Synopses & Reviews
The Emancipation of Cecily McMillan
is the intimate, brave, bittersweet memoir of a remarkable young millennial, chronicling her journey from her trailer park home in Southeast Texas, her loving family broken up by poverty and mental health issues, her emancipation from her parents as a teenager, when she went to live with one of her teachers in a black neighborhood in Atlanta, through graduate school, to a pivotal night in Zuccotti Park, her ordeal at New York's most notorious prison, and ending back in Atlanta, where she lives now.
One of the most iconic images of the Occupy Wall Street protests is a nighttime shot of a slightly disheveled young woman, dressed in bright yellow and green for St. Patrick's Day, running, curly hair flying, mouth open mid-gasp as a grimacing cop in uniform reaches out to grab her from behind. That woman was Cecily McMillan. Soon after the picture was taken, she was arrested. After enduring a Kafkaesque trial, and in spite of public outcry, she was convicted of second-degree assault of an officer and sent to Rikers Island, where she spent 58 days.
Cecily was politicized at a very young ageand#151;leading walkouts against the Iraq war in high school and joining the uprising against Scott Walker in Wisconsin during college. When she moved to New York for a masters at the New School, she got involved in Occupy Wall Street, but she was deeply skeptical of the movement and the night of her arrest she was only there to meet some friends who wanted to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. At Rikers, Cecily was reminded of where she came from and who it was she was fighting for. Upon her release from prison, she immediately began to give voice to the concerns of her fellow prisoners, women of color with precarious lives who had taken her under their wings and taught her how to navigate life in prison. She then moved to Atlanta where she resumed her work as a vibrant organizer, and currently helps organize Moral Mondays Atlanta, all while remaining a strong voice for prison reform and working to appeal her verdict.
Unwittingly thrust into the limelight with her arrest, Cecily has proven herself to be a sophisticated political thinker, a charismatic public figure, dedicated activist, and voice of her generation. As she told Mother Jones upon her arrest: "to me [activism] isn't political so much as personal. It's whatever I can do to make life better."
Cecily McMillan didn't come from much: she had a hardscrabble life bouncing between the members of a broken family scattered from Texas to Atlanta. Her relationship with her parents became increasingly strained, and at sixteen she was legally emancipated and taken in by a beloved teacher. She became politically active at a young age, leading walkouts against the Iraq War in high school and protesting against union busting in college. When she moved to New York for a masters degree at the New School, she found herself planning what would later become Occupy Wall Street.
On St. Patrick's Day, 2012, her life changed forever. Cecily swung by Zuccotti Park to pick up friends on her way to meet others at a nearby Irish pub but she never made it out. The celebration was cut short by a police raid that cleared the square. In the melee, she was grabbed from behind by a police officer. Two years later she faced a Kafkaesque trial and was sentenced to three months at Rikers Island.
Inside Rikers, Cecily grew close to her fellow inmates, women with precarious lives who took her under their wings and taught her how to navigate life in prison. Through them, she remembered where she came from and who she was fighting for. And through them, she found her voice. The Emancipation of Cecily McMillan is an intimate, brave, bittersweet memoir of a remarkable young woman trying to make sense of her place in the world.
About the Author
Cecily McMillan is an activist, union organizer, and advocate for prison reform whose participation in and arrest during the Occupy Wall Street movement, along with her trial and conviction, have been widely covered by the national media, including Vanity Fair, the New York Times, Cosmopolitan, and Rolling Stone, among others. Her own writing has appeared in the New York Times and Alternet.