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The Occupy Movement world-wide speaks for what Johnny Cash, The Man in Black, called,”The poor and the beaten down, livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town.” We want to change the global economy so that working people can live in dignity rather than be plagued with unemployment, debt, low wages, poor health care, inadequate education, pollution and homelessness.
Here in Chicagoland OccupyChicago has led vigils, protests and marches for the past month. On the evening of October 23rd, 3000 of us held a noisy march through downtown to Grant Park to set up an encampment. When we arrived there was already a medical tent. This was soon supplemented by other tents as people set up for what they hoped would be a long stay.
OccupyChicago had decided that we needed a permanent encampment as a base of operations, and I agreed. NYC had one and look how much that helped. I knew our chances of success were not good, but I was willing to join a demonstration to at least try.
I was at Grant Park when the 11 pm curfew was announced.
I had not planned to get arrested until someone came around and said that the National Nurses United(NNU) had requested that we sit down around their medical tent to symbolically defend it. National Nurses United(NNU) is the militant progressive union that represents many American nurses.
They have a whole new program called Heal America which advocates a tax on Wall Street to finance programs to benefit the 99%. Heal America is part of global movement of nurses who support a global financial transactions tax “…to heal global economies, promote sustainable development and environmental security, and strengthen quality public services.”
Defending National Nurses United sounded good to me to I joined the sit-in. In Grant Park the NNU team was led by Jan Rudolfo, RN. She was assisted by Martise Chisum, RN plus a team of NNU medical volunteers.
I wasn’t keeping track of time, but we were arrested around 1:30 am or so, cuffed and led to Cook County Sheriff’s transport buses. We were taken to the 1st District police station and separated by gender. I was with a group of men crammed into a small lockup cell until we were separated and put into 2 person cells. We had virtually no contact with the women.I was eventually released around 8pm Sunday evening.
The police seemed totally disorganized: constantly getting people mixed up and moving us from cell to cell. Some of us did not get phone calls. I was told afterwards that one of the women ordered food with her phone call and the rest of women were told,” That’s it, no more phone calls.”
Two people I know of were denied access to meds for medical conditions. The cells were cold early Sunday morning but we had concrete platforms with no sleeping pads or blankets.
I shared a cell with an interesting guy named Jay, and right across from us was a storage area with sleeping pads piled up. There was no toilet paper in our cell, but when the guard finally came to allow us our phone call, I noticed he had a roll of it and I asked him for some which he gave me.
When one of the other arrestees asked him, “How come you guys are so cheap about toilet paper, the guard replied that we had a new mayor, budgets had been cut and that the City did not always pay its bills to contractors so toilet paper was scarce.
I did notice that the guards were watching a football game instead of checking on the arrestees held in the cells. I was told by another arrestee when I was released that jail staff were playing video games instead of processing our paperwork.
We were told to bang on our cell doors if there was an emergency, but that was useless because some of the arrestees were banging on their doors and calling out political slogans, demanding to be released, requesting their meds or to at least be allowed a phone call. Most of the time we were ignored.
If there had been a serious medical emergency, things could have turned very nasty very quickly. Don’t have a cardiac arrest if you are busted in Chicago’s 1st District. You could be dead for hours before they find the body.
I also had medical issues on my mind when one of my temporary cell mates was an Iraq War veteran who has been among the first American soldiers into Baghdad in 2003 Iraq War. Later he was badly wounded in the knees and in the gut. He described his stay at Walter Reed Army Medical Center amidst the filth and terrible conditions which finally led to a Congressional investigation.
My dad, who worked in the Veterans Administration hospitals division, used to take me there as a small child for swimming lessons back when Walter Reed was the Jewel in the Crown of military medicine. We also need NNU’s Heal America to heal our veterans from the useless wars of imperial conquest they are sent to fight.
When I was finally being processed out of jail, I saw Jan Rudolfo standing in one of the cells looking very unhappy. I didn’t know until then that they had arrested our nurses. I waved at Jan but I don’t think she saw me. I walked out thinking, “Well busting us was one thing, but locking up nurses for trying to provide health care was crossing the line.” Jan was not released until 3 am Monday morning.
Still the Chicago police had not beaten us bloody and comatose in our cells as they have historically done to many people who have fallen into their custody. So one cheer for the cops.
I walked around to the front of the station, but the jail staff had not given me my property receipt, so that took another 20 minutes to get my backpack and blanket. OccupyChicago was outside of the police station clapping and chanting “Heros! Heros!” to the arrestees as they came out while offering us food and drink. They had created a party on the sidewalk of a Chicago cop station. I didn’t feel like a hero, but boy was I glad to see my brothers and sisters in such good spirits.
Most of them were youthful and still full of energy, but I was beyond fatigue. I hung around for a short time to be sociable and express my appreciation before heading off to the Green Line home. I wish I could have spent more time partying with this wonderful group of young folks.
The issue of public space is an important one. I think the movement might never have taken off if NYC had not had that fluke of a public space near Wall Street. Sure, the Occupy movement can be disruptive, noisy, inconvenient, and even rude at times. Some people don’t like that. Well, boohoo. It took the American Revolution and noisy working class protests to get our Bill of Rights. Move to North Korea if democracy is that offensive to you.
But we must not allow the demand for a public space to overshadow why we were protesting in the first place. Across the world, people are hungry, cold, homeless and sick because our wealthy elites think their fucking yachts are more important than human beings.
This morning, October 24, an exuburant Jan Rudolfo led a protest of NNU nurses and OccupyChicago members up to the Mayor’s Office on the 5th Floor of City Hall. She and NNU member Martise Chisum repeated their determination to support OccupyChicago and its health care needs. Jan and the demonstrators called for the dropping of all charges and for the Mayor to stop his attacks on NNU volunteers and OccupyChicago members.
Jan also explained the NNU Heal America Wall Street tax plan as well as the global movement for a financial transactions tax. Afterwards I walked over to greet her and saw she and Martise embracing. Jan now looked exhausted and there were tears in her eyes. I thanked her for the wonderful job she has done and hope that she is now sound asleep in bed right now getting some much needed rest.
I don’t know where this Occupy movement is going, but I plan to go along for the ride for as long as possible.
A luta continua.
Bob Simpson is a former student and union activist at the University of Maryland. He is a retired history teacher now working part-time with Estelle Carol producing Carol Simpson Labor Cartoons. A member of the Gray Panthers, he views his semi-retirement as a wonderful opportunity to raise more hell than ever.