After my February 5 arrest for civil disobedience in Washington, D.C., I teased photographer/activist George De Castro Day for not getting a photo of me actually being handcuffed in the Capitol rotunda. No one had gotten a photo of me being arrested a week earlier on the Capitol steps either, and I was like, “Dang, how many times do I have to get arrested before someone takes a good picture of my big moment?”
Well, the third time was the charm. While I was chatting with George a few days after D.C., I mentioned that I was going to a Close the Camps NYC action on Sunday, February 16. I’ve gone to a number of protests with Close the Camps NYC and Never Again Action that have targeted the businesses, including Amazon, that make millions of dollars by providing people’s personal data to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE then uses that information to track down and deport people who came to the U.S. seeking a better life. (IBM sold its technology to the Nazis for concentration-camp organization during the Holocaust, so we’ve seen this shit before.)
George promised to come to the New York action, during which we participants briefly blocked traffic in Times Square to protest Thomson Reuter’s contract with ICE. George was true to his word. Behold! My arresting bitch face!
I didn’t know ahead of time I’d be holding a banner across 42nd Street, while another part of our group held a banner across 7th Avenue. But the organizers asked for volunteers and after a lovely lady named Trudy offered to hold one end of this banner, I figured I’d help her out.
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Here I am thinking that holding a banner isn’t as easy as it looks. I’ve got to work on my upper body strength. Thanks to @trudysilver for holding the other end. #riseandresist #abolishice #closethecamps #nobusinesswithice #nobusinessasusual #nokidsincages #thisiswhatdemocracylookslike … Photo by George De Castro Day.
A retired firefighter showed us how to roll the banner up so we could easily unroll it — facing the right direction — in the middle of the street; he said firefighters use this technique to quickly put tarps over property to protect it from water damage. You learn something new every day! I was nervous as hell about somehow messing this up, but it worked. And George was there to witness it all both from the front and the back. The guy moves fast!
Our protest was about half a block away from the Times Square police station, so law enforcement arrived immediately and gave us the standard three warnings to disperse. I say “standard” because it usually happens, but ultimately cops can do whatever the hell they want. Over the years, they have sometimes snatched up protestors without any warning at all. They have arrested journalists; protestors who are standing behind the police line, where they theoretically should be safe from arrest; and unlucky passersby. You have to be prepared for anything.
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Last Sunday I was busy blocking traffic in Times Square. This Sunday I’m going to a @refusefascism meeting. What are your activism plans? If you need suggestions, just ask. Photo by @aperture.delta #refusefascism #resist #wewillnotbesilent #whitesupremacyisterrorism #nobusinessasusual
I was definitely braced for the New York City arrest experience to be harsher than the D.C. experience. I was warned we were more likely to be held in a cell overnight in Manhattan. That’s why I participated in my first direct actions in Washington — I figured I needed practice. But on this particular day in Times Square, there was a surprisingly benign “Oh, protestors again” attitude among the cops as they gathered us up and loaded us into buses.
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Cropped version of this picture of me with the new friends I made on Sunday. Photo by George De Castro Day @aperture.delta … you don’t have to be arrested to be part of the resistance. Text RESIST to 50409 to use @resistbot to contact your elected officials every day. Join @refusefascism @closethecampsdetroit @closethecampsnyc @flipthesenate @indivisibleteam @conmijente @cosecha_harvest @never_again_action @bytheppl or @poorpeoplescampaign
As we were processed at 1 Police Plaza, one cop puzzled over the birthdate on my ID and finally declared that I looked “fucking amazing” for my age. I decided that that was a good moment to let go of any bristling I might normally do over the backhanded “for your age” compliment. Sometimes one has to face facts, and when the facts are “I’m 52, I look okay, AND I’m under arrest,” it’s a good idea to smile sweetly and say “Thank you!”
After the two arrests in D.C., I and my comrades were allowed to “post and forfeit” $50, meaning we handed over cash and didn’t have to come back for a hearing in front of a judge. While the Close the Camps NYC protestors were all processed before the end of the day, when we were released we each had two violations and a future court date.
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In the unlikely event we were supposed to meet for breakfast on March 6, I’m afraid I have to reschedule. #obstructing #failuretodisperse #courtappearance #refusefascism #nonviolentdirectaction #thisiswhatdemocracylookslike #standup #fightback … again, if you want to resist but don’t know what to do, I am confident I can offer you a suggestion that takes into account your location and any financial/time/health constraints. Just ask. Also follow @resistbot @risenresistnyc @maketheroadact @poorpeoplescampaign @popdemoc @bytheppl @remove_trumpnow @refusefascism @closethecampsdetroit @closethecampsnyc @never_again_action @jfrejnyc @conmijente @cosecha_harvest @blklivesmatter @indivisibleteam
Two weeks later, we reassembled at a midtown Manhattan court where we were represented by kindly people from the National Laywers Guild, as pre-arranged by Close the Camps NYC. We were then released one by one with an “adjournment in contemplation of dismissal.” An ACD means, in theory, that as long as you live a “law-abiding” life in New York for six months, the violation is sealed and that’s the end of that. In real life, the lawyers winked at us on the way out, and said, “Go cause more trouble!” And that’s exactly what I planned to do before the coronavirus brought normal life to a sudden halt.
In fact, I had more resolve than ever. Since 2017, I’d participated (as a non-arrestee) in dozens of protests that never made it into the public’s consciousness. I was constantly frustrated by people asking me, “Why aren’t we all in the streets?” to which I’d answer “WE are in the streets. YOU need to join us.” Yet, I also understood that for people who weren’t actively seeking out resistance opportunities, the media blackout on practically anything smaller than the Women’s Marches made it seem like nothing was happening. Those appearances were — conveniently for the status quo — deceiving. As L.A. Kauffman, the #SwarmTheSenate organizer and author of books on protest history, pointed out:
After three arrests in three weeks — and after observing the months of hard work done to organize the extended Remove Trump protests in D.C. — I decided that midsize actions were too much work for too little reward. I figured the choice going forward was either smaller but “sexier” actions OR massive protest participation à la the Women’s March, or Chile, or Hong Kong, or Puerto Rico. Nothing in between. Something like “Ten women arrested in Capitol rotunda” — aka the #Rotunda10 — got press. The New York Daily News covered us, as did the Hill, and the Washington Post‘s coverage was picked up by a number of other outlets, including Rachel Maddow.
Similarly, 30 people blocking Times Square traffic got covered in the New York Post and the local CBS affiliate. In a more extreme example, the most press Never Again Action got after swiftly organizing dozens of protests all over the country came when a guard at a privately owned detention center in Rhode Island hit some of the activists with his vehicle. Sadly, “if it bleeds, it leads” still applies and there’s a reason we say protestors are “putting their bodies on the line.”
Taking all of this into account, I was determined to focus on organizing and participating in actions that would disrupt everyday life enough to grab the world’s attention … and then COVID-19 came along and disrupted life for the whole world in a way no decent person would ever wish for. Nevertheless, we will persist after this hard time passes. There’s plenty of advocacy that can be done from home. Instead of monthly in-person meetings with my Indivisible Activate NYC group leaders, I’m having weekly Zoom calls, and as you can see from our expressions, we’re as determined as ever!
Find your local Indivisible chapter here and join the conversation.
If you need some answers to frequently asked questions about activism before making your move, click the links below.
- What’s the purpose of nonviolent direct action? Why must you inconvenience me by stopping traffic?
- Why protest Trump?
- What’s Wendy’s personal motivation?
- What’s the point of protesting if it doesn’t change the regime immediately?<
- I’m in New York. How can I be an activist in the time of coronavirus and beyond?