Eugene Weekly : News : 11.23.11

Q&As with the arrested Occupiers

Two of the 17 were arrested in Eugene during the National Day of Action tell their stories 

Protesters arrested by Eugene Police

Terra Williams, arrested at Chase Bank

What drew you to Occupy Eugene and to participate in the bank protest?

I remember when Occupy Wall Street was just an idea. At the time, I had conversations with very few friends about the financial woes of this country; the bank bailouts, disingenuous unemployment rate statistics, the horrifying distribution of wealth, etc. and my small group and I felt frustrated yet determined to share news articles to spread awareness. Then I discovered entire online forums dedicated to this issue, and I lost hours of sleep reading and watching what is now this movement unfold and bloom so I was automatically excited about it. As for the global Day of Action itself, the big banks have gotten away with illegally foreclosing on millions of families since 2008, among other crimes but, this was the big one that lit a fire under me. Participating in the protest was my way of saying “people are waking up and we’re not going to forget this.”

What makes it an issue worth getting arrested for? Why civil disobedience?

It forces a dialogue. Since my arrest, I’ve have friends who have never shown interest in the movement ask me why I did it and I was able to start a conversation about our anger as well as our hopes for positive change. I had no intention of being arrested that afternoon but I’m glad I did because it’s helped move the public discourse to focus on these injustices, which has been a personal goal of mine.

What specifically were you doing at the protest?

My afternoon began at Umpqua to live-stream the whole event. I recorded the protest there until the group agreed to split into smaller groups, and I joined one of them at BoA. Unfortunately I found that my phone’s battery life did not last long when live-streaming so after some time, I wandered to find someone with a portable charger and found myself at Wells Fargo. Our stay there was short lived when we received a distress call from someone at Chase stating that they needed more people. Instead of finding a battery to continue filming, I wound up barricading the rear entrance of Chase Bank with a few others. I was there for no more than a half hour before our legal observers took our information and the Eugene Police Department moved in.

Have you participated in activism before or are you new to protests and such?

Nothing of this magnitude. I’ve worked with a few non-profits in town wherein I was involved in city council meetings and traveled to Salem to bug folks at the capitol, but never have I slept in the freezing cold or had a confrontation with police over a social issue I’ve been angered by until now, and I’m not going anywhere. I believe strongly in this movement so I’ll continue fighting (peacefully, of course) for it.

Zachery Quale was arrested at Bank of America with his partner Austin Wilson

What drew you to Occupy Eugene and to participate in the bank protest?

Austin and I had been watching the protests in New York as they got started, and were slowing waiting for something to happen here in the Northwest. As planning meetings and committees were assembled in early October, we started feeling antsy to get on the streets. The two of us, and some other friends, would go down in our spare time and demonstrate in our own ways, long before the first big march on Oct. 15, and the positive reactions we got from the public really made us feel that Eugene was ready for something like this. Participating in the more than 2,000 person march on the 15th was incredible, and from that moment on, we became as active as we could be (we’re both full-time students at LCC).

What specifically were you doing at the protest?

As far as the bank protests are concerned, we actually hadn’t heard of the Eugene’s part in the big “N17 day of action,” we were just watching online what was happening Thursday in Portland, and we immediately went out to find what Eugene was up to. We found everyone in front of US Bank on 8th, and from there moved to Umpqua, where we all split off into the separate groups. We first went to Wells Fargo, which had two guards. I showed them my Wells Fargo debit card, and said I wanted to close the account. They let me in, and I closed it after having a nice little chat with the banker. From there, we heard that other groups needed help, so everyone split off.

Austin and I were going home, but we decided to stop at BofA on the way to see what they were up to. There were maybe a half dozen sitting in against the locked doors, garnering as much attention as they could. They said two were out back at the rear entrance, and that someone should help them. We went back there, where (two other protesters) were already poised with a legal observer and two bike cops. We sat for about half an hour before we heard the ruckus up front of the police dispersing the crowd. Everyone left, and no arrests were made, so as they made their way back to us (about eight or nine officers), legal took our names and informed us of our rights. An officer said charges had been made and that we were trespassing. He said we could leave or otherwise be arrested. All four of us silently agreed, and the cuffed us one by one and carted us to the paddy wagon. The police were very gentle, kind, and courteous, and the remaining bystanders gave as much support as their small numbers could. Apart from legal, no photos or video were taken as far as I know.

What makes it an issue worth getting arrested for? Why civil disobedience?

Honestly, we had no intention of being arrested, and I don’t think anyone had it in mind as a goal for the demonstration that day. It was very organic and spontaneous, which I actually like better than if it was premeditated. The four of us in the wagon could hear the radio in the cab, and when we heard we were moving to Chase, we had no idea what was happening there, but we silently knew we wouldn’t be alone after all. Little did we know that they had barricaded the doors all around, nor that such a crowd has assembled. Our chants from the van as they loaded the other 11 in (like I said, two were in separate squad cars) were also very organic and spontaneous. When the doors were closed, we’d make jokes about the situation, about our pink handcuffs, and about how “at least we’re carpooling.” 

The doors opened, and we began stomping and shouting “Save gas; carpool!” Another was when Perry (Graham) said, “Who here thinks they’re arresting the wrong people?” to which, upon the opening of the doors, we chanted “We’re not the ones that you should be arresting!” To hear all of our raw, untested chants being echoed by everyone around us, it was beautiful. So much love and support. Shouts of “Martyrs for change!” “We love you!” and “You’re all heroes!” Soon, as the van got fuller, we began jumping up and down, even rocking it back and forth, to chants of “Knock it off its wheels! Occupy the jail!” 

Never once did a single officer tell us to stop. In fact, some made jokes like “Hey, don’t yell at me, I’m in a credit union, too!” and, to our singing “Solidarity forever!”: “Now! Just the altos and tenors!” It was lovely. One girl in the van said that the policewoman that arrested her seemed almost in tears as if she really didn’t want to arrest us, or that she could feel how symbolic and wonderful the whole charade was.

In the cop shop, it was very jovial and courteous. No barking demands, no aggression. I was led in to get booked by a policewoman holding my hands, literally HOLDING them, out of compassion, leading me on with a “Alright, hun, here we go.” They separated the males from the females, split into two separate holding cells. We could hear the ladies, and we mic check’d them through the cinder block walls, pounding on the benches like the drums back at camp. Again, no one bothered us. Even the frisking and taking of our property was eased, as many of us had contraband like jewelry. On guy even had a few roaches in his pocket, which the officer found, but ground on the pavement without a word. Anywhere else, it was have been a possession charge.

We were let out around 6:30 or 7 pm, and before they opened the gate, the paddy driver gave a pep talk. He said he’d marched in the Vietnam protests, became a cop to change how police handled protestors, worked the WTO marches, etc. He thanked us and shook each of our hands, saying that he’d never seen anything like what we did. We were also thanked for exercising our rights in such a fluid, meaningful way, and that some of them march with us when they’re out of uniform. I already had immense respect for how the police and the city are “dealing” with us, but this just put them over the top in my book.

Have you participated in activism before or are you new to protests and such?

Finally, without overwhelming you with a lot of info, I’ve been active before. My first political statement was a crayon-scribbled letter to city hall at seven years old, asking them to waive the 12 and older rule so I could get a library card. I just went from there. I was the first student in my small high school to be openly gay in many, many years, paving the way for so many other queer kids to not only come out, but to be accepted and understood. I helped establish the first chapter of PFLAG on the Oregon Coast, in Newport, a few years ago, which started QSAs in various Lincoln County high schools. I marched in Prop 8 demonstrations, as well as other queer rights movements, mostly in Portland. Finally, personally, I lived on an intentional community-type sanctuary near Grants Pass, where I met Austin. I take very seriously what is happening now, and see more of the culmination of thought from the last 60-70 years, since the Depression. Seeing each generation and their struggles and triumphs, I can’t help but feel that this is to tie it all together and finally find some peace and quiet like our parents and grandparents started doing in their own times. I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of the now infamous “Eugene Seventeen” (we might get tattoos, by the way), and to feel this overwhelming sense of gratitude and love from everyone that was there or has any knowledge of the wonderful historic day we made for Eugene, Oregon.

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