In an interview with The Guardian, Therese Patricia Okoumou explains the motivation behind her decision to climb onto the raised base of the Statue of Liberty on the Fourth of July. After taking part in a protest organized by the New York City activist group Rise and Resist earlier in the day, Okoumou and the rest of the 40 members hung a banner reading “Abolish ICE” on the statue’s stone pedestal. The sign that mentioned the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency was in reference to their recent treatment of the immigrant families.
Before her climb, Okoumou says she brought her American passport to use as an ID following her arrest. Unbeknownst to the rest of the group, the 44-year-old personal trainer began her ascent with no specific endpoint in mind. Even though she was determined to go as high up as possible, Okoumou remained in the folds of Lady Liberty’s robe to avoid detection by police, and prevent herself from being blown off by the circling helicopters of the law enforcement and media. “I tried to go like Spiderman. But it didn’t work,” she said. “My legs were shaking, I was dizzy, it was windy. I said ‘God, please help me up.’”
When asked why she decided to climb, Okoumou Explains that it was all about protesting the treatment of immigrant children by ICE. “I had thought, ‘It’s the Statue of Liberty, it’s the Fourth of July and there are children in cages, we are doing a protest but I want to send an even stronger message and this is the perfect day for it,’” she said. “All of those elements together were necessary to give me the courage.”
During the standoff with police, Okoumou reveals that she actually took a brief nap before being woken up by the sound of someone nearby banging on the inside of the statue. While authorities tried to get her down, she admits that she was fearful of being shot, but remembered that her ultimate goal was in making a bold statement with her protest.
Okoumou was charged with three misdemeanors for her actions.