Editors’ note: This piece originally appeared at Anarchy Isn’t Easy.
I didn’t think Occupy would accomplish anything when I first started working with the movement. I didn’t think it would last longer than a day. There were individual friendships but no group solidarity what-so-ever at any of those early meetings before September 17th 2011, and in many ways there still isn’t. We didn’t really start supporting one another and working together until the NYPD brutalized us into cohesion last fall and the truth of Occupy is that we consistently stop supporting one another and working together whenever the NYPD stop brutalizing us. The most frequent, consistent and symbolically violent attack made by Occupiers upon other Occupiers within this movement is the ironic demand to “check your privilege.” The concept of privilege as it is used in this phrase refers to the social advantages that certain straight white men enjoy over other individuals of other orientations, ethnicity and genders. This concept also automatically and incorrectly implies that straight white men necessarily oppress other people who are not straight, white and male in order to maintain their privilege. This concept further and even more erroneously and dangerously implies that people who are less privileged than straight white men are incapable of oppressing others precisely because they are oppressed themselves, as if straight white men are the only ones capable of oppression. This essay isn’t about the kind of caucasian, male, hetero-normative privilege that I am supposed to check as much as it is about how the check itself is oppressive and how it ironically prevents an actual redistribution of privilege from ever occurring.
The practice of calling out the privilege of, and demanding that straight, male caucasions step back and give others–that is non-straight, male caucasions–the chance to speak isn’t considered and defined as divisive, exclusionary, let alone as discriminatory within Occupy due to the seemingly widely shared agreement within the movement that “reverse-racism,” or more descriptively perhaps, reverse-discrimination doesn’t exist: a myth which enables those without privilege to use their voice within Occupy to silence the voices of those who are perceived as possessing more privilege as if this’ll somehow enable the voices of those who are more marginalized to be better heard. A privilege check isn’t really a demand to be silent as much as it is a demand for a masochistic confession of guilt from the privileged so that the oppressed might momentarily reverse the hierarchy of oppression and egotistically experience what Nietzsche called the “pleasure of mastery” via “the pleasure of violation.” The chatter of the confession, however ironically, ensures that privileged occupiers wind up speaking more than marginalized occupiers if the bait is swallowed.
My objective however isn’t to argue that discrimination against those who are perceived to benefit from conventional discrimination is still discrimination, or even that occupiers checking each other’s privilege is bitterly prejudicial not to mention discriminatory, as much as it is to argue that privilege checks are an unfortunate, redundant, counterproductive, self-defeating waste of collective time, energy and sacrifice. Devoting all of my time, energy, material resources, and commodifiable skills towards an advertising career, finishing my research and PhD, and/or charming my way into some rich girl’s family would’ve been a more reliable way to have furthered my own privilege compared to working with Occupy over the past twenty-two months. I’ve knowingly ruined my chances at any sort of career in spite of the fact that I’m drowning in student, medical, credit-card debt and IRS. I’ve made a generous sacrifice of blood for the movement last summer in Chicago and I’ve sacrificed a digital strategy job and therefore my home for the past eight years as well I fear in order to work with Greenpeace this summer. I have checked my privilege, my social advantages over and over again.
I’m Oneida according to my mother who I lived with during the school week. A direct descendent of the rouge tribe of the Iroquois Confederacy who had been practicing democracy in America long before it ever became the United States of America. The Oneida are perhaps best known for keeping George Washington and his army from dying of starvation at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-1778. They were attacked by the rest of the Iroquois after the Revolutionary War ended, Washington set aside some land for them which was encroached upon in subsequent generations, and many of them moved to a reservation in Wisconsin, and from there into the racial ghettos of the city of Milwaukee, from which my family managed to move into a working class suburb of Polish-Americans which prided itself on educating some of it’s children into middle-class workers. The white people of this town neither perceived, nor treated me as white. They would tell me I was Indian as their sadistic children harassed and attacked me in one way or another on what seemed like a daily basis. They knew I was Indian (as opposed to Oneida) because I tried to learn the language, a traditional pow-wow dance style and lacrosse in order to fit in with the sadistic children from the rest and the Indian Community of Milwaukee who would tell me I was white when they attacked and harassed me.
Racially oppressed people of all varieties can and do oppress other people precisely in order to feel less oppressed themselves via ‘the pleasure of violation’ and racial oppression, much like rape, is something which unfortunately occurs between friends, family, and acquaintances more so than total strangers. The police used to beat my step-father long before I became his first son and they would needlessly search through his car and question him in front of his children even after he got too old for beatings. He used to call me “Casper the Friendly Ghost” because of how white my skin is. My mother recalls deliberately ignoring the way he would deliberately neglect to give me anything to eat, not because he hated me or was consciously trying to punish me but because he loved me and because shit always rolls down-hill after it’s been eaten recycled. He would grab my head and fart in my face so often that I grew up under the impression that this was socially acceptable.
The means of oppression in my father’s house on the weekends with him, my stepmother and the gay artist she had been married to before he had died of the AIDS virus was a bit less complicated and tended to revolve around spoiling and guilt, privilege indeed more so than neglect and degradation.
I was but I wasn’t Oneida in my father’s house, just like I was and wasn’t Oneida in my mother’s house. I’m too Oneida to ever be white but too white to ever be Oneida. My mother tells me that things have changed and that Oneidas look like whites, African-Americans, Hispanics and even Asian folks these days but my identity will never be acknowledged in the minds of world that can’t think about American Indians without also thinking about head-dresses and whooping calls, and this unfortunately, ironically, includes the #OWS community of NYC, which of course prides itself on combating such ignorance. Being told to check my privilege or to step back and let someone else speak up after throwing on a suit and challenging stereotypes on MSNBC or Fox reminded me of being harassed by Indians at weekend pow-wows even though challenging stereotypes about Indians was something I had to do daily at school.
I wouldn’t have joined Occupy in the first place had I not already been painfully aware, not only of the vast inequities in the distribution of wealth and privilege but also how these inequities ruin the chances of every individual in this society from living out their specific version of a fulfilling life. My critical consciousness and awareness of privilege and oppression is far more advanced than that of anyone in this movement morally sadistic enough to demand anyone else to check their privilege and I am far too outraged to patiently elucidate the ironies of oppression to the hypocrites of this movement, even though I know that I must rise above my rage in order to truly be a change that I would like to see. Anyone who has come to Occupy to listen and to be listened to has effectively engaged in a privilege checking process by virtue of collective participation itself, and any demands made on that individual by another individual to check their privilege while in midst of collective processes is essentially the same thing as halting the movement of the whole heard so as to beat a once lame dead horse.
The first time I was publicly told to check my privilege wasn’t because I talked about Occupy on a few cable news networks but because I found and reported that well over 70% of the followers on occupywallst.org were white/Caucasian and I’ve since seen the same trend not only on follow up surveys on st.org but also on peoplebrowsr gender breakdowns of all the big Occupy twitter hashtags. All the pages and channels I have access to, including Facebook Insights and YouTube analytics, confirm the same trend, and all of this raises an important question relevant to a critical discussion of privilege in Occupy Wall Street. Who is Occupy Wall Street? The individuals who work within the movement and who represent spectra of genders, ethnicities, ages, sexual orientations, and educational experiences and political intentions? Or is it the people who consume the news we produce because they want to know what we have to say? They appear to be overwhelmingly single, heterosexual, white, angry males who can’t earn enough to pay off all of their debts like white males are supposed to be able to.
The answer to this question hardly seems to matter however given that both groups should at least in theory be working together if this truly is a movement of the 99%. Telling predominantly white males, assumingly educated enough to know about privilege, and likely single precisely because they’re broke and in debt that they should check their privilege will only alienate them away from the movement, make it smaller, weaker, slower and prevent the sharing of privilege, or a flow of mutual empowerment from occurring between individuals which in turn will not create any kind of social movement capable of creating the massive redistribution of wealth necessary to abolish the inequalities in privilege by distributing ever more of it to those who have need of it.
When viewed through the wall of your soaking tent, every flashing light looks like a
police raid. Every accelerating truck engine on the street a few dozen feet away
sounds like a bulldozer heading your way.
This is the second night like this at McPherson Square in recent weeks, with Occupy
DC’s “de-escalators” keeping an eye out from the perimeter and the Occupiers in
their tents listening with nervousness and dread.
The last time was a few days before Christmas. After a large, drunk, tank-shaped
ruffian kicked an arresting cop in the balls and left him puking in the street, the
camp buzzed with the rumor: Tonight’s the night we get raided.
For veterans of Zuccotti Park, Oakland, U.C. Davis and dozens of other Occupations
across the country, the conditions seemed right: wet, cold, dark, and cops had been
humiliated; it was now personal. Word was that it would happen around 3am.
On that night, our number included Occupy DC’s ambassador of goodwill, a
pipe-smoking man of substantial age who has lived in this park for years, who sits
in a prominent spot and greets every passerby with “Happy Holidays and Happy New
Year!” There’s a guy here who’s got a petition with 1776 signatures that he hopes
will get him–and his waist-length dreads–into the Coast Guard. A genial 50-year-old
unemployed laborer/short-order cook from Tennessee who calls everybody “brother.” A
40-year-old Deadhead who says that this is the best living situation he’s ever had;
he says he’s clueless about the political aspects of this venture, but if he’s truly
lived on the street for as long as he says, perhaps he has a clue even if he doesn’t
A former journalist who had stopped by regularly to donate food and blankets, I set
up a tent in early December in response to a friendly challenge from a few
Occupiers–“What else do we need? How about your body?”–who encouraged me to sleep
here as many nights as I could, even if I had to leave to go to work most mornings.
Elsewhere in the park there’s a working journalist who’s been here since October 1,
the first day of this Occupation. He’s here for the stories, sleeping here because
it gives him access that other media types don’t have, and because of the high price
of hotels in DC. I’m here for the most unprofessional of reasons: to experience
grassroots democracy in action.
I have long wondered if the people of this country would forever sit passively by
and watch our hard-earned gains in the direction of decency and humanity be reversed
by the Republicans (aided by weasel Democrats), watch as the clock is turned back to
the dark ages of crony capitalism. This group is trying to do something about that.
Sleep for many of us never did come that night in December, but neither did the
police. It was one of very few blessings that brutally cold holiday season brought;
the weather was about to take an even more drastic dip, one that would cost us some
There are those who say the movement is incoherent. In a way, I can see the
point–the causes cited by Occupiers are myriad, and it’s not being packaged in those
convenient little soundbites that media talking heads prefer. But if you actually
think about it, my erstwhile colleagues–employing your own brain cells instead of
your tendency to lazily regurgitate–it becomes obvious why that’s the case. With so
many powerful people dedicating so much time to screwing up this country for their
own narrow benefit, the fact that one can’t simply hand over a concise statement of
purpose to cover it, says far more about the size of the problem than about those
trying courageously to begin to correct it.
Some say the movement is too inclusive for its own good, that those hangers-on who
aren’t here for a specific political reason need to be booted. But how can you kick
out the already marginalized, many of whom have things to teach you about surviving
in a hostile environment?
Among the hundreds of people who have come to watch the circus, many have clearly
joined it, at least in spirit. A steady stream of messages from the street tell us
how the revolution looks from there.
“Thank you for doing this for all of us. What can we do for you?” A carload of
elderly women stopped at the light close to my tent.
“God bless you from the rest of us. Don’t lose hope; you’re making history.” A
middle-aged Hispanic man, through the window of a battered pickup, to a chorus of
honking horns behind him.
“Go home, hippies. Get a job, dirty commies.” A series of SUVs and sports cars
barreling down 15th street.
If volume is the measure, the wingnuts win; one of their favorite tactics is to park
close by at 3am and blow their horns nonstop to keep us from sleep.
One of the more blatant hypocrisies I’ve heard is “Give us back our park!” I used to
work across the street, so I know that the main users of this park before October 1
were the homeless and the rats–and both are still here.
Tonight, the rumors fly again, probably with more reason this time: On Friday, the
Park Police, our nemesis/defender, apparently caving to pressure from a rabidly
partisan neocon congressman from California, issued an ominous warning: after noon
today, they will start enforcing the “no camping” rule. Nobody’s sure precisely what
form that enforcement will take, but it involves potentially arresting those
“sleeping or preparing to sleep.”
Once again, we wait. Will the dreaded crackdown come, and if so, what will happen to
my friends and neighbors who are unlucky enough to have no other place to go?
-Story and Image by Jehovah Jones-]]>
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.
The following is an open farewell letter to my local Occupy movement.
An open letter to Occupy Medford:
Before Occupy, I spent countless hours dreaming of being involved in helping to change our country. At times I thought in extremist absolutes about how to make that happen. At other times, my trains of thought were more humble. But in the end, these revolutionary theories were just words and I was coming to realize that unless I did something, anything, that my words were worthless. So I started to look for something locally that I could volunteer for and support. And that’s when Occupy happened.
I initially saw Occupy very differently. Another protest, another cause… another group of well intended people holding cardboard signs at people on their way to work. Of course, I was wrong. Whether it was the tactical beauty of a 24/7 protest or just an energy that had been building in people over the last few years, Occupy spread like fire from New York across the country. Within two months protests and encampments could be found all around the world.
From afar I watched and read news coverage of hundreds of protests, all crying out for change. Up close I participated in local protests, marches, the port shutdown, etc., and knew these events were replaying themselves all over the country. In the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings, with thousands participating and millions sympathizing, I thought our country was in for a drastic and sudden paradigm shift.
As Occupy Medford started, either by luck or ability or both, I found myself becoming a facilitator and an organizer. Suddenly I was running meetings, planning and attending protests, writing press releases, and giving interviews. Simultaneously I had just started a new full time job and was finishing my associates degree. Needless to say, it was a hectic first few months. Of course, I didn’t do any of it by myself. But despite the time crunch and not always knowing what to do or what to say, I loved every minute of it.
But it has barely been six months and Occupy has slowed down. It’s impossible to say exactly why Occupy hasn’t been able to maintain its momentum. I think there were a few factors involved. Occupy lost almost all of its permanent encampments, decreasing visibility and synergy between protesters. Organization and rules for a direct democracy movement became a tiring process for a lot of people. After all, we aren’t used to all having a say and a voice; usually we have the “luxury” of leaving that up to someone else. And there was always the question of goals. Of course the corporate owned media was wrong on this and always detrimental as a whole to the movement. Occupy always did have clearly-stated goals. We just had a lot of them, and it was hard to narrow them down enough to bring focus. But regardless of what happened, it’s very clear that Occupy looks a lot different today than it did just a few short months ago.
As I’m getting ready to move, and having scaled back on my involvement in our local Occupy movement, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on Occupy. What have we accomplished and where does it go from here? And in between old feelings of overwhelming optimism and now some lingering pessimism, I’ve reached a personally satisfying answer for now: Occupy has and will continue to change the world.
To have a meaningful revolution, we need a society that is educated and self-aware and treats its citizens with respect and compassion. Without this kind of revolution, all we are doing is temporarily changing the power structure. I think that working toward fundamental change is exactly what Occupy has helped do. Thousands of older generation activists have been able to get new energy and momentum; thousands of young people have been changed in some way by this movement. By becoming more involved in both Occupy and the dozens of other work groups, campaigns, and social causes affiliated with it, Occupiers are helping to change the world. In this light, Occupy has already won.
Occupy Medford and the people in it have definitely changed me and have given me the direction and the voice I was looking for. It showed me that my generation is capable of mobilizing, of giving of ourselves and recognizing that we can change things, even if only a little bit. As a whole, and as individuals, if we can continue to do that, by occupying, by protesting, by organizing, or by volunteering: then we will change the world.
Thank you Occupy Medford…
No journalists, no television, no microphones—only their voices and faces.
These portraits bear witness to the beginning of Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park. They regard dreamers who believe in an idea.
No one could have imagined that in the space of a few weeks, those involved in Occupy Wall Street would have entered people’s homes all over the world through newspapers and television.
—Daniele Corsini, photographer
The now infamous yellow Occupy Wall Street banner, designed to replicate caution tape hangs high and proud over a group of occupiers. Pillows, blankets, brothers and sisters converge under its framework. Telling stories of the long winter, countless hours spent laying the groundwork for what is set to be a monumental spring, our humble beginnings in lower Manhattan and how much farther we must travel on our journey. Food donations have already begun pouring in only reinforcing that feeling of nostalgia. The spirit of the Occupy Movement that seemed all but lost not long ago has burst back to life since the six-month anniversary and subsequent raid. It feels like coming home.
In speaking with some friends I learn that OWS has once again found ourselves a loophole. We are quite resourceful for “dirty hippies”. Our latest occupation, now in day three, is allowed to stay for some very interesting reasons. Union Square Park is patrolled by Park Rangers or Parks Enforcement Officers during hours of operation. This means the police have no jurisdiction over the park unless Park Rangers call them in to handle a situation AFTER the park closes at midnight. Ironically, the exterior of the park, where we have set up camp, is mandated to remain open 24 hours as a major subway station is located in the square. However, the NYPD can’t enforce anything other than open flame/noise violations or the congregation of more than 25 people having a single conversation (thank you NDAA ) because the Park Rangers go off duty at midnight. It’s almost poetic justice. As I continue to scan the perimeter I see a few “white shirts” and the occasional patrol officer but as before they remain removed. No barricades or wrist band clad monsters lurking, not a single mainstream media source in sight.
As the evening continued rather than the numbers dwindling, the crowd seemed to have increased, spreading itself out along the south side of the square, mindful to remain in small groups to protect the occupation. We played sports, sang, danced—spring training in full effect. Sidewalk chalk turned the once gray paving stones of Union Square into a canvas reminiscent of just a few days earlier in our “starter home” as remnants of the once sprawling OWS Library are set up on a staircase. Six months and two evictions later it seems we have a new place to call Occupied.
A relatively uneventful evening progressed at the new home of Occupy Wall Street and I decided it was time for me to depart. I had to work very early but promised friends, old and new, I would be back tomorrow. My faith in Occupy and my brothers and sisters continues to be renewed with each action I attend. As I sat down on the subway for my short trip back to Brooklyn a smile comes across my face. I take a huge bite from my fresh boston crème donut, courtesy of The Peoples Kitchen and hum to myself, “this occupation is not leaving!”
It has been a long strenuous battle for Occupy Tucson with the City of Tucson to establish a hub on public land in order to practice freedom of speech and assembly. What started off as a series of ticket writing sessions and named ticket time stacked up to over eight hundred tickets in a matter of three months, became an unquestionable win from a group of people that held strong to their rights and belief that one person can make a difference.
Occupy Tucson began as a handful of people (Sky Napier, Michael Migliore, Jon McLane, Craig Barber) developing a Facebook page and picking a place to host the first Occupy Tucson General Assembly. There were two General Assembly meetings, hosting over three hundred people combined, to decide to commence a twenty four hour on-going occupation (encampment) on Oct. 15th, 2011 at Armory Park. The first day at Armory Park there were over twelve hundred people that participated in the occupation. That evening the Chief of Police Villasenor went to Armory Park and let everyone in attendance know that they would be arrested if they were in the park after 10:30pm. Several left upon receiving that news. But, there were fifty individuals that decided to continue the encampment, and lined up to be arrested and released with a $1,000 citation.
On Oct. 28th, 2011 Occupy Tucson established 2 other occupation sites; Veinte De Agosto Park, and Joel Valdez Library Grounds. The encampment continued at Armory Park until Nov. 4th 2011, when the Tucson Police Department told Occupy Tucson that anyone or anything found in Armory or Library park would be arrested and detained. Upon receiving that news Occupy Tucson had Armory Park completely cleared and cleaned within two hours. The twenty four hour encampment continued, even under stressful situations, and continued to feed people by the thousands all while educating the community on the flaws in our system.
Occupy encampments were being shut down all over the United States, and Occupy Tucson was one of the only ones standing. Then came Dec. 21st, 2011, the day that T.P.D. finally said, “Anything or anyone found in any park after dark will be arrested.” The one-time working group of Occupy Tucson Occupy Public Land (OPL) saw the writing on the wall that this would happen, and even had a good line on Dec. 21st being the date. So, luckily for Occupy Tucson there was a back-up plan. OPL applied for a park permit on Dec. 9th, and researched the sidewalk laws as a back-up to that. OPL knew the permit would not go through in time so they set-up on the sidewalk outside of Veinte de Agosto Park on Dec. 15th, and were uninterrupted when the park was raided.
Occupy Tucson and Occupy Public Land continued to reside on the sidewalk outside of Veinte de Agosto Park for the next month and a half, until Feb. 2nd, 2012 when Occupy Tucson set-up tents and a full operating encampment on the sidewalk outside of De Anza Park. Occupy Tucson has held the longest ongoing encampment in the nation, and now is in a position that they can continue to deliver their message without the fear of having their rights violated.
*On Feb. 5th, 2012 Occupy Public Land began working with #OccupyPhoenix in developing a strategy to recreate a twenty four hour encampment in the valley. The template has been created in Tucson, and the Phoenix Metro area is full of cities that have a lot of public land that can be occupied.]]>
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]]>
I wandered in and stood around for just a minute before a young guy sitting pretty far away, all bundled and hooded for the cold snap, spoke up with “Happy New Year’s Eve,” flashing a huge grin. He was hanging out with a guy playing guitar and a bunch of people listening, typing, blowing on their hands. I walked over and when the song ended, started talking to the guy still smiling. Maybe you know him? A super sweet kid named Frankie. He’s just 21 and joined the occupy movement when he was sitting at home watching the march over the Brooklyn Bridge on the news. He said he nudged his little brother, said “Watch this,” then ran out of the house to join.
Frankie and I talked for a while in the atrium. I ended up giving him the food I brought and he took it over to where people were gathering. We hung out for a few hours, first looking up numbers for shelters (and WIC and other assistance) for the woman outside, then we went for a walk so he could show me other OWS sites. We went to SIS–Shipping, Inventory, and Storage. I was a little self-conscious about blundering through OWS admin work or whatever, but it being Christmas Eve and Frankie being so warm and winning, it felt like a minor worry. We met some other people just walking around and then made it to SIS where he introduced me to Nick and Nick. I ended up hanging out with them a little, hearing their stories of getting to New York. One of the Nicks was a Marine vet who’d been passing through on his bicycle and decided to stay. Really nice guys. There was a lot of talk about family and Christmas and a little talk about the frustrations they had with the OWS protocols — mostly telling stories about big personalities that broke rules / caused problems.
After they closed SIS, they took me for pbr at Charlie’s Place, I think it was called. It was a short walk, but very, very good to get out of the cold again. At 60 Wall St. earlier, Frankie and I had taken turns closing the doors on either side of the atrium because the cops kept propping them open. Fucking annoying. I was exhausted at the end of a few hours and can’t even imagine how people who are also staying in shelters, like Frankie, feel — but even with all of the short, antagonistic bickering I saw, one still peeled off to join for the beer; and one of the Nick’s offered food to another right after a confrontation. The coolest thing was hearing each of them talk, warmed up by beer, about still being deeply committed to the whole, no matter how stupid the problems. I really can’t wait to see these people again.
Anyway, watching the government give up billions and trillions of taxpayer dollars to the very people who had screwed us in the first place, I fucking lost it. I lost my faith in dissent, in people, in the solidarity of mass protest … What could I do? I was just some guy with three wimpy signs in his yard— and it rained constantly, drooping the cardboard until you could no longer read my short stab at the government, blindly swiping at big business, mega-banks and the auto industry. And there were the airlines and a morbidly obese defense budget slaughtering people all over the world in the name of democracy and commerce to boot, too, but that was old hat by then— it’d been done for so long people didn’t know any different. It seemed like no one cared enough to scream and shout anymore. A dissenting voice to the Great Bail-Outs of the 21st century was nowhere to be found.
“We’re behind enemy lines, man!” I’d tell my wife. “Jesus… no one gives a shit! If this doesn’t get people in the streets, what the fuck will?” She’d shrug and we’d eat dinner with the kids. “Eat your fucking rice,” we’d say. “Good fucking beans.”
“SHIT, MOM!” my oldest son would yell. “THE GODDAMN BANKS ARE STEALING MY FUTURE! ASSHOLES!”
“No b-word at the dinner table,” my wife and I would scold him. “You know how we hate that fucking word.”
This is the caricaturized domestic life of a man who was not censored, who grew up memorizing late-night comedy routines on cable, who rolled and cried with bellyaches on the floor at George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy till his mother came home drunk from the bar and would lay down the most basic of life’s lessons— “Tell the truth,” she’d say. “Your life will be a lot easier.” So, I gave myself permission to express myself however the hell I pleased, like those funny people on cable, as long as I was honest, as long as it was the truth and sincere, and as long as the heart was involved.
A year floundered by and the world continued to stink, spin, and spew on down the line. Sure, there were puppies who found homes, bake sales were held. There’s a different colored ribbon for every f-ing cause under the sun. But anyway, a year went by, and in that time my wife and I purchased our first home.
“Put these fucking boxes in that room, and put those fucking boxes in this room,” we told the kids— even our toddler.
“DAMN IT, MOM! OUR GOD DAMN MORTGAGE IS FUCKED!” our eldest son yelled, storming off for the boxes, which our youngest echoed in tearing off his diaper, bending over and shaking his ass in the air.
Our mortgage was not fucked. It was quite fucking good, actually, but by then the media had crop-dusted so many Aqua Net politicians across the news, proclaiming and analyzing fault with the housing market, that our son began parroting all that b.s. back at us. “VARIABLE INTEREST RATES ARE STEALING OUR JOBS FOR CHRIST’S SAKE!” There was no real need to explain it all to an eight-year-old, but a good mortgage didn’t matter so much in the end anyway, either. He might as well have been right. Two years later, my wife lost one of her jobs, and the jobs we had left started providing less work. “THOSE DOUCHE BAGS ARE RUINING EDUCATION! CHILDREN ARE OUR FUTURE!” My oldest yelled again from behind the boxes, helping his little brother learn how to flip the bird—a prediction we agreed with long before.
By then, the whole country had its legs straight up in the air; my household’s income dropped by 75% soon after.
“This shit is all over the world!” I’d shake my head at my wife.
“Yeah, it’s disgusting,” she’d agree, shaking her head, too.
Then one afternoon, pissing away some time on the computer, avoiding discussions in my online classes and working on a novel that’s been ready for a final edit for months now, I came across the Occupy Wall St. movement.
“Some people are camping out in the middle of New York for a protest,” I told my wife.
“In the fucking city.” “Really?” she said. “What for?”
What for is old news now, but that afternoon I was still in my pajamas, still bleary-eyed and willing down a cup of coffee, waiting for it to shock the monkey back to the steering wheel, when this strange protest— this camping protest that had been going on for a little more than a week by then, with no immediate plans to stop— woke me right up, like I pissed myself ice-fishing or something— a sudden, exciting chill grabbed me and shook me around feverishly. “This shit is interesting!” I said, turning to find an empty room, my wife evidently somewhere else.
I’d been interested in counter-culture movements for years. It was always what I considered my passionate hobby reading— mostly 60’s revolutionary swag. I read a lot of books about (and by) a number of Black Panthers. I read a fair amount on the White Panthers, too, and a whole slew of bio books on different 60’s rock groups. I came across AIM at some point, and the Weather Underground, the Motherfuckers and the Yippies, which all came naturally after my earlier interest in the existential Beats, the Wobblies, the Diggers. My father is a musician and my mother’s a medicine woman; I’m Irish and Eastern Cherokee. My grandpa was a junk man and his brothers were hobos who used to fish for chickens from an old shack along the Flat River— I’m primed for this shit, and my wife knows it. Hell, I didn’t even mention Che Guevara, Martin, Malcolm, and Means…
For three or four days and nights I couldn’t work, I couldn’t sleep. Every few minutes I was back on the computer rummaging around the Internet for more news and developments about the movement. “Holy fuck!” I’d blurt out now and then. After a while, my wife didn’t even respond. I had to come up with something else to get her attention. “Holy fuck!” no longer did it. I combed every social website I could think of looking for Occupy Wall St. news, marveling at how fast it spread, and how far! Hell, it had already reached New Zealand! People were talking! Online, that is; mostly online, and I followed. I made it my personal duty to help the various Occupy pages stay connected, shuffling through the various sites obsessively, doing anything I could to feel part of it, helping to spread the information and solidarity.
And then BAM!— 700 people were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge. Watching the footage, my mouth fell open like a rockslide. I shook with a chill that went from my nuts to my chin and all down my spine. An involuntary grin pulled itself up from out of nowhere and put a gleam in my eyes— that wild spark that always makes my wife look at me as if my name is Willis, still pushing Different Strokes after all these years: she sees a scheme in my smile and deflects it with a prudent smirk that makes her squint her eyes slightly.
“Look at this shit!” I told her, pulling her away from her own online classes.
“They arrested 700?” she said, “What the fuck?” ”They kept chanting, ‘THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING! THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING!’ and ‘SHAME! SHAME! SHAME!’ at the police! I have to go!” I told her. “You know me; I’ve talked about this for years! I have to go … It gave me chills just watching it. I have to do this!”
Then I said, “Holy fuck!” again, because I knew that this time I meant it. This time, I saw something I felt instinctually different about. The energy and approach of it all was too high. Liberty Park was constant high noon; it was a line in the sand. Camping out in front of the White House had been something I’d ranted about for years. “I should just take a fucking tent and go set it up right outside that damn place,” I’d say, coming out of the bathroom, tightening my bathrobe, running my hands through my hair, checking for thin spots. “What the fuck have people got to lose?” But camping out to take over Wall St. made even more sense than D.C. You’ve got to show up on the doorstep of power, and OWS had its finger on the bell from the beginning.
But, primed as I was for a more liberal outlook on life, I still gave myself a cushy excuse for inaction. My claim: I didn’t know where to start, how to get involved in a way that makes you feel like you’re making a difference, that you’re not just some asshole pissing away his time when he should be at home, showing the kids how to swear in new and interesting ways so they can really wow their friends on the playground and around the daycare. Those old Andrew Dice Clay rhymes don’t cut it anymore, trust me. Ya, hear? So, recognizing where and how-the-fuck to start can be a catalyst for major change in the way a guy like me lives his life. It can help lend enough direction to spark continuous action— a lifetime of it!
When I saw Occupy Wall St., I knew; I just knew, right from that first sleeping bag unrolled in the name of freedom and democracy— I was Occupy through and through. Suddenly, I had a location and a purpose. I had the interest, the motivation, and I begged, borrowed, and scrounged for the money to get to Liberty Park. The arrow had been released.
Before I left, I called up my cousin and said, “You want to go to New York for a protest?” and he said, “Why, hell yes!” He had to sell a deer rifle to do it. We left two days later, having assembled funds and donations from a handful of kind souls in the local community.
As we drove east on I-80, facing a good twelve hours of driving into the night, I wondered what would be in store for my cousin and I, whether we would be beaten, arrested, or both; whether we would get separated and whether we would be able to find our way back to each other; where we would sleep, use the bathroom and shower … Having gotten a late start, the sun was well above as the wheels spurned us forward. In my head was rock and roll; every movement I’d ever studied; every revolutionary I’d ever had the honor to meet and speak with, learn from; and the last protest I’d been a part of—the sky gray above the land, old WWII bombers circling and roaring in the rain, fake bombs bursting in the mud around me— the lone person who saw fit to call foul on celebrating Brig. Gen. Paul W. Tibbets’ presence at the local air festival in order to raise ticket sales— a festival that has since collapsed.
My sign read, “F the A BOMB!” and “THE A BOMB IS NOT CELEBRITY!” Both sides were printed over large orange mushroom clouds I’d painted days before, and stood out against the darkness like a sudden torch in the metallic gloom.
-Dylan Hock –