Tuesday, September 18, 2012

It's Better in Jail

You're getting sick of this excuse: I wasn't trying to get arrested. Brook and I had stayed overnight in the financial district because we didn't want to miss the 6:30 AM muster call for Occupy Faith that Monday morning. She was juggling the phone-texts to our 30+ clergy and I was stumbling around. I'm not functional at that hour, usually squinting, and taking for granted you are who you say you are. Three cups of coffee helps but I was only on my first. Our modest group met in a square across from Zuccotti and from there things radically changed.

We began with Rev. William Grant reading the Occupy Faith vision statement and our number grew from 15 to nearly 400 persons! We had not realized that a variety of unattached affinity groups had joined us thinking, "Well, these folks look like they know what they're doing!" Until then Occupy Faithers had had modest intentions. Maybe we'd process to other blockade zones and perhaps say prayers of lament at the bull statue on lower Broadway over a nation's greed. But the OWS field organizers realized this benign offering by clergy had become something else. Luckily Brook kept pumping me with McDonald's coffee to keep me upright when they asked me to do some CD training right on the spot.

So we practiced--all 500 of us by now--right there in that space by first all sitting down. It went well and as I led this exercise I thought I couldn't abandon them if it came to a later action. OWS asked us to lead the procession to the NYPD checkpoint and we did. It was there you could access to the Stock Exchange. Once there we sat down and the arrests began. That was about 8 AM.

About 20 of us were in that first batch with additonals coming to jail throughout the morning. Each new delegation had stories confrontations with the cops in bank lobbies, side streets, more checkpoints, even sidewalks and financial institutions. One was a doctor on vacation from his Bronx emergency room. Another was a Catholic worker who innocently had forgotten an earlier court appearance and an outstanding warrant. There were two teenagers (minors) from Philadelphia who were swept up in police frustration. Some were bloody, some clearly had broken bones in their lower arms. Each was greeted with wild applause upon entering our lock-up.

As we reached 200 in that holding cell we whistled "Battle Hymn of the Republic", one fellow composed two rap songs (I'd rather stand up proudly in jail than spend my life on  my knees!). We sang a few more protest songs throughout the day. In two instances of creativity the plastic water cooler and garbage can were inverted and becoming an ersatz drumming circle a la Blue Man Group. When an officer took those things away because of noise with, "these are for you to clean up in here." To which we chanted, "We are here to clean up out there! Never try to match one liners with Occupiers. In one corner an affinity discussion group convened while some began "silent meditation" in another section.

I'd been to jail twice and about the fifth hour you just want to get out and go home. But there was a blessing this time...perhaps it's an anointing ever-present I could never see or receive. There was an abundant richness of human life and sharing with an intensity one misses outside. Jail is jail and it's not romantic but I was visited with a new expectation not of my name being called for release but of yet one more extraordinary occasion happening...of laughing, singing, being angry together, worrying about how to help each other. I say Occupy "is a gift to me." And it is certainly that, a God ordained joy on the way to justice. At nine hours I was hesitant to leave; they had to call my name a couple of times.


  1. George, thank you for this beautiful post and for being there yesterday! It was an honor to be arrested with you and I hope to see you again at future action.

    From the social worker you sat next to in the NYPD wagon. Best,

  2. George, did you see this ABC News report?

    At times it seemed the mass of the protest was made up more by the media covering the event than by anyone with a political agenda. A pink-frocked "bishop" protester arrested by police was surrounded by a media scrum so dense the police came to break up the knot of humanity.

    The press coverage of the protests was execrable. On the basis of Allison Kilkenny's excellent coverage in The Nation, I'm subscribing to their online service.

    Thank you and the other members of Occupy Faith for what you do.

  3. I've occupied. I've been arrested. I've been convicted. I've been to jail. Still not sure confrontation is the right answer. Perhaps there is a more joyful approach. Or at least an approach that exhausts all peaceful options.