New York, NY–As we approach the one year anniversary of the birth of Occupy Wall Street (which inspired my recent personal transformation) followed by my own birthday just a few days later, I am seeking your support. There are many ways to help the movement at large or assist me specifically in facilitating the projects I am about to mention. Moral support and encouragement from family, friends and sympathizers is always welcome of course, but additional needs include: web designers, cooks, legal advisers, transportation assistance, food and beverage donations, housing options for visiting Occupiers, teachers, farmers, concerned parents (and for me, quite possibly a therapist), and the list doesn’t end there. The part I hate the most, though, and what makes me the most uncomfortable, is asking for financial donations. In order to truly build the world in which we want we want to live, we have to erect bridges over the obstacles of money and business as usual. Until then, here in the western world, we must wade through the river of capitalist crap.
This is the story of my journey, and an introduction to some things I’m doing that I feel are important. Links to donation pages are listed at the end. I hope you enjoy.
Over the past few years the need to reform our way of life has increasingly become apparent to a growing number of people worldwide. For me, events such as the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, rampant wildfires throughout the US, and fracking that causes earthquakes and flammable water, just to name a few, have generated feelings of fear, despair, rage, sorrow, misery and hopelessness. Not to mention a government that completely shields the wrongdoers from any repercussions and wages wars without our consent in order to protect the interests of a destructive system. It’s been clear to me from a very early age that our dependence on non-renewable energy would have to change one day, and I have passively “supported” reform, basically just giving lip-service to a progressive idea of change and the liberal agenda for decades. Obviously, that attitude does not actually serve a greater good.
This realization resulted in a drastic personal evolution of my world-view and compelled me to act on these concerns in ways I’ve never previously had the desire to do. I know that there have been others screaming about our self-destruction for longer than I’ve even been alive, but I’m a slow learner and I’ve allowed myself to be sedated by the industrial “info-tainment” complex. That is no excuse for my lack of action, but I am trying to find ways to help now. I’ve had my share of personal successes and failures in life, leading a more or less comfortable existence, and therefore have remained complacent (and complicit?). Last year, though, when I witnessed innocent young people, right here in New York City, brutalized and arrested just for publicly stating that they believed our world was in peril and that they wanted there to be a better tomorrow, it triggered in me an uncontrollable desire to help. This is something I hadn’t ever encountered before and I didn’t know how to start, so I went to investigate what these kids were doing in Liberty Plaza (Zuccotti Park), and found at least a sliver of hope in the bravery of these young’uns.
I also found out it wasn’t just kids. The people I met in OWS included all ages, all races, all religions (and, like me, non-religious types), every kind of political philosophy, every gender identity you could imagine, the homeless and hungry, union workers and veterans, a retired police captain, middle class and poor, even some sympathetic 1%ers (though many in the movement were not ready to accept the inclusion of the bourgeois). Each of these people independently came to realize that, as the slogan goes, “Shit’s fucked up, AND bullshit!” Thousands upon thousands of people kept showing up. Occupy spread nationally and globally and a network has since formed that isn’t going anywhere. Queue another chant: “ONE- we are the people! TWO- we are united! THREE- this Occupation is not leaving!”
I was fortunate enough at the time to have a schedule that allowed me three days a week to join the protests. And I did that for a while, but it wasn’t enough to just stand in public space for me, so I kept trying to find a way to utilize my (very narrow) skill set to actually benefit this growing movement. I learned some of the techniques of Outreach and Facilitation that the activists preached so much about, but I wasn’t well suited to these tasks. It was an education, for sure, but I wasn’t very confident in my abilities, so I continued to seek ways to plug in that I felt would be a substantive contribution.
This is when I began to volunteer for the Kitchen Working Group of Occupy Wall Street. My professional experience, after all, has always been in the food and beverage industry. For six months I helped organize volunteers in a donated professional kitchen Monday through Wednesday, then I worked my “real” job tending bar Thursday through Sunday. Over time my “real” job became secondary and I found myself yearning to be back in the kitchen cooking for OWS all the time because that’s where I felt the most useful. I was recently asked why I don’t cook professionally here in New York, to which I replied without even thinking “Cooks don’t get paid enough in this town.” After a pause I added defiantly, “And since they can’t pay me enough to cook professionally I’ll just give my skills away for free!” It was a joke, but it resonated with me because I increasingly found that my happiest place was cooking for scores of strangers who were each in turn trying to build a brighter future.
Recruiting volunteers was difficult at first, but little by little we built a team of regulars and continued to get more and more efficient over time. We prepared food for hundreds of activists and protesters in the park every day, and then, after the eviction, wherever the Occupation ended up each day. We even fed over two thousand people on Thanksgiving Day, two days after being violently forced from our peaceful encampment, and it was so moving! Over the winter we moved our operation indoors, serving our buffet on Wall Street proper. It felt like we were giving “the man” the stiff middle finger every time we delivered our donated bounty to the atrium at 60 Wall, or on the steps of the Federal building. This was real to me; every day tangible results, and I worked myself to exhaustion before I discovered this was not sustainable for me nor for the movement.
It was only 8 miles from the kitchen in East New York, Brooklyn to the park in the Financial District of Manhattan, but driving in this town is ridiculous and the roads are not designed for the volume of traffic that regularly traverses the region, so 8 miles often took an hour to navigate, especially at 5 in the afternoon. It was during these trips we discussed and planned much of what I am working on now.
I took a break after May Day (an enormous action feeding thousands over the course of the day all over Manhattan), as did many of the volunteers responsible for the daily feedings. Since then I have been working on ways to sustainably support not just the movement, but the world. What follows are the projects I am working on both for OWS specifically and for a broader more long term solutions-based model. There are many challenges I face in pursuit of these projects while simultaneously maintaining full time employment, so I am going to do something I’m not very good at. I am going to ask for your help.
The first, and most immediate project, is the planning for the one year anniversary of the occupation of Liberty Plaza. This is a series of actions and protests leading up to a re-convergence on Wall Street on Monday the 17th of September. I am assisting in the coordination of feeding thousands of visitors from around the country (and perhaps the world) who will be joining us for the weekend leading up to our birthday march on Wall St. This is going to require an enormous volunteer labor force, and a great deal of production time between now and then. Our goal is to feed about 1500 people twice a day for three days.
Secondly, I have also been working on Occupalooza/Occupicnic (a big free concert and information expo for the 99%) with one of our primary kitchen delivery drivers and a few others for months now (the idea gaining form in those long drives to Zuccotti). We, admittedly, were wide eyed when we began the planning of the event, and expected much more support from our fellow Occupants, but since then we have learned a great deal and will continue pursuing this event by building up to it with a series of small fundraisers and festivals. Below is an overview form our website, www.occupalooza/occupicnic.
The purpose of Occupalooza/Occupicnic is to demystify the OWS movement, to broaden our outreach and to demonstrate the importance of standing together in unity. We aim to create better opportunities for people who have suffered the injustices of greed and poverty.
We will represent the Vision and Goals and the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City under the Occupy umbrella with the following themes: Occupy Peace, Food, Health, Knowledge, Environment, Ethics, and Liberty.
The final project I want to mention, the one most most directly related to my kitchen work with Occupy as well as my professional life experience (also the one closest to my heart), is a non-profit community center/restaurant/event space. This idea represents exactly what I want to see in our society, and will quite possibly be occupying my time for years to come. It is an idea that will be of lasting benefit to all people, not just activist and organizers, but whole communities. We call it Public Domain:
Our mission is to nourish body and mind by establishing a venue, open to all, where people can safely and comfortably gather, dine and work together, while sharing knowledge and incubating community based projects.
We serve this mission by pursuing the following goals:
(a) To establish member owned and operated multi-use facilities focused on community building, conversation and education, where delicious and healthful food is served on a donation basis. The food we serve emphasizes organic, locally grown, unprocessed ingredients supporting local farmers and promoting a healthy well informed population.
(b) To nurture a more equitable society by establishing a solidarity economy based on principles of mutual aid, sustainability and environmental justice. All decisions will be made in accordance with a non-hierarchical cooperative model outlined in the bylaws of the organization.
(c) To reform patterns of food production, distribution and consumption in New York City and beyond. We will feed people in need, reduces waste in the food industry, create volunteer and employment opportunities, as well as provide a venue for skill-sharing workshops and education about food and food industry related issues.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Your support means a great deal to me.
DONATE TO ME HERE:
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With love and respect, your friend,