On September 23rd, at 5:30am, I picked up my personal belongings and exited New York City jail, along with a handful of others. We were arrested during #FloodWallSt, one day after the #PeoplesClimateMarch. It was an exhilarating and beautiful few days of action that reminded me how much we can still accomplish in the streets, and made clear to me what issues are going to help unify the climate justice movement in the coming years.
Truthfully, I hadn’t planned on attending the #PeoplesClimateMarch until two weeks prior. I’d heard the march was organized by 350.org to coincide with the UN Climate Summit. The idea was to call for the largest climate justice rally in history to raise public awareness and apply pressure to those inside the summit. If you aren’t hip to how UN “Climate Summits” work, they are complete theater and produce little or no actual change: a bunch of “world leaders” make bold promises and passionate speeches for the cameras, but no significant legitimate climate policy ever comes of it, and the notion of identifying capitalism / corporate globalism as the root cause of the destruction of our planet is unthinkable.
I had little interest in attending another symbolic march. There were going to be plenty of people there already and I didn’t feel like my presence was needed. However, after watching the daily coverage at www.DemocracyNow.org in the lead-up to the event, I began to understand that the #PeoplesClimateMarch was planned with a more radical strategy. I followed the link from DN! to http://peoplesclimate.org/ and saw there was an avalanche of legit community action groups, student groups, and non-profits from around the country listed as partners.
Radical grassroots partners and speakers, including Naomi Klein and her new book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, were featured so prominently in the program, I knew this action was going to be something different. I read further and saw that the events for the weekend actually started on Friday with teach-ins, workshops, and direct action trainings Friday and Saturday leading up to the climate justice march on Sunday, and continuing with major civil disobedience on Monday.
I followed the #FloodWallSt hashtag to http://floodwallstreet.net/ and read the basic plans for the civil disobedience. The idea was that if enough outreach was done, many people would stay in New York overnight on Sunday and participate in a planned action to disrupt Wall Street during business hours. Why disrupt Wall Street? Because all the major weapons manufacturers, energy companies, and other industrial corporations destroying our planet are traded and thrive through Wall St. Capitalism cannot be reformed, there are no adjustments or legislative fixes that will change the way it functions: which is to voraciously maneuver to expand profit at any cost, regardless of lives lost or ecosystems annihilated. Participants were asked to wear blue, to symbolize the rising water that will overtake Manhattan some day if the global temperature continues to increase, as well as the flood of climate change activists that would fill the streets.
The next day I got an email from a longtime comrade with a link to purchase bus tickets with activists heading from Providence to the action: Better Future Project / 350 and student groups from Brown, URI, and more, had organized NINE buses full of people from RI. Not many of my Providence comrades or close friends were able to make it to the march or stay for Monday’s civil disobedience, but I was able to meet up with bunch of Occupy Providence family along the way.
We gathered outside the State House at 5:30am. It was as early as hell, but there was a lot of excitement and positive energy on our bus. The Occupy Prov crew and I got separated from the RI contingent when we got to New York. There were thousands and thousands of people in the streets. More than I had seen at any action since the high point of the Iraq War protests in the early 2000’s. We walked around with comrades from an anarchist group for a while but decided to stay when we saw the #FloodWallSt contingent.
Our crew joined hundreds of other people carrying the largest banner I’ve ever seen in my life: it was 300 feet long and eight feet wide, reading: “Capitalism = Climate Chaos.” The message would be clearly visible from the sky and to anyone looking down from the buildings we’d be passing. It was exactly what needed to be said and we carried that banner proudly for the entire three-mile march.
Looking around it became clear that the majority of the messaging was blatantly anti-capitalist. Signs read: “Capitalism Is Destroying Our Planet,” “Corporate Globalism doesn’t work: System change now!” “Climate Change is Class War.” I thought it was just our area but as thousands of people streamed by on either side heading for different parts of the march, I saw that the signs were almost all of similar messaging. From watching #DemocracyNow I knew that there was a large contingent of First Nation activists leading the march with a clearly anti-capitalist message as well.
Some of the chants and songs that stuck out to me most from the day were:
People gonna rise like the water,
gotta calm this crisis down.
I hear the voice of my great grand-daughter,
saying shut down Wall Street now.
1-2-3-4 – Climate Change is Class War!
5-6-7-8 – Frack the war and smash the State!!
After protesting for the last fifteen years, I’ve only seen small or medium sized socialist, anarchist, or anti-capitalist contingents within a march or protest. The #PeoplesClimateMarch was totally different. This was a 400,000 person event where the vast majority of participants were connecting capitalism, corporate globalism, and militarism directly to climate disaster. I had to pinch myself. Many elders in the movement have said for years, that the overall climate movement would be the umbrella that brings the working class together to enact system change and smash the 1%. Last Sunday’s enormously successful march was a glimpse of that for me.
Folks from #FloodWallSt and organizers from #PeoplesClimateMarch were passing out flyers for the civil disobedience training that night at 7pm and the #FloodWallSt action the next day. I got a stack and began handing them out as well. The march was long and slow (like it should be), filling the streets of NYC for most of the afternoon. When marchers finally got to the end, there were radical anti-capitalist Hip Hop and theater performances, countless community action tables with info on different climate justice campaigns, and a long beautiful row of much needed port-o-potties.
I said goodbye to the Occupy PVD crew as they headed back for the buses, got dinner, then found my way to the civil disobedience training. Folks from #OccupyWallSt / #FloodWallSt were facilitating the meeting, covering details of arrest protocol and possible scenarios for the action. The next morning we gathered a few blocks from Wall Street in Battery Park. The organizers were expecting a couple hundred people, but to everyone’s surprise, by 10am there were a few thousand people there. Naomi Klein spoke, so did Christopher Hedges, Elisa Estronioli, Mamadou Goita, Miriam Miranda, and more. Folks got a crash course in how to use the People’s mic and another training on the planned civil disobedience sit-in for the day: we would march to the steps of the Stock Exchange or as close we could get, and shut the street down. The march was organized into three tiers: arrestable participants up front, followed by those willing to support and potentially risk arrest in the process, and finally those who believed in the action and wanted to partake but were not in position to risk arrest.
We marched out of the park 3,000 strong just after 11am. The cops tried to funnel us onto the sidewalk but we took the street instead. Earlier that morning, scouts from the #FloodWallSt organizing committee had taken note of the hundreds of police officers already stationed at all intersections leading into Wall Street. The heaviest police presence was at the intersection of Broadway and Wall St, directly in the line of our march—obviously they had done their scouting too.
What they didn’t know was that we were ready to adapt: all three thousand marchers clogged the street and headed up Broadway, but the front of the march bent onto Whitehall St and formed around the stupid “Wall St. Bull” sculpture. This allowed us to surround the symbol of Wall St. while shutting down all of Broadway from the Bull to the intersection of Wall St. By doing this, we avoided getting kettled and immediately arrested by the huge contingent of officers guarding the intersection, but still shut down the road and made sure that Wall St would also be closed by the police blockade. Pretty smart for a bunch of “jobless hippies!”
Three thousand people sat down in unison. Like something right out of the Sixties. The huge “Capitalism = Climate Chaos” banner was rolled out and a gigantic foil beach ball representing the true cost to the environment if energy corporations burn all known fossil fuel left in the ground or “carbon bubble” (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_bubble), was rolled along the top of it. There were many cops inside the barricades protectively surrounding the Bull and eyeing the carbon bubble hatefully. The bubble eventually landed in front of the sculpture and a white-shirted (higher ranking) officer ordered the other cops to pop it. They looked like bullies at the beach smashing a kid’s sand-castle. The crowd went wild though, as metaphorically speaking, it seemed that the State had finally come to its senses and helped the people crush the carbon bubble! Looking at their faces, the metaphor was clearly lost on them.
Look close! I’m helping to hold the banner!
Shortly after, one of the activists stood up and declared that it was time to rein in Wall St corruption: he produced a rope and tried lasso the charging Bull! The crowd cheered as he got closer with each attempt, but the cops swarmed to defend their masters’ pet and confiscated the damned rope. You can always count on the fuzz to protect and serve the 1%—but when it comes to Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, people of color, poor folks in general, or mother earth? Not so much.
Nevertheless, morale was high, and folks continued to sit in. Most of us realized that something was off: no riot police were called in and the hundreds of regular cops behind the barricades were staying put. During the trainings, the #FloodWallSt organizers made it clear that holding the space for even an hour would be a huge victory. It was long past an hour now, we’d held the street, and the cops weren’t making any move to break us up. Mayor De Blasio must’ve cc’d in the entire police department on the same email that morning: “Embarrass me while the national media is in town for the UN climate summit, and I will fucking END YOU.”
As fears of an immediate mass-arrest wore off, folks broke into small circles to discuss what to do next. Another hour past. Food and water were brought in, and people moved freely in and out of the barricades. Street performers showed up. Broadway transformed into a mini occupy festival. After much discussion in small groups and via the People’s Mic, the majority of the people decided we’d won a victory by holding the street for hours and now it was time to attempt breaking the police blockade at Wall St.
Everyone rose and marched to the intersection of Broadway and Wall St. The enormous formation of officers was waiting with two rows barricades and mounted police behind them. #FloodWallSt activists tried to remove the first row of barricades and get closer. De Blasio’s orders must have been severe because the cops didn’t get violent at first! They just reinforced the barricades. A pushing war between cops and protesters ensued. The metaphor from People vs. Cops, to Climate vs. Wall St, was staggering.
If you’ve ever been involved in a clash with police in the U.S., you know how absurd what I’m writing is. Police in this country do not tolerate resistance to “command presence.” If you are pushing barricades into police officers, you’re lucky if you only wind up getting arrested, and not clubbed, pepper sprayed, tased, or shot. But I’m being real here, all they did was push back against the barricades, that is… until the people actually started winning.
Then the cops initiated punching, screaming, and shoving while the white-shirts pepper sprayed the crowd.
In the process, they hit many journalists and cops as well. You could see them coughing, covering their faces, and calling for water. #Blowback
The pepper spray backed off the crowd but instead of retreating, #FloodWallStreet activists resumed the sit-in. Hundreds of people sitting right in the middle of the intersection of Broadway and Wall Street, a block and a half away from the Stock Exchange.
A couple of the people up front pushing against the barricades got arrested. The National Lawyers Guild (our heroes!) were on hand, got the their names, and began tracking them through the system. The rest of the crowd chanted and sang anti Wall Street messages. Large numbers of cops moved up Broadway from behind us and in front of us. Once again, that sense of being about to get arrested was imminent and the air was charged with anticipation, but no additional arrests were made, the police just readjusted their flanks to the new location of our sit-in.The People’s Mic started up and a stack of speakers was taken. Students, workers, and veteran #OccupyWallSt members from NYC and all over the country told their stories. Some declared victory, and suggested we could go home to plan the next action without getting arrested. Some implored the crowd to stay as long as it took. Others pleaded with those present to stay committed and escalate tactics in the climate justice movement at all costs whether they stayed or left the sit-in.
We’d lost a decent amount of folks over the last six hours and now more began to drift off, but even with reduced numbers, we still had hundreds of people. A soccer game started up between the barricades. People left and returned with food. This went on for another hour and a half or more. The sun was going down and the temperature was dropping. Most of the remaining folks were from the “willing to risk arrest” tier from the beginning of the day and hadn’t brought any warm clothes or gear. Having thought they’d get arrested in the first twenty minutes, most had only brought their ID and a couple bucks. Many felt that the police were trying to wait us out, but wouldn’t resort to mass arrest until midnight, others thought maybe not till the start of the work day in the morning.What became clear, was that those who had stayed were planning on seeing it through—all night if that’s what it took. An affinity group from MA was discussing trying to hold the street for the length of the entire climate summit, maybe start Occupy Wall Street V 2.0 right here in the middle of the damned road. A call went out for warm clothes and supplies to last the night. It looked like we might be in it for the long haul, but when two tent-like structures made of reclaimed barricades and banner materials went up, whoever was in charge of the cops had seen enough: nothing terrifies NYPD brass like the sight of an unpermitted tent going up blocks from Zuccotti Park.
The cops started closing their ranks and formed into a circle around us. Folks who were unable or unwilling to get arrested raced for the sidewalk while those who could stay for the civil disobedience locked arms in the middle of the intersection. I almost lost my shit and started crying when a climate change activist in a wheelchair, who had difficulty even controlling it under those circumstances, had their comrade wheel them to join us. Lines of police rushed into the street and formed up inside the barricades blocking anyone else from joining.And just like that, the happy festival atmosphere was gone and the adrenaline-battle vibe was back on. Looking around, I saw there were about a hundred of us holding street which was surreal because there were hundreds of police and hundreds of people cheering for us from the sidewalk. It definitely felt reassuring to have so many folks shouting support, but I couldn’t help but wonder how things would’ve been harder for the police if we had that many people actually sitting-in with us, or if at that moment, they strategically decided to march on Wall St and set up another sit-in on the steps of the Stock Exchange while the cops were busy with us. Sometimes I look around at actions and it feels like there are more radical “street medics,” photographers, and videographers, than there are radical activists.Further, what if all three thousand people who had marched out of Battery Park were with us were here now? We would’ve had enough people to send fifteen hundred of us to the steps of the Stock Exchange, while still having another fifteen-hundred in place to hold the intersection. Maybe we could’ve kept the sit-in strong for the length of the climate summit. This wasn’t really a consideration earlier in the day because nobody guessed there’d be that many people in attendance or that the cops wouldn’t be in mass-arrest mode right from the start.
Being a self-employed, cisgender, hetero, white-male citizen who isn’t on any kind of probation, I realize that I have a ton of privileges. I completely understand that not everyone can risk arrest, but there were a whole lot of white, middle class, “environmental activists” screaming about how “there’s not much time left to save the planet” earlier in the day and the day before: where were they now? We work, go to class, party, and watch Netflix nearly 365 days a year, we can’t take two full days to combat climate justice, even now, at the tipping point of disaster? If not now, when?The crowd started chanting to the cops: “Go Arrest Wall St – Don’t Arrest Them! Go Arrest Wall St – Don’t Arrest Them!” The message made some of the police visibly uncomfortable. One of the people sitting-in got up and started screaming at the cops, calling them cowards and tyrants for arresting us. He beat on his chest and went on about how he wasn’t afraid and how we all had to stand up for our rights. I got pissed because he was making all these aggressive motions and really whooping it up. These cops had been docile as kittens for most of the day and I didn’t wanna get beat the fuck up or pepper-sprayed in the final moments because this dude felt like having a Braveheart moment.
If you’ve ever been to an IMF, World Bank, DNC, RNC, etc., type protest, where it’s a bunch of radicals against the cops over the course of a few days, you know that these cops don’t play. You can get as loud as you want, but the second they feel threatened, bored, or disrespected; the moment you touch them, or attempt to take the march or action anywhere they deem unacceptable, they crack down with riot gear, batons, and zip ties. It’s generally over very quickly and they’re total dicks while arresting you: putting zip ties on tight, making you walk backwards to the bus, denying access to bathrooms, screaming at you to not look them in the eye, and generally working to make the process as unpleasant and terrifying as possible.
I didn’t know if it was this guy’s first action or what, but today had been a cake-walk. Our civil disobedience was working and there was no tactical advantage whatsoever in my opinion to risk agitating a violent reaction at that point. Thankfully he wrapped up his monologue and sat the fuck down.
Everyone passed a around a paper and pen, making sure that the National Lawyers Guild had our info and could track us through the system. The cops gave an official order to disperse but the sit-in only started chanting louder: “You’ve got the wrong people – We think you want THEM!” and pointed at Wall St. There was a second order to disperse and then a third, explaining that the police would be coming to arrest us one by one, that if we didn’t resist arrest we’d only be charged with disorderly conduct. What planet am I on right now?! I thought. Since when do cops breaking up a protest give three dispersal orders, explain your rights and charges, and then gently tap you on the shoulder saying it’s time to go?
But that’s exactly what happened. Groups of three or four cops, without riot gear, walked up to the sit-in and pointed to a person, nicely turned you around, then put on the “flex-cuffs,” way more comfy than the old zip ties!
As a person was being escorted to the bus, folks from the sit-in would ask what your name was, you’d tell them, and the whole place would cheer for you. When it was my turn, a girl in the middle shouted, “Hey, What’s your name?” “My name is Jared Paul from Providence, Rhode Island and I PUT ON FOR MY CITY!” I screamed.As I was escorted to the police bus I could see the line of supporters going down the block. Some friends of my mine in the crowd saw me and started cheering. I yelled as loud as I could: “Capitalism is chaos! Power to the People!!” It was a little indulgent, but I couldn’t resist. I wanted the cameras to have audio documentation of us connecting climate justice to capitalism and for the crowd to know that those of us getting arrested were feeling strong.
We were arrested around 8pm, went through intake and placed in holding around 11pm, and the last of us was released by 5:30am or so. Nobody was charged with anything other than disorderly conduct, so, there was no overnight, no being transferred to central booking at 6am to be arraigned at 8am, etc. Just a summons to come back to court later this month. In all honesty, it was the gentlest and fastest protest arrest I’ve ever been through.
The National Lawyers Guild and #FloodWallSt jail support crew was waiting with hot coffee, tea, food, and blankets when we got out. They stayed until everyone was accounted for, they even lined up a church rectory floor for folks who didn’t have a place. If you don’t know about the National Lawyers Guild, you should definitely look them up: https://www.nlg.org/, they are truly my heroes: lawyers that believe in activism and the people’s right to protest and to civil disobedience. Same goes for our courageous Jail Support organizers and volunteers. They have protesters backs at all the big actions and are 100% thorough and committed. We’d be fucked without them, and I’d be remiss not to mention it.
I exchanged contact info with folks I’d been arrested with, gave hugs, and then took a cab back to Brooklyn with a long-time #OWS comrade of mine and slept for the next ten hours. We could’ve done more with our numbers, but shutting down one of the busiest streets in NYC’s financial sector and causing the police to blockade the most heavily trafficked intersection leading to Wall Street for almost twelve hours? A hundred people arrested for civil disobedience? That’s not nothing either.
Between the totally anti-capitalist messaging of Sunday’s march and the size of it (400,000), the call for civil disobedience at Wall St to match it, and the 3,000 people who actually turned out in an effort to escalate the intensity of the Climate Justice movement on Monday? The #PeoplesClimateMarch and #FloodWallSt were a complete success in my opinion.
We can have all the rallies, marches, protests, and email petitions we want, but our corporate owned Republicrats and Democrans will never take real action to prevent climate disaster. The energy companies are not going to give up the $30 trillion worth of oil, coal, and fracking revenue they can still extract from the earth—not even if it means another 1,000 Deep Water Horizon spills. Let’s be 100% clear: they DO NOT CARE what happens us.
The only way to stop them is to get in the streets, to get into the path of the Tar-Sands and Amazon bulldozers, to get into our State Houses, and city halls, and shut shit down. That’s gonna take a lot of sacrifice from a lot of privileged people. I know that I will be taking the next couple weeks to seriously reconsider where I’m at and what I can give. I’ll leave you with a moving letter submitted by some of the comrades I was arrested with at #FloodWallSt, who are strategizing for how we can escalate the climate justice movement in the future: http://www.tarsandsblockade.org/beyond_floodwallst/
You can also watch #DemocracyNow livestream coverage of the #PeoplesClimateMarch at:http://new.livestream.com/accounts/467901/events/3400186
For more amazing photos of the action please check Jenna Pope’s brilliant photo blog at: https://jennapope.exposure.co/flood-wall-street
SHUT IT DOWN!!!Photo of me getting arrested by Heather Cramer Robinson
All other photos by Jessica Lehrman at Gothamist.com, OWS, or are marked by the photographer.