Today, Chicago honored the life of George Floyd. The day started with two mass processions in Chicago’s Near South Side. The contingent that I joined had thousands of motorists and cyclists who rang their bells and honked their horns for all of the city to hear.
As we made our way through the downtown area, we were greeted with cheers and support from onlookers and the public. It was clear that the public was with us.
Activists and protesters alike organically organized themselves to protect each other and the car caravan by using their bikes to block intersections to prevent the group from breaking up. People were dancing in the streets, people were chanting from their cars, and pockets of people were publicly mourning the loss of George Floyd.
The group of people I was with moved barricades and shut down our scenic Lake Shore Drive. When police attempted to encircle us, the Black and Brown protesters asked white protesters to stand between them and the police and use their privilege as protection.
The atmosphere around this entire action was completely different from anything I’ve ever experienced. The sense of unity, trust, and respect for one another was palpable and everyone took care of each other. It was also abundantly clear that there was a shared discontent with more than just police brutality. People gave speeches around systemic racism, capitalism, mass incarceration, the deportations of immigrants, and the list goes on.
I witnessed a group of people storm a Fifth/Third Bank while chanting “The banks got bailed out, we got sold out!”. Others smashed rows of cop cars, and some got new hand bags from Macy’s. As I made my way out of the city I saw a large plume of smoke a couple blocks away. I soon learned that one of the cop cars was set on fire.
There were many amazing moments in Chicago’s protest on Saturday afternoon and night. When a group of several hundred I was in wanted to cross the Chicago River and protest outside of Trump Tower, discovered that 3 of the bridges closest to the tower had been raised, but weren’t perturbed and so turned around and walked half a mile to the closest open bridge. The speech outside of Water Tower Place in which a BLM organizer proclaimed: “These are our people! Working people, no matter what color or what city! If something happens to our people in Nebraska or California or Minneapolis, we will show solidarity and show up for us — working people!” Walking down Michigan Avenue singing Kendrick Lamar — proclaiming to the richest area in the city that “we gon’ be alright”.
Unfortunately, all of those moments, as beautiful as they were, became completely overshadowed by my unjust arrest.
All night, the cops and the protesters were engaged in a sort of trench warfare. Both sides would get into lines and move forward or retreat as best they could. Eventually, around 7 p.m., the cops decided that they wanted more turf and wanted us to retreat. My partner and I were at the front of the line, and he wasn’t moving fast enough for them, so a cop shoved him to the ground and started beating him with a baton. Instinct kicked in and I dove to try and protect him. A different cop grabbed my leg and physically dragged me off of him, then wouldn’t let go of my leg. Yet another cop started yelling at me to get up, which I obviously could not do because one of my legs was incapacitated. He didn’t actually want me to get up, he just wanted me to not comply with his orders. Next thing I knew, a knee was in my back and I was being handcuffed. As I was marched to the paddy wagon, a cop asked me “was it worth it?” as if I had done anything to deserve being arrested.
You are separated by gender in the paddy wagon, so I talked with the two other women who were arrested (about eight men were in the other section). All three of us had been arrested trying to protect someone else. One woman was protecting someone she did not know. “They started swinging a baton at this girl and, god I know it was stupid, but I grabbed at the baton to try and stop it from hitting her. I didn’t think about it, I just — they were going to beat her to death! What else could I do?”
I was held in the holding cell for five hours, and released without charges. I am a first timer and I am white, so I am luckier than most. Around midnight I got a bunkmate who told me about everything that had gone on since I was locked up. The city was burning, a curfew was imposed but all the bridges were up so many people had no way to get home, plus so many rumors. And I was struck by how useless I was. I don’t regret getting arrested per se; I would have regretted getting to safety while my boyfriend got the shit beat out of him much more, so really I’m glad I did something. But what is the point of cadres being locked up, away from an uprising, while the world changes around them? We need everybody we’ve got. Civil disobedience is an important tactic, but martyrdom is not. I was a bit of a martyr tonight (unintentionally) and I regret that. I would have given anything to stay in the fight longer.