Ann Flener and Ike Gittlen were the heroes of the United Steelworkers of America this morning. Sleep-deprived -- me from a late night and one too many beers and they from being held in detention until 4 a.m. - we nursed our coffee in the lobby of a Marriott Hotel.
Union members pour in and out, and Flener and Gittlen are showing off their "souvenirs" -- arrest tags and plastic handcuffs officers gave them when they were apprehended. Flener is also proudly
displaying her right wrist, swollen and rubbed raw from the tight cuffs. The story they share goes like this:
When Washington police swooped down on protesters in front of the World Bank building Saturday night, Flener, 47, and Gittlen, 46, found themselves on the wrong side of the barricades. The two, who had traveled in from Pennsylvania to attend events planned by labor leaders to coincide with the protests against the IMF and World Bank, were observing a peaceful protest from the sidewalk. Police, who were probably expecting the worst after their abrupt and widely criticized shutdown of the de facto headquarters of protest organizers Saturday, ended up arresting at least 600 attending the protest.
When the police moved in, Flener and Gittlen asked if they could leave. An officer told them they could, but that they would have to go inside the police barricades and exit off another street. But when they followed the officer's instructions, they got trapped and were herded by the cops into a jail-bound bus with 40 protesters.
"We were just minding our own business, just like we did in Seattle,"
quipped Flener, who doesn't look much like a person who practices much civil disobedience. Flener, who has shoulder-length, auburn hair and wire-rim glasses, exudes youthful exuberance. Gittlen, whose youth is betrayed only by the salt-and-pepper in his hair and goatee, jokingly suggested that the two, who are just friends, had been on a date, looking for a place to eat when they happened upon the protest.
The police department maintains that protesters and bystanders were warned repeatedly that they would be arrested if they didn't disperse. But Gittlen and Flener said they never heard any warnings. They also described the actions of the protesters as peaceful. But those unfortunate enough to get trapped behind the police barricades were loaded onto buses, where they were held for more than three hours before being taken to what Gittlen described as a "youth detention center."
Gittlen and Flener said they were the oldest people to get arrested, with the exception of an elderly woman from Florida who was visiting Washington and just got trapped in the melee. Flener called her son on a cell phone on the bus to break the news that she had been arrested for the first time. "He told me he wanted to talk to the cops," she said. "He didn't believe I had been arrested."
Flener and Gittlen said they were treated well by
police after their arrest. Police fed the detainees bologna sandwiches and donuts, and also offered protesters practical tips on how to protest, such as: Should you be arrested, wear your backpack on your front side -- the weight will be difficult to bear and balance difficult to maintain if your hands are cuffed.
But Flener and Gittlen also criticized the tactics used by
police, who they said were trying to send an early warning signal for what protesters should expect at bigger protests on Sunday and Monday.
After several hours, police said protesters would be processed and free to leave if they paid $50. Flener estimated the vast
majority of protesters footed the bill in order to get out. Flener even
lent $12 to one young protester, who was planning to go to the nearest ATM to get enough cash to bail her friends out.
Sunday morning, Flener and Gittlen, who had come out to help manage the crowds at the Ellipse protest, were gloating over their experience. "I promised her dinner," Gittlen said sardonically. "She got two bologna sandwiches and a donut."
"That's the last time I'll go on a date with him," Flener retorted.