Getting arrested, at least in my case, was slow and physically draining. Before continuing, I should note that I draw no analogy between my experience of political arrest and the constant harassment and detention that accompany life on the margins. I am not one of the mentally ill who are removed from public sight to make commerce safe; one of the drug addicts who sometimes pound their heads against the paddy wagon walls until blood flows; one of undocumented immigrants who now populate bank-owned, for-profit prisons; or one of those who attract the police because of the color of their skin. I was also not beaten by the police or held without charges. Arrest for political offense, in my case, meant sitting for a long time in Bank of America on November 16, having ABC Live literally watch my back, and waiting in a cold seat in an improvised pen for two hours. That day-after soreness from having my hands cuffed behind my back was my biggest physical or emotional complaint testifies to this difference.
Why a bank, and why November 16? It’s no secret that over the last four years, the Democrats and Republicans in Congress and the White House have poured hundreds of billions of US taxpayer money to bailing out the financial firms that preyed on the poor, minorities and students. At the same time, the US unemployment rate is over 9%, though if we still used the definition of unemployment from pre-Clinton times, that number would be around 22%. With so many parents out of work, 33% of US children now live in poverty. Around 10 million homes have been foreclosed on since 2006 and, unsurprisingly, homelessness continues to rise. The vast divide between the wealthy and everyone else is obviously growing. Even many in the financial sector realize this: the investment analysis website SeekingAlpha.com notes that wealth polarization is at its highest rate since immediately before the Great Depression.
The fact that bankers have played a central role in creating this crisis and have profited immensely from it is not news. The managers and boards that run our economy, and therefore have enormous impact on all of our lives, have been able to build and craft the organs that are supposed to regulate them. The bankers that ruined the economy are the ones that President Obama tasked with fixing it. No doubt we shall all soon be saved. The bankers who mortgaged their own businesses have voraciously foreclosed on thousands of homeowners’ mortgages. The bankers who crafted student loan legislation are the same bankers who helped originate nearly a trillion dollars of student and family education debt.
Many of these financial wizards, called “regents” or “trustees,” are allowed to determine the costs, priorities and future direction of public and private education. The majority of the UC Regents and Cal State Trustees are business ‘leaders’ appointed by the California governor to reward loyal service or financial contributions. Over the last decade, they have actively discouraged state and federal support for public higher education – that money requires a modicum of accountability, after all – while vigorously pursuing a model where students and their families privately pay for what was once a public good. (You can learn more about this process in my piece on student debt in Reclamations.)
For months, student activists have had November 16 circled on our calendars. On this day, the UC Regents were supposed to meet to ratify a staggering 81% tuition hike. However, the keen intellects and derring-do that no doubt helped them achieve their own success alerted them to the obvious fact that the number 81 was likely to cause more than just a few wrinkled brows. In their beneficence, they had decided that 16% increases over each of the next four years would suffice. But students were not grateful for this benevolence. Rather than face the student rogue element that was planning to disrupt their meeting, the UC Regents made the prudent decision to cancel. Victory for the students!
Since activists from throughout Northern California were already prepared to board buses to meet the regents – we’d already had plans to join with Occupy San Francisco – many felt it would be rude to back out, so we decided to take a tour of the financial district. After a rally at Justin Herman Plaza, we began marching and chanting through the streets of SF, accompanied by a belligerent SFPD motorcycle brigade. I passed out flyers with information about some of the 1% who rule not just the city but also the country. Like the sports cards I used to collect in my youth, these quarter sheets had a picture of a Regent and some facts about them – comrade Katie Woolsey and I encouraged onlookers to “collect the whole set!” Most people were nice, though some of the 1% told Katie to “fuck off,” to “get a job, dyke,” and other such pleasantries. The fact that I, a 6’2” white male, was met with averted eyes rather than aggression, testifies to the cowardice of the 1%.
As the march progressed, with around 400 people, we visited the offices of Regents Richard Blum and George Marcus. We let them know that we did not appreciate their investments in for-profit schools, their despicable use of student tuition and CalPERS pensions to enrich themselves, and the anti-democratic nature of their business practices. The festive and ballooning march – I’d estimate over a thousand by then – next arrived at 50 California Street, the site of Bank of America and Monica Lozano’s office. Lozano has been a regent since 2001, and a director at Bank of America Corporation since 2006. A large number of mostly student activists had already entered the lobby of the building by the time Katie and I arrived; we decided to join the protesters inside.
Within moments word began to trickle in that the cops were massing. Announcements were made:
We’re here to deliver a petition to Monica Lozano asking her to help refund higher education.
If you do not want to be arrested, it would be a good idea to leave the building now.
Those staying are making a statement that we will leave only when either Lozano signs the pledge or the police remove us.
No word from Lozano. We take seats on the floor and on various desks. At around 2:45PM a number of cops in riot gear troop in. Josh Brahinsky, a comrade from UCSC, calmly reminds the group, many of us also from UCSC, of the procedure for dealing with cops. He tells us to stay calm and steadfast until Lozano signed or the police took us out. Fifteen minutes pass. Another 20 minutes. As cops saunter around, we joke and wonder what’s taking so long. The adrenaline that the occupation and the cops had shot through me is waning.
“Mic check!” “MIC CHECK!” We have a teach-in: 670,000 community college students turned away; a 10% tax on the wealthiest 1% would solve the budget problems; the money we use for murderous drones in Pakistan/Afghanistan could keep education free for years. We chant; some play drums. We sing the classics: Solidarity Forever; This Land is Your Land (including the Woody Guthrie “No Trespassing” verse); and some also sing The Star Spangled Banner. (Did you know that three of four sentences in the last stanza are actually questions?) Oh, and, the tent.
An hour passes. “Mic check!” “MIC CHECK!” We decide to call Ms. Lozano, and we’re put on hold for a long time. Ms. Lozano’s secretary tells us that we can leave a message:
Join us in refunding California!
JOIN US IN-
She hangs up. More time passes. ABC Live films us. Livestream films us. A mic check announces that more than 2,000 people around the world are watching us on livestream.com/globalrevolution. Cheers. Chanting. Drums. (There are always drums.)
We invite the cops to take off their gear and join us: “You’re sexy, you’re cute, take off that riot suit”. Smiles… scowls… indifference.
Action! The first arrests finally begin. Concrete is not the most comfortable surface, so some of us near the back joke that we should have sat closer to the front. Officers try to close a heavy curtain to wall off the outside spectators: we prevent this with chairs. It takes a long time to arrest 95 people. Chants: “This is what democracy looks like!” UCSC comrade Ian Steinman as he is taken away: “This is what the dictatorship of the 1% looks like.” More are taken away, with cheers: “we love you” – “all power to the slugs” – “Long live the Oakland Commune.”
I receive texts from comrades from all over: offers of support, encouragement, joy and news (Brandon Darby is in the Bay Area). Gabi Kirk goes limp and has to be dragged away. A young black student is roughly arrested. “I’m not resisting!” Cops push him down on a desk. A chorus: “Whoa, hey, why does it take six cops to arrest a black man?” Gloved hands caress their batons, and he is led away.
you broke it
you bought it!
Adrenaline returns. They’re heading for me – have to finish my twe… – and I’m gone. “Power to the people!” That’s greeted by a cop in full riot gear: “power to police.” “We’ve seen a lot of that lately,” I reply, and the grip on my arm tightens.
Cops use Polaroids to identify us and to match our property with our report. “They should spend less on tasers and tear gas and more on modern cameras.” Smiles and scowls. “We don’t use tasers, asshole.” I’m escorted out of the building and am met by cheers from comrades I’ve never met.
The two policemen who put me and seven others in the paddy wagon are personable and seem like decent people. We joke about detours to In-and-Out, going to Alcatraz, and a number of other things. One of them has a son who is a high-school teacher; he half expected to see him in the bank. We wend through the city and finally end up at the SF Sheriff’s compound. Like everywhere else in the city, it takes a little while to find a place to park. I’m the last one out. The officer and I talk about why we protest. He understands, he just doesn’t like the black bloc. One of his friends was hit in the head with a hammer, he explains, and they make it hard for anyone he knows to have sympathy for the movement. Some cops, he says, love to see the black bloc, because that means they get to fight – some cops relish that. I have thirty seconds to give a sweeping history of the black bloc to contextualize his understanding – I suspect it made little difference, but who knows.
I’m told to sit cross-legged on the ground. Wearing just pants and a button-up shirt, the 50 degree temperatures are vexing, though certainly not intolerable. We’re told not to talk loudly, so chanting and cheering are out. I am able to loosen up one of more surly cops by sharing that I am huge fan of the Seahawks. He smiles and proceeds to talk about how he used to play football and had just visited Bainbridge Island – he loved it, of course. Before we can continue he is replaced by a new surly cop. Slowly we’re all processed, filed out of the detention area, and met by a jubilant but exhausted crowd. A big thanks to the poor NLG lawyer who has to get all of our information. More than 50 of us get back to UCSC at around 11PM.
A glow of elation surrounds us all: we shut down a massive branch of Bank of America for half the day! As Homeland Security, the FBI, mayors and police from all over the country coördinated to the bidding of Wall Street, we shut down Bank of America; and as Occupy Wall Street camps were terrorized by thugs in blue, we proclaimed with hundreds of thousands of others that there are finally consequences. None of us are foolish enough to believe that we affected the bottom line of Bank of America on Wednesday. That will come in time. But the message we sent is unmistakable: there are consequences for oligarchs.
STRIKE! The consequence of rousting Oakland was a general strike that shut down the fifth largest port in the US.
TAKE OVER! Throughout the country, people in the movement have begun to take over the cast-off buildings and structures that capital can no longer use – we claim the scraps that fall from capital’s table to build a new world from the husk of the old.
OCCUPY EVERYTHING! We occupy for shelter. We occupy to serve. We occupy to make public what capital has made private. We occupy to retaliate.
Mark Paschal is a graduate student at UC-Santa Cruz, a member of UAW 2865, and an organizer within the UCSC General Assembly.