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Monday, July 9, 2012

Exercise Your Rights Dance Party Fundraiser!

Last November, during the heady days of Occupy Wall Street, some overly aggressive cops arrested seven people at the US Bank building in downtown Columbus. Some of us decided to exercise our rights and saw the charges through to trial. Apparently a "jury of our peers" don't care as much about free speech or assembly or financial fraud as we do, cuz they found us guilty. Booo!

Fortunately, those sad defeated people on that jury aren't actually our peers! Our peers are the people in Columbus who DON'T want to live in a police state. Some of these folks are helping us put together a couple fundraisers to cover the exorbitant court costs and fines. We're estimating over $2,000 total. Maybe that's what they mean by "freedom isn't free". 

What rights?!?
The first event will be an Exercise Your Rights Dance Party on Sat. July 28th at 9PM at SkyLab Gallery, 57 E Gay Street. There will be lots of fun and games, raffle prizes, a "kiss a criminal" booth, videos and stories about our experiences fighting the law, and other good stuff. The costume theme is "Exercise Your Rights". By that we of course mean leotards, spandex, leg warmers, and headbands. 

We don't want these fundraisers to exist only in reaction to a single situation. We feel like we learned a lot and came out of this experience stronger, better equipped to defend against the next attack by the police and the injustice system. We want the same for our community, so we're earmarking some of the money raised to the establish a legal defense fund for future situations like this. 

Can't make it to the fundraiser, but wanna give money? No problem!

Write us a check and mail it to:

Occupy Bank Tour
PO BOX 1291
Columbus OH 43216

Make the check out to any of the defendants' names. Don't know us? Write checks to Kate Pleuss.

Or, if you prefer the convenience of playing 2% fees to a nasty corporation, use this:

Below see videos and more information about the action, the arrests and court.

What happened? Frustrated by long Occupy Columbus General Assemblies producing no action, and emboldened by a fun dance party in front of police headquarters, some anti-authoritarians organized a "bank tour" of downtown Columbus. On Tuesday, November 15th we marched from bank to bank, followed by cops every step of the way. We didn't get far. They arrested a bunch of us without warning or cause at the 2nd stop, the US Bank building on the corner of High and Broad.

Seven people in total were arrested. All were innocent and within their rights, but three took non-cooperating plea deals early on, for various reasons. The others decided to fight the charges, opting instead to exercise what few rights we have and make the overreaching authorities go through their whole dirty hypocritical process before giving them anything. Professional lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild offered their services pro-bono, and advised the defendants against politicizing the trial, arguing first amendment issues, or rallying support of activists or occupiers. We took their advice and went with a limited strategy of staying low-key and arguing exclusively on the basis of the law. The definition of "criminal trespass in negligence" requires that we be notified to leave the bank before being subject to arrest.

The trial was continuously delayed for months, one of us was forced to choose between cancelling a 5 week trip to Tunisia or resolving the issue, so he made the obvious choice and took a plea deal. There were then three of us who went to trial on Monday June 25th. The following video was submitted to evidence, and the defense lawyers argued that if the police had made an audible dispersal order, it would be audible on the video. It isn't.

The trial lasted three days and ended in a guilty verdict. The prosecutor convinced the jury to ignore the video evidence and instead argued that we ought to have gotten permission before entering the bank. That we only had business at the CEO's office in Minneapolis. That we shoulda stayed on the sidewalk, as though we didn't have a right to enter the public lobby in the first place. She argued that it was our fault the cops couldn't be heard.

Any cop who claims he can't speak louder than Weslie Coleman is not qualified to be a police officer.

The prosecutor argued that the instant a cop or security guard mumbled something disapproving and we didn't magically disappear, we became criminals and deserved to be arrested. She called a bunch of people waving signs and flags and chanting loudly an "ambush". She argued that the fact that we talked ahead of time about the possibility of being arrested means we planned on getting arrested. She told the jury that we and our witnesses were lying, as though we somehow would benefit from risking a trial just to get a chance to lie to a jury.

Here's a full video of the action from the first bank.

Notice how we didn't interrupt business. How the customers and tellers laugh and video tape us. How the cops are there at the same time as us, how they walk in and out repeatedly. They're asking security to give them permission to pounce. This is all that would have happened at the 2nd bank, the 3rd bank, the 4th and 5th. No one would have been hurt, we would have left as soon as security or police told us to, and we would have sent a message to the banks, that in Columbus Ohio, you can't steal thousands of houses, bully and con the entire population and tank the economy without people standing up to you.

Instead, thanks to the boys and girls in blue, the banks got a different message. They are protected. They don't need to worry about being shamed or called out, they don't need to worry about people standing up for what's right. They can continue the business as usual, the business of getting rich at others' expense.


  1. <3 ewe guise

  2. What was the reasoning behind the low key strategy prior to the trial?

  3. There were a couple reasons:

    1. the lawyers insisted on it.
    2. we didn't want to make this about our egos, or our privilege. We know prisoners who need and deserve the support of occupiers more than our petty tresspassing charge.
    3. we'd do better with the jury and prosecutor if we didnt associate with unpopular political ideas (or so the lawyers said).
    4. we'd do better during the sentencing phase, if it came to it, if we didn't embarrass or piss off the judge by making a spectacle (this is probably true)

  4. I should also say, speaking only for myself, that I regret taking this advice more than anything else relating to the trial.


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