The Sluts Shall Lead Us: Before, During and After the Deluge on the Brooklyn Bridge

New York — I took the subway down to Zuccotti Park on Saturday morning to go on the Slut Walk. Since it was on the official schedule of Occupy Wall Street, and since I had heard it promoted by various members of the Ad Hoc Caucus of Non-Male Identified Individuals, I figured that the Slut Walk was an official Occupy Wall Street event. I envisioned a few dozen Non-Male Identified Individuals raising a ruckus and making a spectacle and wreaking havoc in and around Zuccotti Park.

Instead I found the park to be stuffed with an unusually large proportion of Male Bodied Individuals of unknown identification who were preoccupied with revolutionary pursuits other than the Slut Walk, which was nowhere in evidence. I asked several Male Bodied Individuals where I might find the Slut Walk, and none of them knew.

This presented an unanticipated problem. It was almost noon, and I was in danger of missing the Slut Walk entirely, wherever it was. Yet my mother raised me in such a way that I would never ask a Non-Male Identified Individual, “Hey, where’s the Slut Walk?”

So I perambulated the park a couple times searching for a Non-Male Identified Individual who would not think I was making untoward assumptions with my ever more urgent query. “I will know her when I see her,” I thought. And I did. I knew her because she was wearing blue jeans and a negligee and she had “SLUT” written in foot-high black letters from shoulder blade to shoulder blade.

“Excuse me,” I said. “You wouldn’t happen to know where the Slut Walk is, would you?”

“Union Square,” she said. “You wouldn’t happen to know how to get there, would you?”

Thus it transpired that I accompanied Mariah Bracken and her recently acquired friends Dana and Brianna to the No. 4 Train. All of them were 22 years old. Mariah and Dana were dressed like…um, ya know…and Brianna was dressed normally. Nobody on the subway seemed to notice.

“Because there’s a serial rapist loose in Brooklyn right now and the police are saying, ‘If girls stopped dressing like sluts, then they wouldn’t be raped’—that’s why I’m going to the Slut Walk,” said Mariah, a student at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. “We are trying to reclaim the word ‘slut.’”
Arrested on the bridge by devious NYPD officers, this Wall Street occupier lets everyone know, he's still occupying The StreetArrested on the bridge by devious NYPD officers, this Wall Street occupier lets everyone know, he's still occupying The Street (Lindorff photo)

“It’s a word that has been used as a justification for sexual assault,” said Dana. “They say that because someone was dressed in a certain way, that means she was asking for it. Well, we’re saying we can dress however we want, and it is never an excuse for rape. Rape is always 100% the fault of the rapist.”

Dana declined to give any details about herself. Mariah said that her dad, a diplomat, was generally supportive of her political activities. “A few years ago I was doing anti-recruitment work for Peace Action, and my grandfather said he was going to have me killed,” she volunteered. “He was joking, of course, but he was a general or something in the Marines, so I imagine he could have arranged that. When I told him I was going to Occupy Wall Street, he said to give him a call if I got arrested. He would come bail me out.”

And why was she at Occupy Wall Street?

“To support my generation standing up for itself. To protest against what we’ve inherited, which is nothing except unemployment and debt. What do they expect us to do? We were talking to a police officer in line for the bathroom at McDonalds yesterday. He’d been on duty for eight hours without a break. He said, ‘I don’t know why you’re doing this at such a young age. When I was your age, I was out drinking.’ We told him, ‘We don’t have the money to go out drinking.’”

We got to Union Square about 12:30 and the march had already launched. It consisted of several thousand women, organized by a coalition of feminist groups (not Occupy Wall Street), and most of them were dressed as an outrageous parody of Victoria’s Secret. A small but noticeable contingent of all ages and sizes went entirely topless. “Hey hey! Ho ho!” they shouted. “Rape culture has got to go!”

“This is kinda gross,” said Mariah before disappearing into the river of women. “All those men on the sidewalk are staring at my chest and taking pictures.”

“I spent 14 years in prison for rape,” said Ahmad Terrelle as we marched down Second Avenue. “I just want people to know that if you work on yourself, you can be free of that way of life. I feel freer now than I ever have, and I’m writing a book, How Not To Rape. But it’s not easy working on yourself. Society should be aware that if you help a sex offender in recovery, you’re making the world safer. If you don’t help, it’s more likely he’ll relapse and you’re creating more victims.”

“My teacher told me I’d get extra credit in my aerobic dance class if I came to the march,” said a 20-year-old student at Bronx Community College as we walked west on 3rd Street.

“You want to know why I’m here?” said a woman as we marched up Lafayette Street. “My boyfriend just broke up with me because he thought I was a slut, and I’m not. There wasn’t anything I could say to convince him that I wasn’t. It was like Othello or something. I believe in women’s rights, and that scared him. Just me talking to other people scared him. So here I am, a public slut.”

The placards had a certain feminism-of-the-sixties-filtered-through-the-riot-grrrlism-of-the-nineties vibe: “Make Love, Not Rape”, “Consent Is Sexy” and “All Oppression Is Connected To Your Dick.”

There seemed to be an unusually large number of wordy placards, such as: “I Want A 24 Hour Truce During Which There Is No Rape And Then Instead Of Rape, We Will For The First Time In Our Lives Begin To Experience Freedom.”

“I just think rape is very wrong, and it’s always wrong,” said Julie, a 43-year-old wife and mother back at Union Square as the march was ending and the rally starting. “I was raped when I was 6, and molested again at the ages of 12 and 14. None of those incidents was caused by my style of dress. Rape should be understood as a hate crime. Suppose 1871 Albanians were assaulted every day in the United States. Wouldn’t people be curious about why it was happening? Well, 1871 women are raped every day in the United States, and it’s business as usual.”

As a band on the little stage near 14th Street broke into a credible cover of the Bikini Kill anthem “Rebel Girl,” a man with three squirrel-like rodents on his shoulders rode his bike through the crowd.

“Because rape culture blows—that’s why I’m here,” said Claire, a 25-year-old medical student. On her arm she had written with black and red marking pens, “I WILL FUCKING KILL YOU.”

“I’m here because I didn’t even realize I’d been sexually assaulted until I started reading and talking with other women,” said Tessa, a 21-year-old student. “Now I don’t even know anyone who hasn’t had non-consensual sex in one form or another. Even this morning, I was cat-called four times coming down here. It’s not just a problem with construction workers either. Any man can cat-call, even your professor.”

“Cat-calling,” said Claire, “is a form of rape-testing. It’s a way of declaring that somebody’s body is not her own. I get cat-called when I’m wearing a winter coat.”

With that it began to rain, and I headed back downtown. Emerging from the subway at Park Place, I encountered another river of people flowing up Broadway. The headwaters had been Zuccotti Park, and the declared destination was the other side of the East River, with the idea that Occupy Wall Street would show solidarity with Brooklyn and demonstrate its burgeoning numbers.

Toward the rear of the crowd, which was chanting “Banks got bailed out! We got sold out!”, I encountered Julie from the Slut Walk again. “It all comes down to freedom,” said Julie. “Are they going to force us to be ashamed of who we are? Whether we are the victims of sex crimes or capitalism, we have the right to be exactly who we are, and not accept their shame.”

Two weeks after Occupy Wall Street took over Zuccotti Park, and one week after the infamous police ambush and macing of another march, both police and protesters seemed in an unusually happy frame of mind along Broadway. People were chanting and carrying signs, but mostly they were chatting with each other. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of Occupy Wall Street so far has been the social aspect: thousands of people who never met before discovering they aren’t alone, and having time in the park and on marches to converse human to human. No digital interface required. No isolating with the television. No despairing over your morning website reading.

As police directed us to the walkway over the Brooklyn Bridge, a woman in a green hat was shouting, “If you get arrested, make sure somebody outside has your personal information! We need to know your name! And write down the number of the National Lawyers Guild on your arm! It’s 212-679-6018!”

The breeze was balmy, the company pleasant. I wondered why there was so much fear in her voice.

About a quarter of the way over, I looked over the side of the walkway and noticed police paddy wagons and city buses backing up the roadway, about 30 feet below. About halfway over the bridge, there was a huge crowd on the walkway screaming, “Shame! Shame!” in the direction of the roadway. The protesters were climbing up the cables and hanging from lampposts. People kept shouting at us to move on—”The cops are behind us!”—and no one was moving on because you physically couldn’t move. Below, on the roadway, the police had penned up hundreds of people, handcuffing them one at a time and stuffing them in the paddy wagons and buses.

When we finally made it to the Brooklyn side of the bridge, people on the roofs of apartment buildings were cheering. People in cars were honking and pumping their fists. The police must have wondered whose side they were on.

What I was asking myself, and asking other protesters, was this: “Had the Direct Action working group come up with some secret plan to block traffic to Brooklyn? Why? It seemed uncharacteristically untransparent and counterproductive.”

My question did not get answered until the evening when they had “report backs” from the march during General Assembly. Everyone who spoke at the GA, and everyone I talked to in the crowd, indicated that the police had deliberately opened up their line and directed a portion of the marchers to the middle of the roadway where they were ambushed. Over 700 people got arrested, and none of them were looking to engage in civil disobedience beyond marching without a permit, along with many thousands of others. The circumstantial evidence indicates that Mayor Bloomberg was looking to give as many people a police record as possible, so he can hold more people longer the next time.

Two weeks of protests, two major ambushes by the police. Hmmm. It would be fair to speculate that Mayor Mike, as he likes to call himself, must be hearing it from his billionaire buddies on Wall Street and has worked out a strategy.

“It’s too late to get rid of us like that,” said Max Richmond, a 26-year-old carpenter from Millerton, New York. “No one’s going to be intimidated by that stuff now. There are too many of us. I’ve got a job upstate that I have to go to during the week, but I’m going to be here every weekend until we win. It’s a scene now. It’s the Woodstock of my generation. You don’t want to miss it and then be reading about it in history books for the rest of your life.”

P.S. The Transport Workers Union, which endorses Occupy Wall Street, is now challenging the city ordering its bus drivers to move arrested demonstrators off the Brooklyn Bridge. The Service Employees International Union (1199SEIU) has also endorsed the occupation.