November 3, 2013
In the pre-dawn hours, we gathered outside the New York Public library. Under the harsh glare of police spotlights, they checked our identification and sorted us into groups. We boarded busses that would take us out of the city, away from our families, and into the heavily guarded confines of Fort Wadsworth.
The bus was eerily quiet as it rocked gently along the empty streets of lower Manhattan. I sipped water to ward off the eventual dehydration of the day ahead. Others simply closed their eyes, hoping to escape their circumstances by dreaming of other things. Eventually we crossed the Verrazano Narrows bridge in caravan of busses and emergency vehicles. Red and blue lights bounced around the interior of the bus as police vehicles sped past on either side of us.
The reek of nervous energy was all around me as the bus slowed to a stop. I carried only a few small items: band aids, vaseline, and chewing gum. I was shabbily dressed in an over-sized winter coat full of holes and covered in wood stain, grey cotton sweatpants, and a pair of mismatched woolen mittens.
We exited the bus and funneled towards the entrance. Police dogs pulled at their leashes pacing back and forth at the checkpoint ahead. Soldiers dressed in fatigues and carrying assault weapons were visible along the perimeter. Each person was expertly frisked and every bag was searched. Many items were confiscated despite protest.
The frozen grass crunched under my feet as I walked through the field looking for my camp. A massive movie screen displayed instructions in multiple languages for new arrivals, and dozens of speakers amplified the content. I followed others who wore the same green ID tags as me. Soon, and found my assigned place in a spartan pen constructed from welded-wire fencing.
Bitterly cold winds swept across the waters of New York Harbor and into Fort Wadsworth. An already chilly morning became almost unbearable. Strangers huddled under garbage bags, in between cargo trucks, or found temporary refuge inside the plastic walls of a portable toilet.
After several hours, the authorities issued urgent instructions. I was quickly moved to another, smaller enclosure. In this new roped-off space, I found myself standing shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of other people. Here, I couldn’t even spread my arms fully. I suppressed my feelings of claustrophobia and closed my eyes imagining myself running away from this place.
Forward again. We stripped off our outer layers of clothing and threw them in the collection bins as ordered. People around me pressed forward with renewed urgency as we made our way around the corner towards the bridge. The heavy “Whup-Whup-Whap-Whap” of police helicopters filled the air. Thousands of us were now gathered together.
The innocent voices of children carried on the wind. Goosebumps prickled my skin as the American national anthem played. The restless masses responded by listening in reverent silence followed by raucous cheers for the home of the brave. In the next instant a cannon boomed and all hell broke loose. Someone behind me screamed “Run!” and that’s exactly what I did.