“My notes got flushed”

From M. Johnson, Virginia: I was one of the thousands swept up on May Day 1971. It was my second year in college and I was 19. By then I had been to several protests and there was a group of us working with Jerry Rubin’s crowd.

I was at the steps of the U.S. Capitol listening to members of Congress when the arrest was made [Wednesday, May 5]. I do remember Bella Abzug spoke. While we were gathering to climb the Capitol’s steps, the Park Service police pointed to two lines. One of the groups was not going anywhere. The officer closest to me pointed to the line to the stairs and using a bull horn told us “anyone getting into that line will be arrested.” I remember the officer was looking straight at our group. Without taking my eyes off him I stepped straight into that line.

I can’t remember whether we were taken first to [the detention camp near] RFK stadium or put inside the DC coliseum. But I do remember I never walked in or out of either of them. We peacefully resisted by going totally limp and the police officers and National Guardsmen had to carry us. Not much food water or toilet paper. I can remember being thirsty. The oranges tossed into the pen at RFK — I got one of those. I don’t remember learning who gave those to us.

Ended up at DC [central] cell block, where we were crammed into standing-room-only cages. I was held for total of three days. When we got to the cell blocks we were allowed one phone call. I used my call to contact my philosophy professor to get an extension on my final paper that was due. (I got it and passed the course.)

I tried to write down what was going on while we were being held in the cell block, but all I had was toilet paper and my notes got grabbed away from me and flushed.

The best part of all was discovering [years later] that the ACLU had won their lawsuit [filed against the government for the illegal arrests]. It was late 1980s or early 1990s when I was tracked down through a credit checking bureau (Trans Union?) asking me if I was the same person who had been arrested on May Day 1971. I received a settlement check of about $1,500. By then I was self employed so it went right back as an estimated tax payment.

The major piece of advice that I’ve offered to friends who have attended protests more recently — pack enough water, food, and toilet paper.

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