Two Years, and Still Reeling

November 15, 2013

The plan for today had originally been to write about my feelings on being Asian and American and how I’m trying to deal with those thoughts. It’s heavy stuff, and I’m only just beginning to try and discover myself in this identity. But something came up that takes precedence.

I was just reminded that two years ago, today, they tried with outright force to end the Occupation at Liberty Plaza (I blanch at thinking of calling it “Zuccotti Park”. Look at the fucking address across the fucking street for fuck’s sake).

I remember I’d been spending a lot of time at the camp. Sometimes I look back on it and feel it wasn’t enough. I feel that as much as I hate how the world turns, I don’t do enough to change its course. That I should have been there more. That I should have been there when the raid started.

Getting ahead of myself.

It’d been cold. Bitter as hell, really. And wet. I was a volunteer on the medical team at OWS. The Black and Red Cross. We were arrested often, but not scared off. Hell, only a month earlier I’d been arrested on the Brooklyn bridge, and I wasn’t even supposed to be “working” that day. We’ve been injured, scared, and run until we were falling asleep on our feet. My first full weekend at the camp, I didn’t sleep. Once. But none of us were intimidated or detered. Cynical? Sure. Smoking too damn much? Absolutely. But we were not moved.

Most of our time had been spent keeping trench foot at bay, from never having enough clean socks to go around for the camp, and dealing with blisters. Occasionally there’d be more excitement in the camp, but, really? It was remarkably calm and safe, all told. Troubles, to be sure, but I’d gone in believing these “clueless kids” would cave in a month, tops. They’d just never be able to keep it together. But they did. The camp was cleaner than anyone outside it seemed willing to admit (Disorganized as hell, but our Sanitation crew worked around the clock, literally). People knew each other. We formed an actual community, whether Bloomberg wants to admit it or not.

I handed out lots of cough drops, ant-acids, vitamins, bandaids. We cared for people on a level that I’d never experienced before. It set me on the track of becoming an EMT; now I want to spend my life in the medical field. I felt… right, helping people. Caring for them. I didn’t need to be the voice or the actor, others could do it better and take bigger risks and go further. I’d just be behind them, keeping them fighting. That was good enough. I loved it, I’m not gonna lie.

The thanks as a medic was minimal. But I’m honestly not complaining; I didn’t want thanks. I still don’t. I want people to keep fighting. Ignore me, let me stay in the background and help. That’s where the medics want to be. Where we’re happiest. The occasional verbal abuse was just ignored. Part of being there and doing the job. The police, though. They could be terrible. I remember in Times Square, as we were leaving and our medic group was together, one cop with a helmet and a baton called out to us, smiling, “You got anything in those bags to fix a broken skull?”

You pig. I hope one day you read this, and I’m sure you’ll smile thinking you were being so clever. The answer is yes, we do. Cameras and cell phones. And I’d gladly use them both to save a life and take your badge. Excuse the swearing, it’s not the usual fare for this blog – none of this post is – but it is apropos to the words.

But then that night two years ago. I was home, comfortable. I think I’d been out the night before at the camp, and that morning, and was home with my boyfriend, now my fiance, and we were having our evening smoke on the porch, chatting about something that I forget, when my phone buzzes.

I don’t remember the exact text. But I knew the park was being raided. That I was already late to the party, and living in Staten Island, so I was and hour and a half out, maybe two. But I didn’t even think about it. I grabbed my kit, my helmet, my jacket, and laced my boots. I ran to the ferry. I ran harder to get to that boat than I’d ever run and I caught it by a couple minutes. It’s usually a half-hour walk. I sprinted the whole way, coughing in fits and wheezing by the time I got there. I could have taken a bit more time, I suppose thirty minutes wouldn’t have made much difference. But I had to be there. I was terrified something would happen that I could have been there for.

They destroyed the camp, and everything in it. They gave us no time, no chance to even wake people. Some people were injured as they broke down tents with them still in them, just waking to the chaos. They used a chainsaw to rip apart our tents. The medical bay was torn to pieces while there were people in it, including a patient. The library, our beautiful library, was destroyed, ruined callously. All the effort of cataloging, organizing, and protecting it lost. Our medical equipment was gone. Just, ruined and misssng. Our medical kits were emptied and the contents never recovered. Every single laptop taken was destroyed. not bay haphazard destruction when compacted the garbage trucks they told us later had only been used to transport our property (You don’t compact things to transport them), but each very clearly broken in half. Cameras just went “missing”. The press was kept far away from having any chance to document what happened, for their own safety, of course.

Someone’s dog was “destroyed” (read: taken from them and later killed) by the police.

I don’t even want to know what the final injury count was.

I ran from the ferry and in moments I was engulfed in the chaos. The park was barricaded by police on all sides. The physical aspect of our community was being torn apart, and then further destroyed, before our eyes. It felt like a war. I shut down emotionally, all save for occasional panic which I tried to keep reeled in, and I tried to do my job. I pulled people clear of chaos, help people find safe directions to get away. Treated pepper spray victims – they were using it perhaps a bit too liberally that night. By which I mean they were not showing any real restraint. And tried to keep people from falling and being trampled when police would suddenly rush a group of stationary people with their batons swinging and hands grabbing.

The night quickly became a blur. Groups scattered in every direction. Eventually, dawn came and it became quieter. I don’t even remember where we fell back to. Working groups were talking to the crowd, we were organizing again. Even in the chaos, the Occupation pushed forward, getting back on its feet. We made our report: almost a complete loss for the Medical team. What little we had on us was all we had. And that, not much.

Someone’s small travel first aid kit bag sailed over the crowd and landed at our feet. Before we’d even rejoined the other medics, people, many of whom had just lost literally everything in the world they owned that wasn’t in their pockets, gave us money to fund our equipment stock. We had over a hundred, well over, just trying to get back through the crowd. No panhandling needed; they came to us.

I’ve never told anyone this, not even my fiance, but I managed to slip away some time in the morning, just, some side street while people were stationary. I got out of view, and I sobbed. I didn’t stop myself or try to keep it in. I sat against a wall, pulled my knees up, buried my face, and cried like a child.I wasn’t hurt or injured. I wasn’t scared, or sad. It wasn’t even the stress.

Dear Ghu, their faces. All of those faces. The emotions had no mask when the sun came up. The fear and sorrow and anger and pain and confusion and kindness… It was just too much. For a few moments, I couldn’t take it. It was too many people’s souls bared to the world, stripped of any shame or caution, and I felt as if I experienced all of it. I had a home to come back to. I was only beginning to politicize radically. I didn’t really socialize much, so most these people were little more than strangers I felt a kinship with and need to care for. I’d only really lost some sleep, all told. But they’d gotten separated from loved ones they had no means of contacting. They’d seen friends and allies beaten or injured. They comforted each other though they were hurting, too. They’d been dealt a tremendous shock. Some had practically lost everything.

And for a moment, I felt like I had too, and I felt small, and weak, and overwhelmed.

A lot continued to happen, I think I came home very late that night, exhausted and ready to sleep standing. I was sore, my joints were screaming, and the best thing I could say about the whole ordeal was that I had watched people I now called allies demonstrate some of the best in humanity in the face of some of the ugliest. It was a painful, destructive experience that was also moving and enriching, in a way.

A week later I would wake from a nightmare that I can still remember perfectly. A protestor takes a vicious baton to the head. I see blood the moment she’s hit, and I watch her head bounce on the pavement. I run and I can’t find a pulse and cover her body with mine and they’re beating me, kicking and hitting and screaming. I’m on the phone, calling 911. “Help me, I think my patient is dead, they’re hurting us! Help me!” I can hear myself screaming for help at a phone that says nothing. Just thinking of this nightmare makes my stomach twist, my eyes burn with tears I forbid, and my heart pound in my ears.I was raised to trust police officers, but now they honestly terrify me, and that makes me incredibly sad, and incredibly angry.

But, two years, later, and there is no forgiveness. And I will not apologize for that. because they will not.

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