When I arrived at Liberty Plaza last night, a little lost, trying to find my way around the Occupy Wall Street camp, the first thing I did was find the line for dinner. I was hungry. I had worked 13 hours that day, and needed to eat. I had heard that brilliant local chefs have volunteered to cook these fantastic meals for the protesters at the communal kitchen, so I lined up behind a guy who looked almost exactly like me: lost, a backback loaded up, a peaceful, accepting look on his face. And as we turned the corner, edging forward, we got our paper plates loaded with rice and lentils, soup bowls loaded up with a brilliant spicy stew, bread pudding, and apple sauce. All donated by supporters.
Eating, sitting on a curb in the park, I got to talking with the guy next to me; “Its my first night here. Where do you throw trash?” “You sleeping here?” “Yes,” I said, admitting I hadn’t brought a sleeping bag, not knowing how things were.
“Welcome brother.” A handshake. We kept eating. Everyone’s eyes said the same thing, “welcome brother,” not in a creepy cultish way but in that way people who have gathered together to change things say it with their eyes. Walking around the camp, my next step was to see if they had at least a pillow for me to use; at a distribution center for donated clothes and blankets, they handed me a fleece, rolled it up, and said, “This could make a good pillow, don’t you think?” It did, and it would.
I walked around, I joined in the people’s assembly discussions about representation; I browsed in the provisional library, set up in plastic bins–in which The Beat Reader and Noam Chomsky were marked as REFERENCE. Reference indeed–next to Whitman, as well. In a spontaneously gathered group on the steps, I sang Bob Dylan in a crowd with a famous singer who showed up to help out; more folk music flowed from his guitar. Everybody, it seems, had a guitar.
I found a shining granite bench to sleep on; I was getting tired, and almost all the ground-space was taken up by people camped in tents or under tarps. The wind was blowing. It was getting colder, but I needed sleep; so I set up my “pillow,” put on an extra layer under my jacket, put my gloves on, put my hood up, and curled up on the bench.
Nearly asleep, back turned on the “path” between other sleepers and protesters, I suddenly felt a blanket being placed over me. I looked up, gave a thumbs up and thanks, and she said, “Keep warm dude.” That thick donated blanket would keep me warm through the windy, 45 degree night. I’d awake in the morning to donated bagels, a cup of coffee, friendly directions to the subway, so I could get to work on time.
My night at the protest glows in my memory, sustains me; we were all cooperating; we were all, remarkably. generously supported by each other, and by all the unseen anonymous supporters who gave us food, blankets, books, time. A thousand strings of support seemed to stretch out from every moment I occupied the park. I think of my fellow protesters down there tonight, as it gets colder–as “family night” goes forward (kids are invited tonight to the camp).
As the sign says: no protest, this occupation is an affirmation of all that we can do for each other, an affirmation of the way things can be. You see somebody sleeping without a blanket; you find them one. You put it on them. You keep them warm. That’s how you occupy privatized public space, take it back.
When I return to do another night there, I’ll bring books, food, and some pillows for the next person who needs one.
- Spurgeon Thompson