Monday, September 24, 2012

9/16 New York, NY: Please Don't Go...

My eyes popped open to a choir of snores. Every third or fourth breath they would sync in harmony. The exhaustion of the past couple days hit me like a bag of hammers. Five hours of sleep on a cement floor did fuck all to do anything other than make me want to sleep more. Walking from Stamford, CT to New Rochelle, NY while wandering around points in between had done me in. I knew if I didn't get some kind of quality rest between now and when I left New York, I'd be destroyed by Philadelphia.

At rough count before I'd fallen asleep, the side room I'd posted up in had 20 bodies lining the walls. Only a small part of a larger complex, I knew the "safe space" was far from being full, and that later that night activists and protesters would be stacked like firewood. Already the "progressive" lines had blurred with several men making a stand in the "safer spaces LGBTQ/ Women's room" I'd slept in. I managed to snag a spot by refusing to leave my buddies side, and politely presenting myself to borrow a sleeping bag shortly after arriving. With my androgynous dress and haircut no one said a thing to me, assuming I'd fit the bill or too tired to argue.

We'd all been read the rules prior to being allowed to enter the warehouse complex. I shit you not number three was "No tents, no really, not in the parking lot not in the space, no tents." They'd gone on to request that there be no pictures, videos, or journalism within the space. There was also a rule of silence and decorum within a four block radius of the space. A request cheerfully ignored by the Guitarmy at 8:30AM when they'd been asked to egress when their boisterousness was waking sleepers within. I'm fairly certain the drum circle they set up in the parking lot was a violation of the rules, but I wasn't there to pick nits.

Shortly after the Guitarmy had left for the Spectra Pipeline protest a masked man arrived and told us that there was a TARU van at the end of the block. I rolled my eyes and went back to carving another symbol on my walking stick. I'd been keeping a mnemonic record of the places I'd been and people I'd seen with such carvings on my travels. If dude-guy was telling the truth it was one more thing I didn't need, being identified as a "protester", if he was lying, he'd just thrown a stick into an ant hill.

As more folks suited up and headed to various locations around lower Manhattan and surrounding areas the air of expectation had been transmuted to resigned paranoia. With the exception of myself everyone I'd met had attended similar rodeos. My ignorance was a liability, it was best for me to keep my mouth shut, answer questions when asked, and refrain from "journalizing" regardless of how adamantly fingers had been pointed in my direction. Aside from talking to the Ministry about the noise concern, and my concern for the safety of protesters staying at the space, I smiled picked up trash and kept my damn mouth shut. I knew my buddy and I would be headed out soon, and my unindoctorinated status put me on shaky social ground no matter how I looked or acted the part. I was a guest in their space so it seemed a hell of a lot more productive to smile and pick up trash in the parking lot than poking holes in procedure and praxis.

I had a lot of ground to cover that day so I was more focused on making my contacts in Mid-Town and mentally taking notes as I listened in on the legal meeting. It was important to me to know how not to get arrested. A gentleman from Philadelphia, PA requested an interview with me and I complied, shortly thereafter my friend and I pulled up stakes and lit a shuck for Brooklyn. Chatting about our experience at the common space, we compared notes on the spokes councils we'd attended. We stopped by our crash pad for the night, dropping packs and grabbing a quick lunch. She'd planned on attending the concert set up down town, I had a 3:00PM appointment to make.

Hopping back on the subway I headed to Penn Station. A friend was in town for a wedding the night before and we'd planned our meeting several days in advance. I popped above ground and crossed to the North West corner of 34th Street. My friend had hit me up and told me to post up for a minute while she made her way from the LIRR. The first thing she said upon seeing me was "Oh my God you're so skinny!" We hugged and exclaimed over one another, no doubt disgusting the security guards standing a few feet away. She pointed us up the street and we headed for the nearest cheap bar. With a train to catch at 4:00PM we only had a few minutes to hang out, so we got to the serious business of shooting the shit and ordering drinks.

The happy hour special was Bloody Marys my friend went with the flow and ordered one. With lackluster offerings on tap I ordered a Sam Adams out of a sense of loyalty to my Boston "roots". She handed over a care package while we chatted about friends back home. Containing granola bars, and apple and other such sundries, I stowed it in the backpack I'd borrowed from a friend and pounded my beer. She had a train to catch, I had a chaplain to see, so both of us were ready to go when the bar tender asked if we wanted another. We parted ways after a picture by the roadside and I was back on the train headed for Central Park.

I wasn't sure I had the right address, I was a couple of blocks over from 5th Avenue with a view of Central Park peeking through the buildings. A food pantry on my right, a chapel on my left and projects to my back I was waiting for my friend to pick up the phone. She answered and let me know she was on her way down as I took in my surroundings. The disparity between the park side and a few blocks over was mind boggling. I'd walked past the service entrances of several high rise apartment buildings only to have them run into rent controlled housing half a block later. I shook myself from my reverie as she opened the door. Selfishly I was thrilled to see her, I dashed tears from my eyes after we hugged and ascended to the second floor in what was officially the most rickety elevator I'd ever been in. As much as I was happy to see her, more than anything I wanted her to stay out of the action downtown.

She introduced me to her host, we shook hands, I was honored to meet on of the Protest Chaplains. The folks who'd comforted and provided succor to thousands as the protests stretched from weeks to a year. I have her a heads up about the compromised nature of the safe space across the bridge, I knew the Chaplains hadn't set up the space, but they'd be the best ones to do something with the information. We talked a bit longer, I thanked her for welcoming me into her home, she begged off having a prior engagement. My friend and I chatted happily as we headed to the market to pick up supplies for dinner. While she cooked I filled her boyfriend in on any information I'd picked up over the past two days. We traded road stories, he'd been traveling for about a month, leaving Boston a week before I did. Standing on the fire escape we watched as folks lined up and waited for the food pantry to open while we waited for dinner to be cooked in the comfortable apartment. The sun peeked through the trees, setting over the park we headed in for dinner.

As we ate I tried to think of a way to convey my concern for my friends. Finally I set down my fork and cleared my throat.

"I don't want either of you two down there, you're both adults and I don't want to impinge on your freedom to make decisions, but I really think it would be a bad idea for you to go to the protests tomorrow"

Neither of them argued, both had already decided to stay out of the action.  The treatment of protesters by Boston Police during the Occupation up North had been dodgy at times. The months following Occupy Boston's eviction had been a slow build to feeling secure leaving the house, much less getting back on the "front lines". Her boyfriend, we'll call him "Tim" had gone through it with her, helping to build that security all while on probation. Neither one could afford to get tossed in the clink, and as a friend I was terrified for both of them. My whole purpose for coming to Central Park that day was to convince them to stay North of 14th, just my luck they'd already decided to do so. Having heard the arrest count (nearing 200 at that point) as well as the percentage of "organizers" that were being picked out of crowds they knew the risks and like me they weren't willing to take them.

We finished dinner, cleaning the kitchen and joking about the unnatural amount of food I was eating. I went out for a post dinner smoke and came back to a message from my host across the river, she was telling me that she was feeling sick and that I should be back to the house before 9:00PM. Taking the hint I suited up and headed out after many hugs and a tearful goodbye. I arrived at the house, chatted with my friends aunt and got myself ready for bed. Finally passing out around 9:30PM, hoping to sleep out the exhaustion and excitement of the day.

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