Ten days ago, my wife and I joined a group of some 150 concerned citizens who were gathering in Sacramento's Fremont Park to express their solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York. This group was a microcosmic reflection of our country in general, and our culturally diverse state in particular. People of every age group, ethnic stripe, and economic circumstance were richly represented there. Using the Zuccatti Park movement as a template for our own, we soon got down to the arduous and painstaking process of formulating a consensus (a lofty goal, but one that is far from complete as I write this). Lest we forget, democracy (unlike dictatorship) is, by it's very nature, an untidy business, to say the least.
After breaking up into constituent committees (media, messaging, supply, logistics, etc.), we eventually reformed into a general assembly, adopted certain general principles, and voted to reconvene on Thursday, October 6 at Cesar Chavez Park, across from City Hall. At that point, everyone of us had been given tasks to complete and missions to accomplish. Our responsibilities were to our local group, and to each other.
No leaders of any kind were chosen. Rather it was a tenet of the movement from the earliest days to steadfastly avoid the authoritarian model. Democracy in all things was the deliberate course we chose to follow.
In the past five days, the "Occupy Sacramento" movement has grown considerably, both in size and visibility. During that time, we have attempted to create a public space (in this case Cesar Chavez Park) where our movement can attract and educate - in a positive and peaceful manner - the 99% of our fellow citizens who continue to suffer under an unfair economic regime that disproportionately rewards the greedy and utterly disregards the basic human needs of everyone else.
It was in pursuit of that goal that I (in conjunction with some three dozen other men and women) made a conscious choice to be arrested in the park, and thereby tug on that unbroken thread of civil disobedience that runs through the rich fabric of our country's history.
Suffice it to say that in the past three days, I've flouted "Warhol's Dictum" by overstaying my 15 minutes. Every time I turn around, it seems, somebody is sticking a microphone or a TV camera in my face. I've been interviewed twice by two different reporters from the Sacramento News and Review, and once by the progressive website Think Progress, and have appeared on all four local TV stations.
But perhaps the most amusing of juxtapositions took place when I made two separate appearances in one night on KXTV Channel 10. In one, I'm identified by reporter Dave Marquis as a History instructor and asked to comment on a story he was putting together comparing Sacramento's recent homelessness problem with the city's "Hoovervilles" of the 1930's.
In the other, I am shown being handcuffed and loaded into a paddy wagon.
Woody Allen could not have staged it better.
But from my personal perspective, there have been three gem-like moments to press in my dog-eared Book of Memories.
1. For two consecutive days, I've had the privilege of watching my lovely wife's beaming face as it graced a few frames of Keith Olbermann's Countdown on Current TV. Thanks, Keith. Thanks, Al.
2. On Saturday, Oct. 8, about 300 of us marched from Cesar Chavez Park to the Wells Fargo Building on Sacramento's Capitol Mall. The place was closed, of course, so the cops watched impassively as we swarmed all over the place for no apparent reason. When I got my turn at the megaphone, I identified myself as a retired history teacher. I then pointed at the wonderfully restored stagecoach in the building's lobby, and said "You know, there's a huge historical irony here. A hundred-and-fifty years ago, these stagecoaches were the most attractive targets for robbery in the Sacramento Valley. Now they've become the symbol of a corporation that is committing shameless robbery on the rest of us."
After the applause died down, I was asked by a member of the crowd, "Where did you teach?" When I told them, an astonished Afro-Latina-American women in her early-twenties named Autumn Thomas shouted out, "MR. BRADLEY - YOU WERE MY AMERICAN HISTORY TEACHER IN THE 8TH GRADE!!!" Equally astonished, I embraced her and told her how proud I was to see her standing up for her beliefs. She began to cry as the crowd roared its approval. Meanwhile I, misty-eyed and overcome with emotion, quietly left center stage.
That scene was not written by Woody Allen. That one was written by Aaron Sorkin.
3. Later that night (or should I say the following morning at 1:00 am) as I was being handcuffed and taken into police custody, several of my fellow "99 percenters" shouted out "What's your name?" "Mark W. Bradley," I replied. "What's your occupation?" they asked. "I'm a school teacher," I said.
I could be wrong, but I think I saw one or two of the cops in riot gear look a little crestfallen at that point. I know for a fact that at several of the men and women holding billy clubs and pepper spray canisters were called in on their day off. I'm guessing that a few of them had been planning to go skiing this weekend. They were less than enthusiastic about participating in this Kabuki.