Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Louis Jargow ’10 was arrested last Saturday, September 24, after filming protesters at Occupy Wall Street, a spontaneous movement protesting the failures of capitalism.
Jargow’s confrontation with the police began when he witnessed a young man speaking emotionally to onlookers about the foreclosure of his parents’ home. “And then there was a person taking video footage. And when she got arrested, I took her camera and I started filming. I ran around for two to three hours documenting the police brutality,” recounted Jargow.
“There were at least five cops [beating] three kids in front of me. I was asking their names, dates of birth, and why they were going to jail,” said Jargow. Then, he said, two policemen, whom he describes as “gorilla-like,” grabbed him, threw his head against a car and pushed him to the ground. “The cops started … hitting me … with batons, which burst open my shin and it started bleeding,” said Jargow.
Jargow was detained in a riot van, designed to hold twelve, with eighteen other people for several hours where, according to Jargow, it was nearly impossible to breathe and they were given no water to drink. He repeatedly asked for medical attention for his wound, but to no avail. Jargow and others were treated hours later by the medics at the protest site.
A photo of Jargow’s arrest was featured in the New York Daily News‘ coverage of the protests. They report that approximately fifty were arrested; Jargow reports that he saw over ninety. Jargow’s account fits into a narrative of what many have seen as the NYPD’s overreaction to the Occupy Wall Street protest. Video of two women being pepper-sprayed at the protest went viral on the internet and was featured on MSNBC’s “The Last Word” with Lawrence O’Donnell, and on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.
Blane O’Neill ’11 has also been protesting at Occupy Wall Street. He has seen a shift in the character of the movement since it began almost two weeks ago, on September 17. More people have been camping at the site. He has witnessed a new wave of people arriving, and with that, the demographic getting more diverse. “Older people are joining in; and there are more people of color than were originally here. Now, there is a queer constituency,” O’Neill reported. The so-called general assembly of the protest holds consensus meetings two times a day. “At these meetings we use direct democracy to discuss various issues and try to reach consensus about many of the decisions we have to make in forwarding our objectives, like dealing with police,” Jargow explained.
However, Jargow sees a downside to the evolving organization at the protest. “It’s difficult for everyone to be represented. “It was way more radical when we began this. It’s now being run by unchecked privilege. There’s now a performance agenda.” Of the general assembly meetings, O’Neill said, “sometimes it’s hard for everyone to be represented and it is very male dominated.”
When asked why the Occupy Wall Street protest began, O’Neill explained that the movement “organically started as a direct response to this infinitely complex problem that tends to boil down in some ways to radical economic disparity and a failing economy. Capitalism isn’t working and is only benefiting a few. People are working two and three jobs, being kicked out of their homes, and can’t feed their children.” O’Neill emphasizes that the movement does not have one message or a specific list of demands. “What is happening is that people are so helpless and completely distrustful of this so-called democratic process, that they need to reassert their agency and physically occupy a space to reclaim their voices,” he said.
Will Lawrence ’13, an experienced activist, is highly supportive of the Occupy Wall Street initiative, because it “relates to a groundswell of frustration with how the government is representing the populace.” “And,” he explained, “it’s not going to be solved through an election, through another politician, through legislative reform, because the system doesn’t work anymore. Corporate influence in politics is out of control to the extent that traditional methods of making change are no longer, frankly, available to us.” Lawrence is also encouraged by the related protests that have cropped up in cities across the country, and is encouraged that these events will bring these important issues to the “forefront of the public consciousness.”
Jargow offered some advice for Swatties who feel as he does about the financial disequilibrium in the United States and how to become an agent for social change. He advised “just show up, place yourself in the right public space, bring a sleeping bag and just start talking to people.”
Jargow remains encamped in lower Manhattan along with other protesters.
UPDATE: BLAINE O’NEILL ’11 ARRESTED WITH TWO OTHER ALUMS DURING THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE PROTEST ON SATURDAY
On Saturday, October 1st, the NYPD arrested about 700 people, members of the Occupy Wall Street movement, along with Blaine O’Neill ’11, Jesse Marshall ’11 and Selmaan Chettih ’10 and other Swat alums. O’Neill was working on a project with Grassroots Mapping, a non-profit, open-source mapping project, documenting the Occupy Wall Street protest, when he broke away from the mapping group and joined a march approaching the Brooklyn Bridge. “We didn’t realize at first. There were no cops anywhere; no one telling the protestors it was illegal and no one giving any warning. And then about 100 cops in a line showed up behind us with big orange nets, not letting us leave, and there were 100 cops on the other side of us, too,” recounted O’Neill. The police proceeded to arrest the marchers and placed them in holding cells at nearby precincts. All were charged with disorderly conduct and served with summons to appear in court.
O’Neill said that the police had not warned them or given them an opportunity to leave the premises. “The 700 arrests were so unexpected, so I fear it might scare people who are on the fence of participating, from joining the movement.” However, he said that he was not mistreated. “We’re not shaken up emotionally, physically… just a little tired.” O’Neill reported recognizing about twenty Swatties in the group that day.