Ten days ago, my wife and I joined a group of some 150 concerned citizens who were gathering in Sacramentos Fremont Park to express their solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York. This group was a microcosmic reflection of our country in general, and our culturally diverse state in particular. People of every age group, ethnic stripe, and economic circumstance were richly represented there. Using the Zuccatti Park movement as a template for our own, we soon got down to the arduous and painstaking process of formulating a consensus (a lofty goal, but one that is far from complete as I write this). Lest we forget, democracy (unlike dictatorship) is, by its very nature, an untidy business, to say the least.
After breaking up into constituent committees (media, messaging, supply, logistics, etc.), we eventually reformed into a general assembly, adopted certain general principles, and voted to reconvene on Thursday, October 6 at Cesar Chavez Park, across from City Hall. At that point, everyone of us had been given tasks to complete and missions to accomplish. Our responsibilities were to our local group, and to each other.
No leaders of any kind were chosen. Rather it was a tenet of the movement from the earliest days to steadfastly avoid the authoritarian model. Democracy in all things was the deliberate course we chose to follow.
In the past five days, the Occupy Sacramento movement has grown considerably, both in size and visibility. During that time, we have attempted to create a public space (in this case Cesar Chavez Park) where our movement can attract and educate — in a positive and peaceful manner — the 99% of our fellow citizens who continue to suffer under an unfair economic regime that disproportionately rewards the greedy and utterly disregards the basic human needs of everyone else.
It was in pursuit of that goal that I (in conjunction with some three dozen other men and women) made a conscious choice to be arrested in the park, and thereby tug on that unbroken thread of civil disobedience that runs through the rich fabric of our countrys history.
Suffice it to say that in the past three days, I’ve flouted Warhols Dictum by overstaying my 15 minutes. Every time I turn around, it seems, somebody is sticking a microphone or a TV camera in my face. I’ve been interviewed twice by two different reporters from the Sacramento News and Review, and once by the progressive website Think Progress, and have appeared on all four local TV stations.
But perhaps the most amusing of juxtapositions took place when I made two separate appearances in one night on KXTV Channel 10. In one, I’m identified by reporter Dave Marquis as a History instructor and asked to comment on a story he was putting together comparing Sacramento’s recent homelessness problem with the city’s Hoovervilles of the 1930s.
In the other, I am shown being handcuffed and loaded into a paddy wagon.
Woody Allen could not have staged it better.
But from my personal perspective, there have been three gem-like moments to press in my dog-eared Book of Memories.
1. For two consecutive days, Ive had the privilege of watching my lovely wife’s beaming face as it graced a few frames of Keith Olbermann’s Countdown on Current TV. Thanks, Keith. Thanks, Al.
2. On Saturday, Oct. 8, about 300 of us marched from Cesar Chavez Park to the Wells Fargo Building on Sacramento’s Capitol Mall. The place was closed, of course, so the cops watched impassively as we swarmed all over the place for no apparent reason. When I got my turn at the megaphone, I identified myself as a retired history teacher. I then pointed at the wonderfully restored stagecoach in the building’s lobby, and said, “You know, there’s a huge historical irony here. A hundred-and-fifty years ago, these stagecoaches were the most attractive targets for robbery in the Sacramento Valley. Now they’ve become the symbol of a corporation that is committing shameless robbery on the rest of us.”
After the applause died down, I was asked by a member of the crowd, “Where did you teach?” When I told them, an astonished Afro-Latina-American women in her early-twenties named Autumn Thomas shouted out, “MR. BRADLEY – YOU WERE MY AMERICAN HISTORY TEACHER IN THE 8TH GRADE!!!” Equally astonished, I embraced her and told her how proud I was to see her standing up for her beliefs. She began to cry as the crowd roared its approval. Meanwhile I, misty-eyed and overcome with emotion, quietly left center stage.
That scene was not written by Woody Allen. That one was written by Aaron Sorkin.
3. Later that night (or should I say the following morning at 1:00 am) as I was being handcuffed and taken into police custody, several of my fellow 99 percenters shouted out “What’s your name?” “Mark W. Bradley,” I replied. “What’s your occupation?” they asked. “I’m a school teacher, I said.
I could be wrong, but I think I saw one or two of the cops in riot gear look a little crestfallen at that point. I know for a fact that several of the men and women holding billy clubs and pepper spray canisters were called in on their day off. Im guessing that a few of them had been planning to go skiing this weekend. They were less than enthusiastic about participating in this Kabuki.
Sorry guys. Society needs you to protect and defend their property against all of us ACLU lawyers, public school teachers, nurses, paramedics, and struggling housewives. Always remember: you are the thin blue line that prevents people like us from burning down our own neighborhoods.
When the fourteen of us arrived at the jail and were being processed, several cops gathered to ask us what we hoped to accomplish with all this foolishness, and by the way, couldn’t we achieve the same objective without breaking the law? Did we have any idea how much money this was going to cost us? Did we realize how little difference any of this was going to make?
It was a bit like undergoing psy-ops conducted by a bunch of heavily armed junior high students with half a semester of behavioral psychology under their belts. But the most persistent question they kept asking us was who are your leaders?
We have no leaders we replied.
Their incredulity was palpable, even profound. Do you seriously expect us to believe that youre operating over there without leaders? Who makes the decisions?
We vote on everything, was our answer.
At this point, I remembered something I had learned in the 60s, but had forgotten somewhere along the way. Cops, like career military, spend their whole working lives taking orders from their superiors and dishing them out to their subordinates. They really, truly, had no idea what we were talking about.
Later that morning, as I was being processes out, I had the pleasure of being subjected to the same sort of rudimentary head games by two overly officious and unnaturally sour-faced young police officers – one male, one female. They were like a couple of Imperial Storm troopers dabbling in Jedi Mind Control. Finally I could take it no longer. I asked them what THEY knew about the real issues at hand, and proceeded to launch into a 20-minute lecture on the history of civil disobedience in America, from the real Boston Tea Party, through Emerson, Thoreau, the Underground Railroad, and the Suffrage Movement, to the integration of lunch counters in the racially divided South of the 1960′s.
I felt like a minor-league Jesus in a third-rate temple. The two cops I’d been talking to had, by now, grown into a group of five. They were all thoroughly gobsmacked. One blond guy looked like he was actually learning something.
The captain in charge just wanted me gone.
When the young man and woman in uniform drove me through the steel doors to release me half a block away from the jail (seriously) they told me how much they had enjoyed our conversation. I thanked them for being so accommodating, and walked off into the sunrise.
You should have been right there with me, O my brothers and sisters, throwing dangerous ideas around like roundhouse punches.