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  • Someone who I was locked in a cell with said, “It feels really good to be arrested when you know you are right.” It’s true, being arrested for some petty reason that was really just a bad decision on your part is shameful, but when you are locked up for standing for an ideal, for exercising your basic rights, and believing your ideal is really worth it, being arrested becomes a badge of honor. This is a story that I will tell with passion whenever anyone asks me about it because I am proud to have been one of the 92 arrested the night following the Oakland General Strike on November 2nd, 2011.

    Part One:
    Early in the day I had decided to attend a portion of the General Strike/Occupy Oakland protests. Though the protests started earlier in the day, my participation began at about 6pm when I made my way to the entrance of the Oakland port where there had been thousands of people in the previous hours and there were still large groups of people gathered at intersections all the way along the port.

    As I walked the four miles along the port I stopped occasionally to read clever signs like “occu-π” and join in with the occasional chant while I walked. I encountered a few people who I knew from the Berkeley coffee shop where I work and talked to a handful of people who I happened to walk with because everyone who was there seemed to have the same mindset, the same sense of community as we stood up together and closed the fifth largest port in America.

    After completing the loop that makes up the port I was only a few blocks from my house so I got dinner for myself and began watching videos of the events of the day. At around 11 pm I began watching the live stream videos and began hearing reports of riot police staging near the downtown Oakland Occupy, and after half an hour the camera was showing assembled lines of riot police not moving forward but also looking intimidating in their full riot gear, Around 11:45, I made a decision to go and join the protesters. I checked the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) website to see if the downtown station was closed (it was not), pulled on a few extra layers of clothing, grabbed a small bottle of white vinegar (to neutralize tear gas, if needed), a bandana to cover my face and a pair of goggles, and jogged across the street to the BART station to catch the train.

    Part Two:
    I arrived in downtown Oakland by 12:15 and heart beating fast, I immediately ran up the stairs to street level to see dozens of people standing, walking, chanting, or just yelling. I saw smoldering embers of a fire in the middle of Broadway that was simultaneously being started and doused sending and acrid smoke up between the buildings mixing with the lingering smell of tear gas canisters that had been fired earlier in the night. I made my way through the crowd, tying my bandana around my nose and mouth before pulling it down around my neck and I headed toward a larger group of protesters milling around in front a line of riot police that blocked off 14th street.

    Looking to set a peaceful example for a group of people that were yelling and screaming at people about being peaceful, I picked my way to the front of the crowd. Ten feet away from the line of police, without saying a word, I sat down with my legs crossed and my hands folded in front of me. I also teach dance classes (both young and older students) and when teaching kindergarteners, I tell them “criss-cross applesauce, butterfly in your hands, bubble in your mouth” so that they sit still and quietly with their hands to themselves. After just a moment people started to notice the guy sitting quietly in a crowd just watching the police, and a few people joined me.

    A handful of people were still yelling for the rest of the protesters to sit down and be peaceful but I quickly realized that a “non-violent protest” does not necessarily equate a “peaceful protest.” After 20 minutes or so things had calmed down a bit, there were at least 20 people sitting or laying on the ground with me facing the police, there were people drumming, playing a mandolin, and dancing, and there was a young man walking down the line of police stopping in front of each one and saying with all the genuine emotion and honesty he could muster, “I love you.”

    Part Three:
    The high school I attended places great value in leadership, whether it is creating new ideas for fundraisers, having high educational or creative ambitions, or a fifteen-year-old working just so he can take extra-curricular classes. What I have taken from that is, no matter how small of an action it is, being the first to take a hard path makes it easier for others to follow.

    With that going through my head and feeling as though the people around me would continue the peaceful protest there without me I stood and slowly started walking toward the massive line of police standing shoulder to shoulder, two deep, all armed with riot clubs (4 foot rods of solid wood), one in every 6 or 8 officers had canister launchers, some also with paint-ball type guns (that fired either rubber bullets or paintballs), and the occasional shotgun that fires the “bean-bag round” which is essentially a low speed shotgun shell.

    Aside from a handful of photographers, the closest group of protesters was about 100 yards away from the ten traffic lanes of police and I intentionally chose a path that would take me through them and I continued to walk slowly with my arms and fingers outstretched and said as I passed through them “Come sit peacefully with me.” I was about two steps ahead with Ashley (I found names out later) over my right shoulder and Jordan over my left (holding a peace sign up with each hand). We walked up Broadway the until we were about 20 feet away from the police, I found the biggest officer I could near the middle of the road and resumed my seated position hands folded and eyes locked with the giant man in front of me. While walking I had pulled my bandana back over my face but as we sat down I reached up and pulled it back down, quietly saying for my companions to do the same and “show them you are human, just like they are.”

    Each time an officer took a knee and raised a weapon we would pull our masks up and goggles over our eyes, and when nothing happened we would remove them again. We sat for what felt like an eternity but was only about fifteen minutes. The whole time, we were hearing bangs, from protester and police explosives. At one point a protester approached from behind us with a bottle in hand, we saw an officer drop to a knee and raise his rifle and we heard a clear cry of “PUT THE BOTTLE DOWN,” which is when the three of us looked over, saw the protester, and echoed the cry of, “Put the bottle down!” Instantly I heard pffft pffft pffft clink, as the officer fired three times (either rubber bullets or paintballs), the bottle hit the ground (to be collected and destroyed 30 seconds later by a four-man team that broke rank in what looked like a half-baked formation), and without a second thought the protester was walking the other direction. A few minutes after that there were the sounds of more yelling, a few explosions in rapid succession, and glass breaking from behind us and down one of the side streets. Trusting the two at my sides to tell me if anything changed with the police I stood, took 4 steps forward and called out to the police “I feel safer with you at my back than I do them,” gesturing over my shoulder at the growing group where I had started my protesting, then I turned 180° and sat down. A moment later a protester walked up with a candle in hand and set it down in the middle of our small triangle and then walked away and I called to the police, “I understand if you want to come and take this,” knowing what we saw as a candle they saw as a weapon.

    After things failed to calm down much, Jordan said to me quietly “one of them just took a knee.” I responded by saying “I changed my mind about being safe with them at my back” and turning back around on the spot raising my mask and donning my goggles. At the same time there were more bangs behind us near the larger group and cries of “that’s tear gas.” Not positive where the tear gas had been fired from, but pretty sure it was fired over our heads. Seeing the police putting on their gas masks and tightening up each others straps, we made a group decision that they were feeling intimidated and we should back up a bit.

    We resumed our small line of resistance still in the middle of Broadway but about 100 feet away from the police moments before they started lunging forward and yelling “MOVE,” thrusting each time with their batons. When they were about 20 feet away, I heard a distinct order of “GET OUT OF THE ROAD.” I found that to be a reasonable request, so Ashley and I got up and quickly walked 12 feet to our left onto one of the dirt medians and resumed our position with the line of police 8 feet away. That is when multiple officers grabbed me, dragged to my feet and through a gas mask one of the officers looked me in the face and yelled, “ARRESTED.” From another direction, I was ordered to get on my knees and with the same calm mindset I had while sitting, I told them exactly what I had in my pockets. When they were having trouble getting the zip-ties on I offered to move my hands further out so they had better access to them. In retrospect it may have been easier for me to get out of the zip-ties if I had not been quite so cooperative but the point was to go peacefully and not resist.

    Two officers on me at all times they searched me, catalogued my personal items, and put me in the back of a van with separate cages for each one of these wild animals that they had arrested. Only one of the other cages was occupied until they put Ashley in the cage next to me. The three hours we spent in the van was full of clever and not so clever remarks (that probably didn’t help our situation) about the officers who had arrested us, the poor driving skills of the “George Lopez”-sounding officer driving, and the cry of “Whose Van? OUR VAN!”

    Part Four:
    Jail was exactly what I was expecting. The ten-foot by fifteen-foot (or smaller) cell had a concrete bench along the wall and no way to tell if the sun had risen yet. They continued to stuff more and more prisoners into (at one point 15 of us in one cell) with an armpit high wall on two sides or the toilet for “privacy” as well as a metal sink that sometimes got stuck with the water running, and a drain in the middle of the floor. Three times we were fed a lunch pack with two extra thick slices of bologna, two stale pieces of bread, mustard and mayo in small packages (no ketchup for blood), a small amount of a Gatorade-like protein powder to mix with water, and an orange (I was not hungry enough for the bologna but the oranges were something). Being one to try to look on the bright side of things I was very happy to be in a cell with 14 other Occupiers, as opposed to the usual strung out people who are usually in the cell we Occupied.

    For the first hour and a half in the holding cell, the police left our zip-ties on, until those of us who were unable to slip out had very little circulation to our hands (a total of about 4 ½ hours after being arrested). We were talking about everything from how we had been arrested, to what we did in the real world, and to different financial/economic systems that would work, in theory, if implemented correctly. I was the youngest person in the cell with all types of people. Three branches of the military were represented by veterans (Navy, Air Force, and Army Ranger.) There was a pre-law student, and various others, many with a pretty profound understanding of one part or another of the Occupy movement, the government, or the banking system here or in other countries.

    After a while, some of the people in the cell did their best to sleep, lying where they could along the bench or on the floor, if they had to. Knowing I would be unable to sleep, even though it was nearly 5 am, I started talking with an ex-Army Ranger. His name is Kayvan Sabeghi and he has done multiple tours in the Middle East. While we were talking, he was examining the bruises that were forming from the riot club with which he had been assaulted. He had two bruises on his left bicep, one across the back of his hand, three more down his leg and a giant bruise on the back left side of his ribcage that was five inches in diameter and raised an inch and a half. There is video footage of him standing with his arms at his sides while a line of police advanced on him. When they start to jab him in the stomach. One of the officers breaks ranks, pushing Kayvan backward and repeatedly hitting the left side of his body, and lacerating his spleen. He was in our cell for about nine hours, and was reportedly moved into his own cell because he was feeling sick, vomiting, and was having a hard time walking. As we were being released, after 15 hours, we could hear the sheriffs telling Kayvan that if he could get up and walk out of the jail they would release him, but at that point he could not walk and had to crawl into the cell he was in now. The police did allow us to give him vocal support as we walked past his cell on the way out and assumed responsibility for him when many of us offered to carry him to the nearest hospital to insure he got treatment. The only care he had been given was the nursing staff offering him , which he refused.

    Before they released us we had to claim our personal effects, all sitting in a slightly less uncomfortable room, lacing our shoes back up, putting belts back on, and one of the more rebellious protesters pulling his gas mask over his head, ready to go straight back to the protests. When we got out into the lobby there were many people waiting, some with food, coffee and cigarettes, some with paperwork for us to fill out for the National Lawyers Guild (If we are actually charged, we will be provided with legal council.) It was about 6:15 pm November 3rd, 15 hours after I was locked in a police van in downtown Oakland.

    Part Five:
    I believe education in the first step in a better direction, educate yourself, educate your family, educate your friends, and allow yourself to be educated by others. When all of these educated people talk new ideas will be formed and new, better ways of thinking will become normal. I am part of the 99% because I believe education should not incur debt, because I believe healthcare should be for the sick, because I believe having clean water and decent food should not be something anyone has to worry about. I am part of the 99% because I believe I want what is best for everyone, not just the person in the mirror.
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