The occupy movement has spread around the world like wild fire and one of the brightest blazes has been in the city of Chicago where occupy activists engaged in their second week of direct action against the city’s refusal to allow them use of a permanent space in Grant Park.
The demonstration began last week when 200 protesters were detained for occupying a section of Grant Park that has been coined “The Horse,” where there is a giant statue of a Native American riding a horse and pointing his bow.
On October 23rd, one week later, the Occupation attempted to reclaim the park again and to exercise its first amendment right to free speech any time of day or night. The first speaker opened saying, “There are those who say that this is a communist movement. We say this is a movement with communists in it!”
The National Nurses United made a clear stance, setting up their first aid tent and announcing that they weren’t going anywhere. The occupiers then formed a protective ring around the them to defend their stand. At 11:10 the park was “closed” with the activists (and myself) still inside.
With the crowd chanting and drums and brass playing, the police slowly started surrounding the crowd. After about 2 hours the police began detaining people.
The females were put in a police wagon and the men into jail buses which they renamed “freedom buses.” The women sang “This Little Light of Mine” on their way to the jailhouse.
When we got there we were relieved of our belongings, many of which were never returned and we were then put into a holding cell. The cells were divided by gender and contained far too many people for anyone to even sit down.
With 25 in a 10-man cell we then started up a “stack” (Occupy Wall Street term for a list of speakers) and began discussing future actions, opinions on the current situation and
comparisons to the previous week’s experience. (Five of the protesters were also arrested the week before.)
Chants of “whose jail? Our jail!” rang from the holding cells and, whenever a new detainee arrived, the cells would erupt in applause.
One by one, the people in the holding cells were taken out and asked for their information. As they left people would applaud, many with the thought that their stay in prison was almost over.
Once processed the detainees were led into a smaller room with about 4 or 5 occupants. Regularly we would assume that one of us was getting out of the second cell when the guard would step up and ask everyone for a person that no one knew.
About a dozen people who didn’t exist were called before anyone in our cell was finally called. The guards taunted us by calling someone’s name, then telling that person to follow them without opening the door. At least twice the guard would say, “What? You don’t want to get out? OK.” and then walk away, leaving a prisoner to make a futile attempt to open the door while the guard had his fun.
The same tricks were played on the women.
Finally we were led out for fingerprinting and mug shots. In the previous arrest this was the final step, before being given bond and released. This time, however, after finger printing and being barked at if we attempted to smile for our pictures, we were instead led to a third cell. That is when it began to sink in, we weren’t going anywhere.
I was in a cell with a second-time offender. The cell was only big enough for two and there was a toilet in the room with no divider and no toilet paper. There was a dirty sink and there were no mattresses, forcing us to sleep on concrete slabs. After talking for a few hours, we heard guards say that we could be held for 48 hours, the longest the law would allow them to hold us.
As time went on we realized that the guards stopped coming by to check on us. Prisoners’ requests for toilet paper, food, medication, and phone calls went on deaf ears as the guards simply left the block and the inmates completely alone.
Cries from the women’s block for medication for a detainee with epilepsy went completely ignored as was a cry for medicine for an inmate with ulcerative colitis.
We went on like that until the next afternoon. Not a single guard, no food, no toilet paper, no word about what was going on. The hopeless situation that we were in was clearly getting to some of the detainees and they began yelling for someone to come and tell us what was going on. The men’s block rallied to calm our comrades down. They were encouraged to think of Martin Luther King or Gandhi and how they would have handled the situation.
Finally people began getting let out completely unbeknown to the rest of us who were beginning to believe that we still had more than a day to go before we would see the light of day. Bologna sandwiches were served to some inmates but reportedly not all and the guards slowly started checking on everyone again.
Those with previously recorded need for medication that lay less than 50 feet from where we were held still went ignored. And, the guards regularly blamed us for the holdup, saying that it was taking so long because there were so many of us, despite the fact that the week before on the exact same day they managed to process and release 200 people in half the time.
Finally it was time for my release, 18 hours later and with little sleep I was forced to say goodbye and good luck to the surrounding cells which contained several people who would not be leaving for at least another day. It was bittersweet.
As I walked out with some of my original possessions I and my fellow occupiers were greeted by television cameras and chants of “heroes, heroes.” Occupiers had set up camp in front of the police station to stand in solidarity, dispense hugs, food, water and free phone calls.
It was truly heartening to see our comrade’s, tears streaming down their faces, running up and giving us cinematic kisses and long hugs.
As the night progressed, reports that our comrade Scott Marshall, Chair of the Labor
Commission of the Communist Party, USA and retired steel worker, had been released 20 hours after his detention and finally, almost 24 hours after the arrests were made the last nurse activist was released.
Mayor Emanuel was sending a clear message that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated and threats have been made that each incarceration would become more and more uncomfortable. The second time offenders have also been told that if they are arrested again they will be facing a $10,000 bail set for their release.
Many of the police officers, however ,expressed sympathy with the protesters in private and many of them told me personally that they sided with the occupation and that this was simply a job that they needed in a difficult time. Officers used terms like “solidarity” and “power to the people” when they dealt with us one on one.
One guard even commented that the cells were without toilet paper because “sometimes new mayors don’t like to pay their bills and now some people don’t want to give us any” and that “if you [we] don’t like how poorly the prison is run and maintained we should talk to the mayor about the budget.”
“We’ll be back, we’ll be back,” we chanted, when we left the prison that day.