And I didn’t speak, because I wasn’t a ….

At this moment I am on a train stopped in Rochester with a border patrol officer hassling an English speaking national of another country in the seat behind me.  It is 11:30 at night, the car lights are dim, people are resting, some were sleeping.  We have been violently jerked awake and alert; the tension is very high in what had been a peaceful car.  No one of us makes a sound.  The poor young man is hauled off to custody for not having proper identification.  The young woman who sat beside him did have the right things and remains with us.

I had just signed on and was going to quote German pastor Martin Niemöller for another reason.  It seems fortuitous that I had found this statement before the officer burst in.

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me

I felt during the incident as though I should have risen to the defense of this young man.  I do not have the skills to do that, nor the community of the occupation that Bonnie speaks about below.  I feel terrible.  I don’t know what would have happened if I had risen to his defense; probably nothing but that I, too, would have been arrested.

I just had a conversation with the two men next to me, one of whom, a professional photographer, had gotten to Liberty Square at 6am on the morning of the threatened eviction when Bonnie and I had been there all night.  The other, a student in Albany, had been there for a short time to support the movement.  The older man does not share my rage about this treatment of human beings, including the rest of the people on this train; he says I don’t know anything about the young well spoken man who was just hauled off. I replied that I know he is a human being and so are all of us.   The younger one says he shares my feelings, including that of helplessness and impotence in the face of this act of repression.

In a country where extra-judicial imprisonment and torture of anyone, anywhere is “legal,” the arrest of someone in this circumstance could be very serious.  Indeed, none of us is safe from this and we delude ourselves if we think we are.

I want to quote now from Bonnie’s article as I had intended to.  It is  about a different world that is already emerging, one where people resist police repression together.  She reports first hand of an incident at OWS:
“After Bloomberg’s shameless and violent paramilitary crackdown in the dead of night on OWS in Zuccotti Park last month, I attended the general assembly meeting there the night after. I was awed by the resilient communal spirit of the occupiers facillitating and attending the meeting.

“Suddenly there was a disturbing distraction to the proceedings. Some occupiers were sitting on top of a wall ledge on the south edge of the park. A few overzealous police officers were ordering them to get down. To my mind it seemed gratuitous power-flexing by the police.

“After hundreds of NYC Occupiers were roughed up and/or arrested, their tents and personal items damaged or destroyed, and metal barricades erected around every last inch of the encampment’s borders, with that night only four police-monitored entrances available, in which each entrant was carefully inspected (for sleeping bags?) while going in and clandestinely, no doubt, had his or her photo taken. After hundreds of occupiers now had to find alternative sleeping accommodations this ‘get off the ledge’ power dictum to a tiny cluster of peaceful occupiers seemed insult to injury.

“A young man near me began to aim a stream of expletives at one aggressive officer hassling a young woman in particular. I inhaled worriedly, sure that his provocation would not bode well for the individuals in direct line of police engagement. Would one hot head cop and one hot head occupier derail the civilized Occupation community this evening tending to its vital and noble business?

“Suddenly an attractive dark-haired young woman stood up on the ledge, cupped her hands around her mouth and queried loudly, ‘Should I get down from the wall?’ I twisted my head to view the crowd of occupiers behind me re-chanting her message earnestly but without inflated hysteria. How empowering for her and all of us was that rhetorical ritual! She would not get down unless called to by her Occupy community.

“I looked back to the feisty young woman and had to blink. Every inch of the ledge was suddenly — it seemed automatically — filled with bodies defiantly sitting. Had there been a lot more sitters all along and I had not registered them, or, more likely, had countless occupiers hastened to the wall to join the woman and her comrades? The message of this passionately bonded proactive community was clear, if she were to be forcibly removed and arrested so would they all be. I’d call it a ‘checkmate’ moment for the police.

“I was awed by the display of loyalty as well as savvy.

“The most aggressive policeman was clearly enraged by the dazzling dynamic and seemed all the more motivated to force the issue, but four of his fellow officers were backing away, encouraging him to let it go.

“I exhaled, believing that was the end of it. But from the front of the meeting, a message was chanted back to us that the meeting may be momentarily terminated. Again, no strident messaging. The voice of calm, conveying ‘Please stand by, we will handle this as we have handled so much already. More maturely than we have been treated, certainly.’ The police apparently were deciding if the wall incident should be used by them for more broadscale power-flexing.

“The meeting was allowed to go on. A meeting that was taking care of business. The business of finding sleeping accommodations for 300 people, which they did, informing people where they could go to retrieve whatever remnants of their personal possessions had not been destroyed by the violent police, informing the community of the status of their fellow occupiers who had been arrested, and sharing and soliciting preliminary plans for further action.”

You can read Bonnie’s full article here.

Thank you, Bonnie, for putting your body on the line with the OWS movement and for reporting on it.  Thank you to all the courageous, smart, committed occupiers who are showing us that another world is possible.

I don’t know what would have happened in this train car if I had asked my fellow passengers if I should rise to defend the young man.  The time did not seem right to try to find out, so I didn’t.  I long for the day when anyone could ask and know that the mass of other people would respond wisely and courageously  in such a situation.

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