Up from the musty subways, two blocks down Broadway, the controlled chaos of Occupy Wall Street leaps into view, part happening (musicians drumming, piles of clothing, an efficient and tasty food service, a library, the medical unit) part street fair (homemade postering, people browsing, the brilliant Beehive Collective art posters, bustling tables of conversation) and part BugHouse Square/Union Square (debates, engaging passers-by, speakers, daily democratic meetings). Liberty Plaza, formerly Zuccotti Park, is long (going East/West) and narrow (up and downtown).
Occupy Wall Street is entering its 4th week. It’s fresh, a break, visceral bolts of lightning. Pointing fingers at the fat cats, it challenges the gouging 1%. It unites the 99. It (so far) has no program, no demands. It occupies the park at the foot of the stone and glass citadels. Located just two blocks East of the World Trade Center abyss, and blocks West from the Tombs (the massive gulag that cages the poor and people of color, Occupy Wall Street is multiplying, replicable. The titans roost high above all of our cities. This occupation is decentralizing itself. Sparked by the young who have no jobs, but have crushing student loans that will keep them indebted to the banks and banking universities for decades (Cancel the Debt!), witnessing their parents’ homes foreclosed, they see the gross financial/corporate money grab for what it is and in contrast, they illuminate another way of being.
Two inventions are stunning to experience: the General Assembly, the daily horizontal, consensus-seeking, rebellious, anarchist meeting; and the peoples’ microphone. Since the police prohibit amplification, the occupying forces invented a living mike, repeating every 6-8 words from the speaker. When Naomi Klein spoke, she kept turning on the stage as in a theatre in the round, and as the crowd swelled, she had to wait until 3 echoes of her thought were repeated out from the center before continuing. It was funny and hard to catch the rhythm but it also involved all of us in restating her words, making them our own, amplifying out. We were all both speaking and listening, and the exuberance is contagious.
I approach two women holding Grannies for Peace signs, but all is not juicy here. I’m a granny for peace, I begin, looking for somewhere to join in. A torrent of complains flow forth: “This is just a Be-In!” (I remember my first Be-In at the lakefront in Chicago, 1966, I liked it.) “No politics! No demands.” They aren’t wrong, but not right, missing the flame. I move on.
OWS is the inheritor of the 1999 Seattle challenges to the World Trade Organization. It openly acknowledges the inspiration of Tunisia, Egypt, Wisconsin and Greece. Flanked by (some) important union support, multiracial (to some extent), revolted by endless US invasions abroad and national security wars against immigrants and the poor at home, and zealously passionate about climate change and protecting the earth, OWS is nurturing a beginning, a seed, a spark.
The police presence is massive, ominous and ugly, despite the extended and firm non-violent civil disobedience stance of the occupiers. Wall Street itself is blocked off by police barricades, making visible what is implicit. OWS says in response, “Occupy Public Space” and “Generate Solutions Accessible to Everyone,” living differently so everyone can live. Join us. Quickly.