Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Creating a Space for Play, Community and Care Occupy Wall Street – Day 12

               As Scorn for Vote Grows, Protests Surge Around Globe” announced the New York Times this morning.

“Hundreds of thousands of disillusioned Indians cheer a rural activist on a hunger strike. Israel reels before the largest street demonstrations in its history. Enraged young people in Spain and Greece take over public squares across their countries.
Their complaints range from corruption to lack of affordable housing and joblessness, common grievances the world over. But from South Asia to the heartland of Europe and now even to Wall Street, these protesters share something else: wariness, even contempt, toward traditional politicians and the democratic political process they preside over.
They are taking to the streets, in part, because they have little faith in the ballot box.”

               That’s for sure.  In a time when formal political channels seen to produce few solutions to problems such as increasing poverty, global warming, and political gridlock, I revel in walking or riding to Zuccotti Park, the public space where Occupy Wall Street is now in its twelfth day. 


               Arriving today, I was struck with how much life, how much of a pulse is taking shape within the space.  Marching bands play; reverends preach.  There are less police and far more workers, conversations, busy workgroups, art and even play. 


               “Want a cigarette?” a young man offered.  We talked about the pleasure in the air in the space. 


               Finishing talking to him, I ran into a man who had been so furious about the police arrests the previous Tuesday. 

               “Have you gotten the solidarity you were hoping for?” I asked. 

               “Yes, he noted, but we need more.”  He pointed to his friend who had arrested earlier in the week.  She'd gotten the support she needed as well. 


               And I ran into my friend and co-author Greg, who noted that there had been people who asked him, “What do bonus plazas [such a Zuccotti Park] have to do with social movements?”  Many revel in the the very nature of the space


               “The privatized prison industry scares the shit out of me,” another man comments in a larger conversation.  That’s part of what is exciting about the space.  It is a place, like the old Times Square, where conversations are born.  Ten years after Union Square became our public commons, the center of New York has moved further downtown in another experiment is democratic engagement between workers, politicians, students, movement types, and those for whom this is their first experience in activism.. Walking around the space one can’t help but feel the pulse   It really has become a space for ideas and exchange of information. 


               It is a space where I run into friends from AIDS activism to trade unions.  The scene reminds me of what was so vital about spaces such as the Charas El Bohio Community Services Center in the Lower East Side before it was shut off to the public.  Social movements need public spaces to thrive.  This is, of course, is part of why supporters of neoliberalism shut off spaces where the public meets to build community, rather than commodify everything from water to air. 


               Already many are emulating the style of active listening produced by the human mike at used at the Occupy Wall Street meetings.  A side effective of this listening is convivial social relations as opposed to the shrill tones which often take shape in activist meetings.  Committee announcements for food as well as comfort begin the afternoon general assembly.  The comfort committee needs more toothpaste, toothbrushes, blankets and supplies.  There are hugs to spare. 


               Part of what takes shape in this space is a conversation about poverty, human need and care.  Faced with increasing poverty and political gridlock, Occupy Wall Streets embodies a new model of mutual aid, in which people find new forms of social and community support.  And most certainly many need it.  “23 years old, 3 science degrees, $130,000 in debt, ‘Get a Job’ ‘Fuck you I’m trying” reads another.  The theme of a generation burdened with debt is found in many of the signs.  “People before Profits” reads another sign.  Rather than resignation or utopian fancy, many here are embrace a new model of care.  “Love humanity lets get our shit together,” reads another sign.  “It’s not too late America.  We can fix this shit.”   “NYPD: New York’s Bullies” and “Wasting tax dollars policing peaceful protest this is what hypocrisy looks like” read critiques of the NYPD.  While an anti-police brutality rally is planned for Friday at 1 Police Plaza, most of the crowd is not anti-police.  “NYPD are part of the 99%” reads another sign seeking solidarity with the police.  The solidarity may be becoming mutual.  


               “Revolution means we care about each other,” my friend Mark Andersen said.  You can certainly see it at Occupy Wall Street.  There is a new culture being created right here. 

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