This is the most difficult part. After all, I was only imprisoned for somewhere around 33 hours. I know so many people who have been through so much worse. And throughout the world, people suffer far greater injustices on a daily basis. These facts have been with me through every step of this thing. It's something I've felt a good deal of shame for and one of the reasons it's taken this long to put it all down into words.
I've been lucky enough to talk to a few people, both online and in person, who were also swept off the streets during the convention. We shared stories and experiences and it became obvious that we really needed to do this. A tale of injustice, even one that is dwarfed by others, needs to be told. And it wasn't until I started to do this that I began to feel the weight of the experience lifting. I only hope everyone affected manages to express themselves and not keep it bottled inside.
It took me quite some time to start feeling normal. A friend came over to see how I was when I woke up Thursday night. We had food brought in because I just couldn't deal with going outside. Normally I would have been at the Garden, getting more material as George W. Bush gave his speech. Instead I stayed home and watched it start on television.
I knew this wasn't healthy so I decided to try and handle going outside. But I didn't want to go anywhere near the convention. They say if you get picked up a second time, you go straight to Riker's Island. I realized what an effective job the cops did instilling fear into people. Usually I'm the one who stands up to that kind of intimidation and here I was going right along with the script. The sound of a helicopter sent a feeling of dread through me and I felt like bolting. I saw cops ahead and moved to the other side of the street, sculking like a rat. That's when I knew I wasn't just snapping out of this. I was fucked up from a day and a half in confinement. Imagine what would happen if they were serious?
Being with somebody definitely had a calming effect but my mind was still racing. Somehow we wound up gravitating back towards Union Square. I definitely wasn't ready to see 16th Street again so I just moved towards where all the people had gathered. The mood was very different from the last time I was there. It wasn't so much anger and rebellion but more recovery and comfort. I started to see some of the people I had spent time with at the Pier and in the Tombs. A tremendous feeling of relief began to come over me and I knew I wasn't going to be going anyplace else that night.
As we all stood around in a kind of a daze for a while, I noticed a quiet calm that seemed to be spreading on the outside of the park. Others seemed to notice it at the same time. We no longer heard the helicopters. And the police were starting up their cars, vans, and scooters and beginning to pull away. "Bush is gone," I heard someone say. Was that really the signal for everything to go back to normal? In the hours ahead it seemed as if the entire city was breathing a sigh of relief and that whatever invading forces had encircled us were now finally on the retreat. There was word of an "unpermitted" demonstration near the Garden that the police weren't taking any action against. Yes, it was really over.
But of course it wasn't over for me and I doubt for many of the others. Nearly everyone seems to have been physically sick in one way or another, from minor colds to rashes, fevers, and serious breathing problems. It took days of sleeping for twelve hours at a time before I even started to feel physically normal again. Everyone I've talked to has had nightmares. My initial timidness seems to have been replaced with an intense anger bordering on hatred for those who did this to innocent people. I had always respected police for the difficult job they had and for the dangers they faced. But after going through this, all I saw were mindless automatons who were simply pieces of a machine. They didn't care and they couldn't care about any of us. We were scum to them, "bodies" chained together being transported down endless corridors. Our pain and fear were to be ignored. And in the faces of our captors, and the faces of those even associated with them, I saw a smug self-righteousness that filled me with contempt. Somewhere inside of me I know that this isn't right. But I have yet to be able to flush these feelings and I wonder if I'll ever not experience a degree of fear whenever I see a cop. I don't even know where to start on that healing process.
What I do know is that the people around me matter a whole lot more than I ever imagined. My friends on the outside, the people I met on the inside. They are the ones who helped me get through this and if there's anything positive to come out of all this it's that realization. So much gets overlooked in the pettiness of our everyday lives and so much is forgotten as time goes on. I hope to be able to appreciate individuals more and never take any of them for granted.
I can only pray that what happened on August 31 was a mistake that will never be repeated. But I can't say I'm optimistic - with the mayor saying the police did an "A plus" job and the mass media beginning to mock the experiences we went through. If this is indeed the beginning of a trend, then this episode will represent a big step in the decline of our freedom. These sweeps will become commonplace in the name of security. People will be held without charges for days. The suspension of rights now used on "enemy combatants" will begin to be applied in other areas, whenever national security can be even peripherally invoked. We could all wind up paying a very heavy price for our complacency. That's why, if there's to be any hope at all, we have to care and we have to get through to others. That's the purpose of my telling this story and I hope it manages to open some eyes.
Again, much thanks and love to everyone who has shown support, shared their strength, and been an inspiration.