“There are truly difficult questions that confront us. We know what we do not want. But what do we want? What social organization can replace capitalism? What type of new leaders do we want?” Slavoj Zizek addressing the Occupy Wall St. gathering on Oct. 9
I drove into New York City on Sunday with two women well experienced in the art of protesting, occupying, demonstrating and being arrested. Both of these grandmothers reminisced about their 30 years of Peace Action work and told tales of what they had seen in the trenches. We were headed downtown to the Occupy Wall Street gathering in Liberty Square. We had plenty of time to discuss all the possibilities of what might happen at the site, making sure to take along bail and donation money, plus phone numbers of friends who might need to come to our assistance. It was a beautiful sunny day, the city was teeming with people and the general mood of my companions was festive.
When we arrived to Liberty Park the first thing that struck me was how small an area the park covered, the second thing was that there were people, sleeping bags and cameras everywhere. There were also large numbers of police officers walking the area in groups of four; and when you looked up towards the tree tops there was the black windowed NYPD tower looking down on you. I could see the protesters inside the park and then there were the tourists circling the area snapping off picture after picture. On the edge of the park were the artists silk screening newly purchased “I Heart NY” T-shirt’s with the words, Occupy Wall St.
I was immediately struck with how important it was to be here, to see, smell and hear what was taking place. Even the most trusted journalists could not convey the experience of being present to this event. I had to see it for myself, otherwise it becomes another story coming from a virtual world with opinions, rhetoric and descriptions by writers who may never have stepped foot in Liberty Park. I am one of the 99% and I needed to know who was making a stand for me.
Once I settled into the crowd I could see how the park had been organized to accommodate a make shift kitchen, a media center, a First Aid area, a library of books along the wall, and a place to dance and raise a fist or two. It looked like a big sleep over party, but it is, in reality, dead serious and the people here have put their lives and possibly all our futures on the line.
Wherever I turned there were people of all nationalities and ages, (yes, babies and children too), looking, discussing, eating, sleeping and when the drums started howling they began to dance and chant, “Occupy, occupy, occupy.” On and on it went, round and round the park we went, moving in and out again, feeling ever the tourist we had not meant to become. I overheard one well-dressed young woman tell her boyfriend that she didn’t want to go into the crowded park. “But why?” he said. “It is the reason we traveled all this way, to be a part of what it happening.”
At one point my traveling companion gave a big sigh and told me how jealous she was that she could not stay and occupy the park by living and sleeping here. She took a deep breath and exhaled the pleasure of being part of another action meant to elicit change in our government. She had just returned from Washington D.C. where she had marched with a thousand other people to demand an end to the war in the Middle East. In the current web of protests and demonstrations they are all connected and interwoven; end the war, protect our food supply, take care of the 99%. And the slogans, signs and quotes were everywhere in Liberty Park, written on posters, cardboard and T-shirts.
We the 99%
Tax Wall Street Transactions, Heal America
I’m with You, Be with Me, Open Your Eyes, Imagine and See
Trickle down BS
2010= thousands of teachers jobs, 2011=?
I heard someone compare the occupation to the Vietnam war protests, but they are not the same. This is the hopelessness of a people come together because we do not know what else to do. Our hands have been tied, our rights weakened, our jobs out sourced, our homes confiscated and our resources plundered. As I see it there are no demands or agendas because there is only this collective helplessness that has assembled a rag tag army that will not step down in the face of a corrupt authority. It takes courage and patience to continue, especially not knowing when you might be attacked. On October 5 the NYPD pepper sprayed the crowd and arrested 20 demonstrators, and in the dead of night on October 10 the Boston police stormed the tent city of Occupy Boston and arrested 100 people.
When I returned home from NYC I fell asleep thinking about the young women and men sleeping in the open on a cold October night, dreaming of a hot shower and a warm meal, and determined to go the distance. If you decide to make the trip to Liberty Park or to an Occupy Wall Street in your own area, bring food to share and take the time to listen to each other, and you will hear what is in your own heart.