I was across the street with a cup of coffee, trying to digest the day, when I saw the spotlights come on. The whole camp was flooded with light; the yellow-orange leaves of the honey locust trees glinted against the blackness. I rushed back over to Zuccotti Park, where cops were passing out sheets of paper. Leave immediately, the eviction notice read, or you will be subject to arrest. Inside the camp, everyone was scrambling. People were overturning tables and barricading the entrances. The police chief stood outside the barriers and pointed a loudspeaker at us, but a cry rose up and we drowned his words out with chants. “Whose park?” “OUR PARK!” “Whose park? “OUR PARK!” There is a time to back down and a time to stand tall. I knew immediately that I had to stay.
In the center of the kitchen tent, our park defense team chained themselves together with bicycle locks around their necks. The rest of us encircled the kitchen and sat down on the ground, linking our arms together. People passed out face masks and sharpies so that we could write the number for the legal team on our bodies—standard practice in any potential mass arrest situation. “Be strong!” People ran around shouting. Someone yelled “MIC CHECK” and dozens of voices echoed, and together we read the First Amendment to the riot police as they surrounded us. In the nervous tension, they sealed off the park. I would later learn that all journalists and press had also been kicked out. The cops didn’t want anyone to see what they were about to do.
People passed around bottles of water and cigarettes. A few people grabbed fire extinguishers. American flags flapped in the black wind. Mic checks told us which sides the police were advancing from. Tents were ripped down and flung unceremoniously into the back of a waiting garbage truck. Once most of the camp was cleared, riot police behind masks and shields formed a circle around the kitchen. “Mic check!” a guy shouted. “MIC CHECK!” The crowd echoed. 15,000 people were watching the live stream right now, he announced. And a thousand protesters were converging on the park, surging through the streets and subways. A thousand. It was two in the morning.
The chief held up his loudspeaker and ordered us out again, and we responded by mic checking that there were people chained together inside, and “if you attempt to move them, they could be seriously injured.” And then a chorus of voices rose up and blended into the Star Spangled Banner. I will not forget the look in their eyes as we sang. One officer slipped off his hat but tried to make it look like he was just rubbing his head. We tightened our grip and clung to each other. Behind his Plexiglas face mask, one officer was crying. Then they moved in.
At first, it was just a single officer who tried to grab at the mass of protesters. Everyone else held back. “COME ON!” he screamed, and they launched themselves in. Cops grabbed a girl by the legs and tried to rip her out, shrieking, and the crowd held on as long as they could. She tore loose and she was dragged away. Cops hit people with their batons, trying to break the links. After the guy next to me was yanked out, they took a break. My left side was now open. I glanced at the guy to my right and he nodded. “You ready?” I nodded, and our arms tightened. A cop towered over me. “You’re next.” I looked directly at him. “I know,” I said, my voice spiked with defiance. And then they came at me. A cop grabbed each shoulder, one grabbed at my chest, and they pulled. My arms remained locked; neither me nor the guy next to me budged. I let my head drop and I ignored what was happening around me; I just held on. They got my legs out and my body was in the air, but still we held on. Someone grabbed my hair and tugged. Finally they all jerked in unison, the link snapped, and I was dragged face down across the ground by my hair. “PUT YOUR HANDS BEHIND YOUR BACK,” cops were screaming. My backpack was torn off and plastic zip tie cuffs were wrenched onto my wrists. A cop dragged me to my feet and led me towards the waiting police buses. I held my head high as we walked. We looked at each other and both let out a breath. “Man,” he said after a pause. “That was a hell of a grip you guys had.”
I ended up in the back of a stifling van with nine other guys. We cruised through the streets towards the police headquarters, where they kept us locked inside for over an hour. Then we stood in the courtyard of the police station in the chilly night air, orange lanterns glinting off the metal gates. After another long while, they lined us up in front of a makeshift desk they had set up. “So what do you think about all this?” I asked an officer when I reached the front of the line. “I don’t even know why you guys are protesting,” he said as he wrote down my information. “Don’t you think that might have been worth finding out before you destroyed our camp?” “You have your ID with you?” “Back right pocket.” He reached in and pulled the ID out of my pocket. “So what are you protesting about?” “It’s a little late to be asking that now, don’t you think?” But I began to explain it to him, and we had a nice conversation as he snapped my mug shot and I shuffled forwards in line, my hands still cuffed behind my back. I still don’t really understand that question. Look around. Poverty, hunger, crushing debt, war profiteering, massive income inequality, homelessness, corporate greed, government corruption, record levels of unemployment. Why are you not protesting? That our sense of moral outrage has been blunted by decades of institutionalized complacency is just another symptom of our deepening cultural crisis of values. As is our tendency towards instant gratification and simple quick-fix solutions. “We are not hostage takers,” I’d overheard one occupier explain during an interview the day before. “We do not make demands.” We are trying to spark a broad cultural conversation on values, priorities, accountability. We are confronting a morass of pervasive issues deeply woven into the fabric of our society. This can’t be simplified into a ten second sound bite. This won’t be solved quickly. This isn’t going to be easy.
They moved me inside into a temporary cell with a handful of other protesters, including a long-time activist in his fifties who still had a bicycle lock around his neck. A new officer tried to hand me back my ID, and I just stared at him. “Take it!” He said impatiently. “My hands are locked behind my back,” I reminded him. He scowled and slipped the ID into my pocket through the bars. When they called my name, I stepped out. They clipped the zip tie cuffs offs and told me to stand with my legs apart and my arms spread against the wall. A cop patted me down, emptied the contents of my pockets into a manila envelope, and ushered me into a holding cell.