Hundreds of protesters gathered at the corner of 1st and 47th Avenue in Manhattan, New York on Oct. 10, 2008 for the tenth anniversary of the Jericho Movement march on the White House which sought to spread awareness of political prisoners and prisoners of war being held on American soil. This year, the Jericho Movement protest marched from 1st and 47th to Madison Square Park in Manhattan, ending the march late that afternoon.
Knox was represented by 17 of its students in last weekend’s march, most of them at the very front of the protest as it made its way through the city streets. Senior Mary Lou Villanueva and Junior Vicky Daza of Estudiantes sin Fronteras organized the trip.
The 17 students stayed for two nights in a community center called the 123 Space at 123 Tompkins Street in Brooklyn. This space holds workshops for children in Brooklyn and a once-a-week bike repair shop in the basement. Students slept in sleeping bags on the dirty floor; the bathroom had no lights and, at times, no working toilet. Several students had to sleep on chairs and the owner of the community center slept on the table. The 123 Space had no electricity and was forced to “borrow” electricity from the upstairs neighbors.
Upon arriving, students were aware that the protest had a permit to march, but Daza made an additional announcement.
“We technically don’t have permits to walk into the streets,” said Daza, “but we plan on taking it into the streets anyway. If anyone has a problem with that, let me know, but I’m not too worried about it and I don’t think we’ll be arrested.”
Though there were some students who did not march in the streets once they learned this, most of Knox’s attending students continued. Before the march began, protestors rallied at the busy intersection of 1st and 47th. People stood on the curb facing the street, holding signs that said “LIBERATE! SOLIDARITY FOREVER!” and “Amnesty and Freedom for ALL Political Prisoners.”
For the first part of the rally, Knox students lined up along the side of the road, each of us with a separate letter to spell out “Free All Political Prisoners.” A woman from the original Jericho Movement in 1998 approached us wearing a shirt from the movement’s 1998 protest and expressed her happiness about seeing youth protesting.
“You should have been here in 1998!” she said. “It’s nice to see this all happening again.”
After rallying roadside, the protesters formed a circle before marching. There were people speaking into microphones about their experiences being imprisoned or about their personal fights for political prisoner releases.
One woman spoke of how to alleviate the problems of political imprisonment, saying, “We have to fight. We have to work. We have to get the community behind us and move, move, move! We have been nervous before, but there is no need to be nervous now! The power of the people is in the streets.”
The rest of the protestors stood and listened or marched around them in a circle, banging on buckets or aluminum boxes with large sticks or clapping their hands. This section of the protest was known as the noise block, and it was the job of the noise block to keep beats and start cheers for the entire group. While marching in a circle, Senior Kaley Morlock, junior Samir Bakshi, and I began banging rhythms on plastic buckets and making up chants or singing songs by Country Joe & the Fish.
After much waiting and some confusion about when the protest would actually begin, the rally circle was led onto the sidewalk by a New Yorker and Jericho Movement organizer named Ryan, and after everyone was marching and lined up, he yelled “Let’s take it to the streets!” Screaming and cheering followed, and soon the protest flooded into the streets of Manhattan, with banners flying at the front of the march, along with the noise block and Knox students.
Cheers resounded through the streets, among them “Whose streets? Our streets!” and “The people, united, will never be defeated.” After walking for about a half an hour, a police siren finally rang out in the middle of the protest. Everyone glanced around at each other; some laughing, some smiling, only a few showing worry. As the police approached, Knox students and other members of the protest put bandanas around their faces to make themselves less recognizable in the event that the police were to enter the protest.
The officers that approached the protest never once got out of their car, but instead drove slowly alongside the protestors and helped to stop traffic so the protest could continue. One protestor I was marching next to, David, said, “Conquering fear is one of the biggest problems. If we don’t show cops fear, fewer problems will occur.”
People continued in the march, Knox students and others carrying anarchist flags and continuing the drum circles and chants. A man on the sidelines with a picket sign shouted, “Are you ready to move? Are you ready for a revolution?”
After moving through the streets of Manhattan without a single arrest or conflict with the police, protestors gathered in Madison Square Park. A circular park, protesters surrounded it on all sides and in the middle, and near the edge of a pond. More speakers told their stories into a microphone, asking for awareness about prisoners and shouting for the freedom of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a Philadelphia journalist who has been on death row since 1981 for allegedly shooting a cop.
Time passed and more and more police showed up. An officer walked up to sophomore Abraham Diekhans-Mears at one point and said, “Who’s in charge here?” Diekhans-Mears said, “Man, we’re all in charge.”
Pointing to other protestors, he said, “She’s in charge, he’s in charge, I’m in charge. That’s all part of it, man.” The officer then said, “Do you plan to move into the streets again?” and Diekhans-Mears said, “Maybe we’ll move into the streets, maybe we’ll stay here. I guess we’ll see.” The officer then left to survey the park.
Later, sophomore Tim Douglas said the protest was “Cool as shit. Everyone was interesting there. I figured, this is a protest; I should probably introduce myself to people. It was great.”
The next day, Oct. 11, there was another rally in Harlem, which some Knox students attended. Most students stayed at the 123 Space to help Food Not Bombs in Brooklyn. Food Not Bombs is an organization which receives food donations from stores like Trader Joe’s and looks for food about to be thrown away by grocery stores and health food stores and gives it away for free to the community. Knox students helped the organization cook for three hours before packing up potatoes, collard greens, fruit salad, and fresh produce and baked goods and taking it all to Von King Park in one of the Brooklyn neighborhoods.
Within an hour and a half, at least 80% of the food had been taken by people in the community, with only a few produce items left over. Douglas was one of the Knox students who contributed largely to Food Not Bombs. He created a base and legs for a broken grill on the patio of the 123 Space so they could actually cook most of the food.
“There were a lot of people at Food Not Bombs. We were all [cutting] onions and all of us were just crying,” Douglas said,
After distributing food at the park, Food Not Bombs moved on to a homeless shelter in Brooklyn and distributed the rest of the food there.
After a weekend in a strange and difficult-to-navigate city, it was easy to see what the woman with the 1998 Jericho Movement t-shirt meant when she said that it was important for the youth to be out participating in protests. Knox’s contingent was a large and loud part of the protest, and they succeeded in taking it to the streets.