The Huffington Post: October 10, 2011
I have been watching and listening to all kinds of views and takes on Occupy Wall Street. Some say it’s backed by the Democratic Party. Some say it’s the emergence of a third party. Some say the protesters have no goals, no demands, no stated call. Some say it’s too broad, taking on too much. Some say it is the Left’s version of the Tea Party. Some say its Communist, some say it’s class warfare. Some say it will burn out and add up to nothing. Some say it’s just a bunch of crazy hippies who may get violent.
I have been spending time down at Zucotti Park and I am here to offer a much more terrifying view. What is happening cannot be defined. It is happening. It is a happening. It is a response to injustice and inequity and poverty and Wall Street corruption and soaring college debt and unemployment and homelessness, institutionalized racism and violence against women, the murdering of the earth, fracking and the keystone pipeline and the wars that the U.S. has waged on other countries that have destroyed them and bankrupted us here.
It is a cry against what appears to be scarcity and what Naomi Klein calls a distribution problem and, I would add, a priority problem. It is a spontaneous uprising that has been building for years in our collective unconscious. It is a gorgeous, mischievous moment that has arrived and is spreading. It is a speaking out, coming out, dancing out. It is an experiment and a disruption.
We all know things are terribly wrong in this country. From the death of our rivers, to the bankruptcy of our schools to our failed health care system, something at the center does not hold.
A diverse group of teachers, thinkers, students, techies, workers, nurses, have stopped their daily lives. They have come to gather and reflect and march and lay their bodies down. They have come from all over the country and the world. Some have flown in just to be here. I met students last night from a college in Kentucky who had just arrived committed to sleeping out for two nights in solidarity.
Occupy Wall Street is a work of art, exploding onto a canvas in search of form, in search of an image, a vision.
In a culture obsessed with product, the process of creation is almost unbearable. Nothing is more threatening than the moment, the living breathing ambiguity of now. We have been trained to name things, own things, brand things and in doing so control and consume them. Well, the genius of Occupy Wall Street is that so far it is not brandable and that’s what makes its potential so daunting, so far reaching, so inclusive, and so dangerous. It cannot be defined and so it cannot be sold, as a sound bite or a political party or even a thing. It can’t be summed up and dismissed.
What is also most unusual about Occupy Wall Street is that the evolving self-governing practices at the twice-daily General Assembly and the organic way the park is being organized, are literally modeling a vision of the desired new world. A rotating group of facilitators, a constant check to make sure all voices are heard, timekeepers, free medicine and medical help, composting, learning groups, a free library, learning circles, workshops on human rights, arts and culture, history, extraordinary speakers at open forums.
I had the fortune to spend the night with a group of about 30 occupiers – the talk could have gone on through the early morning. The depth of the conversation, the intensity of the seeking, the complexity of ideas were startling. But, what moved me even more was the respect, the way people listened to each other and honored and appreciated each other.
I would like to encourage another take on Occupy Wall Street. I would like to ask that perhaps we stop trying to define it or own it or discount it or belittle it but instead to celebrate it. It should make New York proud. It should make this country proud.
We say all the time how we believe in democracy, that we want the people to speak and be heard. Well, the people are speaking. The people are experimenting. The people are crying out with the deepest hunger to build a better world. Maybe instead of labeling it, we could join it. There is so much to be done.
Because the city has forbidden the use of microphones and sound systems, the group is using a human microphone. This system of communication is compelling and metaphoric. The group is forced to repeat the words of the speaker so the speaker is forced to talk slowly, with less words at once. The audience is asked to listen in a whole new way and to actually help transmit the message to others. Accuracy and transparency are the crucial elements. To make sure the human microphone is working properly the speaker calls out Mike Check and the crowd repeats Mike Check and by doing this it becomes clear if the voice of the speaker is being carried through the entire crowd. I think our media needs a general Mike Check. So last night I committed to creating a column that would carry the stories of the occupiers at the heart of the park.
There are certain hand signals that are used in the group to signify response. My favorite is the signal for agreement, or something you like a lot .
People lift their hands and wiggle their fingers. This has come to be called Upsparkles.
I have seen the people at Occupy Wall Street be demonized in the press and belittled and misrepresented and ridiculed. I want you to get a taste of the diversity and commitment, too. The magnificent Indian feminist who outlined the history of corporations and colonialism in three precise sentences or the buff white man who I assumed was a long-time activist the way he spoke for the need for distribution of wealth and freedom and only later did he confess to me privately that he worked on Wall Street, and although he felt guilty, he was working to change it within. Or the Latino man who said it was the first time he ever experienced really looking at anyone in the eyes and them looking back at him and he had not paid attention to his next door neighbors brother who he had written off as a thug and he ended up going to Iraq and getting killed there and now he knew there was so much more to that boy if he had only been looking. Or the older Jewish woman who told me she was there when they shut down NYU during Kent State and she had waited all these years for this to happen and it was her legacy. There was talk of poverty and war and but the most repeated theme or desire was connection, how we are all connected, to dissolve the illusions that divide us.
So here is the first offering of Ambiguous Upsparkles from the Heart of the Park. Here are the words of the brave creative resistor occupiers in the act of art or the art of act:
Every day of the first week of the encampment at Liberty Plaza was filled with the excitement that this was really happening; every day in the space was lived with the feeling that it could be our last. The Occupy Wall Street community survived many tests that first week – torrential downpours, dwindling numbers, people dropping out due to illness and fatigue, and of course, constant police violence and brutality. As #occupywallstreet tweeted: Building community at #OccupyWallStreet is hard, esp. when facing constant eviction threats. Now we know how so many Americans feel.
On the one-week anniversary of Liberty Plaza I watched the heart of our community galvanize before me. After the police attacked and pepper-sprayed protesters at Union Square and followed us down to our home in the park, we all prepared for a showdown. Paddy-wagons lined the streets. Masses of police officers lined the perimeter of the park, hands poised on guns, orange nets, and reams of zip-ties, while hundreds more assembled at the ready on the adjacent blocks. We gathered for a General Assembly (GA), as we do every evening, in a unified, determined group under an intense cloud of imminent danger, and asserted that we were not afraid. We developed contingency plans for when the police swept the square. People lined the park with small candles, creating a buffer-zone between the police and our central organ, the GA. Drums and brass instruments played. Messages on the projector screen read “Love is the New Fear.” “Feeling good.” “We shall not be moved.” “In it for the long haul.”
Older members of CODEPINK and the local activist community checked in or came by to see what was happening – asking, but not telling, what we were going to do. “We’re staying,” I told them. Some lingered on the outskirts like guardian angels, patiently, silently watching. “We’ve got your back.” The Occupy Wall Street bike bloc slowly circled the square in solidarity. “We are watching. We are with you.” I attached a hot pink “Make Solidarity Not War” sign to my back – added armor to go with the “Make Bikes Not War” signs adorning my bike – and joined them to burn off nervous energy. Putting on a brave face, I told the bloc how a cashier at a nearby cafe refused to let me pay for my sandwich earlier that day when she found out I was part of the demonstration. Other cyclists chimed in with similar stories. One guy struck up a conversation about what we were doing while in line for the bathroom at McDonald’s and when he came out, the stranger he had been speaking with gave him a burger and fries. As the night progressed, something incredible happened. The police started to pack up and leave. The bike bloc continued to circle until we were sure our home was safe, and then did a final victory lap, bells ringing, lights flashing, flags waving. The community had survived and we had won.
My name is Daniel and I have a story from the heart. Today I was riding the F train home to Brooklyn and a man came through, asking for spare change and any help. He said he was a veteran who would seek shelter at the Montrosse VA.
I’ve been coming to Occupy Wall Street every day since Wednesday when we had the huge march in solidarity with the unions. I’m pretty poor right now and basically waiting on a student loan check to be able to pay my bills and expenses. When I’m in Zucotti I usually eat some of the amazing food that’s been donated by people from all over the world! So I thought I should tell this man about what was available. But I hesitated. I didn’t want to encourage anyone to come just to take advantage of the resources in Zucotti that are feeding the protesters, many of whom have been working tirelessly, or have come from as far as Colorado (and everywhere!)
I don’t know where that moment of doubt came from, but the moment of clarity that shattered it was invigorating. “You should come to Zucotti Park!” I said.
I spoke to him about it for a minute. He’d read about Occupy Wall Street in the daily papers, but didn’t know about how things really went down there.
Growing up in New York City, on some level we train ourselves to be desensitized to homelessness, to separate ourselves from it. But the division is false. I realized we were both 99 percenters.
“Wow, thanks for the info!” he said. I have a feeling he’ll get there and be as inspired as I’ve been at what’s happening at the park. Maybe he’ll pick up a sign or people with a similar cause to get involved in. Whatever attracts people, the intellectual environment, their anger at the system, the friendly festival atmosphere, or even the free food, I think people will stay because what’s happening here is meaningful and real. And if America can’t feed its hungry, at least we can!
Some people say we lack a coherent message, but I think Zucotti park is about inclusiveness, seriousness, and the right to come together for positive change. i guess that’s just coherent enough for me!
After returning from Israel on a project a few weeks ago, I checked my Facebook feed upon landing at Newark International. With embarrassment I will admit that that is where the majority of my news comes from these days, I believe that the friends I trust will post stories and news that I should take note of.
I had a friend visiting from out of town and, after we deposited our luggage, I suggested that we take a run across the Brooklyn Bridge and down to Zuccotti Park to see for ourselves what exactly was taking place. Upon arriving I encountered a group of kids holding signs, and a handful of people occupying the park, and I quickly dismissed it as temporary. However, the sight of this group stayed with me. I found myself thinking about them for days and wondering why they were there. I found myself wondering if they knew why there were there. Most of all I found myself wondering what I would be standing for if I returned.
I didn’t return for two weeks. I have a busy and glorious full life. I am graced with a bounty of creative projects, work opportunities, and friendships that keep me feeling busy and full. I don’t have space or time for a cause. I don’t have energy to participate in a movement. How would my voice help?
A few days later I mentioned the movement to my best friend David and his response was, “Whatever. It won’t last” and, despite my disappointment about his response, on some level my own was confirmed, but then, a few days later, he texted me: “I’m sorry I was pessimistic about what is happening here. It’s something.”
I still didn’t return. I’m busy. How can my voice count?
Last Thursday, as I finished class, I received another text from David, “I’m here with your Dad at the park. Come.”
When I arrived I was given a tour of the plaza by David. He pointed out the Information Booth, the “People’s Library”, the Media Center, the kitchen, the “Sacred Tree”, the sign making station, and on, and on. Then he grabbed my hand whisked me away to an impromptu dance party at Rector Street where a bike with amplification blasted Le Tigre’s song “New Kicks” as a beautiful group of people gyrated and grooved to the chorus of people chanting, “this is what democracy looks like” and sound bytes of Amy Goodman saying, “It isn’t enough to talk about peace, one must believe in it. It isn’t enough to believe in it, one must work at it. And we here today are working at it.”
Garbage trucks stopped and lined up on the streets, honking their horns and pumping their fists in the air. Cab drivers got out and shouted “Occupy Wall Street.” Random passersby moved through the crowd of dancers and allowed themselves to be turned and spun by the dancers, shrugging to their friends saying “Why, not?” and “Come on. This is fun.”
I am aware of the myths that I have unconsciously swallowed during my lifetime: that money is the most important thing to strive for and accumulate; that we are supposed to participate in the institution of marriage and be monogamous and procreate; that we are supposed to own real estate and go to Bed Bath & Beyond, and Ikea to purchase things to make a home so that we can invite friends into our space to show off what we have bought; and that we are supposed to dress in the latest fashion and be able to quote lines from popular television.
Is this what makes a life?
Despite my participation and acceptance of these myths this is not my American Dream. This is not my Human Dream. I want a life that is based on my ability to authentically connect with other human beings and to offer goodness and health to the earth. I want to be a part of a world where people see one another, attune to one another, make space for ambiguity, and wait in silence for someone to find his or her words to articulate their individual and unique experience of life.
I saw a lot of chaos at Zuccotti Park. I saw a lot of tarps and vagrants, and at many moments I felt like I was wondering around a sketchy Phish show lot, but beyond that I saw people connecting. People taking care of each other. People loving each other. People listening to each other and people talking to each other.
I didn’t sleep that night. I lay awake wondering what a new world would look like. I had a restless night wondering what kind of world the other people occupying Zucotti Park wanted to create and what it would mean if my voice could be heard and I had the agency and power to shape a new world that I feel proud to be a part of.
I am poor. I learned this a few years ago when I left my block in Jersey City for college to pursue what my immigrant mother is still convinced (but less so nowadays, after having been unceremoniously fired from her job of 11 years) is the “American Dream”. There I also learned what it takes not to be poor and even if I were ever given the opportunity (there are quotas to fill everywhere) I would not take it. I will always be poor because I will never enrich myself at the expense of my people. Exploitation is the only way capital can be accumulated. There is something dehumanizing about this condition so that your soul screams an everlasting silent scream that only you can hear and can’t do anything about.
So I came out to face this contradiction: the dehumanization of poverty and the exploitation of capitalism. A block away from the park where the second General Assembly was being held, I heard the words “I love you.” The words were as swift as the man who said them, for when I looked back he was already five paces away. But they were as firm as those paces – heavy with determination, purpose, depth. His words permeated the air in Washington Square, and the air on the march, and the air in Zucotti Park. Love was EVERYWHERE!
This past Sunday we had our second Ambiguous UpSparkle Story group at Occupy Wall Street. This time there were hundreds of people who came to tell of what brought them to the park, and to listen and repeat the stories of the others. There was something Greek and theatrical about this huge group of people repeating every line of every story. It was a story chorus. It took time in a culture and city where there is no time. It took attention in a world where we are trained to not pay attention. It required people to listen when people have stopped listening.
There was something so generous and receptive, as if the words, the stories were visibly permeating and engraving themselves on each person’s soul. No one could leave. It went on for hours. It was a feast. We were feasting on each other. Stranger devouring the stories of stranger. I needed to know the Burmese man with the camera who stopped filming to say he had been searching for an America that wasn’t like the oppressive silenced police state of Burma, and that he couldn’t find anyone he thought was free until he stumbled into Zuccotti Park. I wanted to wrap myself around the thin black woman whose arms moved her story into the air like a gymnast. I found myself smiling this mad smile as a young white woman who stood at the top of the stairs spoke her story and with each line became happier and happier as if she were about to fly.
There was no way not to speak truth in that circle, on those steps. An African man was returning home because he decided his education was not worth a life of debt and then he stumbled into the park where he said he fell in love. We were all in love. The crowd, telling and repeating and listening, urged people to be braver, more honest, more passionate, more political, which I define here the way Adrienne Rich did many years ago — “the moment a feeling enters the body is political.” There in that circle, the 99 percent rewrote the dominant narrative created by the corporate elites and their media – the narrative that does not represent their grievances, their morality, or their dreams.
There on the steps in broad daylight I saw the confidence that comes and the leadership that evolves when people are listened to and taken seriously and honored, and I saw people’s willingness to tell the truth and express disappointment and pain and embarrassment, and how that vulnerability inspires support and solidarity. I did not hear whiners. There were no beggars, no one looking for a hand out. There was no one unclear. I heard seekers, grappling with greed and gross economic injustice and fat cat bankers and a barricade of cops who were being paid overtime to police the poor but were never sent in to arrest the thieves. What I heard in each person was a much deeper vision and hunger, not for fixing or reform but for something new, something they would have a hand in, something radical, from the roots, from the park.
I have always trusted stories more than messages. I prefer confessions to demands. Movements to parties. Poets to politicians. When you tell your story, you enter the circle. You become part of the messy broken divine fabric that is humanity. You can’t pretend that you know the way or you’re somehow better but the trade off is you get to be lost and a part of something so much bigger than you.
So here’s a few bites of what came through the cracks in the cobblestone on Sunday, a taste from the holy space between the towers of money.
W. Kerry Huang
Political oppression is woven into the very fiber of my family. I was born in China in 1979, in the wake of the Cultural Revolution and the death of Mao Zedong. Under the Mao regime, My grandfather, an architect, was deemed an intellectual and suffered repeated arrests. My parents, like millions of others, were forced out of schools and sent down to labor camps. Such are the experiences that shaped my upbringing. In 1989, when the government rolled the tanks into Tiananmen Square and opened fire onto the pro-Democratic demonstrators, my father, already in America on a student visa, knew he had to make sure such atrocities would never reach us again.
On January 9th, 1990, exactly two months after the fall of the Berlin wall, I landed in this country, and began calling Houston, Texas my new home. There I was, a pre-pubescent fresh off the boat math wiz — at least according to American standards — thrown right in the middle of the Texas public education system. I spoke no English, and was terrible at sports — which meant zero social currency in the lone star state. My father, thinking I needed a way to improve my language skills and perhaps have an outlet of some kind, suggested that I take a theater class. That pragmatic decision would forever define the life of this foreign boy. American theater gave me my voice. It literally taught me how to speak like an American. More than that, it allowed me to be who I am as I am, and it gave me the imagination to be anything I dreamed of being — all the while being a part of a community, much like this one, that are made up of people, experiences, and passions both different and similar.
Twenty years later, I’m still a student of the theater, now with a theater company that I run with a passionate, devoted, hard working team, creating original work that celebrates the stories of diverse individuals and communities: from the plights of refugees living in New York to the struggles of artists reckoning with creativity, success, and the fragile bond of friendships. I am hungry for these stories because they all contain the stories of my family — each story is a fight for recognition, for progress, for the freedom to work, to create, to transform. And it is for that fight that I am occupying Wall Street. America nurtured the creative community that gave me my voice and the opportunities for that voice to resonate. However, recent history is proving that voice has no audience, no reverberations worth a damn. Power is outmoding liberty, greed is overtaking compassion. I am a child of the American dream, But I feel it fading, along with everything my parents fought so hard to earn.
Over the years, I’ve grown cynical of protests, sensing their ineffectiveness for lasting change. I’m also weary of revolutions, for the damages of violence, chaos, and social instability seem to outweigh the all-too-brief euphoria. Yet Occupy Wall Street, Now a movement spreading around the globe with its organized and evolving direct democratic structure, gives me hope. It has reclaimed our voice, the voice of the 99 percent, and it has the potential to achieve the necessary lasting attention to ignite the change we believe in. And this time, I hope America is listening, instead of resorting to tactics reminiscent of a police state — tactics that remind me of the oppressions that my family faced, and the injustice that many in China, like the artist Ai Weiwei, are still facing. Instead, I hope America responds with the same set of values that taught me to be the American I am today — where creativity is celebrated and encouraged, where individual thought is recognized and honored, where liberty cannot be taken away, and where hard work for a better life is validated with opportunities unique and dynamic. I am occupying Wall Street Because this is the America I am fighting for.
I stumbled on the occupation on day 12, after falling down a Facebook rabbit hole of European economic doom. Arriving at the occupiers’ website, I was immediately captivated — someone was doing something, standing for something.
Excitedly, I told my husband what was going on. We watched the videos on the site together. Sebastian is of Anglo Indian descent and a devotee of Ghandi and passive resistance. I am a fourth generation American of Irish descent, and a believer in the democratic system whose faith was fundamentally shaken when the supreme court gave corporations the rights of individuals. Both of us wanted to go. But we live in Portland, Oregon and didn’t have money for the flights.
As musicians who play house concerts all over the country, we come into contact with a lot of interesting people. A few days after we discovered what was going on in Liberty Park, I received a text from some folks who had hosted us at their home in Idaho. They said that they might be able to help us if we wanted to participate in the occupation. They had a gold coin to donate to the cause.
A gold coin? This was a bit trippy. But it turned out to be true. They sold it and gave us the money to pay for our flights to New York City.
My apprehension in the days before we left was great. I believed in the cause, but I was scared to sleep on the sidewalk, especially in New York. I was also nervous about being accepted, and being useful.
This is our fifth night in the park. The ground is hard, but the atmosphere is electric. It’s the greatest school of democracy I’ve encountered. People are excited and open and kind and articulate and smart. Everyone is conversing all of the time, and everything seems to be happening at once. We have a month before our return flight takes off, and I have a feeling we might have a hard time leaving.
When I first arrived to Liberty Plaza, I sat next to a middle-aged man who just arrived to from New Jersey. I asked him what brought him and he boldly confessed that he doesn’t know. He said “it just felt right.” I, too, cannot articulate what brought me here. In fact, I do not want to articulate what brought me here. It is a sense of empathy and solidarity that is bigger than words.
On the 25th of January when a group of my friends decided to storm Tahrir Square in Cairo, they didn’t know what they want. We were frustrated with many things in Egypt. Many that fell under the category of inhumanity but we didn’t have specific demands. The vision was a block of marble that we carved everyday until it became the Egyptian Revolution. Having lived the Tahrir Square experience, I observe the same pattern at Liberty Plaza:
– Step One: Groups of people share an overwhelming emotion of urgency and passion for justice. They do not know where it comes from and where it will lead them but they know that it will be a crime against themselves to ignore it.
– Step Two: People across the country begin to join them. This group of people is usually a group that had the same calling but wasn’t sure if they should listen. When they heard that someone spoke up, they were relieved that they are not alone. They were assured that they were not mad.
– Step Three: As the numbers of like-minded people increase, they organize and assemble. They organically form a structured and sophisticated community driven by a passion to thrive and a common belief system in their core despite their diversity and apparent differences. An intense sense of love and selflessness makes everyone eager to contribute. Volunteers, committees, lectures, arts, entertainment, and other activities begin to take place. Meanwhile, the cause is still nothing but an intense emotion that is beyond words.
– Step Four: As organized groups begin to assemble, and knowledge and opinions are exchanged, people begin to articulate the message.
– Step Five: Slowly, as this newly formed community becomes a large family, the vision and cause are echoed and demanded in unity.
At this very moment, Occupy Wall Street is in Step Three. A stage I call the “Adolescent Days of the Revolution.” To me, revolutions are a living organism with a life cycle and its energy is constantly reincarnated. It is the force that allows humanity to emotionally evolve. And just like humans, The Adolescent Days of the Revolution are the best days of its life. These are the days of innocence, fearlessness, and openness. These are the days where you form your identity and you demand to be different. I plan to savor these days for as long as they continue. I plan to immerse myself in the love and passion of this movement and nurture it as if it is my child. Tahrir Square restored my faith in Egypt but Occupy Wall Street restored my faith in humanity.
Every day that I spend at Occupy Wall Street, I ask myself the same question: Am I doing the right thing? Ten years ago, when I was in my early twenties, I unhesitatingly participated in every rally, march, and protest that coalesced around the traveling circus of acronymic, economic summits: WTO, WEF, IMF, etc. I whole-heartedly believed that, as the saying then was, another world is possible. We would show up, play cat and mouse with the police, and then disperse to tell war stories. I loved it, and I thought what I was doing was not only important but imperative, because my country had done and was still doing so many evil things in the name of virtuous principles–the public had to be educated and our exploitative systems dismantled. But nothing much changed, and it never felt like anybody was really behind us. Then came 9/11, two terms of Bush Jr., two wars in the Middle East, and an ongoing crisis of governance perpetuated in a climate of fear. The last ten years were enough to make a man cynical by the time he turned 30.
And then, suddenly, out of nowhere, came Occupy Wall Street. And suddenly, out of nowhere, I found myself neglecting the dissertation I am supposed to be writing to work at the Occupy Wall Street People’s Library. It seemed easy to protest when I was younger. What else did I have to do? But now, like every other adult, I take myself and my work far too seriously. Every moment not spent on my personal career advancement feels like a moment squandered. Lately, I’ve been squandering a lot of moments. With my professional future in question and serious deadlines looming, how could I not constantly ask myself, am I doing the right thing? I’ve grown proud of our little library and the recognition it has received over the past weeks, but it’s still such a small thing: a small, fragile, cardboard and plastic bricolage that shivers in the shadows of the world’s most intimidating financial institutions. We could be swept away tomorrow, by weather or police action. Today, in fact, we almost were — by both at once — and I wasn’t even sure there’d be a library afterward or, indeed, a reason to write this article. Somehow, miraculously we survived. Yet I still ask myself whether I’m doing the right thing, whether it can continue, and whether it makes any sense at all to put such stock in something that has the odds stacked so precipitously against it. And the answer is, I really don’t know.
Occupy Wall Street is much more than a protest. It is an ongoing experiment in a truly open, transparent, diverse, and radically democratic society. This means that it can sometimes be impossible to get things done. Most of the people who gravitate to Liberty Plaza have very strong opinions and even stronger personalities. Achieving compromise with such people is a challenge, a frustrating but exhilarating challenge. We are all stubborn idealists, after all. Often, our ideals overlap. But not always. And it can be hard to compromise when you believe compromise itself to be the root of all evil. Why add all this stress to my already stressful life? Why sit around all day weathering my skin in the elements, exhausting my body with constant work that is more work than work, and talking so much that I can barely swallow at the end of the day? Why put up with all this when the powers arrayed against us seem so inexorable, their resources inexhaustible, and the pressure on us to leave unremitting?
For the past week and more I’ve been constantly exhausted, overwhelmed with the blitzkrieg of media attention, and in a constant state of anxiety about both the success of our movement and at what personal expense it might come. I’ve gotten into pointless arguments, had valuable possessions stolen, and nearly had an accident while driving in an emergency situation because of lack of sleep. It would be wisdom to go home, do the solitary work of academic writing, vie for grant money for my own projects, and leave the protestors to endure the challenge on their own, with my tacit support and the occasional touristic visit. And every day I have to decide if the goals of the group effort underway at Occupy Wall Street are more important than myself, than my own, personal, individual success and prosperity. And every day, so far, I have answered in the affirmative. But fear and doubt gnaw away at the strongest resolve. I have no idea what I will decide tomorrow.
My name is Mesiah Hameed, I am 16 years old. This is my eleventh day at occupy wall street.
What an 11 days it has been! I have witnessed police beat my friends, arrest my neighbors, and scare our youth.
Amongst all of the chaos I have never experienced more beauty. The serene feeling i get while re entering the park from a long day of school is absolutely indescribable. The people I’ve met and the things i am learning seem to be endless.
I have been attending protest since a very young age. Both my parents use to be quite involved in the world of activism. That may be one of the reasons i knew i had to attend wall street but that is not all of it. Since a young age i have questioned the rules of authority. It never made sense to me. With age came lots of fights and misunderstandings dealing with issue. Authority is everywhere we go it is inescapable! My disagreement with authority has continuously led me back to the worlds biggest authoritarian figures, The government.
I am the 99%. Though my age may surprise some i take advantage of it. I make a statement. I inspire youth of all ages to be more independent and learn things on their own. I am embarrassed of my age group because other 16 year old’s discuss shoes, iPads, and sex while I invest all my time in protest and justice.
I have read newspapers and watched videos on this revolution. Many of them share false and fabricated information regarding our purpose. What the media does not know is that the purpose is much to big to be titled. i have met everyone from in debt students to homeless grandmas. We all fight together. Personally i am here to represent the youth. It is an issue when you are not born knowing about the corruption of our systems worldwide. it should not take several years to come to reality that we are being cheated of our freedom! I was raised in such a way that even if it does not affect me i am aware and do all i can because it could very well affect me anytime or moment. I am very passionate about this movement. I wake up at Zucotti Park with such drive, an open heart, and wide ears to listen to all. I know that my passion for this sparks passion within others! This is so important for the world. We must get our youth to the protest and tell them what is happening. ALL AGES NEED TO BE APART OF THIS. we need to stop having authority over the young and let them find their own understanding of life. That is why i am here. I will stay until we see change.
It was cold in Zuccotti Park this week for our Ambiguous Upsparkles group. Particularly late into it as the sun went down and a wet Autumn wind rose up in the yellow orange trees from the bottom of Manhattan. It was cold and so we huddled together on the concrete steps for warmth, to make it easier to hear, to allow the stories to pass amongst us and through us. We repeated each line of each person’s story and the repeating kept us warm.
There was a core of us who stayed for the whole two hours. Many had been there before for each group, some new people stopped by, joined or listened or told a story and then moved on. At the height of the story telling there were hundreds leaning in. There was drumming in the distance, There were tents everywhere. There was a new large green tent just erected for women to make them safe as there had been a sexual assault during the week. There was talk before the group about the violence. Women were worried and they were clear. Things had to change. There was talk about safety and honoring women and listening to their concerns and making space for their voices. There was talk of how drunks and disturbed people were being intentionally sent to the park. There was talk of how the sexual violence was down played so it wouldn’t badly impact the movement. The older women activists were disturbed. This was a story they knew all too well from past movements, from past silences.
We introduced the group, explained how we told stories each week so people could share what brought them to the park and what they dreamed of. We said we wanted an alternative to the media who kept telling the public that the movement is disjointed and rudderless because it has no leaders or a clear message or one specific set of demands. We said we started the group because everyone who came to the park seemed to know exactly why they were there and the only lack of clarity seemed to be on the part of the people reporting it.
It was a gorgeous group. Somehow the cold made people braver and more generous. There was more anger in the stories, more sorrow.
One woman had just arrived from Boston. She had lost her job. Her husband was out of work. She had never been an activist. But just standing next to the Wall Street towers made her shake with fury. She wanted the fat cats to explain how they took all those bonuses while she and so many were barely getting by. A young woman from Vermont talked about working with teenage girls and taking them into the woods to learn nature and how they walked barefoot and went wild and learned to make fire without matches and pee standing up to put out the fire. She started crying when she described how the ridge where she lived was being destroyed by industrialization and how there was so much rape in the world and so much murdering of the earth. Her voice cracked and when she cried everyone human mics her tears so we were all crying about rape in the camp, in the world, rape of women, rape of the earth, rape of the economy. She said she had camped all her life in the woods and was never afraid but how camping in Manhattan terrified her.
There was an Iraq veteran who was trained not to have an opinion or ever speak up or back but when his brother veteran got beaten by the Oakland police at Occupy Oakland. He knew he had to find his way here.
There was a young man in a handmade sweater who had just arrived from Chicago who had waited until he could come with something to offer and he finally had figured out what to give — 1,500 harmonicas so that people could learn how to make music by breathing out and breathing in.
There was the man who was a designer and an artist who wanted to make jobs instead of looking for them and there was a refugee from Lebanon with a beard in a wool hat who was put out of his local video business by Blockbuster who had come to help the homeless even though he lived in his van.
There was a fierce woman from occupy Philly who worked with the traumatized and the abused and she talked about how there was no place for them. They were invisible in the culture and abandoned and I thought about how everyone in our circle felt that way about themselves or someone they loved. How in the corporate story you either rise or fall and if you fall it’s your fault just like if you’re raped you made it happen. You shouldn’t have been in the park, you shouldn’t have worn that short skirt or those tight jeans. You should have figured out how to get a job even though there are no jobs. You should have figured out how to win even though the game is rigged for the 1 per cent. If you had been smarter or studied harder or knew the right people or had what it takes.
I thought of rape. How we still blame the victim. How the burden of proof is on the person who is ripped apart. How if it hasn’t happened to you, you don’t get that it robs you forever. I thought of an economy that has destroyed every single American river and gutted the trees and poisoned the sky and eviscerated people so that the very few can get what they want. How if you are the one per cent you are entitled to take everything. This made me think about the men who grab women because they can. Who do what they want and then after the woman is made to feel its her fault. That she is dirty. I thought about rape — how we still expect it. We make a place for it. We say “it’s just the way men are. Its part of the human condition.” Like greed. Like rich and poor, it’s the way it’s always been.
What’s happening in the park is not about demands although there are plenty. It’s mainly the young but not just the young in the midst of one of the worst decades of corporate avarice, who are saddled with unpayable college loans, no way to get their parents medical care, who are experiencing snow before Halloween while wearing tank tops earlier that same month, who have come in the face of all that to lay their bodies down on the freezing floor of the city, in the cracks between the towering buildings of greed.
They are saying, take my body, make me uncomfortable, I am ready to do what I can. They have a knowing only the open-hearted have that the future is perilous. They love life. They want it. They don’t want to hurt anyone but they will travel as far as it takes. They understand it’s about changing the whole story, the story of rape. The violent destructive treatment of women or people of color or the indigenous or the earth or the poor or queers.
Near the end of the group there was one very energized woman with a bouquet of flowers in her blonde hair who said she came because she saw a little message on the Internet in early September inviting 20 thousand to show up at Wall Street. She knew she had to come. She knew she had to get on a plane from San Francisco and after a few days of finding her way in the park, she knew she had come home. Her friends asked how she knew this and she said she wasn’t exactly sure. It was a feeling, here, she said rubbing her stomach or womb and I thought of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and how all the people in that film started making cones preparing to meet the aliens, but here we came preparing to meet ourselves.
If we are not afraid, if we open ourselves, we all know everything has to change. We need places to announce and actualize this change. Places are crucial. The ingredients involve stepping out of your comfort zone, giving up more than your share, telling your story and listening to others, not thinking in an obvious linear way, trusting the collective imagination to be more empowered and visionary than your own, refusing to participate in the violent destruction of anything. That includes taking anything that isn’t yours, taking more than you need, believing you have a right to dismiss or ignore or belittle anyone with less power or money or education. Believers will always be marginalized and made to feel stupid. They will be beaten with batons and pepper sprayed and dragged off. But no one can evict or silence what is emerging in Zuccotti Park.
Those who have come are the brave ones willing to feel how precarious this corporate system is. They have already passed over. They understand that it takes one bad investment, one ugly divorce, one devastating loss of a loved on, one company or factory gone under and we fall. They know there is no net, no one to catch us here in this fast-paced world of capital and consumption.
Lets breathe into the harmonicas and make winter music, let’s protect women and trust the invisible workings of the collective imagination. Lets free the parks and palaces and streets and invite everyone in. There won’t be more winners maybe, but I can happily live in a world without losers. There may not be anymore rich, but I’m so up for a world where everyone has something. Let’s huddle together on the cold stairs in early November and hear and see each other and be in awe of the miracle that is each person. Let’s celebrate how each one of us has survived something so hard, so impossible and we still found our way here. Let’s just be people in a park who came because we were terrified that we and everything we love was going to die and disappear. Let’s do that, ok? And keep doing it until the towers become monuments to a barely remembered hideous time of greed and we are all together on the ground.
I am a lawyer, painter, and writer, member of the National Lawyers guild, and veteran activist. My first night @ Liberty Plaza was Tuesday, 2 weeks ago. I had come down with a huge amount of macrobiotic-style noodles that I had cooked for people.
I was walking around when my eyes saw a very interesting freshly painted sign in orange neon, that read “Student debt = Slavery”. Behind the sign were 2 men, & I started speaking with both of them, as I have practiced bankruptcy law and many of my clients were saddled with debt from credit cards and student loans, which under the Bankruptcy Code, are non-dischargeable. It turned out that one graduated from my law school, Catholic University in Washington, DC, 20 years after I graduated. He was excited to have met Susan Sarandon, probably the most famous CU alumnus, who had stopped by to visit that night.
I was very moved by his story, and amazed at how many things we had in common in our perspectives on the culture. The son of working-class Haitian immigrants, he was first generation American, and had remarkably had gotten three advanced degrees, including a masters from the New School, a law degree, and a Masters in Law (LLM). I was astounded to hear that he was having difficulty finding work, while saddled with debt, and feeling that he would become tied to whatever job he could find. He had done several internships overseas, including one in Morocco, and he spoke of that experience in the context of what is wrong with American culture, and how it started to decline. We both spoke of the quality of our food supply, largely from corporate agriculture, where carrots can taste wooden, & fruits barely have flavor. He described fruit in Morocco as misshapen, even ugly, with blotches and blemishes, including bright-red blood oranges, but which tasted like nothing he’d ever had in America, and as food should taste. He and I both acknowledged the sensory deprivation Americans experience, eating mass-produced, denatured, chemicalized food from cradle to grave. We also spoke of the loss of community, of a shared culture.
Like me, he had loved the movie Amelie, which I thought portrayed a community as an organic whole, inseparable from the culture of the outdoor food market, and sense of caring for individuals. The most memorable scene in “Amelie” was when she gives a blind man a tour of the farmer’s market, allowing him to experience all of the sights. He spoke of the huge, outdoor gatherings of people, in cafes or homes, that he had experienced in Morocco, and the wonderful sense of belonging. We both realized that this was what we felt at Occupy Wall Street, and had never felt before in America. There was almost a pastoral quality in the space people have created, an organic, living, breathing, and vital community, which aimed at providing for everyone’s needs, whether food, medical care, self-expression, music, art-making, education, communication, and caring. It was amazing to be part of this right in the belly of the beast. I spoke with both men about what it was like for them in the job market, and what it was like feeling one’s dreams could never be actualized, and that existence would be tethered to a bank loan. This was a far cry from the sense of unfettered opportunity most of us felt as graduates during the 60’s and 70’s, the last era of economic prosperity.
We all spoke on subjects as diverse as food, culture, and the war on Iraq, the wasting of the federal budget, and the gross inequality of our current tax structure. At some point, some of the neon orange from James’s sign accidentally rubbed off on my carryall, & both of them immediately rushed to get some water & vigorously rubbed it off.
I’ve been back 3 times since then, and each time the feeling of optimism, solidarity and connection with others grows, as I’ve spoken with people from all over the country. It is truly an amazing space. A shaman who I went to in the 80’s, Andrew Ramer, said to me in 1988 “We are creating the culture of the 21st Century”. I feel that this culture and a new political order is beginning to take root at Occupy Wall Street. I want to see it grow and flourish.
What we have here… because you want to know…
I am an occupier. My name is Dan Crisp. I have a master’s degree, i am twenty-eight and i am unemployed. i am upset. I (like many other occupiers and Americans all over the country) want to be proud of my country and my government. Before this occupation, I had feigned that pride for years. I was a self-diluted Patriot. I feel less diluted these days.
I have spent the last week living on the cold and honest cement squares of Liberty Plaza and I have come to realize a few things. People want to know what THIS is and what WE want. Well, THIS is reclamation of America and WE are YOU. WE want what YOU want. We want what WE were promised by our fore fathers: a government of the people, for the people and by the people. WE want a government that has OUR interests in mind, not Wall Street’s. People over Profit. Simply.
For the people that don’t understand what this is, I will tell you:
Liberty Plaza is a true direct democracy. We have a General Assembly where we collectively vote on all agenda items. We are all inclusive and we are leaderless. We have working groups that collectively design our structure and movement. We have working groups that focus on Education and Empowerment in order to better our community. We run seminars and trainings on a variety of issues in order to strengthen our community. We believe in Community and each other.
We, unlike American’s outside of this park, have doctors that we can consult for free. We have free legal advice. We are all fed. We march. We rally. We make noise and we have moments of silence. We wonder about the best ways to do things, and because it is a true democracy, we disagree.
It is a move back to Community. We eat together, we sleep together and we dream together. We are not investing in Financial Capital. We are investing in Social Capital. We are all shareholders in a vision, a feeling, but it is more than just that.
As much as it is reclamation, it is also a proclamation. That WE are important. That WE deserve shelter not foreclosure. That WE deserve health care and education, not massive debt. That WE deserve community, not isolation.
We will sleep in the rain for this vision. We will yell into the people’s mic until we cannot speak, to try to right this ship. We will risk our health and safety for America.
I am homeless and sleeping on the street for the first time in my life and I can’t remember the last time I have been smiled at so frequently.
At worst, this is a beautiful lesson in civics. At best, this is the beginning of an America that represents and supports OUR interests, yours and mine.
I implore you to come and see us. We are bigger every single day. We need you… because WE, are YOU.
#OWS Inspires the Hidden Activist In Me.
Sept 22nd, This Occupy Wall Street thing is growing and doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Every piece of hope I could muster in my body sensed this thing would be something big. I had high hopes from the very beginning. I thought, could it be? Did someone finally decide to stick it to “The Man”? Did these kids actually have the audacity to set up camp right in the front yard of the Wall Street bigwigs and give them a piece of their minds?! Of our minds?! The nerve!! How amazingly incredible! I’ve been an armchair activist for years, and these kids were expressing the same sentiment I have held for a long time, greed is the source of the world’s ills. What they were protesting precisely was still a mystery, but whatever it was, they chose the right venue! I needed to get down there! I searched every thread that had “Occupy Wall Street” in the title. The pictures I saw were incredible, angry young men and women holding up signs and banners crafted out of pizza boxes, construction paper, and pieces of wood. This didn’t look like your average “prepackaged protest”. It was spontaneous, organic, and wonderful!
After a day of searching through pictures and reading articles, I realized something was apparent. There was a lack of brown and black faces. Where were all my colored people? Did they not realize how high our rates of unemployment, incarceration, poverty, and homelessness were? If they didn’t know that then I’m sure they didn’t know that the term “Wall Street” came about because African slaves were brought in to construct a “wall” to protect the Dutch settlers from the “hostile natives” they had previously failed to enslave in 1625. My goodness, 300 years of free labor is how these plutocrats built their fortunes, where were the colored faces! All one needed to do is drive through the streets of predominately Black towns and see how poorly wealth had been distributed in this country. Now is our chance to stand up and speak out against this injustice!
I decided to go to Zuccotti Park with my boyfriend after crafting the perfect protest sign it read, “African Americans Against Corporate Greed”. He had just as much reason to be there, as a NYC Public School teacher from East Harlem, he’s seen his share of socioeconomic inequality. What I saw when I arrived at the park was indescribable, the energy of protest mixed with the sound of a drum circle was intoxicating. People democratically exchanging ideas, hungry people being served food, children reading books next to veterans, looked like some pseudo-world I wanted to live in. I noticed one common thing about these protestors; they were the most educated group of protestors I had seen in my lifetime. There was no shortage of eloquent voices here, no misspelled signs, no easy way for a politician or any other charlatan to come in here and take advantage of the momentum they had going on. I knew I was in the right place. One thing was certain, my life had changed forever. If nothing else came out of this, the movement would inspire a new generation of young activists and change was inevitable.
I come to Wall Street from a place of privilege. I always come from a place of privilege. I didn’t decide to go because I’m hungry or because I’m unemployed. I have a nice apartment, an education, a job, and a support network for which I am boundlessly grateful. I come to Wall Street because I have to. My conscience, my heart, the very core of my being demand it. When I watch the news, when I look around me, I feel like I’m being crushed. We all are. Some more overtly and ruthlessly than others, but none of us are as numb and disconnected as they make us out to be.
The other day, I thought about how, less than 600 years ago, people drank out of rivers. Now, worried parents scold their kids for catching raindrops on their tongues and we can’t even swim in the ocean on certain days. Now, everything is radioactive, including our main means of communication with one another. And the State Department supports the approval of an XL oil pipeline that would run through one of our earth’s lungs.
Sometimes life touches me, the utter magic of it, the love, the connectedness, the potential. When it hits me, I’ve always been with close friends and family, making thanks-giving toasts or gathering to share stories and music on warm nights. Yet here I was, as dusk was falling, alone in Zuccotti Park with a mass of strangers gathered under those tall, isolated corporate buildings, in a city I moved to 3 months ago without much of a plan. And I was feeling one of these magical life moments. I was speaking in unison with everyone around me. Perhaps more strongly than ever before, I sensed I was exactly where I wanted to be. 100 percent. Life was sparkling. “They’ve been lying to us,” a woman said, with tears in her eyes, “we, all of us, do care.”
Later, on my train ride back to Brooklyn, I was reading the Occupied Wall Street Journal. The passing subway stations revealed steadily and predictably changing demographics as we left Manhattan and the physical center of the movement. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that the black woman sitting next to me had taken out her Occupied Wall Street Journal. We sat there, reading side by side, immersed in our respective afterglows. I wonder whether the people across from us noticed what we were reading. It could have been any other paper, from the way we were sitting there, apparently disconnected from one another. I smiled to myself: “this is really happening.” It’s deep. And big. And sweetly subtle. All at once
Paula Jo Allen
I have marched for peace and civil rights, against nuclear missiles and the war in Iraq. I have felt exhilarated in the midst of thousands of people demanding justice and after I have often felt disappointed, even guilty. I have ended up eating sushi, going home, having a bath and watching the news to see the number count and commentary on the demonstration – making the media response into something that really mattered.
I believe in Occupying, in refusing to go home, to be silenced, shut down. I believe in visibility, declaring that THIS matters enough to forfeit one’s comfort, one’s life style until the world does change – until the missiles are not deployed, until violence against women is unthinkable, until the only choice is not to wage war.
The more I stay in Zuccotti Park, the harder it is to accept the structures of what is acceptable between having and not having in the world. This has always been hard for me, which may explain, in part, why it is so easy, so comfortable, so necessary for me to be an actual physical part of Occupy Wall Street.
Over the past 24 hours, one of the primary conversations that I have been listening to and participating in is about the “homeless problem” in the park. “Should the homeless be there when they are not really part of the movement?”
To answer this: Yes. Isn’t this obvious? Odd isn’t it that I have a home (in fact two) and I am welcome there (given a tent, gloves, food) because I am an “activist,” but those who need the support are deemed a liability to the movement.
What doesn’t make sense about this: Hundreds of people are camping in a public park where people without homes can be more secure, receive shelter and medical care, and it is being suggested that they should return to a public shelter where they are less safe, receive shitty food, and are thrown out during the day until the doors open again at night. I have met at least three women (one transgendered) who are at the park because they were raped in the shelters. This is horrifically common.
Zuccotti Park is not trying to be a utopian community. It is a very raw, strange, passionate, scary, creative, divine experiment in living. A real viable, powerful political movement grew out of people’s willingness to not leave. I see people learning how to respond to every kind of situation non-violently, to form one unified human body when faced with both fellow occupiers and police violence.
I think that the camp will continue and at the same time, I don’t know that. We don’t know what is being planned to dismantle the camp. I trust the conviction of the majority of the occupiers to stay through the winter. There are more tents this week. There are stationary bikes generating the electricity for the camp (since the fire department removed all the generators). The “people’s library” has hundreds of books. More and more volunteers are walking through the park with brooms and dustpans keeping the park clean. Last night I lay in the tent and listened to conversations outside. It was 2am and people were telling their stories, those sweet connecting stories of where we are from and why we are there.
I see what is developing around the world in support of the Occupy Movement. I see how representative this movement is of humankind. I see what we have learned and where we became connected and engaged with each other and how we became more powerful. I don’t feel a conflict in the contradictions or “mistakes” of the movement, but in fact, I feel deeply excited and hopeful, and kind.
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