Sarah Resnick’s "Arrest, Protest, Reset" was published in Occupy!, the OWS-inspired gazette produced by n+1, with Astra Taylor and Sarah Leonard. The publication is “a history, both personal and documentary, and the beginning of an analysis of the first month of the occupation.” Download Occupy!
October 1, 2011
Sarah Resnick, Sent 10/1/2011 @ 1:50pm
Hey, trains all fucked up. I don’t know that I could get to wall street in time for march but I’m up for meeting down there later this afternoon. Also, I think there is a big labor march on wednesday organized by Twu.
XXXX XXXX, Sent 10/1/2011 @ 3:18pm
March ending on Bkln side of bridge
XXXX XXXX, Sent 10/1/2011 @ 4:20pm
Taken every lane of Bkln bridge
Sarah Resnick, Sent 10/1/2011 @ 4:23pm
That’s amazing. I am on the 7 train. Got stuck at book fair with no umbrella.
XXXX XXXX, Sent 10/1/2011 @ 4:39pm
Cops have penned us in the middle of the bridge. Maybe letting us leave single file but unclear.
XXXX XXXX, Sent 10/1/2011 @ 5:09pm
Might get arrested in a bit. Cops are slowly moving people off bridge.
Sarah Resnick, Sent 10/1/2011 @ 5:19pm
Really? What a waste of city resources. Keep me posted.
Sarah Resnick, Sent 10/1/2011 @ 6:39pm
Did you make it out okay?
Sarah Resnick, Sent 10/1/2011 @ 9:17pm
Okay, assuming you were arrested. If so, call 212 679 6018 when you out. The NLG. They are providing legal support/criminal defense.
XXXX XXXX, Sent 10/2/2011 @ 2:43am
October 5, 2011
A friend on the front lines of Saturday’s march told me that the Brooklyn Bridge occupation was, in fact, a purposeful act. Thus far, media accounts of that afternoon had put forward conflicting information, and the story circulating through my Facebook network and in many left-sympathetic outlets was that police seemingly directed protesters onto the bridge only to net them in and arrest them moments later—entrapment! But my friend disputed this telling, offering a very different perspective. Once the congestion of the pedestrian walkways forced protesters to spill over on the roadway, he told me, a group toward the front launched into a refrain: “Take the bridge! Take the bridge!” Assured they had the support of the hundreds of protesters behind them—all of whom were now chanting in unison—they locked arms to lead a slow and purposeful advance on the police line. At first, the police admonished the protesters, demanding they redirect onto the walkways; but vastly outnumbered, they capitulated, yielding to the advancing marchers.
Those who instigated the bridge seizure were in fact dismayed by the media portrayal. Why ascribe what is otherwise a victory for OWS—that is, remarkable evidence of the strength and power of the masses united—to the rancor of the police? Why recast a moment of transcendence as one of dupery and oppression?
October 7, 2011
I arrived late to the GA. At the mic, a man brought forward a proposal for a new working group: the résumé group. “There are several of us here who are unemployed.” he said. “I’d like to propose a group to support those of us in need of work as we develop and even distribute our résumés.” Several palms raised, fingers waving—a show of support. The woman to my right was over sixty and—judging from her question—in attendance for the first time. “What’s that irritating noise?” she asked, turning toward me. “Is that a police tactic of disruption? Are they trying to make it difficult for us to hear each other?” She was, of course, referring to the clamor of the drum circle, which was, from our vantage, entirely out of sight. Their ceaseless revelry at the west end of the plaza had quickly become a point of contention among protesters, and the din was so deafening that night that it may as well have been sonic weaponry. I experienced a moment of conspiratorial paranoia: Was it possible the police were behind the drum circle, undercover cops unleashing their sacred masculine? Without legal recourse to evict the park’s new residents, a more brilliant plan couldn’t have been devised: Drive everyone to irritable madness!
During announcements, a man who claimed to carry a message from the Egyptian revolution spoke to the GA: “Choose your leaders now!” he cried. “Choose one demand now or your movement is lost!” The human mic ceased amplification, drowned by audible disapproval. This “leaderless resistance movement with people of many … political persuasions,” was not about to concede autonomy or participatory democracy or any of its founding tenets—not yet, at least.
A facilitator took charge—we were moving on to the agenda. “Tonight there is one item to discuss: transparency.” The movement is growing larger, we were told, and many important decisions are happening in groups outside the GA. The speaker acknowledged that he too was sometimes part of these behind-the-scenes-decision-making bodies. But we were being asked for our perspective and our collective solutions—how might they (we?) foster a space of communicative openness and direct accountability? How could the movement sustain transparency even as its participants multiplied? We would move into temporary breakout groups to discuss and propose solutions. The assignment contained what I saw as a peculiar irony: Please tell those of us acting sub rosa how to better inform you about what you don’t know you aren’t being informed about. What “unknown unknowns” were we being asked to account for?
That there was an issue of transparency was not news to me. The GA was not, as I understood it, where core planning was being formulated, where key decisions were being passed—at least not anymore, not now that the numbers were so unwieldy. Partly this was gleaned from talking to people embedded deep within the organization of OWS—already there were rumors of backroom dealings with various NGOs and unions. But it was also common sense. Not every group with an ideological stake in the movement would take part in its manifest structure of openness and participation. As anyone with a secret knows, withholding information is a strategic decision. Where risk is involved, trust can subsist only among a few. Covertness is, at times, a necessity, and in some instances—like initial plans for future occupations—the movement may depend on it.
I wanted to stay for the discussion, but I was to meet a friend. I resolved to read the minutes later online, only to find that, at least as of this writing, they’ve still not been posted. So much for transparency.
October 10, 2011
“This march needs more balls!” from a tall, twenty-something man in plaid shirt, jeans, his face painted in zombie likeness. It was a Monday night, well past 9 p.m., and about forty of us were marching up Broadway, wielding slogan-filled placards, and cycling through the catalogue of usual chants. A woman in her early twenties held a small snare drum steadily behind her back while her friend followed behind her, banging out the beat. The group was ragtag, though mostly young, and displayed much of the by-now familiar iconography adopted by demonstrators of the past several years: Guy Fawkes masks (made famous by the film V for Vendetta), the aforementioned zombie makeup, Anonymous flags and T-shirts. There was at least one anarcho-Hassid—a subculture until then unknown to me—waving a small red and black flag.
The grievance was seemingly directed at the absence of incident. True: Were one to compare it with the clashes with riot police, or the seven hundred arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge, it was an uneventful march. Nothing much happened. The group had formed out of the Liberty Plaza encampment, heeding a fellow protester’s call to march. When they passed us heading south on Church Street, my friend James and I tagged along; we were bewildered yet somewhat thrilled by the initial absence of police accompaniment—a rarity in New York City demonstrations. The police would, of course, join us in due time, but for a brief period we were unchaperoned, free to take the street. James, electing himself provocateur, overturned a wooden police barrier, then banged on the gate of a nearby storefront. “This. Is. A peace-ful pro-test,” the group retorted. And with that we returned to the plaza to recruit more marchers.
From there we pushed onward, snaking through the narrow roadways of the financial district as residents gaped from their four- or five-story vantages, the dimly lighted rectangles of their cameraphones visible from below. The police were alongside us now, we were back on the sidewalk. We made conversation with the strangers among us. A man in a navy pin-striped suit towed behind and asked when we planned to stop ruining the lives of the children; they hadn’t slept in three weeks. “I’m on your side,” he told me. “I used to live in a mansion. I lost everything and now I live in a two-bedroom apartment. But the children need to sleep.” We had no plan, no stated objective, but to walk—to be visible, audible, that was all. There were no confrontations, no batons unsheathed, no whistles, or shouting, or force of any kind. The cops looked bored, worn, distracted even—the protest had its longueurs.
October 15, 2011
I was part of a group of fifty or so that made its way from the steps of the New York Public Library to the massive convergence at Times Square. We were united under a banner—the artists and writers affinity group. We were friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and there was a palpable sense of anticipation; this evening there would be other occupation attempts, we were told. The movement would expand. We marched up Avenue of the Americas eager to join the demonstration, many of us with our now familiar poster: “Money talks … too much. Occupy!”
After several route diversions and a subsequent, though temporary, confusion, we eventually settled into the crowd near the junction of Broadway and Seventh Avenue. The sun had started to set, though it seemed no darker in the enduring glow of the animated LED advertisements. A lingerie-clad model, terrifying at ten stories tall, stood opposite our group and we cheered and ardently held our signs above us, a shield of sorts. (Though the area’s porn theaters and peep shows have now long disappeared, a more sinister perversion persists.) Soon after, the question emerged: Now what? Was anything else happening? Was there no other plan?
Anxiety briefly settled on those of us more prone to claustrophobic tendencies—we were in the midst of thousands, cordoned in by police who had begun to exercise tactics of intimidation with horses and riot gear. Intermittent waves of muted agitation were offset by amiable chatter with strangers and friends alike (usually #OWS related), a sighting of the hipster cop, and a rendition of Harry Dixon Loes’s “This Little Light of Mine,” sung by hundreds (thousands?) in unison. And because apparently no act of protest is complete without a drum circle, one soon emerged (much to the discomfort of all others in the tightly packed vicinity).
Every so often, a raving and indignant middle-aged man pushed through our group. “Next time,” he bawled, “don’t obey the police!” We were berated for our apparent rout: our refrain from shoving through the barricades, our cowardice at confronting the police lines, our unmistakable failure to act. Nettled by his accusation, I thought back to Monday’s impromptu march and the grumbling of the zombie protester: “This march needs more balls.” Did we? (Of course, more than thirty people were arrested but one street over.) What stood to be gained from our mere standing in place, en masse?
Later that evening, other criticisms of the Times Square convergence emerged, albeit from more reasoned voices: The act was disorganized, disjointed, there was no identifiable plan, no strategy—we had effectively done nothing. Instead, we should be directing our resources toward considered action. I nodded sympathetically; I agree. I still do. Though I noted a commonality among these various criticisms: an anxiety toward idleness. And it struck me that this idleness could potentially be redeemed. That acts of protest wouldn’t—needn’t—always meet a preordained objective or outcome, a prompt reaction or result, cause and effect. That by standing in Saturday’s crowd of thousands, or walking with Monday’s group of few, we were there fulfilling the movement’s imperative: We were taking up space, filling up time—and inaction, boredom, even listlessness would sometimes play a part, and they too have value. For these acts resonate in the realm of the symbolic, but they operate in the social too. Ideas exchange. New friendships emerge, old ones solidify. Restlessness foments action.
I make another round through Washington Square Park. Someone tells me the BMW Guggenheim Lab has been occupied. “They’re in there now, they’ve taken it. They’ve hung banners. They’re holding it down.” I wondered aloud whether they needed support, and walked on, looking to fact check. “Oh no, not yet,” a friend informs me, shaking her head. “That’s all set for tomorrow.” I pause to check in on Twitter. #OWS has posted the phone numbers of nearby pizza parlors.
A few friends have gathered around the stone benches on the fountain’s west side. A delivery man appears on a bicycle and unloads six large pizzas from his front basket. We sign the credit-card receipt, being sure to add a substantial tip. I turn, scanning the park exits. It won’t be long now before the riot police arrive. —SARAH RESNICK
Josh MacPhee/Justseeds.org, 2011.