Contributors’ Civil Disobedience and Arrests

Yesterday morning, November 17, many of us from magazines here in New York went as demonstrators to join the call in support of Zuccotti Park and for political and economic change. At 7 AM, we gathered and marched on the New York Stock Exchange, to focus on the need for laws and taxes on finance; and to inspire our politicians and police to serve the People, rather than corporations.

The most courageous sat down at a police gate, to slow access to Wall Street so others in America could see Occupy Wall Street’s desire to get some help for the 99 percent of our citizens.

This was nonviolent civil disobedience, and occurred at William and Pine streets, in the Financial District. Police arrested Keith Gessen, co-founder of n+1, Sarah Leonard, an editor at Dissent and The New Inquiry, Kathleen Ross, business manager of n+1, and Eli Schmitt, an editor of the Occupy! Gazette, along with many other protesters, around 9 AM. Police were relatively peaceful and only attacked and assaulted a few individuals from among the sit-in members and protesters on the sidewalks.

Kathleen, Sarah, and Eli were released during the day on Thursday. Each was given two counts of disorderly conduct. Keith was charged with two counts of disorderly conduct, plus an additional charge of disrupting government administration, a misdemeanor. The reason is unclear. It could be because he declined to stand and walk to the paddywagon, and allowed police to carry him there.

As of this writing, Keith is still in custody and not yet arraigned, thirty hours later. The latest reason offered is that the arresting officer forgot to sign his statement. He’s with a lot of other protesters in the same situation.

He also managed to explain why we were all there in last night’s news from WABC:

Transcript from “Arrests, Injuries during Day of Action,” 1:30:

Reporter, WABC: Is it worth it?

Gessen: Oh yeah.

Gessen: Our political system is broken. Our politicians get to Washington, they don’t do what we ask them to do. And it seems like, if they don’t listen to our votes, and we don’t have the money, we don’t have the resources, then we have to come out here in the street.

Reporter, WABC (voiceover): I can only speak for what we saw. There were some tense moments, there were some scuffles with police, but most of what we witnessed was classic, nonviolent civil disobedience.

Luckily, large numbers of press and protesters with cameras were present at the sit-in. At 7 AM, we talked with a woman from the AP who had been arrested trying to cover the eviction but now was back to reporting, and we saw courageous teams from local TV and a range of papers and broadcasters pursuing the story. When the writer Emily Gould led a group of twenty of us to Central Booking last night after incorrect indications that Keith would be arraigned and released, a lone WNYC radio reporter was there following up on the processing of protesters’ arrests and delays. Incredibly he identified Jimmy Breslin to us, there, too—outside night court, writing down details longhand on a drugstore notepad and documenting another generation of protesters.

We were only there as citizens, but the Occupy Wall Street movement and crackdown has shown once again how without fair and impartial observers, who can watch and tell what they saw, democracy doesn’t work at all. The online and unconventional outlets are truly fulfilling the promise, too, of how this new era will pursue freedom of the press and act with courage alongside select (and often surprising) representatives of the establishment.

In this footage from the Nation, 0:55 forward shows the action at William and Pine.


UPDATE (Monday, November 21): Keith was released, along with the last of the OWS detainees, late Friday night. He’s grateful for all the kind messages he received while inside and thinks the way the NYPD treats prisoners is disgraceful.