Monday, April 9, 2007
We're Not Leaving Until the War is Over, Or Memories of a Sit-In
I'm not sure who took this picture, but that's me taking the fiery swig of water.
[On March 12, 2007, 20 members of Students for a Democratic Society at The New School and Pace were arrested after raiding a military recruitment center in Chinatown. I put this on the Inprint website today. A little late, but I really don't care about "that" right now. For more information see the article, "20 Students Arrested in Anti-War Protest," by Hannah Rappleye and me, from the April 3-16 issue of Inprint.]
The students funneled down a narrow hallway. They sat down in another one, just as narrow, and crossed arms. Others wandered up and down the space, ripping down “Go Army” posters and tossing piles of flyers to a little pile outside. Then someone dragged over a black, metal display case and jammed it in front of the door.
“We’re not leaving until the war is over!” cried one SDS member, a freshman at Lang with frazzled brown hair and a black arm-band. Students gathered five-gallon water jugs and started pounding. About fifty others stood outside, chanting.
This is how the Students for a Democratic Society at The New School and Pace commemorated four years of war in Iraq a few weeks ago. The U.S. military must have learned its lesson from the fervent anti-war protests of Vietnam years: the officers here seemed unfazed by the attack and the building's architecture ensured that protestors could not overwhelm any offices. Service members at the facility slammed their doors shut, hiding in various rooms around the building, leaving zealous students to overwhelm the barren halls.
The soldiers and the protestors still shared an occasional moment. At one point, a service member with short hair, amber skin and wearing a crisp beige uniform looked at a lanky student wearing fat headphones through a crack in a wall nearest the front door. “Hey," he whispered. "What kind of music do you listen to?”
“Everything,” the student answered.
It was never clear whether the rush fended off any recruitees. The bulky guy in casual wear at the far end of the recruiting center, who stared at the crowd of protestors, looked like one. But he “couldn’t” and wouldn’t tell me anything.
After half an hour, the display case jerked from a kick. A few police officers with poker faces walked inside and surveyed the scene. “Arrest everyone inside,” one said.
Cops outside summarily wrangled me and I sat down at the hall nearest the front door with a group of 22 students. We sat facing each other in two long rows. I was resigned to my fate. Getting cuffed, photographed, strip-searched and thrown in a jail cell for the night, missing class for the third week in a row and botching a paper due the coming Thursday—at the same time it felt exciting, selfless, regrettable and trifling. In Ethiopia, the police and army open fire on crowds of protestors. In Iraq, terrorists kidnap journalists and cut their heads off.
We waited. We passed around a bag of almonds. Some got up to go to the bathroom. Others produced felt-tip pens from their pockets and started writing down numbers for the National Lawyers Guild and Tom Good, a local activist. Morale was high. After twenty minutes, we filled a tiny notebook with names and phone-numbers; two legal observers in neon green caps waited outside, ready to line up lawyers.
The police had to line up over twenty cops to process all of our arrests effectively, one student told me. A detective walked in, slicked back hair and a beige coat, holding a pen and a notebook. Another stepped passed us, into an office near the doorway. A gaggle of cops deliberated in that room. Meanwhile, one in jeans and a dingy zip-up took pictures with a digital camera. We turned our heads, covered our faces with our hoods or held up SDS posters. A lanky, blonde student with narrow, black-rimmed glasses offered a bright smile for every shot.
I asked if the plan was to go “dead-weight” and get dragged out. “No,” the frazzle-haired SDSer said. “They rack up the sentence that way,” said another, a Pace student with intense eyes, black hair and a black zip-up hoodie. He muttered a list of potential charges. He sat with his arms perched on his knees. He stared forward. This would be his ninth time getting arrested for a protest.
“Frosted Flakes!” the frazzle-haired student said, suddenly. “I’m hungry for some Frosted Flakes!” He clarified his joke: That’s what you’re served for breakfast in jail.
I locked elbows with the short Asian girl with glasses and a shy smile to my right. She was quiet. This was her first time getting arrested. She worried how her parents would react.
We began to wonder what was taking so long. Cops walked by with packs of nylon cuffs attached to their belts. Another chided that activism was OK, but not this type of activism. Every time they slammed the office’s partly unhinged door, the girl sitting by it winced. We had to keep morale up. I had to go to the bathroom. I wandered around the back of the building. I returned to my spot.
After forty minutes or so, a man in camouflage fatigues, carrying a megaphone, walked out of the office with a few cops and faced us, his back to the growing crowd outside. Over the megaphone, he introduced himself. In dry legal terms, he said that if we left voluntarily, we would not be arrested. A tall guy with brown hair and glasses shot up and walked out. I joined him. But twenty students stayed put.