OCT. 16, 2011 – I arrived in New York City Wednesday morning on a one-way ticket from Chicago. My goal: to join the Occupy Wall Street movement. I came prepared to camp out in the occupied space, Zuccotti Park, also known as Liberty Plaza. I knew it was going to be cold and rainy for at least the first few days I was there. I knew that this would make camping out all the more difficult. And I knew that this would be a fitting and ironic baptism by “fire.”
With the help of fellow protesters, I set up my sleeping area that morning near the perimeter of the park. They provided me with two plastic tarps and recommended I take some cardboard for “cushion.” So I laid down the first tarp, placed a broken-down cardboard box on top of it, laid my sleeping bag on top of that, and then spread the second tarp over the top. At first, I just tucked the ends under the bottom tarp, like a bed sheet, but I realized that this was probably not going to be an effective water barrier from the rain. So I found someone with packing tape and they helped me tape the two tarps together, encompassing my sleeping bag in a waterproof pocket.
Or so I thought.
After a wonderful day of talking to a number of amazing individuals and the two-hour General Assembly in the evening, I was pretty well exhausted by 10pm (especially considering that I had not slept at all the night before). With a full heart, I climbed into my sleeping cell. The ground was hard and I didn’t have much room to move around, but it was surprisingly warm in my little cocoon. I was also embraced by a comforting sense of safety and solidarity with the people around me. In my area, some were already fast asleep, while others chatted from their sleeping bags. In other parts of the park, there were soap-box discussions, committee meetings, a small drum circle, and other activities interspersed between tarp-covered bodies. This calm murmur of human activity was like a spontaneous community lullaby. The intermittent drizzle of raindrops against my tarp was the crisp harmony complementing a soothing melody.
Soon, the rain began to pick up speed and force. I felt myself become the drum against which nature hammered out her emphatic crescendo. A peaceful energy surged through my body. I felt at one with the world. I felt grounded, solid and true. It really would have been the perfect lullaby, if only the tarps had held out. But once my toes sensed frigid rainwater seeping into my sleeping bag, I knew it was over. I wasn’t going to be able to sleep in the park that night. I wasn’t going to be able to sleep at all.
So I spent the rest of the night wandering around the financial district of New York City, umbrella in hand, pausing beneath awnings every so often. I sat in a late-night Mc Donald’s for an hour or so until it closed, then rode the subway around until it opened up again just before sunrise. It struck me that this night of sleepless transience, a temporary and chosen experience for me, was, quite disturbingly, a persistent, involuntary reality for the homeless citizens of this planet. This realization was jolting. This realization was more chilling than the rain. This realization was a humbling welcome to the long, hard fight I came here to join.