This is the fifth in a series of excerpts from Jim Gober’s book titled “Deep in the Heart of Occupy Austin.” A new excerpt will be published at OccupiedStories.com every Wednesday, so come back next week to follow Jim though the evolution of Occupy Austin.
“Beauty awakens the soul to act” -Dante
It was Monday, Columbus Day, and I hitched a ride to Occupy from my neighbor who was heading downtown. I quickly found myself at 2nd and Congress and walked the few blocks to the plaza. There is really no reason for me to stay every night on the plaza like some of the occupiers. I live 20 blocks away and spent the better part of 2001 living in a tent with no electricity or running water, and 1989-91 running the streets of Austin and San Francisco, so I’ve made my sacrifice to the gods of homelessness. These folks at the plaza got it made. Food and water is being delivered non-stop due to a healthy stream of donations, and they have toilets and running water. They can brush their teeth 10 times a day if they like, and don’t have to cook and eat with filthy hands. And hard-core drugs like heroin, crack or meth are readily available, which is really bad news for Occupy Austin, but when you roll out the welcome mat…
The thick clouds left over from the weekend storms were beginning to clear as I approached the plaza. I was surprised to see only 100 people or so there, and most were in a large circle doing yoga. The speakers were playing a recording of yoga sounds over the PA that went,”Ohmmmmmmmm, ohmmmmmmm,” and the vibe was most excellent. Everyone was very still, evenly spaced and casting long shadows on the plaza in the hazy golden Indian summer sun that was breaking through the clouds. The yogis looked like monoliths planted years ago by an ancient and mystical religion. I took off my backpack and sat down next to a garbage can adorned with a recycled protest sign that read, “Recycle Here.” I got into my yoga pose, following the lead of the yoga leader, who, according to his demeanor, was well into yoga land. Then I looked up and noticed the clouds had completely blown away, leaving a brilliant blue rain-washed sky. It was the kind of sky I had not seen in months of dusty drought. I could see a sparkling white airliner blazing toward the sunset 35,000 feet in the air. At a lower altitude, a small private plane hummed. Then beneath that a helicopter chopped by and then a flurry of white-winged doves-which are everywhere in Austin-flew over the treetops.
Was this a metaphor for how far we are willing to go with our movement? Are we going to soar with the highest jet airliner? Or will we just simply flutter above the treetops? Or maybe I was looking at the different levels of consciousness and understanding that only comes through meditation and peace? Who knows? But one thing I know for sure is that was one sparkling blue and pretty sky and I was optimistic as ever. A fire truck came by along with a police car and all the honking and sirens failed to dislodge the ohhmmmmers, but I found it hard to concentrate on my own ohm, and since I am a writer, this was not the time to gaze inward, so I started poking around for a story.
I noticed the plaza was straightened up and was beginning to look like a place we could stay long-term without sitting in something gross. Things were arranged neatly. There was even a big “Do Not Litter” sign posted. A sign by the restroom asked people not to write on the walls, because someone went into the most awesome restrooms you could ever ask for at a protest and scribbled anarchy stuff. Was it an agent provocateur? Maybe. Was it an asshole? Bingo.
Then there was some excitement as the bulk of the protesters were returning from a protest march on Christopher Columbus Street (which I couldn’t find on the Google map) and I didn’t understand the reason, so I didn’t go, even though it was Columbus Day, and I think it had to do with Indians. But Anglo-Europeans protesting against Columbus for the Indians seemed lame. What happened 600 years ago stays 600 years ago, if you ask me. My name ain’t on that one. I live in the now and now we have problems we have to solve now. When the marchers poured back into the plaza, everyone was in high spirits and blowing on flutes, banging drums and chanting things like, “Power to the family,” which I never heard before, but it sounded gay, so I was down with it. Some of the bigger marchers were sweating a lot and needed water. All the new racket was annoying the yoga people for a minute or two until the yogis got their ohmmmmmmm back and everything settled down a bit.
I changed my mind and decided to really participate in the yoga scene, just so I could take in more of this beautiful sight. I watched some of the young hippie girls looking so awesome in their beautiful natural selves. No makeup, no trashy high heels, nothing making them look like prostitutes, even though they were showing plenty of skin. Their hair is naturally sun-bleached, curly or straight. Their tan is not sprayed on, and they are just dealing with what their maker gave them instead of trying to cover it up with handfuls of chemicals or worse. As we all know, we live in a society that tells women of all ages they are ugly unless they do something-anything-to hide their real selves. Could it be by the time some of them are adults, they don’t know who they are anymore? Is that why so many young women are so insecure they’re ready to claw each other’s eyes out any second? Who knows? But all you had to do this afternoon was look at the young woman meditating by the yoga master in her tattered homemade dress as she captured the last rays of the day along with the essence of all creation. Her eyes were closed, and she held her hand over her heart as if she had discovered something breathtakingly beautiful and pure. I held my hand over my heart too, but just to be sure it was still beating.
Then I saw a guy I started calling “Ask Me” wandering around the plaza. He wore a little yellow sign on his shirt that said “Ask Me,” so at first I thought he must be there as an information source. But all he did was walk around and aggressively ask people for change and cigarettes. He was heading for me, so I got up and started looking busy, as I was out of both. About then, the yogis gave out three long ahhhhhhhhssss, which are much different from ohmmmmmmmms, and the yoga part was over-for now. A Mexican kid sat down beside me with a sign that said “Columbus-destroying our home since 1492.” Of all the people who had a genuine gripe about European “Explorers,” his was probably the most authentic. After all, Mexico has seen its share of marauding invaders over the years and all the goodies they brought along with them such as smallpox, cholera and the plague. Of course, Mexico sent the explorers back home with syphilis, but who’s counting.
As the day wound down, new age music continued to play from somewhere. The PA mike had been left on and was picking up the crowd chatter. The word “reality” came through loud enough to discern. A dog was barking. The mood was carnival-like. The Chief of Police, Art Acevedo, and his entourage, made the scene without raising any eyebrows. Then something occurred to me as I watched everything working together for a moment or two. With all our technology and advances in healthcare and our ability to really care for each other-we could have a perfect and amazing world, why are we not working as a planet to move into that space? The worldwide occupy movement is not just a movement for change in the political process, it is an awakening. It is awareness that if we do not change, we are all-and I mean every one of us-rich and poor-are going to die a hideous and completely unavoidable death.
Listening to the left-wing pundits on TV yelling about the Republicans and vice-versa makes me realize these folks don’t have a clue either. It’s time to stop yelling at each other. The world is changing-we don’t have peace and happiness because too many are making money on death and destruction. We are arguing too damn much rather than working on any reconciliation. But many of us are becoming aware of this sea change whether we like it or not, as one Government after another is stripped of its lies, greed and deceit. No matter what the fascists want you to believe, the children of the sun are beginning to awake. This occupation isn’t about us against them; it’s us against the past. You can feel it in the air. Someone turned the page on us. All the fascist batons and pepper spray will not make it go away. We are moving forward into the light and out of the darkness. Do not be afraid. You must join the change that is sweeping the world.
Then I spotted my best friend at the protest from a few days ago, John, and he was glad to see me. He was talking to Joshua, the Trustafarian, who I couldn’t look in the eye because I betrayed him by thinking bad thoughts about him a day or two before. I felt ashamed, because he turned out not to be such a bad guy for one, and two-why would I be negative about my brother in arms? The sunset was truly spectacular and perfect and I thought about my friends who haven’t talked to me since I’ve been involved in the occupation, and why even people you respect the most can fail to see the beauty in the mundane, which is the only way you can truly see the light that radiates from us all-even the plants and the lowliest of creatures. A brown-skinned man of Middle Eastern descent gathered his things that were piled next to me. He was wearing traditional clothes from his country. I closed my eyes as I slowly inhaled his scent. The smell of sandalwood combined with an exquisite touch of body odor sent me thousands of years back to the cradle of civilization. It was a beautiful peaceful place with colorful cluttered streets lined with shop barkers and the finest artisans displaying their wares. In my mind, I could hear people from an exotic faraway land going about their business, the sound of their activities undiluted by the electronic and mechanical hum of modern life.
I was brought back to nowadays by a lady who was telling everyone to go into the City Hall to see democracy in action. That was where the “Signs and Other Eyesores Approval Department” was having a hearing. I went in and sat down. There was an older man, around 70, named Peter, who was arguing against a new sign for a grocery store and strip mall on a scenic road near where he lives. After he made his point, a young woman walked to the podium. She was dressed down for the occasion, but was obviously a sleazebag, because she wanted to put up the ugliest damn signage you ever saw for the development she represented in total violation of the scenic highway ordinance. At first, the commissioners seemed sympathetic, until they read the fine print on the application, because she actually wanted to build four of the eyesores. Since it looked like she was trying to deceive everyone, her application was denied because of the domino effect of approving her sign, then another, then another, according to one of the commissioners. Interestingly, the three women on the panel voted for it and the four men against. And that sign was the ultimate eyesore. If you could distill ugly from a chunk of cement-that would be that sign.
As I was leaving, I chatted with Peter and congratulated him and asked if he was a retired engineer. He laughed and asked if it showed that much. It did-but that’s what was needed to fight a developer who was wanting to ugly up the highway. Education was needed-that is why we must fund education and why the fascists are constantly at war against anything to do with education, unless it’s so expensive only their children can attend school and the classes are taught with a religious bent. As long as people are educated and enlightened the fascists cannot control us-or at least put up ugly signs where you don’t want them.
As Peter and I walked out into the plaza among the protesters I asked Peter’s opinion about the protest and he was happy things were peaceful. He said he talked to the Police Chief the day it started and asked why there were so many police, paddy wagons and police cars for so few protesters. The Police Chief said he would rather be over-prepared than under-prepared. Then I said that’s what happened when the fascists took over America, we were under-prepared. Peter and I laughed and parted ways. Then it struck me how our Police Chief had to be over-prepared for people to exercise their right for assembly and free speech in a public plaza.
After dark, John and I had an excellent vegetable medley put together by Food Not Bombs. I asked the server her name because John wanted to talk to her earlier but forgot he had mentioned it. So I gave him an unexpected gift. Her name was Ramen. I introduced her to him and they chatted for a while. Before I left, I gave John a hug and made my way to the bus stop. There was an African-American couple sitting next to the only seat, which I gingerly took. She was in her twenties, but he was much older and was the clappiest looking man I’d ever seen. Although he was sniffling and coughing, they were still pulling tongue and she had her hand around his dick which you could see clearly through his pants. You only needed one look. Their making out was making some serious slobbering noises that was making the Food Not Bombs vegetable medley do flips in my stomach. Then her phone rang. She said she had to get it in case it was her mamma. I could hear her wrestling the phone out of somewhere.
Then she started chastising the person who called her by yelling, “Why you talking crack on the phone.” Ain’t nobody supposed to be talking crack on this phone.” Then clappy coughed my way for the tenth time, so I got up and stood close to the front by the bus driver. I asked the driver if he ever got lost with a bus full of people and he said yes, when he first started. He said he found himself lost in a neighborhood of narrow streets and had the hardest time turning around after pulling in somebody’s driveway. He said the people who owned the home were sitting outside, and you should have seen their faces when that city bus full of angry people, who were all yelling directions, pulled up. So we had a good laugh. I told him thanks for his patience and hard work then jumped off at my stop.