WHO IS AN OCCUPIER?
One of the hardest things I”ve been trying to deal with since coming to NYC is how to work within this movement full time. My first day, I did what so many other people did on their first introduction to the community: I wandered around like a lost freshman on their first day of school before finally settling into homeroom.
For Occupy Wall Street, our homeroom in Zuccotti was the Think Tank. From noon until 5pm you could always find a group of people engaged in intense discussion just east of the kitchen. There was no set agenda, or set group of people. As a new person, it was usually the most eclectic group you”d find, filled with not only your Zuccotti types but casual passer-by”s as well, and staffed by at least one facilitator.
So there I was, 6-8 hours into my first occupy day, still with my hippie beard and my natty carribean locks, taking part in my first “C.T. Butler” facilitated discussion. You didn”t just speak your peace whenever you wanted, but had to signal the facilitator to be put on “stack.” This was a revolution, similar to how I imagine a barbarian would feel who first witnesses the use of eating utensils. What a concept! A general and yet civilized discussion among strangers with topics that are actually developed as opposed to devolved into “life sucks” or “what can you do” nihilism.
People talked as if they believed they could actually DO something about how they felt. They talked like they had the power to change the world, or at least the will to try and imagine what that change could look like. After a couple timid attempts at participation, I finally worked up the courage to ask the group the question that was on my mind, totally off topic of course.
Sooo… Do you guys still need people? I mean, to stay here? Because I don”t want to intrude if there”s not enough space…
To this day I”m the only person I know who asked to occupy Zuccotti Park.
The answer was interesting. Not a resounding yes from those in the discussion who lived in the park, but not a no either. More like a polite brush off, like when you realize too late everyone”s not going straight home after the school dance.
Not everybody makes it to the after-party.
I decided to go to a friend”s house that night. It took a couple more days before I finally committed to staying in the park full time, and even then I never pitched a tent. For two weeks up until the illegal raid I either slept outside (sometimes without a sleeping bag) or walked the park with our de-escalation team. I didn’t feel right contributing to our ever-growing crowding problem, even though during my stay our population grew at least 10%. I didn’t come to Zuccotti just to pitch a tent or march or protest against corporate greed.
I’m only now realizing that I came to create a better world. I’ve held this hope inside like a wish I didn’t dare speak out loud. My experiences here have been showing me how to a voice to that wish. It is the shared dream of the people I talk to, reaching out because they look lost or not sure where the after party is either.
I talk to them in conversations that involve tears because I’m selfish. Passion inspires me, things that I discover I’m passionate about and the passion that is revealed through the sincerity of others.
Friday afternoon finds me sitting outside of a courtroom after my first hearing, the trial postponed to a future date. I’m talking to this guy next to me, a nice enough kid too smart for his own good who I know from my couple months bumming around the occupied office. He starts getting into how he can’t wait until spring, for the “dead weight” to fall off the movement. And my halcyon sense of unity, being a tribe of occupiers processed in solidarity by corrupt systems, vanishes. Or rather, the full recollection comes back. Since my first blush with this movement, I sensed an exclusionary guardedness that has no place in a populist movement.
Some of us were members of a community. Some of us were dead weight. The plight of the noble activist’s burden rears its swollen head once more.
One of the hardest things I’ve been trying to deal with since coming to NYC is how to work within this movement full time. This has nothing to do with personal finances. Sure, I started this blog finally on January 9th as a quick fix to my cash flow problem, buying a laptop with my working group money and expecting a couple posts and a donation button to pay for it all. But now it’s 2 weeks later, the laptop’s long since been returned, I damaged my credibility with our working group’s membership and I’m still broke.
But these aren’t hard things. These are good learning experiences. I never regret my foolish behavior, because the fool receives the best education. Also sometimes the most painful.
The hardest thing, my largest challenge, is working with people who don’t share my values. I’m coming to realize that OWS, as originally envisioned by myself, and as being rediscovered over the course of this so-far 2 week attempt at introspection, is a place where you don’t have to compromise your values. You step up to be worthy of them. At least, that’s what a movement means to me.
Friday night finds me at Spokes Council, listening to a proposal directed at excluding an admittedly repeatedly disrupting member of our community. Regardless the opinions in the room (mostly positive) or the veracity of the claims against this person, we’re all silenced by a beautiful silver-haired matriarch from OWS en Espanol, who rolls her wisdom with a heavy Latin inflection:
We are dragging a whole world that we are trying to leave behind.
And for that brief moment, those of us in the room are lent a mirror.