Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Stand! Defy! Occupy!

The mystery of the disappearing posters is solved. Turms out that kids waiting for the afterschool bus are tearing them down and playing with them. Danielle tells me she used her best mean old lady voice to get them to stop. 
The coolness of fall is starting to seep into the building. All too easily forgotten memories of winter come back. We’re not going back there. Not again.

Later, after a Presbytery Socai Witness meeting, I come to the steps of the church. Good to see people coming in for our Forgiveness film. I sit down next to Sarah. She asks about my yellow button, so I tell her about my time with the Occupy Wall Street encampment.
How  I went down to the Winter Garden to hear our friend Jed Distler open a special Theolinius Monk commemorative concert. I always find that part of Manhattan, Ground Zero, the World Financial Center, etc., confusing, befuddling  and frustrating. I never know where I am. So it”s no surprise that after Jed’s set while looking for my way to the subway I found myself in Zuccotti Park at Occupy Wall Street.
What did I see? First, leaving aside for the moment  any poitical analysis, the level of social organization was amazing. The park neatly divided into zones: a kitchen/dining area including vegetarian, vegan and gluten free offerings, a wifi zone, a press area, clearly marked recycling areas, arts areas, sleeping areas. Clearly anarchy does not equal chaos.  Well ordered, disciplined and clean. And a mini mall of food carts has set up along the park’s edges, capitalism never sleeps. And I see medical volunteers with  red crosses and badges from as far away as California.
News media folks wandered in and out throughout the park looking for colorful interviews. I experienced the people’s microphone, ie, since amplification is not allowed, speakers speak slowly and others repeat their words until it reaches the back. I saw Hyde Park debates like I hadn’t seen since, well, Union Square in the days following 9-11. EG, debates all over the park. EG, a shirt sleeved kind of crew cut red faced guy goes one on one against an old school African-American Obama loyalist. The Obamaite accuses red face of being a tea party guy and he says so what. The Obamaite defends O and appeals to the crowd and red face says aren’t you sick of governmen too? And the crowd roars. Then Obamaite says you have to back Obama or you’ll get the tea party. And a thin guy with a goatee steps forward and says you guys just don’t get it. You think its Obama vs. tea party, democrat vs. republican as if that’s all there is. You don’t get it. That’s over, that’s all  over. And the crowd cheers. 
In another part of the park, a very serious disussion is going on. Media, cameras, recording, is banned. It’s about organizing vs. organic. Old school lefties trying to push the anarchists and the young ones resisting. They are moving towards establishing a code of conduct for the resident community, a pledge of behavior. They want standards to define themselves as opposed to others. (They are perhaps too naive to realize that there are probably already among them undercover provacatuers ready to push them towards more radical behavior. I lived through the sixties. That’s what they do.)
Look, some of this I don’t quite get. Like the slutwalk, marching to Union Square dressed hot chanting hey hey, ho ho, rape culture’s got to go...On second thought, maybe I do get it. There’s a certain humor, irony, absurdity in all this I appreciate. 
There in the front line is my friend Rabbi Michael. If it’s real, he’s there. (Or for rather, if he’s there, it’s real.) I talk to him. The unions are getting on board. Verizon workers are there in force. The Transit Workers have gone to court to protect their right not to be commandeered by the police into using MTA buses and drivers to transport arrestees. Rabbi Michael only regrets that the faith commuity has been resisting showing up. We seem to have bought into the New York Times strategy of subtly demeaning and discrediting everything that happens here. The narrative of childish folly that can so easily be looked down upon. Just as old time organizers critique the lack of a specific demand or a program.
But I get it That’s part of the point. Lunch hour visitors are yelling what’s your plan? And the protestors respond, no, what’s yoursAnd even more profound, there is no plan, we have to make one together.
This is not an ideological protest because for most of them, ideology is over. All they know is that we have handed them a world that doesn’t work, a world without hope. A world wthout a real future for them to participate in. And they are angry. (Not a few bought into the whole Obama Hope thing and feel profoundly betrayed at the deepst level, in ways he may not even understand. Reublican/democrat doesn’t mean a thing anymore, it’s way beyond that.)
They claim identity with Egyptians, Syrians, Libyans,Israelis,  Spainsh, Greeks....a global generation shut out....In some ways it would be easier if we had a dictator. Get rid of Mubarak, Khaddafy, claim victory, it’s over. Here it’s more complicated. No dictator. But a very real oligarchy . Gated communities and baseball stadia with moats to keep the rich separated from the rest of us, not only at Yankee Stadium but in Pittsburgh as well . Those who literally live in a separate world from the rest of us. That is more complicated. In my work I may need the help of that 1 % to survive, but I live, I am, part of the 99. 
So there’s a march tomorrow. A solidarity march. At 4:30 PM.  From City Hall to Wall Street. I wanted to see my kids’ old high school soccer team play but screw it. Many of these young people are asking profoundly spiritual questions.Questions about right and wrong and meaning.  We can’t leave it to the unions. We need the collars and kippahs to get out there. I’m joining Rabbi Michael. 
Look, I have no illusions. These, forgive me, kids, have no idea what they’re up against. Rumors have it that the park is private property and the owners are being pressured to ask the police to clear it. What then? Does it all go away? Is there violence? More mass arrests? Who knows?  
More important than answers is the questions. These questions have been my life for over 40 years. I can’t criticize the asking. They need to know we think asking is important. And that collectively seeking new answers is not to be riduculed but comes somewhere near what we used to think was the American dream. 
The buttons, with a cute little yellow face, almost South Parkesque, say :
I’ll be there tomorrow.
Sarah tells me she has to go there. That her generatioh has to care about something. Get passionate about something. She is part of the duo of Marc and Sarah handling our marketing.She is professional in every way from dress to demeanor to her way of speaking. Yet there is a deep anger underneath all that. She was one of those who were  brought out of a premature youthful cynicism and into politcal involvement by Obama. Who feel not only let down but betrayed. I’ll say it again, I don’t believe he has any idea how he failed to understand and use the moment he had created. 
More and more people are coming. We’re having short conversations about the beginning of the Center. There’s a sense of excitement about what we’re up to.
I welcome people to West-Park. Eleanor, who is leading this series, introuces the film from her perspective. Next week the  film maker herself, Helen Whitney will join us. Katherine has introduced the Center and reminded everyone of its tag line:
Dream. Real. Hard.
Today that seems more appropriate than ever. 

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