The Emancipation of Cecily McMillan: An American Memoir
Nation Books, 288 pages. $25.99
On the night of March 17, 2012, a crowd gathered in New York City's Zuccotti Park to mark the six-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. Cecily McMillan was out to celebrate St. Patrick's Day and had just stopped by the park to meet a friend. She was in the plaza when police announced they were clearing everyone out ("for cleaning").
McMillan, by her later account, was making a hurried hustle out of the park to obey orders when she was struck from behind. An officer grabbed her breast and she was slammed to the ground, where she went into a bout of seizures--an ordeal captured on protesters' cell phones. Taken into custody, she was held for about forty hours without proper medical treatment. In the end, she was charged and convicted of assaulting a police officer because of an event some say should have led to charges against the police.
McMillans newly published memoir chronicles her life from her childhood in Texas, to her assault, trial (spoiler alert: it's a sham), and eventual imprisonment, for fifty-eight days, at Rikers Island. The memoir is a page-turner, telling the story of someone who endured a relentless succession of hard knocks, got up again, and grew through her experience.
McMillan and her trial gained national attention, keeping the Occupy Wall Street movement in the news long after the protesters were evict ed from their encampment. But the stories of Occupy and of Cecily McMillan, though entwined, are not the same. The Emancipation of Cecily McMillan is a coming-of-age story that shows how the personal became political and the political became personal for one young woman.
McMillan's book would be gripping even without her harrowing trial and subsequent incarceration. Her central tale isn't about Rikers Island or Occupy, but about growing up working-class in Beaumont, Texas, and seeking a different life somewhere far away from her small-town roots.
McMillan enrolled in Lawrence University, a private liberals arts school in Wisconsin. During a small group discussion on affirmative action, a classmate made McMillans blood boil by saying "poor people of color and first-generation applicants shouldn't be accepted into schools unless they can compete and get in on their own merit." The professor then called on McMillan for a response. Like many exchanges in the book, her response, as she recalls it, was pointed and fiery:
"Let me tell you...