Where is Occupy Now?
June 1, 2013. Answer: Turkey.
Gliding down Broadway last Saturday, the blazing-red Mark di Suvero sculpture known to arts professionals as “Joie de Vivre” and to Occupy Wall Street as “the Weird Red Thing” comes into view. The scene is familiar. Facing west, I see white-shirt cops on Broadway and Liberty and the Imperial Walker-esque NYPD surveillance tower perched in the lower right corner of the park. More friendly are the falafel and juice stands lined up on the left. The 33,000 square feet of public/private space formerly known as Zuccotti Park pulses with energy: men and women waving red flags, shouting in unison and singing spirited songs in Turkish.
It is day one of #OccupyGeziParkNYC, an American offshoot of the Turkish #OccupyGeziPark, that began as peaceful sit-in demonstration against a shopping mall slated to replace Istanbul’s last major public square. The protest quickly morphed into a Tahrir-like movement to oust Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. Tens of thousands of protesters in Taksim Square were tear gassed, arrested in the hundreds, some beaten and killed by the police. Within hours, a solidarity group called #OccupyGeziParkNYC had begun to organize a response. There were even those from the OWS movement who flew to the action, like Justin Wedes, a member of the communication working group in Zuccotti. “The revolution has just begun,” he tweets, the first of a day, in seemingly hundreds he sends out. (He also files regular posts at Animal NY).
This converged last minute with a planned OWS re-occupation or “homecoming” action for June 1 which I was attending. Since the eviction of Liberty Square on November 15th2011, big days of action such as May 1st (M1) or the September 17th anniversary (S17– we activists convert important dates into codes to make them sound ominous) partially fell into the shadow of the original Occupy season. Each big march provided proof that the movement is still here but dwindling. You’d see many familiar faces from the glory days of the park, but a reunion just does not equate to a movement that can take on Capitalism. Especially a slightly dysfunctional reunion. Occupy was slowly fragmenting into groups (though impressive ones); big moments where Occupiers came together were becoming less and less convincing.
Saturday felt different though, and it looked different, too. I saw very few familiar faces in the park, now filled with Turkish protesters. “It’s exciting” Occupier Marisa Holmes told me, speaking of the new upbeat energy in Liberty Park. This energy flows in from elsewhere causing creative hybridized memes to pop up like wildflowers. OWS posters from 2011 have been re-tooled for Turkey, yellow “Occu-tape” is wrapped around trees to highlight the eradication of green space in Istanbul, those famous ragged cardboard signs are scrawled in Turkish. Someone bangs a pot with a spoon in the protest style of the Quebec student movement or “Casseroles.” Others hold signs that say “Turkish Spring,” harkening back to Egypt and Tunisia. It’s as if all the movement memes from the last couple years have ended up in a common whirlpool.
By noon, the park was so packed that all I could see of the movement were those squeezed up against me. I made my way through the dense crowd to catch a better view from Zuccotti’s northern wall (hallowed site of the speakers’ area in the very first OWS general assemblies). There I met a Turkish woman in her fifties, Lutfiye Karakus, a nurse from Staten Island, who has been in the US for twenty-one years. She’s part of the 99%, having lost her home to foreclosure, and watched the American Dream slip away. She made it out to Liberty Park once in 2011 to join the protest.
This time, she tells me tales of Turkish corruption where the 1% straddle the financial and political lines, similar to the impetus for Occupy Wall Street. Luftiye was enraged at the Turkish media blackout, including even CNN Turkey, during the protests and police violence. “The police sprayed tear gas in people’s eyes and blinded them,” she told me.
The focus on Turkey– with red crescent flags, pictures of Turkey’s modern state founder Ataturk, and chants of “Turkiye! Turkiye! Turkiye!”– may seem strangely nationalistic for an Occupy movement. But Occupy doesn’t espouse a singular political view. The activist and anthropologist David Graeber reported from among the different political players in the planning stages before September 17th; not only Anarchists, but members of the Democratic Party and quite a few Ron Paul followers. (One of the “bottomliners” of the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City was a big fan of Ayn Rand). And then once the movement went viral, hundreds of cities interpreted Occupy differently, from Oakland’s militant style to El Paso’s protests against the government.
After we parted ways, I began to wonder why Lutfiye and her Turkish community decided to use Occupy to raise their voices. A few years ago, she had participated in a large Turkish protest outside the United Nations. Why head down to Lower Manhattan this time? “Because they’re not appealing to the UN” Occupier Marisa Holmes told me. She believes the slowness of a bureaucracy is unappealing to many, particularly now that there’s a little Occupy-inspired Anarchism in the air. Appealing to fellow citizens directly may be more effective than the state, and Occupy is building a platform for it.
That’s exactly why it’s exciting. For one, the “Occupy” meme itself can be interchanged with other locations and causes like Legos (Occupy Gezi Park, Occupy the SEC, Occupy Museums, etc).
Second, it offers tools for communication, whether through social media mutual aid efforts or offline “social software”: the hand signs, and the people’s mic, which allow large groups of people to project their voices without speakers or microphones.
Third, Occupy serves up a toolbox of direct action tactics: the long-term holding of space (Tahrir Square, Liberty Park, and Frank H. Ogawa Plaza) shorter-term occupations (a 2011 sleep-in at Lincoln Center, a 2012 occupation at the Berlin Biennale, and last month’s occupation of the Ludwig Museum in Hungary) and spectacular actions (just today, Occupy Gezi crowdfunded a full-page ad in the New York Times).
Finally, Occupy offers a form of horizontal organizing which discourages the centralization of leadership. These tactics have diverse roots, from the Zapatista Movement of the 1990’s to Spanish Anarchists. But this time, an unprecedented ability to socially network makes it possible for these tactics to flow in bursts of energy across the globe, and also to rapidly morph and develop in a co-authored but connected way: kind of like the Internet.
Circulation is happening offline as well, as occupiers travel the globe to exchange movement experiences and tactics. Hundreds of occupiers, for example, attended The World Social Forum (WSF) in Tunis as part of a group called Global Square. Their attendance, fellow occupier Marisa Holmes told me at Zucotti, took the form of an occupation. “They didn’t know how to relate to us.” she said, explaining this was in part due to a generational clash and in part due to an entrenched vertical leadership. Still, group met every day, and over all, Marisa concluded that “It was really great for us.”
I got that sense from other occupiers as well, but it’s important to remember that these movements have a darker side as well. Damage to the body can easily occur during protests, as police violence is common. Activists can lose jobs or damage professional reputations by standing up for strong political positions. The time and risk required in the heat of a movement can destroy relationships; a member of Occupy Museums went through a divorce, partly due to her strong commitment to the movement in 2011. Activists have power struggles with other activists, and most of all, exhaustion. Most of us have gone through some form of movement trauma.
At this point, Occupy Wall Street increasingly operates within totally separate networks. When the Turkish community began to thin out that evening, the tribe reconvened in little clusters to discuss re-occupation. I heard many woeful tales about power struggles, people’s Occu-nemeses, their banishment from groups, or just sense of burnout. Although there was a 6 PM assembly to discuss re-occupation organized by a group called Occupy Town Square, it became clear that any sort of large consensus wasn’t going to happen.
These may sound like big problems, but they don’t define the movement. It just means that the movement is moving along in stages. To name just a few of the many efforts in the last 9 months, Occupy Sandy has figured out a new model to provide direct relief to those affected by global warming-fueled catastrophes. Strikedebt has come up with ingenious new economic proposals such as the Rolling Jubillee, a crowdsourced fund to buy up personal debt, and it’s produced a manual for debt resistance. Occupy the Pipeline is putting up a spirited fight against fracking. The group I’m in, Occupy Museums, is launching Debt Fair: an experimental art fair spread throughout the streets of New York City that invites collectors buy art in exchange for artists’ debt.
These projects flow naturally from a view of the world you acquire by fatefully stepping into the public squares. But they take a tremendous amount of energy. As we enter the long-haul, this practice can seem like a heavy burden to bear.
Yet on June 1st, I remembered something that is actually totally obvious: Occupy is no one’s burden. It’s an uncontrollable open source project where all responsibility is shared, and in that way, I see Occupy as an alternative model for culture. For a generation, the private sector has been encroaching on the public, reenforcing the mentality that we must achieve individual goals at all cost to shared resources. As depicted in mainstream entertainment and news organizations, we are people who distrust strangers and associate the public realm with poverty. Occupying a park challenges these assumptions through practice. Serving food in a park, chanting, or organizing actions with people you just met points toward a culture based on shared, rather than private, space. There’s a sublime feeling of connection with fellow protesters anywhere in the world.
From its inception, it was a perfect storm of talent, wisdom from past movements, catalyzed by economic and political shocks. It’s always had a random quality: the name and initial call itself was coined by a Canadian magazine, Adbusters, who didn’t even show up to their own party! I have learned to suspend disbelief as the protest unfolded differently than any script I could imagine.
Yet another chapter is unfolding as thousands of Turkish protesters fill Liberty Park on June 1. This time however, the novelty has worn off, and Occupy is looking like a permanent part of our post-crash reality: a direct democratic forum for citizens to highlight and link political situations globally. And, as I stood there looking at a poster of Ataturk printed out on foamcore and decorated with yellow Occu-tape, I had another thought: Occupy just may be ahead of the curve.
Read more stories from the resistance in Turkey by clicking here.]]>
I am kneeling on the cement in what had been the Meditation Circle during the encampment. I can hear the echoes of chants and vaguely see the circle of brightly dressed meditators in my memory. Time has left a shadow imprinted upon me, a memory of the altar built of candles varying from glass cased Virgin Mary candles to hundreds of tea lights. I can recall the heavy smell of sage and frankincense. I can see the yoga mats laid out neatly across the cement. Now the red and deep grey cement forms a circle around a small yearling elm tree, which in turn is surrounded by cold steel blue benches. A lonely businessman sits with his briefcase open on his lap, his eyes blank for he is merely a statue. Directly across the street is a towering, two floor Burger King. Its familiar lighted logo helps cast light onto my drawings.
I had already drawn the blueprints of most of the park under the watchful and suspicious eyes of a crowd of twenty NYPD officers and their white shirted captain. What had been the drummer’s arena was to the east of the meditation circle. Before the eviction, bright clothed drummers had hammered in unison for hours upon hours during the day and into the night, while crowds of tourists swayed unconsciously to the ever present beat. In this mostly dark moment, however, it was an empty set of four stairs overlooking the street and the Burger King and pizza joint on the other side. From the former drummer’s circle you could look straight up and to the right and be humbled by the frame of the 9/11 memorial building. Heavy steel frames, mostly deep red were piled, it felt, as high as the eye could stand to look without looking directly into the sun. What seemed like hundreds and hundreds of feet up the memorial frame someone had spray painted Local 616 in fluorescent orange.
The center of the park had served as our makeshift kitchen, which served 10,000 free meals every day. It had been a bustling center of operations, but now it was quiet. Two cement chess tables complete with benches sat beneath where an eight by ten tent had covered them. Two ten foot wide circles stretched out around another pair of saplings, these with white glittering Christmas lights. In fact, the entire cement ground of the park had been laid with intermittent lights. Every ten feet or so what should have been just another floor brick was a thick glass cover to a floor lamp. It had the effect of making the park appear to be a chess board in the evening.
On the side facing Wall Street was the 15 meter tall sculpture of bright orange. I had never taken the time to look into its origins but had heard the rumors it was called “Liberty.” There was in fact a certain spot where one could stand where the humbling orange sculpture seemed to appear as a massive dollar sign towering over the business people who rushed to and from their workplaces every day. As I drew, I heard the sound of the falafel trucks closing down for the evening. In the days of the encampment there would be almost ten of them circling the park, each truck highlighted by massive photographs of meal options. In this moment, in the tense darkness, there were only a few left. One or two I could see out of the corner of my eyes, packing up their tools for the few hours before dawn.
Now, as I stared at the boot of the police officer, who informed me if I got any chalk on him I was going to be sorry, I tried to recreate the beautiful altar in the meditation circle. I drew dripping candles with flames, flowers and sets of beads. I knew my arrest was imminent and put my heart into the last few flower petals. I wasn’t facing the park, but from my kneeling position I could imagine the empty chessboard behind me. I vaguely hear the park official tell me stop, and the sound of police officers echoing his commands, but I wasn’t finished. As the police officers circled around me and the captain made his order, I held on to my chalk as tightly as I could.
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.
New York, NY – For the past several months I have been cheering on Occupy Wall Street: I have defended their message in my own intellectual and artistic circles; I have supported their stances on social and economic justice; I have defended the movement to anyone I know who has questioned or doubted their motives; I have studied the similarities between the Occupy movement and what most pundits have come to regard as the Arab Spring; and I am proud to say that I have participated in several marches and demonstrations (both massive and minimal). I have been involved in several Occupy general assemblies and even sat in on a couple of think tank discussions. I have never directly participated in any work groups, committees or things of that nature. The truth is I’m scared to get involved that deeply. The efforts of this new generation of activists have been astounding and I fear my own efforts may slow down their work and progress. At the very least I felt my presence at Occupy demonstrations would show stronger solidarity with the movement than just giving them a ‘thumbs up’ on facebook.
March 17th was different.
As a former graduate student of Pace University, I was able to attend The Left Forum 2012. For those who may not know The Left Forum is a conference of radical Leftists ranging from academics to intellectuals to activists and so on. It lasts for a weekend at Pace University, which is located in the financial district of Manhattan (ironically) and I usually find it to be highly engaging and educational. The conference consists of many panels. Everything from the environment to the wars to civil rights to social media is discussed and debated from a Leftist perspective. I attended the conference all throughout graduate school and this was my first year attending the conference without being a student. I was excited. Artists like Amiri Baraka would discuss the historical legacy of figures such as Malcolm X and Wallace Shawn was set to do a reading from his new book of essays. The theatre nerd in me rejoiced!
On the second day of the conference Michael Moore was set to speak. I wasn’t particularly enthralled by his presence. Not that I don’t appreciate his films or some of the work he has done in the past, but I wasn’t really interested in hearing him lecture. It just wasn’t appealing to me. The last panel for the day ended at 7pm. Moore was scheduled to speak at 7:30pm. Once the clock hit 7pm the halls of Pace University were quickly flooded with people. Leftists of all branches and kinds were still in engaging in dialogue and still entrenched in their dialectical nature as they exited the classrooms where the panels took place. At that moment, I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do next. I had been at the conference almost all day (I slipped out briefly to attend a rehearsal for a play I was in) and, more than anything, I felt odd. I wasn’t interested in seeing Moore speak, but I didn’t feel right about going home either. Much of the conference was spent speaking to and about Occupy Wall Street. It felt almost wrong to be a part of this conference and then go home and not do anything. But, then, something happened. As I was trying to exit Pace, a large group of Occupy activists started chanting,
“Out of the forum and into
the streets! Out of the forum
and into the streets!”
The occupiers were dancing in the streets outside of Pace University. They had made signs and banners and they were encouraging the Leftists waiting to see Michael Moore speak to join them instead.
“You talk the talk! Now walk
the walk! You talk the talk!
Now walk the walk!”
The energy was incredible. The question didn’t even dawn on me whether I should join the occupiers or try to see Michael
Moore. It was no contest. The time for talk and praise of the Occupy movement was done for the day. We had to march. Only so much can be accomplished with intellectual analyses and academic discussions; only so much can be done with praise or criticism from a comfortable distance; only so much can be gained with inactive dissent. The moment was now and, as an actor, I know that if a moment so precious comes along, one must seize it.
We tried to get as many people as we could to march with us to Zuccotti Park, which is about a five minute walk away from Pace University. Many joined us. Many would later join us. We marched on the New York City streets and declared them as our own. Oddly enough, I found myself near the front of the march. When I realized it I was suddenly struck with worry. I had been following the brutality which had been visited upon Occupy demonstrators all throughout the country and it deeply disturbed me. My instinct of reluctance was proven correct. The NYPD’s response to the march was almost immediate. With little warning, police officers started to push and shove marchers onto the sidewalk violently. Police officers started to swing batons at the marchers in order to force them into submission. The response was, without a doubt, excessive, but we kept marching. If I remember correctly about two marchers were arrested on our way to Zuccotti Park. People were terrified, but they stood their ground. Cameras appeared everywhere instantly and recorded these brutal actions by the police. People shouted,“Shame! Shame! Shame!” to the officers, but it had little impact on their intention to repress. I was unaware that blocking traffic and/or jaywalking in New York City is an arrestable offense and is deemed so dangerous that the violator(s) must be subjected to police brutality and then violently detained. Or maybe that’s naïve.
But this was only the beginning.
As we marched on, an almost endless string of NYPD motorcycles trailed the march very closely. When we finally reached Zuccotti park there were already many people there. They welcomed us with open arms. The NYPD eventually surrounded the park. Most of us reached the park safely. I breathed in a sigh of relief. I was glad I arrived safely. It’s always a strange feeling for me personally when I go Occupy Wall Street demonstrations alone. Not a bad a feeling, but strange. I feel I belong and don’t belong at the same time. I have so much to say in moments like that, but, when I’m there, I become particularly quiet. I always find I learn more when I listen to other people and that’s exactly what I did at Liberty Square a.k.a. Zuccotti Park. Soon after the march arrived, an Occupy General Assembly began. It was declared that this would be a 24 hour occupation. People cheered. I began to walk around the park and notice the eclectic collection of people Occupy has attracted. I saw musicians play songs, artists choreograph tableaus, people played a game called Silent Ninja, and a young woman led a very large and elaborate exercise, which, I believe, has come to be known as Spring Training. It was more than thrilling. The energy was unmatched compared to anything at The Left Forum. I began to strike up conversations with people and many of them were completely fascinating and many of them were as ordinary as any Jane or John Doe. The diversity of people seemed infinite and, all in all, it was a fun time. There were points where I was entirely content just sitting and observing people. And as I sat and witnessed this movement grow before my very eyes, I realized that I had been wrong. I was not a part of an apathetic generation. My generation would not sit by silently and watch our world be destroyed by the corruption of those who hold power. My generation would fight back. And it seemed, for the briefest of moments, that we had reclaimed our public space.
The triumph was short lived. As I wandered through the park observing and taking note, I saw a marching band on the other end of the square. The band was across the street and it looked like an Irish bagpipe marching band. Why not? It was Saint Patrick’s Day after all. They began to play their music as they marched toward the upper end of the square where most of the people in the park were standing. People became ecstatic when they started to play. People ran toward the marching band in order to welcome them. But, again, the excitement was short lived. Soon after the band started playing, the NYPD stopped them. The band didn’t even reach the park. We started chanting, “Let them play! Let them play!”It was no use. Lawyers from Occupy crossed the street in order to make sure none of them were detained. I don’t think any of them were arrested, but I could be wrong.
I was furious. Not allowing people to play music in a public park on St. Patrick’s Day? It was nothing short of despicable. And it only got worse.
It was around this time that uncertainty started to fill the park. I got worried. I wasn’t sure what exactly was about to happen, but I had a pretty good idea. The NYPD started to surround the park on a greater level. More and more of them came. The officers marched almost like soldiers with guns, handcuffs, and batons. The people in the park started to worry. One of the high ranking police officers in a white shirt used a megaphone to make an announcement, but the volume wasn’t nearly loud enough. It would have been impossible for most people to hear him. I only saw him make the announcement once and, shortly thereafter, the NYPD started to raid the park. The officers tore at people with a kind of vengeance as they destroyed signs, ripped banners, and assaulted peaceful demonstrators. Officers were followed by more and more officers and they were clearly armed.
The park was thrown into a great unease. No one knew what to do. Finally, someone yelled, “Sit down!” Almost immediately people sat down and locked arms. I looked over at the police who were approaching us like a wave. They were already manhandling people and hitting them with batons. They were anxious to clear the park and were going to do so violently. That much was clear. What was unclear was what I was going to do.
I froze. As I stood in the middle of the park, the air became thick. Time didn’t slow down, but it certainly seemed out of measure. But, then, something interesting happened. It’s hard to explain in so many words, but the best way I can describe it is that I shut down. I mean, in that moment, I emotionally and intellectually shut down. Many people were screaming at the police, others were chanting, and everyone who sat down prepared himself or herself for what was about to happen. And in my strange state all I could do was join them. I sat down with the protestors in solidarity. I had to do this. Because we had every right to be in a public park; we had every right to participate in a general assembly. This was not about confronting the police. This was about protecting and exercising our right to freedom of speech. The actions of the NYPD were wrong. I knew that. But none of this rhetorical thinking absolved my fear. There were quite a number of people sitting in front of me as the police officers made their way toward us. Police officers struck people with their batons, other officers threw protestors tothe ground, punched people, etc. The scene was ugly, but I had no emotion. I would sit there. I would exercise my rights in the face of tyrannical gestures. And I was willing to suffer the consequences of my decision.
By the time the police reached me I think I was the only quiet person in the park, even with all of the intensity surrounding me. There was a young man in front of me with an orange helmet who was being dragged and pulled by the police. They eventually detained him. I was next. I took a breath. Everything was happening so fast; it was difficult to process. But, according to my own memory, this is what happened next. After the young man in the orange helmet was detained, a police officer struck me with a baton. I think he was attempting to hit my left arm. He didn’t really get a good shot at me. I felt it mildly, but I’m sure the person next to me felt it fully. He then grabbed very forcefully and pulled me up. I didn’t resist. In fact, I put up my hands immediately and said very loudly, “I’m not resisting arrest!” He proceeded to throw me to the ground, get on top of me, ram his knee into the lower part of my back while handcuffing me, all the while another police officer stepped on my face and pushed my head into the concrete with his foot. I was screaming, “Jesus Christ! I’m not resisting arrest!” The officer who had handcuffed me got me to my feet. My right knee was already bleeding from having been thrown to the ground and my jeans started to soak up the blood. The officer said, “Let’s go!” He took me to a curb outside the park where the police officers were stashing those they were arresting.
I sat on the curb. Still, I remained fairly quiet. Many of the protestors (arrested and not) were screaming at the police officers. They were consumed with anger and they had every right to be. I wasn’t. I just sat quietly. I accepted what was happening to me. More than anything I was nervous about what would happen to me and to the rest of the arrested protestors. As I looked around I saw police officers laughing and taking pleasure in what they were doing. That disgusted me. I couldn’t say I was surprised, but watching them laugh about what was happening to us was truly appalling.
I had no idea what to do. It was around this time I noticed the handcuffs on me were made of plastic and were on extremely tight. They were on so tight that I was in agonizing physical pain. I started vocalizing my pain a bit, but I tried to keep quiet. (Eventually, the handcuffs would cut off blood circulation almost entirely and my hands would remain numb for weeks.) I politely greeted some of my fellow arrested protestors. I gave them a smile and a couple of them smiled back. They were not quite as calm as I was, but it was a relief to know that I wasn’t alone and that they were all in solidarity. I noticed to my left that there was a young woman who looked like there was something dramatically wrong. I found out later that she was in the first stages of having a seizure. She was begging to have her handcuffs taken off. The police officer standing in front of us refused her request. She kept begging and pleading and he would not help her. At one point she got up and tried to run to a medic and was quickly and viciously pushed to the ground. Her body seemed like it was about to start convulsing. At the time I didn’t understand why, but it was clear she needed some kind of medical attention. After she was thrown back to the ground, her body couldn’t stop moving. I was scared for her. I looked up and saw the police officer, to whom she had been pleading, and he was reaching for his gun. It was at this point that I and a couple of other protestors started yelling at him.
“Why are you reaching for your gun?!?! She’s already in handcuffs! Why do you need your gun? She’s
detained! Why are you reaching for your gun?!?!”
He took notice of us and stopped. It turns out this young woman’s name is Cecily McMillan. I’m not sure what the updates on her are aside from that she was arrested, sent to the hospital, and the New York City chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (Occupy’s legal team) had a difficult time getting into contact with her while she was in jail. She was eventually released and is being charged with assaulting a police officer while she was having a seizure.
More details on Cecily McMillan:
It was around this time I noticed a public MTA bus had stopped in front of us. It was empty. I quickly became confused. I assumed we would be taken in a police wagon. But a public bus? I wasn’t even sure if that was legal. As the officers began to put people on the bus, a few demonstrators went limp and refused to give any assistance to the police. Because of their civil disobedience police ruthlessly tried to get detained protestors onto the bus in the only way they know how: violently. I complied. But as I saw the police manhandle people in order to force them on the MTA bus, I became increasingly frightened for my own safety and for the safety of the other peaceful demonstrators
I walked to the end of the bus and sat down. I was soon joined by others in handcuffs. The bus soon became filled with sound and fury, signifying everything. Many of the protestors were still yelling at the police. They accused the police of being corrupt, of being fascists, of being the pets of tyrants, etc. I didn’t participate in the name calling. I didn’t see a point. Nothing I could have said at that point would have changed my fate. And, frankly, I was so completely repulsed by the vulgar actions of the
NYPD. No words would have been sufficient enough to express what I felt. But I remained calm. As the police brought in more and more protestors, their treatment only got worse. The police slammed one protestor’s head into each step while they dragged him on the bus and I was terrified they were going to break his neck. This was another point where I shouted at the police officers. They eventually got him to a seat. The bus was put into motion. We received cheers from the demonstrators outside of the bus. They celebrated us. That felt nice. This was, indeed, my first arrest.
As the noise on the bus died down and as the protestors calmed down, we became creative. Most of us began to sing
together. Everything from Queen to Bob Marley was sung. One occupier laid down a beat and another started to freestyle as they hauled us off to jail. At one point, I said something entirely in character of myself. I waited until the bus became quiet for a moment and then I yelled, “So, does anyone know any showtunes?!?!” The occupier in front of me said, “Only one.”
“Do you hear the people sing? Singing the song of angry men.
It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again.
When the beating of your heart echoes the beating of the drum,
there is a life about to start when tomorrow comes!”
It was magical.
As I’m writing this my hands still feel numb from the handcuffs, even though it has been almost a month since my arrest. I visited a doctor and she told me there was no nerve damage, but I’m growing more and more concerned that the marks on my wrists caused by the tightness of the handcuffs may be permanent.
More than one person has asked me, directly or indirectly, whether all of this was worth it. Whether it was worth being arrested for this cause; I find it to be a strange question. My civil rights were violated: my right to sit in a public park, my right to exercise my freedom of speech, and my right to peacefully participate in a general assembly. Was it worth it? By bringing this next example up I am by no means comparing myself to the brave and honorable civil rights activists of the 1950’s & 60’s who intentionally broke laws in the segregated south by sitting in segregated lunch counters, but I’m sure at one point each of them was asked the same question: was it worth it? Well, fifty years later, what do you think? Was it worth them getting beaten ruthlessly by police and then being hauled off to jail? Again, I’m not comparing myself to these civil rights activists, but I’m sure each of them found the question to be just as absurd as I do.
It’s safe to say, however, the events of March 17th 2012 have changed me and I will never be the same. Whatever your feelings are about Occupy Wall Street, I think any rational person can see the tactics used by the NYPD are absolutely unacceptable. Cecily McMillan left for the hospital on a stretcher with a broken rib. Another protestor suffered a panic attack and
was manhandled for it. One protestor had a black eye and marks all over his face from police officers punching him. One occupier suffered a broken thumb and an injured jaw. It was a disgraceful scene and the NYPD was entirely responsible for creating it.
I don’t believe my efforts here were remarkable. I simply did what I had to. In truth, I chose to be arrested. I chose to stand up for what I believed to be right and I stand by my decision. I was told that all of the charges were dropped, but, in fact, they were never even brought. I spent roughly 29 hours in jail before I was released. Any citizen of the world should be concerned with the corruption of power and what it has done to our supposed democracy. Our economic system has been destroyed for a generation because of people like Charles Prince, Hank Paulson, Ben Bernanke, and many others who have not seen an hour in jail for theft, corruption, and fraud. This is what really angers me. According to the established order, it’s fine to steal billions of dollars and destroy the lives of millions people, but it’s not okay to speak out against it. What I learned on March 17th was that I have civil rights as long as I don’t exercise them. Was it worth it? Needless to say, I have gone back and participated more at Occupy demonstrations. And I will continue to do so. Because a profound change in this world is not just inevitable, it’s for our very survival.
At the height of this beauty the NYPD came into the park and began arresting someone for drumming. This man had been drumming the entire day but the orders were not given to come in and make arrests until we were all at the height of our solidarity, that thing which threatens state and corporate power so absolutely. Another man was filming the arrest and then cops jumped on him, threw him to the ground, and beat him before arresting him. I witnessed this entire scene personally as did many others. The occupiers from other locations were dumbfounded by the militancy of the New York Police Department. Of course, when beatings and arrests like this happen we converge and it all becomes very emotional because the brutality of the state, while they are doing the bidding of neo-liberal capital power, is the embodiment of what we are rising up against. It is a very direct tactic the cops use to break up our communal experience; it is when we are at the height of our peaceful experience and connecting with each other that they break it up thru violence.
Needless to say after this the momentum of our gathering was interrupted and cops began marching through the park randomly picking people and making futile efforts at intimidation. It was a scene I have seen so many times at protests, scattered people in shock. This went on for some time while the violence and threat of violence only grew as did the separation of the masses. After the police action the crowd that was originally a cohesive body of people was a mass of individuals and small gatherings who were in shock and awe of the violence.
It was in this space that I began to hear something. It was very low like a background noise but it was growing. It sounded calming, like a humming of some sort. I looked over and saw a few individuals who had come together and where ohming, you know, going “ooooohhhmmm,” a meditative sound. It was so calming that the shocked individuals began gravitating toward the sound and joining the circle.The circle slowly began to grow and grew and grew, bringing more people into it. As the circle grew the calming sound grew. I joined, and the feeling of peace while I stood in that circle ohming was so powerful that it took me away and grounded me at the same time. I closed my eyes and let myself go into that experience. When I opened my eyes the circle had grown so large that it had encompassed much of the park, and all of the cops were now on the outside of the circle, and outside of the park. What remained in that space where violence, fear, shock, awe, and fragmentation had existed only moments before was now peace, calmness, safety, solidarity, and love.
I promise you all that another world is possible and we can create it–even in the face of greed, violence, and selfishness. We created it that night at Zuccotti Park.
– Sean McAlpin –
Editor’s note: You may read another perspective of the same night in Zuccotti here. If you were there as well, share with us your story. Photo by Julia Reinhart.]]>
Before I arrived at Zuccotti there were a few arrests, and an elderly woman had even been knocked unconscious. By the time I had made my way down, the park, though surrounded by police, was peaceful in stark contrast to the events earlier in the day. Friends were sitting and chatting, the familiar sound of jackhammers pounding in the distance. An announcement session broke out and I listened in as report backs circled. News broke that Occupy San Diego would be planning a National Gathering for 12.12.12, dubbing the action “A Day Without Borders,” as well as announcements on the GA reboot and other Occupy projects. Acoustic music and singing flowed over the park, people were laughing and smiling again. It was almost like we had a chance in hell at a peaceful evening.
That’s when I noticed the wall closing around us. In two tight, single-file lines, the boys in blue stood at the top of the steps. Staring down at their prey as if they were hawks on the hunt, a new addition to their uniforms piqued my interest: gloves. Thick, black, leather gloves. My stomach dropped, they descended the steps and the powderkeg began to explode.Their sights were set, and in a clear attempt to incite a negative response they narrowed their focus on an elderly woman, sitting in a lawn chair, kitting. A clear and present danger to the general public, she had to be removed, immediately. The swarm of blue sent chills up my spine, I was suddenly surrounded. With my cellphone in hand I began furiously tweeting and taking photos, being pushed around by the massive crowd attempting to protect our comrade from the forceful hands of the NYPD. I felt a strong shove and then a sharp pain in my arm. An officer was grabbing me, screaming at me that I had to leave the park.
“GET OUT! The park is closed,” he said.
“Pardon me, Officer, but this is a privately owned public space which is required to be open to the public 24 hours a day,” I replied snarkily. “The park is not closed, I do not have to leave,” I squeaked as he grabbed my arm tighter and shoved me face-first onto the cement bench.
I threw my arms in the air in an attempt to visually reinforce that I was not resisting any type of arrest, only their blatant disregard for our right to peaceably assemble. I was thrown backwards into the sea of blue, my arm still being squeezed by the brute. I screamed “I DO NOT HAVE TO LEAVE, THE PARK IS NOT CLOSED.”
He rang my arm tighter. “If you don’t get the fuck out, I’m going to arrest you.”
I fell to the ground as the stampede swept through the park, taking with it the beautiful energy we had created.
Over the next few hours, the game of cat and mouse continued. Targeted arrests left our voices hoarse, screaming “Winski, how do you sleep at night?!”
All we could do was shout and console each other. Dazed and confused we began to join hands. Only a few of us at first, then growing gradually larger, we came together to Ohm and bring peace back to the space. Bring peace back to our home. Eventually, it seemed as if the entire park was a part of the circle. Positive energy pulsing through our park once more, we erupted in a mic check and thanked each other for the beauty of the moment. We all needed it.
I lingered a while longer, but knowing I had work in a few hours decided to call it a night when most of the tension had died down. Usually, I try to reflect on the events of the evening or write down my thoughts when I leave an action but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. July 11th marked a new dawn in the NYPD’s tactical response to Occupy that shocked and revolted me.
I didn’t sleep at all that night.
– Nicole Rose –
Photos by Julia Reinhart]]>
I noticed people running around near the main stream media–live streamers. I started asking questions: who are you? Why are you filming? Where does your work go? Lorenzo Serna explained that he was streaming. This grabbed my attention. Then, Bill Boggs at the press tent handling PR was loaded with intensity. Then Hero Vincent was doing some kind if Skype chat. I started asking all of them questions. This led to meeting Justin Wedes and Priscilla Grim and Flux and Haywood Carey–and Tim Poole. Of course, Jesse Lagreca made a splash with the Fox News people. I knew this was the angle for my film: the media people. They had a job to do. Help drive a story. Whether it was filming, editing, getting out a press release or a newspaper, this was new, exciting, living media happening from Zuccotti in the rain, snow. Anybody getting out a story to the world with this feverish energy was exciting, and to me, the first time in a long while in New York City that media wasn’t old, stale and redundant!
I made a 40 minute film that was almost live. I made some good friends and they shared with me some great video that I couldn’t film alone. I needed a team of 5 camera people 24/7 .
I made a film that mirrored the days and nights of Zuccotti. Raw, fast and real, I wanted the sound rough. The shaky camera from when I was shoved. Zuccotti was not a glossed-over filtered fantasy. I am a hard New Yorker, and this energy was real. The OWS media team is brilliant. From the Direct Action to the graphic artists to Sophia writing the Spanish paper, I tell the story of many people. Personal, yet showing their commitment to OWS media, I filmed it.
This is new journalism. They don’t need press passes and insignias to get out a story. This is greatness in action. I’m happy they trusted me to tell the story. And, regardless of criticism, they know how to create a story, and they work hard.
It was a once in a lifetime event in New York. Finally people said “Enough with the bullshit. We are citizen journalists. This is what we do. We will tell our own story.”
I used my energy to capture it.
Editor’s Note: You may view #WhileWeWatch in its entirety here at SnagFilms.]]>
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.
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