“Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose, “ – Janis Joplin
(Day 25 – Working to Clean-up Camp – October 11th, 2011)
There is a recurrent refrain in the mainstream media that “Occupy Wallstreet” lacks an identifiable agenda or a cohesive
program. What the “dumb-down” media elites so desperately want from the movement are soundbites that they can rally against with their panel of insta-pundits put together with the intent to dis-inform the American public. But “Occupy Wallstreet” refuses to participate in the oversimplification of the mess that the political and economic superpower brokers have wrought upon the world.
It has been a long time since I have trusted any sort of news coming from the television, so the day after an unfortunate exposure to the O’Reilly Factor’s verbal write-off of “Occupy Wallstreet” as a movement with the political impact of a renaissance faire where one can get a contact high off of as a passerby, I headed down to Zucotti park. Rising up from the R station Cortlandt exit – the beats of the drum circle announced my promised destination. What I first noticed were the standard aluminum crowd control gates surrounding the 1 Liberty Plaza, located a block north of the park and then nearly 40 police vans and cars parked pointing toward the park. Above all this is a 30 foot high mobile police tower,monitoring the scene.
Makeshift Shelters of Tarps and Cardboard keep Protesters Dry
From across the street, the view was visually chaotic with hundreds of people making their way through the encampment of tarped mounds under which people would sleep/stay to keep dry and warm. Up closer, “Camp anonymous” was announced via Sharpie lettering on a cardboard box window/door flap. Given the day was drizzling and overcast, and that New York has had soggy weather as a norm throughout the summer and into the fall, I mentally gave those living here for nearly a month props for their fortitude. (As I write this a torrential downpour is beating down on Manhattan. I am hoping those tarps hold strong tonight.) This is definitely not glamping, but a survive-with-the-minimum living environment. Nowhere did I see a port-a-potty, or availability of running water. If either of these exist, there are far too few for thousands of protesters. The most luxurious sleeping I saw was a mattress wrapped in plastic. The typical sleeping arrangement is a sleeping bag on cement.
Distributing Donated Box Lunches
Further on, about a half a block into the park was the communal kitchen of modular aluminum shelving surrounded by towers of plastic storage bins on the west, and the food prep area. Beyond the women preparing the food were buffet tables loaded with lunches which volunteers gave to anyone who chose to wait in line.
As I was taking in this scene, a 50ish woman holding her professional video-recorder fitted with a shotgun mike at her side was conversing with a 50ish man about the movement. I felt my eyes roll in my head as he said – “I just don’t think that these kids have the temerity to follow the movement through to the end.” While he was making his authoritative observations, the morning’s General Assembly meeting was in session.
Every point was made in waves of three: first from one of the speakers, who stood side by side on a 50 foot long granite embankment serving as the stage; then the first echo by an intermediate singular announcer, and the final echo shared by alternating volunteers of 3 or more. All of this was done so everyone could hear without the use of sound equipment or megaphones. The messages carried along each wave like a mantra. The listeners would respond to various messages with upturned “yay” hands fingers wiggling for emphasis.
In the space of an hour, this purportedly, “ajenda-less” community of protesters covered the following points through consensus: The beginning of their “good neighbor policy” which included 1) the community participation in a full-scale park clean-up, for which they allocated $3,000 toward the renting of power-washers and professional cleaners, in addition to cleaning supplies; 2) the organization of a group to replant and remulch the park’s flower beds, along with the suggestion of funds to be spent toward this effort; 3) and in response to complaints of the park neighbors – a schedule set up for the drumming circle limiting the beats between 11 am and 5 pm; 4) a logistical storage solution suggested for protesters’ possessions aided by the donation of a storage facility by the United Teachers Union. During a moment when distant ambulance sirens rang out over the crowd, the time out sign was given, and a couple people broke out with – “This is what democracy looks like!” Yes, a democracy that gets things done through consensual agreement, rather than competitive one-up-manship, which has held the U.S. Congress in a disgraceful political stagnation these past few years.
This is a new democracy, not based on the pseudo-democratic paradigm of ancient Greece, where only the free, land-owning, male elite were allowed to vote. This democracy is for those who decide to show up and participate and take responsibility for governing their own lives, with or without the sanction of the “state.” This democracy is open for business to anyone. And in spite of all the frustrations that may have brought these people together to protest in Zucotti park, there is a palpable sense of peace and calm throughout. Even the NYPD police posted at the perimeter, seemed to sense this with their bodies leaning casually against the crowd-control gates, as they observed the actions of the crowd. Peace, is a dominant message of this movement. Haven’t we had enough of war already? And isn’t it time we figure out how to kick this addiction to violence, contention, and disrespect of each other and the earth at large? Isn’t it time we figure out how to make the most of the resources of community and our planet, rather than thieving those resources for selfish gain?
The issue at hand is – how do we save the world – when the institutions and systems and roles of power whom we were taught to trust are bankrupt/ corrupt or lack the courage and vision to forge ahead breaking the old rules and making new ones? How is this done? The folks of “Occupy Wall Street” and millions of others involved in similar community actions worldwide are starting to figure this out and desire our support and participation. It is time for us, the people, to take over the responsibility of governing our lives and our communities. Beyond the babble of soundbites there are many solutions and many answers for those who dare to dive into the mystery of creating a new world paradigm. It is OUR life to live and OUR future to make!