The months leading up to the Zimmerman verdict were filled with vigils and protests, outcries and anger, not for 1 young soul taken away from the earth too soon, but for many youth who have been murdered because they are black. I remember sitting in the pew at the church where the 1 year vigil for Ramarley Graham was being held, listening to countless stories from a group called Stolen Lives. I couldn’t contain my tears, my pain for them.
I have a 6 year old boy who I have to fear will grow up to be not a successful beautiful human who contributes to his community, but a target because of his skin color. My son’s future is riddled with obstacles because they close schools to build prisons. My child is worth more money to this capitalist slave system as an inmate than a productive member of his community.
All of these things came to a head Saturday night, and I could not contain the rage, the anger, the disappointment, the fear. How in the Hell can I protect my child from being the next Trayvon Martin, Ramarley Graham, or Kimani Gray? I felt helpless because I can’t protect him from this world, and it only made me more angry.
My temporary therapy is expression on social media, and while I do this often, this time was different. Some family and “friends” reacted to my posts and became critical of me and upset. They tried to pacify my anger and rage. I was told that this behavior wasn’t good; I was told it wasn’t productive, and was even called a divider, a racist. This society is so fearful of words, especially when spoken from the mouths of the oppressed. An angry Latina anarchist who speaks her mind is viewed to be so dangerous and wrong, yet we passively watch as a controlling system wipes their ass with the Constitution and no one blinks.
My words aren’t the bullets that kill our youth, but rather the ones that blow holes through the oppressive state that systematically attempts to make us worthless, to make us afraid.
I used social media to process my very strong emotions about the verdict and what it means to a society of people who share that child’s skin color. They don’t care about Black people. They don’t care about our kids and they will never give us justice.
I had the amazing opportunity to process my anger in a more direct way because I was able to participate in the NYC Justice for Trayvon march. Over 5,000 stood together in Times Square to rally for Trayvon and his family as well as all the families who have lost their loved ones to senseless violence at the hands of a racist system.
It was so invigorating to take the middle of Park Avenue in NYC and march all the way to Harlem. “Whose streets?!” That night they were ours. I was able to belt out chants and hug my comrades, break down and cry when I needed. Why? Because we were all one community that night. We all worked together that night. We were all one.
That was the display of unity I needed to see and feel. That unity is what will move mountains. That unity is what my son needs to be enveloped in, in order to survive. That unity is what will save the lives of so many children in our communities.
I will stay angry and diligent. I will continue to be a connector, bringing the members of our communities together so that we don’t have to hold a rally for a child who was senselessly killed.
It has been less than a week since this verdict and while my voice has become sore from all the chanting, I will continue to organize, educate and equally agitate the system, which has failed to represent us–especially the darker shades of us in this society.
Author’s Note: If you’re looking to lend some love and mutual aid in post-hurricane NY and NJ, look no further than http://interoccupy.net/occupysandy/. And even if you don’t end up pitching in through Occupy Sandy Relief, the fantastic and fantastical legacy of Occupy last year, it’ll lead you — as it did for me today — to other sites of marvelous mutual aid. Here’s one story, amid so many right now.
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Midafternoon on November 9th, I headed over to the new Occupy Sandy Relief distro site for Red Hook at 83 14th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues in Brooklyn to lend a hand for a bit. On my short walk there, I thought how the Occupy dream, which had turned into a nightmare for so many of us, was now not only persisting but in fact transforming into something far more dreamlike than any of us could have imagined a year ago — a self-styled and effective “hegemonic” force in what mutual aid looks like and indeed is all about, in sharp contrast to “The Persistence of Dystopia” in the wake of Hurricane Sandy for some many in New York and New Jersey.
When I arrived at the new Red Hook Occupy Sandy Relief distro site, a gaggle of what appeared to be mainstream reporters with cameras, microphones, and little regard for anything except themselves were jostling to film a donation delivery out front. Inside, though, I found three incredibly nice folks, clearly just getting this new site set up. I asked if they needed help, but they said that the weekend would be better; it would get busy when folks came in to pick up material aid. They needed to organize things first so as to better integrate other volunteers into this space.
“I’m involved with an archive fairly close by, but won’t be there tomorrow,” I said. “How about Monday?” “Do you have a car?” asked one, and then without pausing, answered his own question, “No, I doubt it. Probably just a bike, huh? We need cars for deliveries.” “Do you have a laptop?” inquired another, who seemed the point person here. I affirmed that I did, and the response was, “Great! Could you bring that on Monday?” They then bent over their own computer, after handing me a whiteboard to write down my name, number, email, and availability.
“Did you say you’re an archivist?” they asked distractedly, staring at their laptop screen. “No,” I replied, “I’m an anarchist.” I instantly got a big smile and high-five from my new acquaintance. “Cool! I’ve never heard of that archive. What is it?” When I explained it was an independent space filled with social movement cultural production more for us than preservation — cultural ephemera like zines, posters, films, books, stickers, banners, buttons, T-shirts, audiotapes, periodicals, and more — and that we did related events, they eagerly asked, “Do you have ACT UP materials, especially from Philly? ACT UP was amazing in Philly.” A minute later we discovered that we had both sublet the same apartment at different times in Philly at Fancy House, one of those anarchic collectively owned West Philly residences. “Can I hug you?” they beamed. Hugs are always good, especially since genuine ones, and I thought, what a lovely interconnected world we’re trying hard to create, by design and spontaneously, and how much even the most minor of mutual aid attempts leads, serendipitously, to reshaping social relations in micro ways. Macro ways, too, perhaps, as Occupy Sandy Relief seems to be doing. Again that sharp contrast: our cooperative, communitarian, egalitarian social relations against the cruel backdrop of the competitive, individualistic, imbalanced ones instilled by capitalism.
Back to the new Red Hook distro site: My new acquaintance mentioned that if I still wanted to help today, I could walk over to Coffey Park in Red Hook, where folks were supposedly setting up tents for another, outdoor distribution hub. So I trotted off in that direction, walking across toxic Gowanus Canal and snaking under an freeway menacing high overhead as toxic-smelling fumes wafted by, to see if mutual aid was indeed needed in the park a mile away.
The minute I got past canal and freeway, into Red Hook, I found what shouldn’t be a surprise — and yet … I found another poor neighborhood shit outta luck in “natural” disasters. It was as if Hurricane Sandy had struck the night before. I walked past someone pumping murky-muddy water out of a basement, then a corner store lit by candles, and then public housing projects still sans lights and heat. On reaching the park, there was no sign of tents or Occupy Sandy Relief but plenty of signs of suffering and devastation: downed trees & debris lingering, fowl-smelling air and toxic-looking muck on ground, ConEd workers trying to get electricity going again and “restoration” workers with masks/gloves on, homemade and bilingual signs about where to get help or when/if school would be open, and police. Lots and lots of police — doing nothing (which is maybe preferable to them doing something!). I saw two Red Cross trucks, one handing out a few supplies to a few people; the other seemingly just parked and serving no one. Nearby to this Red Cross van, there was a Warner Cable van and and two Warner Cable guys had set up a tent, with a well-made banner with the Warner Cable logo that also said “recharging station,” but no one was there, and they decided to pack up and drive away as I watched. Failed effort number two to offer some mutual aid.
I stood in the big, desolate park, in this big, abandoned (by state, capitalism, racism…) neighborhood, trying to decide what to do next. Hmm, I could walk the couple miles or more over to 520 Clinton to the big Occupy Sandy distribution hub to see if they needed volunteers (the photo at the start of this blog post is from that site; more on that later).
Then, in the near distance, I spied a big National Guard truck, its green camouflage paint job seeming like an insult directed at the bare-limbed park trees and many wind-torn branches. Next to it were three cops cars with their flashers going, along with a group of people, so I wandered over. Troops and cops had blocked a street off, and they were chatting among themselves in the middle of it, between camo truck and cop cars, flanked by a dumpster overflowing with hurricane trash. A crowd of neighborhood folks — mostly black and Latina moms with kids, pushing various ramshackle carts and strollers to fill with material aid and wheel home (home likely being a place without power) — was congregating around an open garage. Inside the garage, clean-cut, working-class-looking folks in T-shirts and sweatshirts were giving out gallon jugs of orange juice, big packs of bottled water, and canned goods. “Are you sure you don’t want some apples? Take as many as you want!” said one man to a bunch of moms, who peered into a massive cardboard box filled with fruit. The troops and cops seemed done chatting, and took their vehicles and themselves and drove off. I heard one of the garage folks mention that they were with Catholic Charities; I saw them and the moms all schmoozing, in English and Spanish, about the storm, their situations, their lives, while the kids ran around and played with each other, apples in hand. It almost appeared to be, simply, a neighborly street fest. No one seemed to notice the cops and troops leaving, nor seemed to have any need for them. Nor need for me. They had each other.
Strike out three. Back to, hmm, maybe walking over to 520 Clinton? I turned the corner, and saw severl woman with overflowing shopping carts of material aid, including stuff I knew wasn’t in that garage, and continued down the block and around another corner. It was then that I realized that the garage was the back side of a big cathedral-like church. A big truck arrived just as I did, and volunteers streamed out of the church, laughing and smiling, to unload paper towels, coats, water, and so much more. I walked up the church steps to go in, but before I could even get in the door, a cheerful woman said, “Can I help you?!” “Yes, hello, my name is Cindy. I’d like to volunteer. Do you need people?” She told me her name, shook my hand, and happily ushered me inside, “Do we need volunteers?! Yes, of course!”
There was, it was instantly clear, so much energy, enthusiasm, and initiative in whatever Red Hook church I had stumbled on in my search for an Occupy Sandy Relief site. And it was apparent that the Catholic Charities’ folks who had borrowed this church put anyone and everyone to work the minute they walked into the entryway—even godless anarcho-jews like me. First things first, though, before I was given a task. The woman who greeted me offered me warm food and coffee, and then gave me a thoroughly warm hello again. Most people were wearing nametags, but everyone introduced themselves to each other anyway, as she had to me.
There was no power, no water, and no heat in the church; a generator (or maybe more) were keeping the lights on, although only in targeted parts of the massive church. For folks pitching in at the church and probably just folks in the surrounding houses, also without power, water, or heat, port-o-lets were placed outside in a neat row. A bit later, someone asked me to break down cardboard from all the donation boxes and then take it outside, next to those port-o-lets, to a “garbage area,” where within minutes of me bringing out a bunch of scrap, a trash truck of some sort came and took it all away.
Inside the cavernous church, there were mountains of donations, first unloaded by the front door, and then carried into the enormous main sanctuary (if that’s the right word for it; “no gods, no masters, no correct religious vocabulary!”), and then divided into areas between by type, such as paper products, blankets and clothes, or “babyland,” “baby world,” or “baby island,” as it was variously called.
At first, I was put to work hauling in rolls and rolls of toilet paper to the paper area, and each time I did so, over dozens and dozens of trips, a guy organizing that area with self-directed efficiency said, “Thank you, thank you!” “Thank YOU!” I started replying each time. When I’d run out of toilet paper to deliver to him, he explained how he was trying to set up that area so that people could easily get four rolls each tomorrow, when there would likely be a big distro push. A woman brought him a bunch of sponges, and he redirected her to the household cleaning supplies area.
A friendly Catholic Charities woman than asked if I’d mind helping to sort diapers in babyland, and even though it was self-evident how to find that self-created area, she patted me on the back, thanked me, and walked me over, again asking if I needed food or coffee first. The baby products area included diapers, diaper wipes, and assorted baby stuff like powder, but for some mysterious reason (like the ol’ gender binary, I suspect) also tampons, “sanitary” pads, and shampoo, and then for good measure, toiletries like toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, and deoderant. But the diapers overwhelmed all else. One woman told me that she had taken it on herself to make order of the diaper chaos, and between her, myself, and another woman, within forty-five minutes, the mayhem became manageable.
Two other folks joined us. One was from Park Slope and the other from Bushwick; they said they were still shocked by how their neighborhoods were untouched and here, well… yes, it felt almost as if the hurricane had just hit. One told me that they had tried to lend a hand with an Occupy Sandy Relief site, but “because it is so big, doing so much, it’s harder to instantly plug in.” She didn’t say this as a criticism but rather as an observation. Her matter-of-fact explanation underscored for me how, for volunteers like her and so many others, mutual aid has proved to be the mainstay of how people are helping each other after Hurricane Sandy and the nor’easter; how longtime and large NGOs like Catholic Charities are now the little guys by comparison; and FEMA, the city, the police, the National Guard, “caring” capitalists, and other “from-above” people and institutions seem — and pretty much are — irrelevant (well, irrelevant in terms of offering help; dangerous and sometimes deadly in terms of most else). No one mentioned the standard “relief agencies” or city/state/federal officials that usually get associated with disasters. Instead, it was Occupy, or that “a friend” had told them about this church, or that they were already part of Catholic Charities (yet another friendly Catholic Charities’ woman came over to say good-bye to us, as she was leaving for the day, thank us yet again, and then offer her heartfelt “God bless you!”). The guy from Bushwick said that he’d been to DUMBO, and a fancy waterfront cafe where one of his friends work had been decimated by the hurricane. That cafe, he told me, “lost millions and millions,” and “will be closed for a year. They have insurance,” he observed. “I guess my friend is out of a job, though.” Her Park Slope friend remarked that she hadn’t thought of that at first — how even if big businesses she didn’t like and could afford it got destroyed, that meant lots of people making little money wouldn’t have jobs now. What about them? The Park Slope and Bushwick pair marveled at the profound unevenness of the destruction, relief, and reconstruction.
We were all getting overly involved in both chatting with each other and being super efficient, super organized. The first woman I’d met — the diaper-organizer extraordinaire — commented that she was going to bring a big “organizer shelf” that she had at home to the church tomorrow, to make it even more clearly organized for the big distribution weekend and beyond. The Park Slope woman and her friend were putting together toiletry packets in ziplock bags, and she had determined that removing the boxes from toothpaste first meant fitting more toiletries in each baggy, so people would get more supplies in each ziplock when they came in. Plainly, there was plenty here, and plenty of need. We soon filled up a big cardboard box with smaller, glittery cardboard boxes extolling the virtues of each particular toothpaste — and I carted that outside to the garbage area. The third woman in our diaper-organizer crew realized that inserting pieces of paper indicating the diaper size in all the thousands of loose diapers she was sorting into plastic bags — a god-awful task, especially for someone like me who had no idea before today that disposable diapers came in so many different sizes! — so I found her some blank paper. She and another woman remarked that they didn’t have time to sort by color (blue and pink) or patterns (trucks or butterflies), but that likely the baby boys and baby girls wouldn’t care right now — or maybe they never notice.
The point here in all this mundane description is that the people in this church — and at so many other relief sites, growing little resilient weeds around NYC, the boroughs, and NJ — no matter who they were or why they had come to help, all seemed to proudly relish doing things well, in a way that would make easy sense when people came in to get material aid, and in a way that made the space itself feel tidy, friendly, and welcoming. Each person proudly relished their own innovations and self-organization along with the doing-it-together ourselves aspect. They wanted to bring dignity to their work and dignity to those who came in for needed supplies for homes without light, heat, or water. They wanted to treat each other as equals, as all doing a good job, as all needing to be thanked and all wanting to thank each other.
This and so much more is what, I think, gets lost when we use the phrase “mutual aid.” When it appears on banners, like the one pictured at this essay’s start: “Mutual Aid Not Charity,” even when we circle our A’s. The mundane usage of mutual aid as a term is simply an anarchistic version of charity (“we’re helping those people or that community, autonomously”) or a capitalistic version (it’s merely about reciprocity or more likely exchange, or a nicer version of quantitative aid). Its marvelous usage, and the one working at cross-purposes with state and capitalism, to paraphrase Peter Kropotkin, is the mutual aid that is cognizant of and reliant on its own self-organization; that is aware of the wholly egalitarian social relations it is forging explicitly against the wholly inegalitarian ones of the current social order; that is networked, grassroots, and confederated horizontally; that is about sharing, enjoying, and using spaces and things together in ways that highlight self-determination and self-management, even as we reappropriate and expropriate those spaces and things; and that sees each and every person (and the many animals impacted by this human-created disaster) as fully worthy, fully capable, in what John Holloway has labeled “a politics of dignity.”
I ended up in a good conversation about this with someone who shares work space at Interference Archive, David; he’s working on a dissertation about mutual aid, so we talked a good long while, interrupting both our projects for that day. The crux of our discussion, and what underpinned our numerous examples of what we both consider marvelous mutual aid, was: mutual aid is, and has to be, a social relationship — a profoundly different form than what capitalism tries so hard at socializing us into for the whole of our (then-miserable) lives, and succeeds so well at doing.
Wellness that warms the heart — or how folks in post-hurricane NY are prefiguring wholly new, healthy social relations through mutual aid, thanks to Occupy Sandy Relief self-organization. Fuck FEMA, Obama “Care,” and capitalism; “we got this.”
The last 5 months have been unspeakably intense to me – an intensity carefully detailed in more than 600 pages of a very “emotionally rational” journal –, and that’s why my apparent “regret” mentioned above soon turned into a huge pride, a pride of being part of this thing that nobody knows what it is, although those who are part of it can feel it very clearly. I got here for May Day with a lot of expectations – some met, some frustrated, some overcome with surprise – and was automatically led to confusion. Now, I’m leaving right after another big event, the anniversary, still confused, but with a lot more of expectations. Different confusions, different expectations, but still both: the expected confusion of confused expectations. And, yes, I’m leaving. Not that I want to. Not that I don’t want to. It’s just that I’m leaving, at the same time that I’m not, because even though I’m leaving, I’m leaving and taking a lot with me. I am because I really am, and I am not because I am really not, and that’s it. Yeah, as obvious as apparently confusing: just like the message OWS has been trying to spread out and others insist on pretending they don’t understand – or maybe they truely don’t, out of fear and/or lack of imagination.
The least I can say about my experience here is that Occupy really changed me in a very powerful way, as some occupiers had already warned me since the very beginning. Not that I’m someone who’s not very acquainted with the possibility of constant variations of any kind – quite the opposite: I’m usually not just seeking to (deliberately) change in a lot of ways, but I’m also open to (unpredictably) be changed to the same extent almost on a daily basis. But in this case, it’s just that I’m talking about a different kind of change, a change that changes you precisely because it doesn’t necessarily have to “change” whatever is already inside yourself much more than just making it possible that you truly believe in your own beliefs by putting yourself face to face with who you are, who you appear to be, who you (might) want to be and all the others being with you. And, no, we’re not going to change the world by arrogantly trying to change the others, willing to make them look like ourselves or what we think we are, but especially by changing ourselves – in relation to the others, to the world and to our own selves again – and, thus, maybe inspiring – never shaping – other others, whoever they may be.
In the end, what this ultimately means is that it’s not because we believe so much in our beliefs that we have to believe that we know all the answers, that we carry the ‘truth’ and as a consequence won’t “give it up,” just like a stuborn child; actually, (I believe) it’s the opposite: the real believer is the one who’s able to “doubt” his/her own convictions to the same extent that he/she is capable of standing for these same beliefs and to its principles as strongly as he/she can. In the long run, what was Occupy Wall Street if not that unspeakable phenomenon that brought up together a lot of “believers” that were pretty much scattered all around and somehow isolated with their own beliefs, maybe believing less than what they actually could because they felt they were pretty much alone? And what was the natural consequence of this unpredictable coming together if not give a far greater impulse to those beliefs already inside each one by mixing them with other similar beliefs (and their holders) and finally making them come true? After all, as Raul Seixas – a Brazilian composer who has served as an inspiration to me since my early adolescence – says: “a dream that is dreamt alone is just a dream, but a dream that’s dreamt together is reality.” Yeah, by dreaming together and believing that this dream is much more than just a dream, we are rebuilding reality.
But what does this mean exactly, to be a “believer?” The thing is we are all believers, no matter we consider ourselves – or the others – a “realistic” or an “idealistic” person. Actually, being a realist or an idealist means pretty much the same thing, although in opposite ways. How? Because “reality” necessarily depends on the way we see it, ultimately, on the ideas – beliefs – we have about it. And the result is that the only difference between these two prototypes lies specifically on the emphasis that each one puts on the negative and the positive aspects of what they can see in/as “reality”; that is, of the “reality” they can see. The claimed to be realist, therefore, is the one who idealizes his/her reality according to the impossibilities it (supposedly) encloses, whereas the claimed to be “idealist” realizes (and tries to achieve) his/her ideality according to the possibilities he/she can conceive. That’s why people who don’t believe in a better world (the pessimistic ones), for instance, like to call themselves “realist”; and that’s why when these same people want to disqualify any optimist point made by anybody else, they don’t hesitate to call this person an “idealist.”
What these people fail to understand, though, is that we are all both idealist and realist, no matter what, because these spectra are completely tied together, what leads us to conclude that the whole issue is not a matter of form (realism or idealism), it’s all about content (pessimism or optimism): after all, our conception of reality – and, thus, what we believe is or could be “real” – totally depends on our will and capacity of imagination. So, yes, instead of sticking to the impossibility of the possible (what the claimed to be “realist” do), we, occupiers, stick to the possibilities of the impossible, just like the Cuban composer Silvio Rodríguez suggests: “I’ve preferred to talk about the impossible things, because what is possible we already know a lot about”.
Well, at this point I realize I’m kinda getting carried away with my thoughts, given the big excitement it always brings me to talk about my encounter with so many other believers, but I really don’t want to make a long statement out of this happy anniversary/farewell message. I just want to say happy birthday to OWS (virtually now, after doing it in flesh during the weekend) and to thank you all for everything you have, directly or indirectly, done: to the world and to me – in this case, especially by making it possible for me to believe even more in what I already believed. Of course, some of you just know me as far as you can recognize my face or remember my name, given our very superficial contact (in terms of direct interaction); but you may be sure that in the broad sense it was not superficial at all: we’re all on the same boat, fighting for the same cause and relating to each other in ways that we can’t even think of, let alone measure or explain.
So, yes, I’m leaving; but, again, I’m not; and I’m taking a lot with me, what I hope to be able to bring back, somewhow, in paper and (English) ink, and give to you as a feedback – after all, what I’m writing is ‘mine’ just to a very limited extent: it is much more of a big collective project resulted from a completely rizomatic and dialogical process. As most of you know, Occupy is the “object” of my Master thesis, but it’s pretty obvious (at least for the ones who have met me) that my connection to the movement goes far beyond that, since our relation has never been distant, “imparcial,” as they say it’s supposed to be; quite the contrary: it’s been a very affectuate relationship, one of subjects, what doesn’t have to mean at all a loss of critical thought or anything alike, as the same “they” believe and try to make us believe as well. Yes, there is a lot of affection between us – what is not just beautiful, but “productive” as well (to use a word the ones who like to measure everything love); and, yes, I created very strong political and personal roots here – what makes feel like coming back soon.
So, I might be back; but before that I also would really like to see you guys in Brazil too – as much as I want to see more and more what you’ve been doing. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know that whenever and wherever this (re)encounter takes place, we are going to be still stronger than we are now – the same way we already are in comparison to last year, even to yesterday – and our beliefs are going to be even more “real” than what they are at this point – the same way the impossibilities are starting to become more and more possible. Well, at least that’s what I believe, that’s what you guys made me believe even more in the last months. Why? Because when I got here and asked you “show me what your dreams look like” – still not sure if they were the same as mine –, you went way beyond that by simply answering me, not just with ideas, but mostly with action: “this is what reality could look like!”. Yes, it could; and it will: because it already is becoming this, little by little.
– Thiago TRocha –]]>
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:
OR SUPPORT S17 HERE:
With love and respect, your friend,
New York, NY–I went to Zuccoti Park on Saturday, October 22, 2011 to participate in Occupy Wall Street with the little time that I had as someone with a family, a mortgage, and who is also managing a startup nonprofit. I was in New York for a short stay to attend Contactcon and help promote Shareable’s upcoming event ShareNY.
I went down the park with my friend Lazlo from Budapest who was intensely interested in Occupy as a meme. We had intended to do a little research to explore Occupy as what he called a “memetic creature”. Roughly what that meant to him was to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the central themes of Occupy. That proved impractical with the time we had, but the idea stuck in my head that I’d come home with an impression to share about Occupy.
As we headed to the park on the subway, Lazlo commented on Occupy stories from a fresh copy of the New York Times. There was a story that quoted a Tea Party activists and Senate candidate saying that Occupy protesters were “unemployed, uneducated and uninformed.” It seems everyone had an opinion, and I wanted to see for myself.
When we arrived on Wall Street, I was startled at what the police had done to control the environment. The sidestreets next to the park where barricaded. The flow of pedestrians was heavily controlled the way they are at airport security checkpoints. This had the strange effect of quieting pedestrians. It was like walking in a church, all quiet in obedience to a higher authority. There were mounted police, which seemed absolutely silly to have there unless you wanted to intimidate people.
We actually got lost for about 20 minutes looking for the park. We felt a little silly for getting lost on the way to the revolution. Lazlo suggested we ask a cop for directions. We laughed. He opted to ask the clerk at a newstand instead. That helped, but thinking back I don’t think it was an accident we had trouble getting there. The barricades restricted our ability to move freely and explore.
When we finally got to the park, it was even more controlled. The whole park was surrounded by barricades. It felt as if the police where tyring to choke the movement. In fact, I felt choked. When we actually got in the park, I felt better but it was very crowded. Thankfully, everybody I encountered was friendly. I felt welcomed. We roamed around the park to take it in. It was a lively scene. I saw teach-ins happening, educational material being passed out, a table for free cigarettes, many who were going about their daily routine as campers, a donation table (I gave $20), and a drum circle when we arrived at the far end of the park.
There we met up with some friends who had also attended Contactcon. We chatted, trying to make sense of it all, but then reverted to talk about what was happening in each of our lives. After the chat exhausted itself, Lazlo and I headed back with our friends to the other side of the park where the General Assembly was just getting started. We participated for about an hour, and then left to find a meal together.
It was anti-climatic to say the least. I left not knowing what to think about Occupy. Not to mention that I felt like a total tourist. And I had nothing to say that hadn’t already been said before. This went on a couple weeks. I just sat on the experience, a sidelined melancholy suburban revolutionary.
That changed yesterday. I started to feel that the nothingness was the message. That the openness, the undefined and emergent nature, the lack of or multitude of demands, and that my own unmade mind about it was an invitation to participate, to help shape the movement and to make a contribution in my own way. No one has a monopoly on its meaning. No one is telling me what I should do. There is no button on a web page that says, “Take Action!” The movement, like the blank field of a search engine, is asking me what I want to learn and what I want to do. It trusts that I know.
So there I was, 2 kids, a third on the way, all by myself, and I only qualified to make minimum wage. I enrolled in college; I’m almost done and I have $36,000 in student loans. While I go to school, we live on my ex’s child support (a whole 20% of his income) which puts us below the poverty line.
A little over a year ago, I reunited with an old friend that I had known since childhood. Birth control failed and I became pregnant. My daughter was born with special needs: Erb’s Palsy and clubbed feet, so we thought. She is 8 months old now, her treatment has cost over $25,000 so far, and it’s not working. She is now being tested for Osteogenesis Imperfecta (also known as Brittle Bone disease).
So now I’m raising 4 children (3 conceived with their father who I was married to, one conceived with a man I’ve known for 30 years), all while going to college full time, taking care of a 2 bedroom 1 bath house that is way too small for all of us, and making it to all of the 3 to 5 Doctor appointments each and every week. I’m also drowning in debt, and with all the medical attention my daughter needs, I have absolutely no hope of ever finding a job that will allow me to work around my baby’s many doctor appointments.
I am sick and tired of people looking at me and assuming I’m a slut because I have 4 kids. I’m sick and tired of people looking at me like I’m abusing my baby just because she has casts on her poor little legs. I’m sick and tired of people assuming I’m lazy because I live below the poverty line and I’m accumulating massive debt. I work my butt off taking care of my children and my responsibilities all while trying to make our lives better; I deserve a little bit of respect…. is that really too much to ask?
– Heather –]]>
We’ve been indoctrinated by Big Pharma to believe that our bodies can’t possibly know how to fix itself, and that only their expensive puppet-doctors and pills are the only thing that can possibly help.
Reality couldn’t be further from the truth.
The body has an immense capability to fix it, whether through herbs, through diet, exercise, massage, meditation or acupuncture.
A fervent Occupy Oaklander, during every event, you would find this healthcare practitioner at the heart of Oscar Grant Plaza, offering free acupuncture and massage treatment for any one who was willing. It’s a firm belief that anyone who wants healthcare should be allowed to have it, and that is the deepest base idea of this blooming medical practice.
A staunch practitioner of the Buddhist ideal of nonviolence. Do not misunderstand: Nonviolence does not equate to cowardice. In fact, there is a monumental amount of courage required to maintain such a lifestyle. There’s a deep level of compassion for all living beings, including those doing the oppressing. To walk up to those people with open hands held high and a bright smile takes nothing but the utmost level of courage.
There is no hate, no malice, no violence, in this heart. It would be easy to regret the tens of thousands of dollars that was required to come to this point. But why would anyone shy away from this depth of love, at any price?
The photo included is of 5 acupuncturist brothers and sisters treating patients on the steps of Oscar Grant Plaza during the Oakland General Strike on November 2, 2011.
– Jon Nelson –]]>
My passions fall into art. I searched and searched and found the perfect art college I could join, right by my parents’ house. This way I could still live with them while I finished my schooling.
Little did I know that “The Art Institutes” are for-profit private schools that have been building a reputation as loan farmers. What they do is use scam business practices and fake numbers and statistics like “85% of our graduates have a full time job the first 6 months out of school.” These statistics were what got me to join.
They then force you to get federal student loans and go through their recommended private bank partners, like Sallie Mae, to loan your money to you.
I’ve seen 7/10 of first year students get tricked into joining the audio productions degree program there because they were led to believe that it was something that it was not. They also brush the tuition of $90,000 under the table while they register you and make sure you are confident and trusting when you join.
I realized their scam too late. After two years in the program, I realized there was no real guaranteed jobs for my degree–that this degree was just made up out of no where, and that I could have went into this field and been successful without even going to college! I also witnessed the school screw over my classmates first-hand and put them $15-20,000 in debt for a year only to realize they were lied to from the beginning about what the school was really about. I am already a senior in the school so it is too late to pull out now. I’m going to finish the degree and hope I will find a job that will be good enough to pay the 600 monthly payments on student loans I will have to pay as soon as I graduate. But I know already that this is unlikely. I understand this field now, and now I will have to be very lucky to ever make enough money to pay this off easily.
With Sallie Mae’s ridiculous, selfish interest rates, I will pay $120,000+ for a stupid art degree that doesn’t mean anything.
These for-profit private schools the Art Institutes are loan farmers, are selfish. They don’t care about art or music. They care about manipulation and money, and I was a sucker. Now will have to struggle the rest of my life with no guaranteed job at all to pay this mistake off.
Thank you America.
– Anonymous –]]>
Days 7 & 11 — Occupy New Orleans: The caravan reaches New Orleans, and while there interrupts the auctioning off of land for offshore drilling with mic-check.
Day 6 — Protest Koch Industries: The gang visits Koch Industries to protest, where they are accused of trespassing on private property.
Day 5 — Western Hospitality: The caravan enjoys some hospitality while lunching, and anticipates a new member.
Day 3 — Touring Salt Lake City: The caravan touches down in Salt Lake City, where the group does a little sight-seeing.
Day 2 — Conflicts Through Nevada: The caravan leaves for Nevada, but tensions arise when one traveler appears to have a disagreeable attitude
Day 1 — Leaving Oakland: The Occupy Caravan leaves Oakland en route to Philadelphia for the Occupy National Gathering
New York, NY–We were led to an old gymnasium, decorated with an odd juxtaposition of colorful murals of the NYC skyline – including a tragically ironic depiction of the Statue of Liberty – and plastic chairs arranged in neat rows, which were sorted by the number of seats for visitors. We were pointed to a set of three chairs across a round plastic table facing a lone seat – a setup designed to ensure our being physically separate from Mark. We were allowed to hold his hands (and did so – the entire time) but couldn’t move closer to him or sit on the floor near him.
We waited in anticipation for a few moments, and then, suddenly, there was the lovely, bearded man walking slowly across the room towards us, a wide smile breaking his somber face as he saw us. The three of us engulfed him in an amazing group hug (a corrections officer chuckled that we were going to suffocate him), and then long, lovely individual hugs before sitting down. His hugs are still super wonderful and feel as they always have – teddybearish, heartfelt, and huge. He looked a bit thinner (by, he later told us, about 8lbs), but bright-eyed, rosy-cheeked, and ostensibly healthy overall.
We started out conveying individual greetings and messages from a plethora of supporters who had asked us to give their regards. We told him about the solidarity actions outside Rector Coopers’ house and which are ongoing outside of Trinity Wall Street. We related the story of a comrade who had been turned away by corrections officers on a previous visit due to insufficient ID, and how a visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles had left him so frustrated that he had three-quarters of the DMV pumping their fists in the air shouting “[expletive] the system!” And we talked about the amazing community meeting that empowered the Otter Solidarity Team to set up his visits, and all the collaborative organizing throughout the community that has gone into supporting him while he’s gone. He was especially moved by this: “That might make this all worthwhile, in some way,” he said.
And Mark shared quite a bit with us – in fact, he spoke about as much as the three of us did, combined. We’d gone in somewhat concerned that he would be withdrawn, but found him to be extremely present and coherent. What he told us, though, was at times difficult to hear. He described feeling that he had left part of himself behind when he was taken to jail, and explained that “in here, this isn’t the real Mark Adams.” He expressed some anxiety about being able to rejoin his full self upon release, but it felt to us like the stories we brought from the outside had already relit – at least, momentarily – Mark’s internal Roman-candle-in-waiting. He grinned when we assured him that the Mark we know and love is very much outside the barbed-wire fences, in our hearts and conversations and on our signs, and will be waiting for him along with the rest of us when he gets out.
He said that he knew our visit would leave him happy for the next few hours but then he would go back to how he usually is. He spends most of his time in his bunk, reading, doesn’t go outside and tries to keep to himself.
He’s received quite a bit of written correspondence – so much, in fact, that the corrections officers remarked to him that he was getting mail “like Lil Wayne did when he was in Rikers!” Some of the letters came from quite a distance, and Mark said he was particularly tickled by some childrens’ drawings of the D17 courtroom – a big round judge, and Mark sitting on a bench with a big beard. He again reiterated that he doesn’t often feel up to writing back, and we assured him that every time this statement from him has been passed along, everyone’s all “pssh” and that he shouldn’t feel any sense of obligation.
An interesting and useful bit that came up: he loves all of the books he has been receiving but he doesn’t know who any of them are from because the packages are opened and discarded before he receives the books. In the future, if you are sending him a book and want him to know it’s from you, write a note inside the cover for him. He also voiced some amused bafflement at the amount of communist literature he had received: “whoever keeps sending those books – I get it!” he told us grinningly. He stores the books in a large tupperware under his bed- it is completely full and he is trying to figure out what to do with the surplus books. There is no library at Rikers and if they get left around, books often wander off with the corrections officers.
Mark brought up his hunger strike, and how it has helped him bring his protest to Rikers. “I came to Occupy Wall Street to march and hold signs, and I can’t do that in here,” he explained. His hunger strike has brought him the power to fight back against the trauma and disempowerment of his sudden abduction, and to politicize his time in jail. The heightened medical attention he has received has brought him many people – doctors, counselors – with whom to discuss his politics and Occupy Wall Street. We shared some of the community’s concerns about his hunger strike – related to his well-being, the outside-jail politics of it, and the impact it may have on the OWS community – and he welcomed the “honest” feedback and promised to consider the concerns. “I’m not one of those comrades who won’t listen,” he promised, and we assured him that we already knew that about him.
Mark described his perception that officers at Rikers were somewhat taken by surprise by his adamant refusal to agree to any normal medical treatments given to inmates upon admittance (many of us already know of Mark’s avowed dislike of allopathy) and even more by his decision to pursue a hunger strike during his incarceration. One of the results is he sees a doctor twice a day, a different doctor each visit, which gives him many people to talk to about his statement. He is on some semblance of a juice fast, but the only juice available comes from powder – so, it’s basically flavored sugar water. The healthiest thing he has access to is three bottles of Powerade he’s allowed from the commissary each week. His sugar levels are being monitored by doctors to keep his glucose at healthy-ish levels. He told us of the awful food available to inmates, and even if he wasn’t on a hunger strike there wouldn’t be much for him to eat. All meals involve mostly meat dishes. There are two options- regular, and kosher/halal, but no vegetarian or vegan choices, and what few vegetables accompany the meal would not constitute appropriate nutrition on their own.
We tried to run the visiting schedule by him, but Mark has enjoyed the surprise of not knowing who is coming, and trusts our judgment. “I mean, you guys know who my friends are, right?” he said with a big old Mark Adams grin on his face. And he knows who his friends are, too, and feels very loved.
We were given no warnings as to how much time had passed during the course of our visit, and seemingly out of the blue, the C.O. who had led us in handed us back our boarding passes. We looked at him quizzically, not ready to understand what that signified. “Time to go,” he explained. And that was it. We took our time for another minute of loving squeezes, and watched Mark shuffle back to the door through which he came (we caught him making a goofy face at a C.O. on his way out), as we were escorted back out the door we had entered, out past security and onto the bus. For all the hours of waiting and negotiating the Rikers bureaucracy to see Mark for that one bittersweet hour, the exit was rapid and painless. By around 5:30 we were back on the city bus and headed off of the island.
The contrast was stark, and tragic: we returned to our lives of freedom and companionship; he to his of confinement and isolation. We decompress, together, in a comfortable living room, while Mark – along with 14,000 other Rikers inmates, and another 7 million across the country – are left alone to process the injustice and dehumanization perpetuated by mass incarceration.]]>