“New York is Baltimore”

In the span of 3 hours, I witnessed 9 arrests by NYPD, made some new friends in solidarity, nearly lost my voice, and oscillated between deep elation over a people united, and inexplicable anger at the irony of continued police injustice during the very march to abolish it. This was the Million March NYC in response to the Baltimore uprising and the death of Freddie Gray.


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The beginning of Million March NYC on April 29th.

Within five minutes of our march, we were stopped by police blocking the road ordering us to return. Peaceful protestors initially turned around to march back until some inevitably began to push and shove while dodging aggressive police. Forced on the sidewalks, we watched on. One policeman hoisted a loud speaker projecting robotic messages to disperse the crowds and “maintain order.” This degree of militarized policing was rare even for seasoned protesters. For a moment, it felt as though we were transplanted to an unfamiliar warring state.

In the next ten minutes, the police exerted power and control by making at least 6 unnecessary arrests of peaceful protesters who may have been unlucky to stand and chant near the cops. We chanted even louder, “Shame! Shame! Shame!” Watch the video here.

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Fragmented, protesters gathered in smaller groups and marched on with our message: New York is Baltimore, and Baltimore is New York. A marching band joined with musical accompaniment that made the heavy chants and solemn mood a bit lighter. We chanted on, “This is what community looks like! This is what love looks like!” Intermittent celebrations of our collective solidarity served as a good reminder to take a look around and appreciate the power of organizing.

In spite of police intimidation, we spilled into the streets as a form of disruption. Civil disruption and its intended inconvenience mean that we are capturing attention, even if momentarily. It is a short sliver of time for the otherwise voiceless individuals to claim a few moments to be heard: “Black lives matter!” Stopped cars waited patiently while protesters encouraged drivers to get out and join. For every annoyed, head-shaking driver idling on the road, just as many smiled in delight, enthusiastically honked their horn, and chanted along in support. We took over Broadway from Union Square to City Hall, and back to Times Square.

Photo credit: Saif Alnuweiri
A protester stood with his hands up as police charged forward.

In their most subdued state, police guarded behind us or next to us to keep watch. On several occasions, the police not only stood assembled, blocking the way, but charged towards us to get us out of the streets and onto the sidewalks. If you were the unlucky few who got caught on the street chanting, you may have been arrested. During one of the altercations, the leading “Black Lives Matter” banner was torn off its posts while an excess of nearly 9 policemen charged to arrest one man. I couldn’t take my eyes off the giant mound of cops excessively piled over a single protester faced down. Others plead with black policemen and women, urging for understanding and solidarity in place of aggression and authority. In response, most turned away with no words, exposing their conflicted positions. The more the police tried to control, the more we marched on. The now bare banner posts marched on, too.

Photo credit: Saif Alnuweiri

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#UmbrellaRevolution in DC

Helplessly sifting through videos and articles on Facebook wasn’t going to do it for me. I was looking forward to attending an actual demonstration in DC where I’ll get to commiserate with others over the fight for democracy in Hong Kong.


By now, most everyone has heard about the impressively peaceful and organized protests in various neighborhoods of Hong Kong, conducted in opposition of Beijing’s attempt to remove universal suffrage, and effectively eliminate free elections.

On October 3rd I joined a small group of mostly-student demonstrators in front of the Chinese Embassy to show our support. At 7pm, I trekked up a quiet, tucked away street to find the embassy with no one in sight. I was the first to arrive. I surveyed the area nearby, being cautious not to walk on embassy property, always bearing in mind what the Chinese government is capable of doing to eliminate threat.

Sure, this wasn’t Beijing, and I was only one person, but my apprehension of Beijing’s reckless and brutal history remained unmoved.

I remained keenly aware that behind the one-sided glass, guards were watching me survey the area, take photos of the embassy. A Chinese family, perhaps that of an ambassador, entered the premise to return home. Soon, others arrived to join in solidarity with yellow shirts and umbrellas. Coincidentally, it rained pretty good that evening.

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Mostly from American University and George Washington University, student demonstrators shared unique perspectives of their connection to the demonstration. A Russian-American student compared Beijing to Moscow. A Chinese-American demonstrator explained that the young people in Beijing support democracy much like we do. A Chinese-American photojournalist, native to Hong Kong, documented the night’s event. A student blogger interviewed me about the protests in Hong Kong. And an Egyptian-American student described her first-hand experience with violent protests in Cairo during the uprising in 2011. She was only 15 years old.

 10257283_10102866306805043_3142542190306980367_oThe Secret Service decided to make an appearance. To be honest – I was quite flattered.

There were in total maybe 30 of us, casually chatting with our umbrellas opened. An agent approached us to ask some questions. She was friendly enough. She wanted to know what we were doing, who we were representing, how long we planned on being there. When she asked us if we planned on having any civil disobedience, we looked at each other and shrugged. Is that usually planned? They decided that they’d park on of their agents there and sit with us until we dispersed. I joked perhaps we’d ask them to take our group picture.

Except for the occasional peek out of a glass window, or a small child momentarily playing in the front lawn, no one from the Chinese Embassy engaged with us.

 
Photo credits: Tuan Trung Pham