Occupy Donuts

Emma Goldman has been quoted as saying, “If there won’t be dancing at the revolution, I’m not coming.”

I concur and I’ll add, “If I can’t laugh during the revolution, I won’t bother.”

My first jail support shift came just after the November 17th demonstration—two months since the beginning of OWS, just a few days after the eviction of Liberty Square (Zuccotti Park).  I stayed home from the 11/17 march and took a shift the following night on the jail support team as there were quite a number of arrests. This meant standing outside the city jail in thirty degree weather all night long. I wore sweatpants and a thermal shirt under the suit I wear for my day job and double-wrapped my neck and head in donated scarves and hats from the OWS Comfort supplies.  Then, I drank cold coffee with the other supporters while we waited for the arrested to emerge.

The team included sympathizing lawyers, medical persons, social workers and other Occupiers—many of whom had been in the park since the beginning.  I was the Chaplain on duty.  I hung out with an Iraq War vet turned street medic (he joined the Occupation when, due to PTSD, he struggled to find employment). He said I was weird. “No offense, of course. But it was kinda strange to meet a Chaplain who was also a woman. You really don’t see many of those,” he explained. Also, a Wiccan Chaplain. Whoever heard of a Wiccan Chaplain? And also…um….”kinda hot…no offense.”  We then—somehow—got into a discussion about neo-feminism and its place in religion.  I don’t know how we got onto that from the weirdness of me being female, Wiccan, “kinda hot” and still a Chaplain, but strange conversations often occupy the hours of Occupy.  It was midnight. I couldn’t feel my toes.  None of the arrested had yet been released.

Suddenly, from down the street…a mysterious chant could be heard:

“Banks got bailouts! We got DONUTS! Banks got bailouts! WE GOT DONUTS!”

The Occupy Donuts Brigade had arrived.

The fringe group had gone to the storage space to collect clothes for the released, but along the way went dumpster diving at a local Dunkin Donuts. Aside from a light dusting of coffee grounds, they looked perfectly good (I don’t know how good they actually were…’cuz I’m just too prissy to eat out of the garbage).  Actually, not many people ate the donuts. We were more excited just to have them there than eat them. It was Donut Dance Party at City Jail—all of jail support jumping around like Beltaine Satyrs with our arms in big “O’s” over our heads. We even made up new chants.

(To the tune of “Justice, No Peace!” )


(Call and response)

It was a welcome relief from “Redemption Song,” which one guy had played on his Fender repeatedly for over three hours.

As the arrested trickled out, we handed them each a cigarette, a bottle of water and of course, a donut.

This is the best part of jail support. Frightened persons walk out into the cold night to be greeted by a supportive crowd. Some recognized friends among the jail support team. Others became friends instantly. One guy was hoisted onto the shoulders by his buddies who raced him up and down the sidewalk like “Rudy.”

When an arrested person was released, I was among the first to approach them. I would ask them to turn their wrists. If they could not or if they had other injuries, I would motion over to the medic to see them. I would also introduce them to the counselor on duty that night. Alongside the medic team, I would take photos of injuries and make sure they drank water. (One protestor’s wrists were so badly hurt by the cuffs that he could not move or feel his fingers or put on his own gloves) I would then ask where they would stay that night and gave them a list of Occupy shelters if they did not have a place to go. Many protestors were from out of town and did not have a residence in the city. Some had lost their possessions in the Liberty Square eviction. None of them had phones, keys or wallets. All personal items were confiscated in the arrests and kept in an NYPD storage facility that had closed for the weekend.

One young man came out and after we checked his wrists and gave him the cigarette-water-donut package, asked if we might be able to speak privately. We sat on the steps of a nearby building and I listened to him as, through tears, he described his ordeal and his fears about the future. What if being arrested meant he’d never be accepted into a PhD program? Were his dreams scrapped?  Was his life over for a “stupid mistake” of turning over a police barrier?

“What is your course of study?” I asked.

“Social Anthropology,” he replied.

I thought for a moment. “I don’t know, dude. I think your experience sounds like a pretty good thesis. I doubt you’re that badly screwed. For that, anyway. But I don’t know what you do with the rest of your time.”

Now that he was laughing, we could work on getting him a place to stay. Like the others, his keys were locked up. His roommate was away. He thought he might be able to call a woman he’d just started seeing, but he didn’t know her number yet. I called over another member of jail support and asked if we could use his Iphone so the young man could look up the number in his OkCupid account.

The young man called up the site, but then handed the Iphone back to the jail support person. “Um….can you log out of your account so I can get into mine?”

The young man stepped away to talk to his new ladyfriend, putting a very new relationship to a strenuous test: “Hi, yeah…this is xyz from OkCupid…listen, I just got out of jail……I know, right? (awkward laugh…awkward laugh…) So…um…I kinda need a place to stay for the weekend….”

I turned to my Jail Support friend, my Cancerian mama-bear nature boiling into focus, “She better take him in…or she doesn’t deserve him.”

He told me to relax.

While we waited, we swapped comedic-horror stories of our past experiences on “OkStupid,” until we heard the voice of our newly-released friend brighten and we knew she’d agreed to take him in. No longer dismal or teary, he jaunted off to the subway to Brooklyn a donated hat on his head and slightly stale donut in hand to an evening with a new lover—a perfect end to a scary 36-hour day.

“What’s your denomination, by the way?” asked my Jail Support friend.

“Wiccan,” I said.

“Oh, okay,” he said. “I was wondering what kind of Reverend would have an OkCupid account.”