I know where I was. I was working in a grocery store, nervously checking my twitter feed.

On September 17th, 2011, something amazing happened, and it changed the way I look at the world. I remember I had heard about it a few months before hand, people calling for a massive sit-in the likes of which had never been seen before. I didn't think anything would actually happen, you know how things like this usually work. Somebody says, "Hey, we should totally do this." and everybody agrees, and it never happens. But that day, 200 people showed up and started crowding around the Bull statue on Wall street, waving signs. The police quickly showed up, and herded them backwards towards Zuccotti Park. And there they stayed, staging protest after protest.

These were people who saw a problem in our government. They saw a system of reverse bribery, where the bribe is given after the favor is done, and it's called a gift, which is perfectly legal. They saw rich special interest groups making tv ads and pouring money over the airwaves in order to distort the truth, and sway people against voting for their own interests. They saw a system in which one candidate's brother could purge over 50,000 voters off the rolls, so that his brother could win a presidential election by only 587 votes. They saw corruption that left college students unemployed and saddled with debt, which forced families from their homes and killed people by telling them that they couldn't go to the doctor.

They saw all this shit, and they had no fucking idea what to do about it, so they decided to sit on the fucking front doorstep of the people who were making these decisions, and scream at the top of their lungs until something changed.

And something did change. Within 24 hours, there was an anonymous donation of somewhere between 15 thousand or 50 thousand dollars to the police (I don't remember the exact amount) and the police went full on soylent green on their asses. Beating them with clubs, shooting them with tear gas, pepper spraying them in the face AFTER they had been detained. I remember one video of a cop standing on one young man's back, his boot between the kid's shoulder blades, with onlookers pleading with the cop to please get off of him, that he couldn't breath. Within those first few weeks, not a single protester raised their hands in anything but righteous protest. Not a single fist was thrown, not a single defacement, nothing.

Following the protests was the biggest thrill of my life, the closest thing I've ever had to a religious experience. I was too big a pussy to go and join them. I wanted to, I wanted to so badly, but for some reason I didn't.

Then it started happening all over the fucking world. Even in CHINA!

I want to know what you were doing when normal people were standing in front of armed police, no weapons, and no way of defending themselves, but standing proud and shouting in their faces. What did you think? What would you have done?

Tags: OWS, Occupy, Street, Wall, police, protest

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I want to know what you were doing when normal people were standing in front of armed police, no weapons, and no way of defending themselves, but standing proud and shouting in their faces. What did you think? What would you have done?

I've done this, except I was either marching, sitting, or lying down. I don't think I ever stood in one spot. It was for several calls to activism over the years-- women's rights, gay rights, anti-war protests, budget cuts to higher education--  some of the protests were planned and "legal" and some not, going all the way back to the early 1990s.

Once I and 82 of my fellows were dragged off and arrested (that was when we were lying down), and then (in this order) pinned, handcuffed, faces kicked, guts punched, clothes torn, and carted off to jail. No charges were filed against any of us for resisting arrest-- "disorderly conduct" was the universal charge-- yet apparently this was the force necessary to subdue us after we prostrated ourselves and went limp.

My day in court was an assembly line. One after another, in a line, we all stood before the judge and entered our pleas. There were no microphones. The court was packed. Nobody spoke but the shuffling of feet and bodies made everything difficult to hear. The young prosecutor and sleepy judge spoke by rote and so quickly-- apparently eager to get through all 83 cases in a flash-- that I didn't understand a word they said. The only person I could understand was the protester upon entering his or her plea. It went like this:

Prosecutor: (In rapid fire) "Yadda yadda yadda. Blah blah blah. B-blah b-blah blah, yadda yadda yadda, yammer yammer yammer, blah."

Judge: (In sleepy rapid fire): Blahhhh. Blip blup blippy blup!

Prosecutor: (In rapid fire) "Yadda yadda yadda. Blah blah blah blah. Yammer yammer yammer, blah."

Judge: (In sleepy rapid fire): Blabba blabba blah?

Protester: Not guilty!

Judge: (In sleepy rapid fire): Blah blah!

The protester is escorted out by a bailiff. Now it's my turn. I step forward. The scene above goes exactly the same way until it's my turn to say I'm not guilty. Then I say (rather loudly):

Me: "Your Honor, forgive me but I cannot understand the charges. It's too loud in here and the gentleman is speaking too quickly. May I please have the charges repeated slowly, clearly, and above the noise level in the room."

Prosecutor: (annoyed and condescendingly) "Mr. Gallup after repeated warnings refused to leave the premises of X. He is charged with disturbing the peace. Did you understand THAT Mr. Gallup?"

Me: (cheerfully): Yes sir, you did much better that time, thank you.

Judge: How do you plead?

Me: I plead guilty, sir! [Since what the prosecutor said was the truth.]

Entire Court:  GASP!!!! (dead silence, dull roar slowly resumes)

Judge: Blah blah blah, blah blah blah, blah blah blah. (bangs gavel)

Me: (to prosecutor) What happened?

Prosecutor: He dismissed the charges. It means you won't have a record. You just have to pay restitution [for the cost of arresting you and holding you in jail].

And that was it. That was justice: pay the city for the cost of hiring police to smack me around and throw me in jail on bogus charges of disturbing the peace. As far as I know, I was the only one who entered a guilty plea and the only one they let off. The rest, I gather, have criminal records.

What did I learn from it? Two things.

First, the game is rigged. The state sets the rules, monitors you, arrests you, ignores the abuses of those who arrest you, sets the charges against you, sits in judgment of you, decides your punishment, decides the fairness of your punishment, and punishes you. Street activism has its place, but unless you're prepared to spend some time in the slammer, avoid the kind of activism that police get their sadomasochistic jollies over, or judges can use to grab your bank account. Or at least learn to do it in a way where you don't get caught.

Second, the landscape of activism started to change in the mid-90s. Today the Internet has transformed it completely. I'm still an activist and a member of all sorts of organizations: the Freedom From Religion Foundation, ACLU, MoveOn, ColorOfChange, Truthout, People for the American Way, AllOut.org, MassEquality, Change.org, Sierra Club, UltraViolet, Defenders.org, Human Rights Campaign, and dozens of others. Now almost every day I do something: sign petitions, write letters to newspapers, post comments on blogs and online articles, and donate cold hard cash. It's more effective than any sign or vigil I ever held on any street corner because I can do it every day and it reaches thousands of people around the country and the world.

Or at least learn to do it in a way where you don't get caught.

Don't get me started on Anon. I love those guys. That's exactly the kind of chaotic good that give me that great big, flag waving, red, white, and blue chubby that gun nuts get at NRA rallies.

I have a full 3 piece suit and tie that I don with my Guy Fawkes mask. I bought the mask after I saw V for Vendetta, long before the protests started, otherwise I would have gone with the bandana version that was produced to help the movement.

I joined twitter. I marched with occupy Cincinnati. I smiled for the surveillance camera shooting us from the skyscraper above our meeting point. I cringed when some asshole showed up with a bullhorn, shouting about Obama being the anti-Christ. The police kept us on the sidewalks. You just don't want to tangle with the Cincinnati Police. We marched past the fancy private clubs for the wealthy, staring at a shocked 1st class family, caught between the line of marchers and the front wall of their club. We wound past the headquarters of Proctor and Gamble and the massive Cincinnati Public Library. We marched into Over the Rhine, probably the poorest, most violence-beset community in our city, and a man joined us--he shouted, "I want a job!"

It was inspiring and terrifying. I realized how weak I am and how vulnerable we were. I realized how powerful the system is. I decided that until the Occupy movement came up with viable solutions, I might as well be following a bunch of wailing lemmings to a guillotine. I needed a job, not an arrest record. We need reform, not a circle-jerk party chanting in the park. I did not stay the night in Garfield Plaza. I kept my eye on the Occupy movement, and I was glad I parted ways with them.

I don't think we can fix the cluster fuck we're in. I think we ride it out until the system collapses or transforms itself, and I don't see the distribution of wealth changing any time soon. The middle class is dead. Representative democracy was a nice experiment. It's best to accept the new economic system and try to carve out a way of surviving. Basically, the Occupy movement made me realize I am a very negative coward.  

If for some reason, I ever find myself heading up a government agency, I'll make a special effort to look for applicants who have a protest arrest on their record. These are people who don't care about their own personal safety, they just want to do the right thing. In comic books, these people are called super heroes. I just call them heroes.

Except super heroes actually save the day.

The first step in fixing a problem, is admitting that there is a problem. These people didn't fix the problem, but they got the ENTIRE FUCKING WORLD to actually admit that there is a problem, and start talking about it. That in and of itself is a herculean effort. Now it's up to us to start voting for people with some actual intelligence and balls to try and get this problem on it's way to being set right. May take ten years, May take 100 years. I'm willing to try, even if it means signing petitions all day long, which nowadays only takes a click or two.

I don't think that's going to do it.

It got us out of Viet Nam.

Except super heroes actually save the day.

Super heroes are real, Kairan. For one example see Edie Windsor, the woman on the right. Witness her power: marriage equality is federal law and she will live forever.

It started 12 years ago in Massachusetts when a small, virtually powerless minority group, having banded together into an organization named New England GLAD, filed a lawsuit. The rest is history.

No minority group in this country has ever come roaring back with such stunning speed, ferocity and success after experiencing such systematic oppression, discrimination and abuse.

Seek out like-minded people in reputable organizations. Add your voice, signature, and dollars to theirs as often as you can. Activism doesn't always work. But sometimes it does.

And if She's not "Super" enough for you, Check out This Fine upstanding gentleman.

That's probably why you'll never head up a government agency.

Yeah, probably.


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