On the streets: A protester’s story

Fordham junior Sarah Jensen has permanent marker all over her left arm. Written in thick black ink is a ten-digit number. It takes up almost her entire forearm.

“This is the legal number,” she says at about 9 a.m., heading toward Freedom Plaza. “If we get arrested we call this number. Because when you are arrested they take everything off and they can’t take it off you if it is written on your arm.”

Two of Jensen’s friends have already been arrested, at the Citibank building on MacArthur Boulevard, earlier in the day. After someone threw a brick through a window, police started arresting demonstrators.

Jensen says she barely escaped. She saw someone with a press pass, grabbed on and squeezed out.

Jensen and five other Fordham students drove to D.C. from New York City Thursday night to protest the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

“I’m here to raise awareness about the issues, make (people) think about multi-nationalism and corporate exploitation,” Jensen explains.

Originally from Kansas, Jensen first became involved with the movement when she started at Fordham three years ago. She helped form a progressive club at the university.

“I have only been to one major (protest) before,” she says “That was April 20 last year. It was a pro-Palestinian thing and an anti-war. Today is different because it is not organized with legal permit.”

The group is staying at a friend’s parents’ house in the area. The activists took the Metro and arrived in the District at 7 a.m.

After leaving Citibank, Jensen and her friends made their way to Freedom Plaza, where they heard there was going to be drum circle.
By the time they arrived, the police had closed the plaza off. People were stuck inside.

“What laws are they breaking? They are standing there in a public park and they are barricaded in by cops,” Jensen says staring at the crowd in the center of the plaza. “Some of them will be arrested before they leave. They are young non-violent people”

Jensen says getting arrested was a risk she faced in coming down to protest. She says she knows most of the protests Friday are illegal, because few have permits. But being arrested is something she would like to avoid at all costs.

“I mean the whole idea of mass arrest is to try to intimidate people from coming out and protesting,” she says “If we don’t go and protest then the terrorists have already won.”

Jensen and her friends follow the crowds away from the plaza. They start to move toward E Street.

The group begins to sing “We all live in Military State” in unified voices to the tune of the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine.” A row of police in riot gear line up in front of them. The crowd begins to push backward to move away. The police push forward. People trip over each other backing up. Everyone keeps singing. A voice in the crowd cries “we are being blocked in.” Another calls for a lawyer.

The police stop moving and the crowd does too.

Jensen asks her friends what they need to do to be sure she is not arrested.

“Where do you want me to go, what do you want be to do,” she asks. “It is good to have one person in your group who does not get arrested.”

They give her the cell phone they are sharing and tell her to get out as quickly as she can if things start to look bad.

The mass of people moves down E Street. The police come in from the left side of the street and from behind. The crowd pushes back toward Freedom Plaza. A protester is knocked over by the police in the street. A few others run to him, help him up. The police move closer and the crowd moves faster. Popping noises rise above the demonstrators’ call and response cheers of “Whose streets? Our streets!”

It is unclear which side the noises coming are from, but the crowd speeds up. Demonstrators yell that the police are closing them in again.

“It’s rubber bullets,” Jensen says as she pulls out an army fatigue bandana that matchers her pants and the one holding back her mass of thin brown braids.

“This is soaked in vinegar because it helps get rid of the effects of tear gas,” she says.

Head down, mouth covered she makes her way quickly to the corner.

“This is open,” she says. “Okay, where are we going, what are we doing?” she asks her friends.

Her friends tell her to cross the street and wait there. They go to see what is happening closer to the plaza. Jensen watches nervously from the other side of the street.

Sarah holds her fist up in the air. Wrapped around her thin wrist is a black strip of cloth “Solidarity” is sloppily painted on it in red ink.

“It’s to show solidarity and to keep contact with my friends,” she says.

The popping sounds continues, but no one seems to be injured. They appear to be sounds from the police air guns.

Jensen says she is not disappointed by the turnout at the protests, though she hoped for more.

“This is what I expected,” she says. “I am disappointed that people don’t become more aware of issues and stand up for what they believe in.”

She says her parents don’t know she is protesting in Washington.

“They might want me to be safe and be careful, but they wouldn’t well, they really couldn’t, prevent me from going,” she says.

Jensen walks to join another group across from Freedom Plaza where police are arresting people inside the park. Another chant, this time the words are “Let them go.”

Someone asks if anyone knows the legal defense number. Jensen rolls up her sleeve. She says we should shout it over to the people being arrested.

“If you are arrested call this number,” she yells across the street. “Repeat after me,” she tells the demonstrators around her. She screams the number, her voice is hoarse.

After a few minutes of calm, the silhouette of a struggle can be seen on one of the buses on to which the police are loading protesters. The crowd moves in and starts screaming. The police carry out a limp body and load it into a paddy wagon. It is unclear if the person has made themselves limp or the police have caused it.

Jensen yells out to the officers, “your children will find out,” and then joins the rest of the crowd chanting “shame.”

“That is a citizen,” Jensen yells. “How is that justice? That shouldn’t be the cops’ job – to beat handcuffed people who are outnumbered, who are dissenting. That is not the kind of America we are told we are supposed to have. And that is what we are protesting for – part of it.”

Jensen turns around to see she can’t find her friends. Nervously, she scours the crowd. She spots them and walks over. They tell her about a free concert in Farugut Park, where they can relax and eat some lunch.

After that, she wants to find her friends who were arrested.

“We are going to go back to the guy’s place we are staying at, let his parent’s know that he is arrested, ” she says. “They are going to be pissed. I am going to call the legal number, track down my friends.”

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