Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Student March - Nov. 17, 2011 4:17 PM

I’ve found some words to describe this march, and my feelings about this march: Unbelievable! Incredible! Amazing! and... Transcendent.

I was in a weird mood, woke up all too early in a strange place, hit the light, saw roaches, and took off. Hit the 19th St. Starbucks and sat down to finish the previous piece, about the re-taking of Zuccotti Park; watched the hours passing, 2:30, 3:30, 4:00... gee, I’m late for that 3 o’clock thing... oh well, guess I’ll mosey on over to Union Square...

Two blocks later walking into a crowd of people, and where are the protesters? The crowd density thickens more and more and widens and widens, filling the plaza as I walk into it and yes, they are protesters, well-dressed protesters, and the cops are... where? There are virtually no cops here... and this thing was widely publicized. Puzzling.

Two minutes after I arrive, the crowd, with a roar and a determined, confident surge forward, marches out of the square. To where? We pour into 16th Street, and I think, brace yourself, and also, if I get arrested? No matter; we are hurtling wildly down the street with the freedom only youth can bring.

We are yelling, we are chanting, we are moving. I can’t tell you the feeling, the freedom I feel as we rush through the streets stopping traffic, yelling feeling completely free, at one with our bodies our minds our selves; with our souls. We know this moment we are one, with no division between our hearts and our actions; for once we are ourselves, with no fear, no apology; for once in our miserable lives. We know also that we have the power, the power to stop traffic, to stop war, to stop whatever we need stopped, and to start again. To begin again.

We want a lot. We want to begin new things that will help people, not hurt people; we want corporations to bow down, to begin again as well. We want people up and police down, power down, money down. All for a long time until we figure out their place in our world, a world of justice. We want a beginning, not the ending big business has spelled out for us.

We’re working hard for it, organizing all these weeks in the face of adversity, rain, injustice, public opprobrium, self-doubt, and a feeling sometimes that we were only 1%, not 99. Where was everyone else when we were protesting? But they came, and continue to come, slowly but surely; we are rounding a corner.

We round many corners as we weave our way through the streets of lower west Manhattan, passing like bees through the field, pollinating every living thing with the message of revolution! (forgive me). Down 5th, across 12th, down Greenwich, fanning out delinquently to occupy many blocks at a fast clip, a moving human music thrumming in the right frequency. Now and again a wild ululation rises as if from a Bedouin tribe, spreading up and down the line, eclipsing the drums that never cease, raising the hairs on our necks. Far below us a vanguard leads, out of sight, behind us we can see no end... this is a huge march. I think of the Iraq War march, but this is spontaneous. We didn’t know what we were getting into, but once we got going...

As we come spilling into 6th avenue, exhausted, famished, exhilarated, we run into yet another parade, which merges with us in one uproarious, exultant moment, which defined for me the essence of this movement: we own the streets, and we own the planet.

And we will do better with it than they did. We promise.
And you know we will keep the promise because you are we.

You (We?) can see a long way down 6th Avenue, all us; pouring down the street like a river, spreading out into a sea. Passing the now closed St. Vincent’s Hospital, it occurs to me that for now we aren’t anyone special; we’re just people marching. We aren’t No. 1, we aren’t New Yorkers; we could be anybody this August afternoon, marching anywhere. We aren’t anyone in particular; we’re anyone anywhere marching for justice in the world, Barcelona, Madrid, Spain; Greece; Angola; Beijing; Morocco, Tunisia, marching, marching for justice.

The police have no idea where we are, and I don’t know if we do either; we just keep moving, changing course and running to keep up with the Olympians in front (they’re doing a great job, actually; they run a block ahead in order to secure an intersection so the rest of us can cross without danger). We traverse literally the entire west side, weaving through Chelsea, Greenwich Village, Soho, Tribeca, and Chinatown (sort of). We encounter one patrolman on the way and he just isn’t interested.

We keep going, through Chinatown and into Foley Square. There we find cops. Lots of cops. They greet us with bullhorns: Stay on the street, stay off the sidewalks. OK. We file into the park, and find our space, listening to a constant harangue by bullhorn; what now? The police are never satisfied. But no- it’s our guy. Listening as he rails on and on, crescendo after crescendo after crescendo, it sounds like a calypso battle, Mighty Toaster vs. etc. but it’s just one guy, our utopian firebrand with a massive, almost cosmic chip on his shoulder; we let him wail on.

I haven’t eaten today and I sit down to consume yesterday’s Halal, cold, soggy, dubious-looking; at least there’s a lot of it. I fill my merciful, forgiving stomach. Looking up, it’s clear we’re being fenced in once again by the police. Even standing on a perch, I can’t see as far as the Square itself. Are all of us here in the park, corralled for immanent arrest? I can’t tell, and a feeling of uncertainty seems to linger... I notice a multicoloredly-attired brass band sneak into the park through the fence. Cool. I see some other interesting-looking people I would like to talk to; I don’t want to leave. I want to stay and cross the bridge but I’m leaving later tonight for Georgia and the SOA protest; I can’t afford to have a delay. Feeling like a wuss, I contemplate a brisk march across to Brooklyn with a quick jaunt back on the A train. Of course. Finally, at one moment I have a definite feeling: it’s time to get out of here. I slowly rise, and leaving, notice a whole new set of police vehicles coming into the square.

The Georgia trip is derailed halfway through, and we return to New York; that’s another story.
I regret to have missed the projections on Verizon’s monolith, the general good cheer of the crowd, and the depth of the commitment of the marchers; but I knew reality this day. Every day can be like this day.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Return to Zuccotti Park: Nov. 15, 2011

After the Zuccotti Park closure, I wasn't sure what would go down; the Duarte Square debacle left me confused and frightened (that's right: frightened. I'm not afraid to say it; I've got masculinity to spare). I sat in Starbucks for a long time (that, I'm afraid to say) and pondered the possible future(s) awaiting us; and read the news, and read the news. I can't say I found out very much, or felt anything rising up out of the murk.

I reconnected with a friend who'd also been writing about the movement as well as facilitating meetings and helping in other ways; we vowed to meet later that day and attend meetings and then return either to Foley Square or Zuccotti for the final showdown of the day; we were not going to back down. Shaking in our boots, we agreed on this with a nonchalance born of endless cups of coffee and overloads of Halal food.

We did finally meet; I was awed as I walked into The Atrium at 60 Wall St. There were very few people there and an unusual vibe; a clearly dislocated (?) austerity, a waking dream of reordering and almost visceral readjustment, and a burning clarity inside; a dream for justice for all denied and deferred but burning brightly, quietly, inside. I felt proud of these people working here, trying to put something together when most of their numbers were inside, inside the jails, crumbs in the minds of the occupied.

Here was the backbone of the movement, the spine, still going strong, planning outspoken action on the spur of this moment, trying to raise the dead. Here was the remnants of Facilitation, Structure, and Direct Action working it out and hammering together a plan for the evening.
There were constant calls back and forth to and from Zuccotti to find out the situation, and to decide where to hold the GA, there or at Foley Square. We could not get any definitive information and every moment the situation opened up differently: police with riot gear were moving in; police were opening up the park to everybody; nobody could go in with anything but the clothes on their back-no bags; police were making arrests-stay away. The group seesawed emotionally, arguing whether to show up at Zuccotti at all. Finally Marisa stated that we needed to be there-this park was symbolic of the whole movement and we couldn't abandon it, no matter what. As consensus crumbled gently into anarchy, we were all left with our own ideas about what to do, but they all included passing by of the park, and as a softly atomizing group we left, floating up Pine St., rushing faster and faster, to be absorbed by the scene we approached.

The scene: A long row of servers dishing hot pasta with tomato sauce atop the granite ledges outside Marine Midland Bank, across from the park. Loads of police and vehicles on the approach to the park, and quite many more surrounding.

We all temporarily lost our minds at the sight of this, one beautiful amazing park filled with yellow-leafed trees lit up from beneath by hundreds of bright lights set into the concrete, all blazing away the darkness for the thousands of cheerful, hopeful protesters and onlookers filling the park. There was space, and there was light.

We ran toward the park as individuals. Our group had dissolved as curiously as it had come together. One chief facilitator, a woman with a general's sense of tactical command, had showed up a week earlier; a friend, a quiet man with a mysterious air, had met her only yesterday. My friend had been here for six weeks with Facilitation, and the rest more or less since the beginning, in various Working Groups. And I was a garbageman (Sanitation Working Group); I'd kept my mouth shut.

We walked down Liberty to a checkpoint and entered the park there, all except me. I had a pair of drum sticks in my bag and was made to dispose of them before I entered. I walked up and down the street looking for the person who would use them rightly. I didn't find him (or her). I found a clergyman who seemed even-tempered, and asked him what he thought of the whole thing, if he was sympathetic. He was, and agreed to hold onto the sticks for awhile so I could enter the park. I found out later that he was a senior administrator for one of the oldest, most respected churches in the city. I since sent him a very respectful letter expressing my gratitude.

I entered the park, this time without impediment, and, looking into the faces of police, was struck by how nice they seemed. It all must have been an error, the police brutality; these guys didn't seem to want to hurt anyone or anything or even be rude. They looked soulful, full of humanity. I wasn't on anything, FYI. Just stoked to be back in the park.

I wandered around in a daze, just feeling how beautiful this park was. I hadn't seen the lights in a long time, they'd been covered up by OWS paraphernalia, then tarps and tents. Everything was illuminated. The people were really there, with a curious mix of open-ended exhilaration and sheer courage, not really sure what this was, going on, but sure it was good. It felt weird,simultaneously liberated and locked-up, free and wild and axed; there was such a dominant police presence. I found my way toward the front where a GA was assembling and sat down; it felt good. We were here again, conducting our business. People at the edges were passing plates of food into the crowd, the vegetarian kind that the administrators loved; they kept passing. Then a guy next to me lovingly accepted a salad. I saw someone else chowing down on the stew.
The mic check (That's the proper spelling, people: "mic" is short for "microphone") worked great that night, with four or more repeats to the phrase. Ever hear "I Walk On Guilded Splinters" by Dr. John? That's what it sounded like only more mysterious: 'cause it could change the world. Voodoo only changes one thing.

I felt at home. At home in the world, as if there were a greater purpose for my being there, for all of us being there. I reflect often on how useless we are, I am, complaining about whatever minor inconvenience when someone in China is working 12 hours a day at some slog of a job with no days off for a month; or worse. Why am I not doing a hundred times more? Why do the North Americans I see around me fill their days with nonsense? That night I felt we were doing something, being here. Only a beginning, but something.

We listened to report-backs from operational Working Groups, and lamented the loss of our library. We were encouraged and relieved to hear offers of sleeping quarters for now sleepless occupiers; the churches came through, also New Haven occupiers and unions. Bless them. We heard an impassioned cry to occupy the hood. There seems to be a desire of many to turn to increasingly local issues and politics; bless them too, though my interest in this is still national. We heard of reprehensible conduct by the corrections officers in the women's jail. And much more, though I don't remember it all.

The working groups will have new offices in the neighborhood. The food distribution will continue from a new location. The meetings will continue at 60 Wall, and at other new spaces. The library? A few dozen new books were brought in and promptly confiscated by the police. Any ideas? Send them to the People’s Library Working Group. It's curious how strongly the police reacted to the library; the truth is, knowledge is the seat of power, for better or worse. Those who rule the world are very learned men; those who would change the world need to meet them on their own turf, with new blueprints.

In short, the occupation will continue inexorably. I found my friend, who acted as timekeeper during the GA, and we walked down to the Tree of Life to ruminate on this thing. We decided that we were better off than before.

Occupiers have a place to sleep, at least for now. We have food, and we have space for meetings. The media is uninterrupted save for the live-stream, which will relocate or go mobile. We have support, and public opinion on our side. And we now have an empty, beautiful park, which can hold 15,000+ people!

Room to grow...

Duarte Square - As It Happened: Nov. 15, 2011

Live from Wall St: Chaos. Cops raided and emptied the park at dawn, destroyed the entire library and kitchen, and the belongings of many of those camped out; arrested 115 people and injured a few; chopped down several trees that protesters had chained themselves to (I hope not the Tree of Life) and emptied the park; cleaning crews filed in and cleaned the plaza.

Protesters regrouped at Foley Plaza; from there they marched to City Hall to hear the mayor's press conference, then returned. Then at 8:15 they marched to Canal Street and 6th Avenue; not me, I was eating an egg sandwich. But in a few I left too and happened to arrive there 20 minutes before them. Why? Turns out they ran into their friends from Labor and Organized Religion who were going to meet them at Canal! They marched together and it was an impressive sight to see, streaming across the intersection.

Everyone settled into the plaza on the NW corner. A faction from Philadelphia arrived with giant black and yellow signs and faux "houses" with messages on them, kind of resembling Danger work signs. A rabbi spoke, then a priest, and then a disruptive type who wanted attention. ho hum.

THEN a man in a suit and track shoes (always a bad sign) got up and invited us into the closed-off art park that abutted our space; locked, chained and quite spacious inside; the art was gone for now. He claimed the owner (it was a private park) was an ardent supporter of OWS and everything was OK. And people started hauling the signs over the wall. He said they were opening the gate now, and soon we could go in. And then we were in.

I did not notice as I went in that I went in through a tangle of cut chain link fence; and presumably a sheared padlock. I did notice after walking around a bit, and suddenly became afraid; this was a setup. Anyone inside could easily be arrested; there was no escape.

And the police did show up, in force, a few minutes later. I'd left as soon as I noticed the roiling bad feeling in the pit of my stomach, a minute after I'd noticed the state of the entrance gates. The police rolled up and assumed a battle formation, facing the park. And the crowd of them kept getting bigger, and bigger! And closer, suddenly, the Asian patrolwoman I had seen over there was over here; and still closer yet.

A man, a very intense (some call it focused) man, suddenly confronted Mr. Track Shoes & Suit. He made clear that this man was not OWS, that he had done this thing on his own, that the GA had not got consensus on it. He screamed, "Who are you?!" several times. I didn't hear an answer. Then, a police chief bustled through the crowd and looked into the art park; he called for others and they (police) too walked into the park; looked around; did not approve. The chief came back out and some of the officers. I was getting nervous, something was about to happen. Undecided, I edged around forward and back, deciding whether to stay or to go. Finally I gave in to my fear and walked, nonchalantly (I hoped) away, to "see what was going on on the other side of the park." I found there businessmen looking concerned, not triumphant; some very concerned-or is that just my bias? There, there was no banner covering the fence, you could see right in; still plenty of protestors milling about.

At this point I left, completely freaked. The last impression I had while still at the gate was that the police intended to arrest absolutely all of us; some police had rolled in from behind me, a troubling development. They were kind of surrounding all of us, press, bystanders, everyone; everyone was intimidated, to say the least.

I'm writing from Starbucks Spring St. and hoping I can find out more on twitter.
I'm still freaked. This kind of harassment is something else; run us out of the park, follow us to Canal, plant agents provocateurs in the crowd to foster an illegal activity, then arrest us all again!

They must really be scared.

This occupation is never going to be over.

We love you.