BY ROBERTA SCHINE | The young man took hold of my hand. He didn’t say a word. He was, at most, 20. White, healthy-looking and with a small, well-groomed beard, he focused straight ahead.
Purple-haired Frances Goldin, 86, was holding my other hand. She stood between me and our friend, Helen Schiff; we felt this was the best way to protect her.
It was 10 years ago, Nov. 15, 2011. We were part of a demonstration of about 2,000 people protesting the eviction of Occupy Wall Street from Zuccotti Park. We were heading to the Stock Exchange.
Occupy Wall Street was a resistance movement against social and economic inequality. It focused on the undue influence of corporations on government — particularly from the financial-services sector. OWS began in Zuccotti Park in September, 2011 and gave rise to the wider Occupy movement in the United States and other countries.
Not far from the park, we came to a fire hydrant. The boy let go of my hand and, for a moment, I wondered if he was leaving. But, as soon as he swerved around the pump, he took my hand again — and held on even tighter than before.
“Were you in Civil Rights?” he asked.
“Huh? Was I in Civil Rights?”
It was as though he had read about it in his history course…page 28…
“Yes, yes,” I responded. “I participated in Civil Rights. My friends, too.”
I nodded toward Frances and Helen, “It was like this, exciting and terrifying.”
I didn’t mention that Frances Goldin was a lifelong housing, prison reform and community activist and a literary agent who would only represent progressive writers. There was a lot going on.
The police were everywhere when we arrived at the Stock Exchange. The young man squeezed my wrist tighter.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Roberta. Are you a student?
“Yes. My name is… .”
I couldn’t hear his name because of the noise.
We made a human chain in front of one of the office buildings so that no one could get in. It was 9 a.m. and the workers were arriving.
“The Stock Exchange is closed!” we chanted. “You have the day off!”
The stockbrokers were at a loss for how to handle this. Some tried to convince us to let them get into the building, saying things like, “I don’t want to be late for work.” Others yelled profanities at us. A short, stocky guy in a three-piece suit jogged back several yards and then came galloping toward us full force, his briefcase flying in the air. He tried to break our chain but we didn’t budge. My wrist was beginning to hurt a lot.
Suddenly, there was chaos, shouting, screams… . A large cluster of protesters was squeezed together. I couldn’t breathe. We were swaying from side to side, everything was out of control. Then we tilted backwards. A few inches more and I would be lying on the street with bodies piled on top of mine. I didn’t know where Frances was. From this angle, all I could see was sky. In front of it, four faces appeared — fat, pink and furious. I remembered a word from the Sixties: PIG.
A few seconds later, everything changed. We were standing upright. My wrist was free. The crowd began screaming, “Let him go! Let him go! The whole world is watching!”
I was in the front line now and I saw that the police had thrown a man down on the street. I couldn’t see his face because it was covered with blood. One cop was holding the man’s handcuffed wrists and pulling his arms and another held his feet. As though by signal, they both lifted the screaming man off the ground, flipped him over and slammed him, facedown into the pavement. They dragged him into a paddy wagon and disappeared.
Now, Helen and Frances were by my side. I asked Frances if she was O.K. and she assured me she was.
“What was his name?” Helen asked.
“What was whose name?”
“The kid! Your friend! He was the one who got arrested!”
Some lawyers approached me.
“What’s the boy’s name?”
“I don’t know. I’m sorry… I don’t know.”
“…his name?… We need to know his name so we can make sure he gets the medical help he needs right away… You don’t know him?”
“No. I don’t know his name. I… I don’t know his name!”
A few months later we were in the street again, protesting Mayor Bloomberg’s racist “stop and frisk” laws. A youngster approached me: “Can I walk with you and your group?”
“Of course,” I said, as I reached out for his hand. “What is your name?”
Schine is a yoga instructor, former karate instructor, immigration activist and writer. She teaches yoga classes for people with Parkinson’s and for people with cancer at Mount Sinai-Union Square and is a regular presenter at the National Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery in Mexico City. Her writing has appeared in Portside.org, It’s All Right To Be Woman Theater, Rattapallax, Hawansuyo.com (in Spanish), Peregrinosysuslettras (in Spanish) and other literary publications.
Terrific story! Roberta, you are such a great storyteller. I can feel what it was like being there from your description.
And I wish my mama was still alive to read your story. . .
Thanks. I wish the same, Sally.
Great firsthand account. Thanks for sharing!
You’re welcome. It’s so important that people remember Occupy Wall Street.
Really good. Spare but detailed. Sounds so like you. Thanks.
Glad you liked it, Marti.
Right to the heart of the problem, as always. Love reading your stories.
You put me, the reader, right there, in the moment, one after another. I felt as if you took my hand, as well as those hands that you actually had taken on that day. I experienced all of you in your bravery, determination and just cause. Bless you and thank you.
I’ve read this story before, and the telling is true…..Every time I read it I remember the vibrancy of OCCUPY and the continuity of the many movements that keep these fights for justice alive.
Roberta Schine is an outstanding writer with great social and psychological insights. Although this piece isn’t humorous, her writings are often ironic and funny.
She is extremely accomplished writing essays in both Spanish and English. Her insights about the social problems of today are spot-on. Thank you Roberta for making me think more broadly.
Thank you, Lynn. So glad you like my work.