the impression that, given the choice, an overwhelming majority of them would have chosen to not go through with the raid.

But their job is not to question. And this is why, despite a certain empathy I developed for them that night, having "visited" their "home," and despite the fact that nearly all of them were relatively nice to me, I still don't trust them. Because I know that if the boss tells them to do something to me, they'll do it. What they do to me or people like me in the process of "just following orders" might some day bring on mental illness or suicide, but they're not about to give up their salaries or pensions.

Oh, one cop was particularly friendly, and protesters were asking him why he wouldn't join us. He said, "First of all, I'm a fat guy. Fat guys don't march." Then he said what I've heard others say, that "I might agree with some of the things you say, but you're not realistic." If people like him were to think for themselves and not follow stupid orders, we would be more "realistic." And at one point he shook his head adamantly and said, "Look, we're not allowed to have any political opinions, as long as we're in uniform."

Three of us from the cell were finally released around 1 p.m. The fourth guy didn't have i.d. was expected to stay three days. He didn't seem too concerned, maybe because he's such a sound sleeper. We walked out into the mild afternoon air, ran into other demonstrators outside and chatted for a few minutes. I found out we were just blocks from Foley Square, where it turns out a lot of people spent the night. Walking around disoriented in strange daylight, I felt a little like I did years ago in Boston after leaving an all-night party. I walked to Foley Square, got coffee, and tried to get into the room where the hearing was being held about whether we could camp in the park again or not, but the room was supposedly full.

Later that afternoon, after resting and taking care of some things, I walked back to Zucotti park, the scene of the crime, to see what was going on. I should say that during the night and morning, I'd heard few reports of acts of support and resistance around the city and was feeling a little pessimistic. I've known all along that the several hundred of us can't really doing anyting on our own, that when we get hit, the only hope is for others to come out en masse in support, so I felt uncertain at that point. But when I got to the street around the park, I have to tell you: There was barely a square inch of sidewalk space. People were crowding into every available spot, just to stand around the park, and there wasn't even anything going on inside! This was to me tremendously inspiring. That people would gather around a space where ABSOLUTELY NOTHING was happening and just stand around it, for an hour, for two hours.

Why would you stand around a space where nothing was happening? It can only be because that space has meaning. Police gates surrounded the park. Inside, a small number of cops stood, spread throughout the park. I saw the exressions on some of their faces, and understood them in a way I couldn't have before the arrest. They looked unhappy. In the past, I might have interpreted their frowns as mean. But this time I saw them as miserable, as chumps forced to play the bad guy role through no choice of their own. And who knows how long they've been working and on how little sleep.

I heard drumming on the sidewalk, just a few feet from where my tent had been. Really spirited drumming. Three trumpeters took turns doing lead. They started playing When the Saints Go Marching In, and it really took off. The feeling I had during those few minutes is hard to describe. I saw a couple guys leaning on the police barricades just staring into the park. Dead still they stood, just staring. Who knows what each of them was thinking, what particular meaning the encampment had had for either of them.

But a feeling developed, in myself and from the crowd around me, that there was no way we wouldn't return to the park. I hadn't yet heard the results of the hearing (that ruled against tents and sleeping bags in the park) and so I didn't know if we would camp or not, or if the police would remove the barricades or we would remove them ourselves, or what day, but it seemed the feeling was so strong , and among so many people, that it was inevitable that we would return, and the movement would grow.

Soon after I had this feeling, I had another feeling– that I was going to fall over from fatigue. So I made a quick call, bought the Times, Daily News and Post and jumped on a bus out to Jersey. On the bus I discovered the Daily News had quoted me. [I couldn't find the actual article, but the quote is mentioned here, and there is an older Daily News article that quotes Steve. – James] When the raid first became apparent, the reporter in the park asked me how I felt about it. Aside from the fact that it seemed like a stupid question, I was too busy deciding what to do, and ignored him. Later, after I'd made my decision, I saw another guy talking at length to him. I tried to insert my answer but the speaker got mad and told me to wait my turn. A few minutes later I told him my opinion about the raid, which I'd been formulating for weeks. I said something like, "If they think this is the end of it, they're crazy. There might be thousands of people trying to get over here right now, blocked by police barricades. We have supporters all over the city, unions, etc. There could be strikes, demonstrations in support of us, all over the city or the country. When they raided Oakland therew were demonstrations in support of them all over the world. This is just the beginning."

I think I said something like that, in that crazy period before the raid. Anyway, sitting on the overheated bus, exhausted from sleeplessness, I was pleased to see that I had been quoted. They got the first part right, "If they think this is the end of it, they're crazy." The rest of the quote they got as, "The people will strike back." I never use the expression "the people," and I'm almost sure that even in that confusion I wouldn't have. Journalists always get quotes and details wrong, but overall it's okay. The Daily News isn't opposed to getting a story right (unlike the Post, who I wouldn't even talk to).

Speaking of journalists, soon before the police came after us, they kicked a reporter out. I think it was the Post photographer but I can't remember. In any case, the cop said, "No journalists," or something like that, and the person dutifully left the scene. I read something on line today about police choosing to conduct raids at night when less reporters are present. This is true enough, but it's even more overt. If some are present, they simply kick them out.

An important point I left out earlier: I mentioned that I was scared and nervous at first. But this was largely because I was undecided on my response. Once I decided to stay and link arms and get arrested, and sat down with the others, I stopped feeling afraid, and felt calm, and strangely happy. In the photo the police took of me before loading me on the bus, I'm smiling widely. All my political life I'd been afraid to get arrested, and never have up to now. I know there are horror stories, but in this case, for me, it really wasn't that bad. The worst part of it wast the fatigue. The next worst thing was the boredom.

Okay, enough about all that. The question now is what next. I read that people have returned to the park. I'll be back there tomorrow. What form the movement will take at this point is not entirely certain. Maybe people will challenge the order and camp anyway. Maybe they'll set up political events and food distribution in the park and sleep elsewhere. People have already been talking about setting up squats, or working with existing squats. There was also talk of sleeping in some local churches. Interestingly, we were just about to get some big military tents in. The plan was to replace the many smaller tents with a small number of larger tents. People have been complaining that since we began using tents, the sense of community has degraded. People no longer knew their neighbors, and crimes could be committed in secrecy. The challenge ahead was going to be to convince the people to move their tents. I was in jail with one of the people in the "town planning" working group, and we joked that the police have made this easier. After I got out, I discovered that everyone had been making this joke.

And just now I read on the Christian Science Monitor site that the raid could solve the crime and drug problem that had been hampering the movement, and get us more focused on politics again. (Actually, the crime problem had been getting a little better, as the security people had become more focused in the last week. I was going to write about that and other things, but never got the time and privacy to do so.) Another writer said the raid could help us in other ways, including media attention.

So, a lot of ideas and questions, and being off-site now, I'm not in the best position to go answering them. No doubt many conversations are going on now about just where to go from here. But the important point, that people who are far away might not understand, is that this movement is not over. Far from it. Actions planned for Thursday are still in the works. While reaction to the raid, around the city or around the country, have been slow to materialize, it's only been a day or so, and it took days, in some cases a whole week, for some of the responses to the Oakland raid.

Okay, that's it for now. I've been trying to write for the last week, but there's always so much conversation going on around the computer table, that the amount of mental energy needed to withstand it doesn't seem worth it, and I decide to just go do more work instead. I'll try to solve this problem somehow. In the meantime, feel free to distribute any or all of this report wherever you see fit, and you can leave my name on it or not, either way.

—Steve

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