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...

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