By Nicole Rose Pace
Unseasonably warm air filled the streets of Manhattan as I climbed the stairs and exited the subway. I approached the intersection of Broadway and Wall Street, glanced to my right and knew I was exactly where I wanted to be.
I had found my comrades on the stairs of Federal Hall.
Generally, I enjoy taking some time after I first arrive to write, gather my thoughts or maybe even spin a hula hoop for a bit, but I was greeted by a familiar face almost instantly. We shared our thoughts with each other until another familiar face, Lauren, began to mic check.
A group had been discussing their plan of action for the night and wanted to open that discussion to the rest of us. We openly discussed tactics ranging from breaking out into small groups and sleeping in packs around the financial district to surrounding Liberty Park and sleeping on its perimeter. It’s always so encouraging to be a part of these discussions. Our sense of community grows stronger as the days grow warmer; a true testament to the impending American Spring.
Inspiring speeches and playful ways to remember our rights echoed on the human mic following a brief “know your rights” teach-in where we all wrote the NLG [National Lawyers Guild] number on our arms, even though it has been etched in our minds for so long: 212-679-6018.
All seemed quiet on the steps when out of the corner of my eye I watched a middle-aged woman in a fancy coat and string of pearls drop off a small food donation before hurrying away. I smiled in the hope that perhaps the metaphorical walls that separate us were beginning to come down.
That optimism quickly changed when federal officers climbed the sides of the stairs and formed a line at their peak around 9 p.m. It seemed we had worn out our welcome.
I, along with many others, stood our ground as journalists and live-streamers swarmed to document what seemed to be our imminent doom. Tensions were running high and things were poised to boil over at any moment, when – in true Occupy fashion – we broke into inspirational song.
What began as the group joining together singing the same tune quickly changed to what I can only describe as a round. Each of us sang/chanted something different, in time with the original beat. The magic of our voices sent shivers up my spine until I heard hateful slurs in the distance
I looked away from our group to see another middle aged woman, again in fancy clothes. Only this time rather than helping her fellow man she was screaming profanities and flipping us off, looking more like a monster than the lady I’m sure she claims to be.
As I scanned the rest of the opposite sidewalk I noticed other obviously disgruntled members of the affluent community. It was clear by the Blue Wall between the two groups, which had grown from about 20 officers to more than 50, that the proverbial powder keg was about to explode.
And explode it did as I witnessed a resident of one of the neighboring buildings assault a mearby Occupier. Pushing, hitting, and destroying his cardboard sign while screaming profanities at a peaceful individual refused to fight back.
This one-sided fracas was the cue the Boys in Blue need to justify the horrors to come.
As the police pulled the assailant off the Occupier, they used the opportunity to swarm in, grabbing people left and right for being on the sidewalk. They singled out people who were doing nothing wrong, people trying to organize blankets and signs, and slammed them onto the pavement.
The defenders of the status quo ripped Occupier arms back and cuffed wrists with zip-ties. The resident continued to stand opposite us, seemingly protected by their Blue Army. The affluent crowd chanted, screamed, clapped and laughed as the NYPD spit on the First Amendment in front of them – seemingly at their command.
It was a sickening visual, which will stay with me for the rest of my life.
We continued to respond to their taunts with peace as we cried and hugged, mourning those wrongfully arrested. We began to sing again, softly at first, choking back our tears until we overtook the hateful slurs and our love resounded.
“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,” we sang. “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!”
I turned in response to a tap on my shoulder and it was my roommate. We embraced on the steps of Federal Hall, glad to see each other safe after the chaos. She was headed home but wanted to make sure I had memorized her number so she could be there for me if I were arrested.
Moments like this reaffirm my faith. We are on a good path; we have love in our hearts. Always.
Short bursts of calm litter the next few hours as we wait for midnight. Still on the stairs we regrouped, whispering songs and thoughts of hope to one another.
Anyone who amplified their voice above speaking volume was immediately targeted for arrest and mobbed by the “white shirts” of NYPD management for speaking their mind and for daring to have a voice. The police climbed the stairs of Federal Hall, in the shadow of George Washington, and removed Occupiers by force.
Tensions eased as it drew closer to Midnight. The rowdy neighborhood residents left.
Apparently we were no longer affecting their slumber and they had tired of taunting us further. It was just us and the cops afterward.
Federal Officers reminded us that sleeping was prohibited, but our presence was not. The “blue shirts” assure us that “everything is cool.”
I spent the next few hours consoling a friend whose brother was arrested. The three of us had been chatting earlier and I had tried to calm him, warning her to keep a watchful eye on her brother. Sometimes, no matter what we do, these situations cannot be avoided.
We embraced as she wept on my shoulder. Wishing I could offer her more, knowing this was all she needed. Someone to listen, lighten the load, share her pain.
We were all in pain.
I said my farewells around 5 a.m., recording another sleepless night in the books for a good cause and knowing I would be back shortly. Oddly, as I walked back to the subway some 12 hours later the air felt warmer that it had in almost seven months.
Not from the spring sun beginning to fill lower Manhattan but from the love and loss we all shared on those steps.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on the Occupied Stories website and was reprinted in The Cynical Times with their permission.