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Letters From District 7

By Jasper N. Henderson

Certain in his statement, Mayor Menino ordered the Boston Police Department to arrest me and 140 others early Tuesday morning. We were standing in a circle around our few dozen tents, linking arms and reassuring each other. The mayor said that we and the tents had to go—we were causing a nuisance. And, as I would later be charged, we were in the park after its 11 p.m. curfew.

As hundreds of police officers lined the square, we chanted: "We are the 99 percent. YOU are the 99 percent." One of them took a picture of us on his iPhone. Then the fully suited riot police charged the Veterans for Peace, casting their flags and America's to the ground. Screams went up and chants got louder as the line was pushed back. Soon they punctured the perimeter, and I looked over my shoulder to see angry police officers tearing down our tents in the moonlight. Roze, a friend since I had linked arms with her two hours earlier, looked at me, and I looked back. Neither of us had ever been arrested before. We were scared, but we were staying.

Suddenly the cops were upon us, and one was using his hands to club those of the girl to my left. "If you don't let go, I will force you to let go," he said, and he grabbed her small wrists and yanked. She wouldn't let go. So he turned to me, grabbed the lapels of my jacket, and wrenched me to my feet. He commanded me to lie down on my stomach while two other riot police tightened plastic cuffs over my wrists. Soon, I was in the pitch-black box of a paddywagon, speeding with eight others over the infamously pock-marked roads of Boston.

I had joined the protests a few days earlier, down on Wall Street. The people I met were of every ethnicity, and a majority were employed and college educated, many with professional degrees or PhDs. Everyone was frustrated that 99 percent of Americans have scarcely shared in income gains over the last three decades. Only having been alive for two of those, I'm frustrated knowing that when I graduate from college in June I'll enter the worst job market since the end of World War II. And while things are bad for a lot of us, the richest are getting richer, vastly richer. The richest one percent of Americans own more than 38 percent of America's wealth.

The policemen who booked us into District 7, a jail in East Boston, certainly weren't seeing any of that money. At four in the morning they were trying to find scissors that could cut the zip-ties off one of my compatriot's blue-purple hands and in the meantime hacking towards his wrist with a pocket blade.

Finally, I was booked, and my fingerprints, mugshot, and belt were taken.  Soon I was in a disgusting cell reeking of urine and worse. The toilet was brimming, the metal bench narrow, and the plexiglass over the bars had etched graffiti going back to '93.  My cellmate and I talked about our lives and about the Occupy movement. He was a drummer who played for yoga studios and movie scores until work dried up with the recession. He had lived at the park until this night in jail. I study Russian literature. When the guard threw in two chicken sandwiches and two cartons of milk, we found we were both vegetarian. Plugging our noses, we drank our milk, ignored the new yellow stains on our socks-bottoms, and tried to sleep.

No messiahs. No high-paid lobbyists. No campaign employees. No megabucks donations from the Koch brothers. No sponsorship from FOX News. No messaging bulletins from the DNC.

We're doing this ourselves, for ourselves, for each other. If we don't have all the answers yet, that's because the questions are enormous. We have been grappling with these questions for years: How can we create a society where we all have a fair shot at a good life? How is a million dollars a small sum for a few hundred thousand Americans but a staggering one for me?

The thrilling thing is that we're asking each other these questions right now, and we're listening to each other’s answers. At 6:30 a.m. the guards at District 7 cuffed us one to the next and loaded us back into the paddywagon to go to court. Delayed by a mix-up with our paperwork, one cop opened up the back and shot the breeze with us. He confessed himself an "asshole," but would let us speak for a minute before trying to shoot down our answers. Even if we couldn't convince him, we got to listen to each other. And at the end I asked the cop if he had any kids. He did, a 9-year-old girl. I asked him if she would be here with us if she was a little older. "I'm sure she would—the little rebel," he said before leading us into the small holding cell I would share with twenty-one other shackled prisoners for the next eight hours.

The cop's daughter isn't out holding signs and being arrested with us, but we're fighting for her future just as much as we're fighting for mine and, yes, yours. If we don't hang together we will surely be hanged separately, not by the hangman’s noose but by hunger on America's streets or Africa's, by war in a foreign land or your doorstep, by another killer hurricane or new-born desert or infernal wildfire. We've got a start, but this movement needs to keep building. We are the 99 percent. This is our country, our planet, our future.

When I was released around four o'clock, not having eaten or seen the sun in twenty hours, having grown accustomed to the hobbling gait of the shackled, having accepted a plea-bargain that lessened my charges to a civil one, assembly without a permit, and a $50 fine, a small group of Occupiers let up a cheer and handed me water and a banana.

We're listening to each other, talking to each other, finding common ground and new friends, standing together and demanding the fair shot at life that our elected officials have promised us but our votes haven’t gotten us. We won't go away, even if mayors who cannot tolerate civil disobedience send their sworn officers against us. I hope you'll join us.

Jasper N. Henderson ’12 is a Slavic languages and literatures concentrator in Dudley House.

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