Last night, Naomi Wolf – author of Give Me Liberty: A Handbook For American Revolutionaries – was arrested for her decision to support the rights of the Occupy Wall Street protestors. The photo to the left was taken by Mike Shane and shows Wolf and her partner, Avram Ludwig, being hauled off to the 7th precinct for processesing.
The events leading up to Wolf’s arrest are as follows:
1) Wolf and her partner arrived at the “Game Changers 2011” event being hosted by the Huffington Post in the SOHO area of NY
2) As they entered, they noticed Occupy Wall Street protestors outside, noticing that they were using the “human mic” technique since they had been told using a megaphone was illegal; Wolf was apalled and reminded them that the 1st Ammendment says nothing about the prohibition of megaphones
3) Wolf and her partner quickly collected a list of grievances on behalf of the protestors to take to Govenor Cuamo (who was also attending the event). They were, however, unable to locate him and other business pressed them to leave the event early.
4) On their way out, Wolf and her partner noticed that the protestors had been driven away from the building, guarded by the police who were keeping them far away from the very event they wanted to protest. Wolf approached the police and asked why; she was gruffly told that Huffington Post had a permit that prevented the protestors from using the sidewalk.
5) Wolf hunted down a HuffPost representative, suspecting such a line was pure malarkey, and indeed it was. The only restriction was that protestors could not block the paths of pedestrians or prevent them from entering or exiting the building.
6) Wolf then proceeded to inform the protestors of their rights, lead them back to the sidewalk where they could protest freely, and was confronted by the NYPD. Wolf describes the showdown as follows:
Then a phalanx of perhaps 40 white-shirted senior offices descended out of seemingly nowhere and, with a megaphone (which was supposedly illegal for citizens to use), one said: “You are unlawfully creating a disruption. You are ordered to disperse.” I approached him peacefully, slowly, gently and respectfully and said: “I am confused. I was told that the permit in question allows us to walk if we don’t block pedestrian access and as you see we are complying with the permit.”
He gave me a look of pure hate. “Are you going to back down?” he shouted. I stood, immobilised, for a moment. “Are you getting out of my way?” I did not even make a conscious decision not to “fall back” – I simply couldn’t even will myself to do so, because I knew that he was not giving a lawful order and that if I stepped aside it would be not because of the law, which I was following, but as a capitulation to sheer force. In that moment’s hesitation, he said, “OK,” gestured, and my partner and I were surrounded by about 20 officers who pulled our hands behind our backs and cuffed us with plastic handcuffs.
A video of Wolf’s arrest can be viewed here.
Wolf closed her re-telling with these words: “first they come for the “other” – the “terrorist”, the brown person, the Muslim, the outsider; then they come for you – while you are standing on a sidewalk in evening dress, obeying the law.”
Words cannot express my horror at this turn of events. Like many, I have been watching the growing video evidence of police brutality in New York. And like many, I am shocked by the complete and utter unconstituionality of the NYPD’s actions.
But this situation, in particular, upsets me to no end. Wolf committed no crime. She obeyed the law. She exercised her rights as a US Citizen peacefully and respectfully. And she was arrested.
It terrifies me to think that we are living in a country where it is increasingly becoming a reality that if you “question” the authority or the majority, you somehow become the enemy. This is especially troublesome for me as a writer, because I view it as my sacred duty to challenge the status quo, to inspire my readers to look at the world differently, and – above all else -encourage them to keep asking questions.
When did asking “Why?” become a crime?
Wolf’s final words in her account are especially chilling. They harken back to that famous poem from WWII, written by Pastor Martin Niemoller, that still rings eeriely true in our time:
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak out for me.
As Wolf asserts, it is becoming increasingly difficult to be “different” in America. To be the other. To be the one who thinks and lives outside the box and according to the tenets of his or her own conscience. This is also why it is important that we, as writers, defend the rights of those who are different and continue to tell their stories so that they are not swept under the rug and forgotten. That’s why books like Shine, The Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian, etc, are so important. They remind us that it is not wrong to be different, to be an outsider, to stand on the edge and say “No. This is not who I am. This is not what I believe in. I will have no part in this.”
They remind us to stand up for ourselves. And for what is right.
As e.e. cummings once said “To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”
The battle to be ourselves starts in childhood, carries on through adolescence, and follows us into adulthood. It is a continuous journey – an ever relevant issue – which is why I applaud Wolf for standing up – both for herself and for the rights of the protestors she was protecting – and saying enough is enough.
Here’s hoping that, someday soon, the folks in power might actually listen.