Wednesday, October 19, 2011

“We Are Too Big to Fail”: Eviction Defense at Occupy Wall Street! (And a week inside a movement expanding beyond borders).

I just got back from spending the night through the rain, passion, love, community, fun, joy, power and possibilities of eviction defense for a new and pulsing movement in downtown Manhattan.  This is a movement I have been waiting for since I moved her fourteen years ago.  It is something I had started to think I would never see.  But now I see these hopes really can take shape.  It was a wild ride of a week watching and taking part in the Occupy Wall Street Movement (OWS).   The week moved so fast, I could only account for or take part in a few of the movements of the ever expanding movement.  I regret the moments I missed and relish in the moments in which I was able to participate.  The following are a few highlights.

Sunday afternoon, a procession from Judson Memorial carried a life side "Golden Calf"  - a symbol of the false idol Wall Street has become, a place to worship  at the alter of the god of materialism.  Just like Allan Ginsberg railed against "Moloch" a pagan god to whom children were once sacrificed and "whose soul is electricity and banks," this protest challenged the idea that accumulation should be valued above all else.  The action began from the steps of Judson Memorial Church where Freedom Riders once departed, sex worker, immigrant rights, and syringe exchange programs thrive, and anarchist book fairs are held every year.  The point of the action was not to impose a message of faith on OWS, but to thank OWS for shining a light on a great injustice and creating a movement to challenge the ever expanding class divide in this country. 

"We, the people of faith communities throughout New York and the United States, see in the spirit of Occupy Wall Street, a promise of democracy renewed 
Our spiritual traditions are clear: the impoverishment of the many for the benefit of the few destroys us all. The cries of our people are clear: the American dream is compromised; the middle is slipping away; and in our politics, fairness is dissipating. The Soul of our Nation is threatened by many false idols.
So together we affirm the golden rule: do to others as you would have them do unto you. We commit ourselves to the restoration of justice for all in our economy, and compassion in our politics, that together we might behold a revolution of values for all our people. We ask all Americans to join us in this prayer, that once again our country might be the fulfillment of hopes and dreams for all who reach its shores."

Golden Calf by John Yal
Carrying signs declaring, “Jesus is with the 99%” supporters linked economic justice with a call for a new public morality expressed in the Beatitudues. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”  Our signs also read: “You cannot worship wealth and God,” the message from Matthew 6:24.  “We shall not, we shall not be moved.  We shall not, we shall not be moved.  Just like a tree planted by the water, we shall not be moved,” the multi-faith group sang.  Others chanted, “One, We are the people, two, a little bit louder, three, we want justice for the 99%.”  Michael Ellick and Donna Schaper lead the Judson contingent, with included my two daughters a few friends, and Steve Duncombe, dressed as a fault billionaire with the Golden Calf on his shoulder.  Arriving we marched around the park, with drum beats cascading through the air.  Using the people’s mic, Ellick and company thanked those at OWS for doing what they were doing, offering sanctuary, food, bathrooms, and shelter for those  in the park.  Other faith based leaders spoke, offering praise for the movement and its links to a broad based social justice gospel.

Monday Times Up! held its own Occupy Fountains ride, reveling in public nature and possibilities of the other privately owned public spaces, such as Zaccotti Park, the home of this protest.  After meeting in Herald Square we rode up 6th Avenue past Rockefeller center to dance, and swim in the other bonus plazas all over NYC.  With “Start Me Up” blaring from the sound bike, we frolicked and played in the fountains along Sixth Ave, turning the city into a space for relatedness.  Security guard after security guard ran out to ask us to leave, but few could do more than watch. “Get out of the pool,” one implored.  “Join us” we screamed back before joining hands we pranced around the fountain.  A giddiness  pervaded the Indian Summer afternoon. 

Time's Up! Environmental Organization 

Time's Up! Environmental Organization 

Times Up! press for the action stated:

This Columbus Day, instead of celebrating the mass genocide of
American Indians, Time’s Up! chose to discover the new world... of
bonus plazas! About two dozen cyclists participated in Time’s Up’s
Third Annual Fountain Ride. Inspired by the Occupation of Wall Street,
this year’s ride 11/10/11 was renamed the Occupy Fountains Ride.
According to city zoning, many of New York City's fountains are
privately owned, public spaces. They are part of bonus plazas, such as
Zuccotti Park, where Occupy Wall Street is highlighting that these
bonus plazas are open to the public for multiple uses. For years now,
Time's Up! has been highlighting that one obvious use for a public
fountain is swimming: assembling in a public space, using it to its
fullest, and having fun.
“They are supposed to be accessible to the public," notes Times Up!
member Benjamin Shepard, whose book, The Beach Beneath the Streets,
considers the contested nature of these spaces. "It comes down to a
question of accessibility. As William Whyte noted, it is crucial to
define what 'accessible' means. A commonsense interpretation would say
that the public can use these spaces in the same way it uses any
public spaces, with the same freedoms and the same constraints. The
private owners of these public parks have no right to regulate how
they are used, yet they do so with impunity. They hire private
security guards to shoo away skaters, nappers, and in this case,
swimmers. They only get away with this because nobody has challenged
them. A stiff, clarifying test is in order. The Time's Up! fountain
rides serve as this sort of test. We have occupied these public
spaces, security guards have tried to shoo us away, but no one as been
arrested. If anyone is arrested, we will fight the case and prove the
legality of our actions, and until then, we will continue to enjoy
these spaces and show the public that they can use them just like any
other public space. Yesterday, we swam freely at most parks. Children
jumped in to join us and onlookers applauded from the sidelines. One
tourist said that seeing us in one of these fountains made his whole
trip to New York worth while. The power of these public spaces is
undeniable, from Zuccotti Park up to the fountains along Sixth Ave."

Time's Up! Environmental Organization 

Time's Up! Environmental Organization 

Time's Up! Environmental Organization 

DNA info ran a full account of the action.  Throughout the city, more and more people are becoming aware of the possibilities of the privately owned public spaces (POPS).
Working for most of Wednesday, I missed the tour of the homes of the homes of the 1% organized by OWS.   With each action, the group is closer to highlighting the inequalities vexing our current social reality.  Many of New York’s daily papers wound up covering the story.


As usual on Thursday, I listened to the radio as I made breakfast for the kids.  Morning news reported that bank foreclosures of property were on the rise throughout the country, with some of the highest rates taking place in Brooklyn, where redlining had once deprived communities of color of capital to repair their homes or invest in their communities.  Today, many of these are the same homes being foreclosed.  Earlier this summer, I blogged about the struggle of Mary Lee Ward, an 82-year-old grandmother, who was in jeopardy of losing her home of 44 years.

Thursday afternoon, Organizing for the Occupation, helped organize a foreclosure defense for Ms Ward and others losing their homes and livelihoods to predatory lending.  Arriving at Court on Adams Street, Reverend Billy stood preaching.  Frank Morales framed the court and bank’s actions as “basically stealing people’s homes.”  He explained that Organizing for the Occupation would use direct action to defend people’s homes and create homes for those struggling for the human right to housing.  He declared:

What is O4O? O4O is all of us coming together to construct an apparatus
designed to facilitate the mass occupation of and defense of vacant
spaces, and to organize effective anti-eviction campaigns in defense of
people who want to remain in their homes, thus actualizing the human right
to a home through direct action. That is what O4O is about. And yet, O4O
is more than that.

O4O intends to marshal the creative energies of all of you and the
thousands out there towards the creation of a grassroots, broad based
squatters movement, a movement of people who both need a home and those
who themselves may have one but whose desire and concern for others
translates into concrete solidarity with the homeless, the under-housed,
those who are sick and tired of never ending rising rents, those who are
facing eviction from their homes because some bank, full of racist and
greedy tricksters armed with corrupt laws say they must leave. We say no
way! As Albizu Campos, the great leader of the Puerto Rican people once
said: “When Tyranny is Law, Revolution is Order!”

O4O is a means, situated on the highest moral plane, to fight back through
positive, constructive direct action, namely, the occupation, the
renovation, the liberation of the housing with and for the people who need
it, coupled with a determined community based self-defense of those facing
displacement from their homes due to nothing more than to so-called
economic realities, the reality that not a dime is spent on housing for
the poor, the reality that prisons and the police are clearly the elite
solution to poverty. the reality that homelessness is a form of state
repression, a counterinsurgency against the poor. This is the reality to
which we say this:

If this is the kind of reality they are asking us to face, we say that
its not about facing reality, the reality of private property and
speculation, the reality of the normalization of homelessness and mass
evictions of poor and working people. We say the point is not to face,
accept or even interpret this reality: The point is to change it!

Morales concluded his homily by suggesting that there was no need to embrace a reality which honors profits over people; people were going to live another life, find another way to live, and reject a reality which considers foreclosure business as usual.  This is a movement to create something better.  As he was speaking, activists inside were disrupting the foreclosure auction.

Throughout the day, reports poured in that the city would evict the Occupy Wall Street.  In the meantime, many of the bankers were speaking out against the movement, calling the activists “unsophisticated” as the reported in the “NY Times.”  (Full disclosure, the banker flustered about  the blockade in this particular interview was performance studies guru LM Bogad).

Late Thursday night, I got on my bike to ride from Brooklyn to Zaccotti Park for eviction defense of the public space which has become the heart of this ever expanding movement for the poor, the unemployed, the homeless, the college students with debt, and the laid off stock broker, the other “99%” not enjoying the leisure and material success of the 1% said to own 60% of the wealth in this country. 

Arriving after a dinner with my mom and the gals and a crazy hard week, I was actually ready to sleep before the morning’s defense of the space. Walking through the space and the drizzle, I could see that in addition to the usual suspects who had been there for the last month, activists were joined by a few homeless people who had joined the movement.  Many of the queer youth with little other place to stay had recently started sleeping there as well.  A group from Times Up!, Radiohive, and Times UP! planned to sleep over.  It was a bit of a task just to find a space for twelve of us to sleep.  And those spaces we found were already spoken for.

“You guys are not going to get much sleep tonight,” an older man declared, holding a broom in one hand, a cup of coffee in the other.  “We’re going to clean up all night,” he explained.  “But we need more coffee.”  About this point, rain started pouring down and another man older gentleman started screaming about his boxes soaked.  The light hearted vibe which had been part of the space felt absent. 

Photo by Eric McGregor


Eventually we found a space for the dozen of us to bundle in.  Welcoming the gang, I chatted for a few minutes and a few minutes past midnight, I lay my sheets out on our tarp and lay down to crash.  From midnight to a little past one, I slept.  Gradually, drizzle turned to huge heavy rain.  I pulled the tarp over my head but the rain grew stronger, pelting my tarp.  Slowly, the rain started pouring down, across the sidewalk, through my clothes, now soaked with water.  People have slept here for a month and I was barely making it through a night.  If I rode home, I would never make it back.  Back in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, I had slept at Union Square and City Hall, but never in the rain. 

“This ain’t working,” one of our buddies chimed in.  “Lets go to the Blarney Stone.”  In the previous weeks the public house in 11 Trinity Place had become something of a hub for the movement, with activists cavorting with business people and the neighbors who lived downtown.
Sitting down, we were joined by one friend who organizes a monthly community meal open to everyone called “Grub.”  We were also joined by some of the women from Glass Bead Media Collective who have taken a lead on diversifying the perspective of those serving as spokespeople for the movement.  One of the activists at the table had been at Greece participating in the protests. They are allowed much more space to converge, but they are also subject to more abuses from the police she explained.

“Do they want to stay in the European Economic Community?” I asked. 

“I don’t know.”

The conversation turned to what could be created or imagined with such models.  Formations, such as the EEC, hold less appeal for this crowd.  Formal political channels hold no more appeal.   Democracy as seen in Washington is off the table.  No one seems to find it relevant.   Others suggested that our world of borders and capital was becoming a thing of the past.  

Photo by Eric McGregor

Capitalism isn’t working,” another chimed in. “When you fix its problems here or regulate things, companies move elsewhere.  Its not working.  Capitalism isn’t working.  Its not sustainable here and its not going to abroad.  The limited supply of energy is being dispersed.  Something has got to come along to equalize the world a little bit.”

While the critique of capitalism was taking shape in multiple forms, it was difficult to imagine alternatives, although many already are. The global justice movement of the past decade tried to do so, highlighting the violence of a system which supports profits over people and commodifies everything from water to air.  Philosopher Slavoj Zizek came to Occupy Wall Street a few weeks ago.  He pointed out that while people watch science fiction movies on the end of the world all the time, yet we have a hard time imaging a world without capitalism.

As the rain poured, we chatted away the hours from 2 to 3:45 AM.  Even when people disagreed, the movement space had created a vibe which allowed us all to learn from each other.  By 3:30, the rain stopped and our started to meanderred back through the streets up to Zuccotti Square.  While the space is a friendly terrain, it is still a lot easier to sleep there with a group, in this case of some twelve of us, huddling in a group spoon, under a tarp to stay warm, and comfort each other from the storm.

photo by Brennan Cavanaugh

I snoozed for an hour or so before the need to pee was more than I could handle.  So I got up to wander through downtown looking for somewhere in the darkness of downtown.  By the time I returned, my snuggly spot had disappeared, so I crawled in on the corner while a couple of others went looking for a bathroom.

By 5:30 AM, amped activists started waking everyone to prep for a confrontation with the police. Activists had planned to lack arms and hold the space in the event of an eviction. Yet, no streets had been cordoned off or cars had been towed as the police usually do before such evictions.  Still, the OWS crowd had been holding an informal assembly and chants since 4:30 AM.  I was hoping for a little of the late night snoozing, and Lebowski style chilling advertized among the protests on Fox, but little of it was to be found, with almost all my colleagues and the younger activists rising and shining well before the sun was up.

By 6 AM, I grabbed a coffee and started making my ways through the park, greeting friends.  Colleagues from Times Up!, the Professional Staff Congress, the Church Ladies for Choice, Health Care Now, Cirkus Amok, as well as Judson were there to defend the space.  The square was now shoulder to shoulder with a cross section of activists in solidarity. The RMO was on hand for the 6 AM call to defend the space, side by side with trade unionists and those in faith communities.  By 7 AM, word started making its way through the crowd that victory marches would be leaving for both City Hall and Wall Street.  A speaker used the human mic to read a memo from the Deputy Mayor.   


“Late last night, we received notice from the owners of Zuccotti Park – Brookfield Properties – that they are postponing their scheduled cleaning of the park, and for the time being withdrawing their request from earlier in the week for police assistance during their cleaning operation. Our position has been consistent throughout: the City’s role is to protect public health and safety, to enforce the law, and guarantee the rights of all New Yorkers. Brookfield believes they can work out an arrangement with the protesters that will ensure the park remains clean, safe, available for public use and that the situation is respectful of residents and businesses downtown, and we will continue to monitor the situation.”

Roars emanated from the crowd during  the 7 AM celebration.
“We can change the course of history,” the crowd echoed with the human mic. “We can defend this square from oppression.”  A feeling of power emanated through the square.  I continued to mingle through the crowd to talk with friends, as others took off on morning marches to City Hall and Wall Street. My friend Marina Sitrin, one of the man women who have spearheaded this leaderless movement, captured the vibe on the street.
The tears began at 6am at Liberty Plaza, or, better said, with the
thousands in and around Liberty Plaza. The outpouring of solidarity
quite literally filled the Plaza beyond overflowing. I am exhausted,
and overwhelmed with emotion.
I did not know that popular power could have such an overwhelming
sensation. It is a chill ... a tremble that is both incredibly
powerful – feeling ones power with others – and also a little scary -
feeling how much power we can actually have together, side by side.
As I slowly weaved my way through the masses of people, many who began
arriving at midnight, I walked with my tears and my chills. I was
weaving through groups of very young people, easily in their teens and
early twenties, many people with piercings, and others clearly going
to work soon, some even in jackets. There were older people,
grandparents, and so many of us in between. All differently dressed
and of many different races and ethnicities. Some groups came
together, but most it seemed came as individuals, or with a friend or
two. There were many union members there, I could tell by their shirts
and hats, though they did not seem to have been “mobilized” but rather
were coming on their own, as many rank and file workers have been
doing everyday.
I saw lots of old friends and compañeros, sort of like a reunion ...
only we were all there to use our bodies to prevent the eviction of
our Plaza. A place that has now been claimed by tens of thousands of
New Yorkers, and people across the country. A Plaza that is organized
with direct democracy and assembly forms of decision making. A Plaza
that we have held and opened to people for three weeks today.
As I wandered on the outside of the Plaza, the inside being impossible
to enter, overflowing with people as it was, I would on and off listen
to the general assembly. There were a few opportunities since the
people’s mic was now on four and even five waves. The number of waves
(times phrases are repeated) indicates just how large the group is.
Most nights we have two waves, which is around 500 people. Three waves
is more like a thousand. And four waves, at least 1500 ...
This morning, the waves of people repeated the invitation from the
direct action working group to join them in linking arms and keeping
the Plaza. The response was resounding applause. There was no
discussion, debate or hesitation. Not only did people agree with
shouts, whistles, and their fingers twinkling in the air, but with
their bodies. As 7am approached, the time the Mayor and Brookfield
Properties said they would come into the Plaza with the police and
move people out, people did not move.
There, with at least 5000 other people, we waited to see what would
happen. We were ready for whatever that might mean. But what was clear
was that our bodies were talking. People stayed in the Plaza. People
stayed around the Plaza. Our Plaza.
And then, with the people’s mic, five waves extending, just before
7am, the announcement came.
They backed down.
We Won!
Popular Power!
A Day in the Life of the Occupation coming very soon, just as soon as
I take a nap.

The moment of peace would only last so long, as these things go.  It was not long before the sounds of police alarms started to fill the street.  My phone started to ring as different friends calling.  The morning rallies at the ringing of the bell have remained spirited from the first week of the movement.  They would be especially boisterous today.  “Police are arresting people down here,” a friend noted on the phone, referring to Bowling Green.  Walking down Broadway, another friend received a call that there were arrests at the second rally moving across Exchange Place.  “They took one wrong turn” another friend noted.  Walking West toward South Shore seaport other, white shirts pulled out police batons to corral the march.  More and more marchers joined in questioning why the police had their batons out.  By the time we looped Eastward on Maiden and Pearl, the crowd started to run up the street,  where the police had pushed an activists into the street before arresting her.

“Its really hot out here,” another friend noted as the rallies overlapped.  “We’ve been on cars drumming.  It’s a real riot out here.”

Police and activists clashed.  A policeman rolled his scooter over one a man’s leg.  Police in scooters were now pushing people back into the street, as five more were arrested.  And more screams followed.

“Get back to the square.  They are taking the square,” another screamed the crowd started to run back to the square. Police carried batons as we walked back to the square. Returning, the police stood guarding the Broadway entrance.  Police and protestors would skirmish throughout the day.  Videographers, activists, journalists and lawyers would spend the rest of the day trying grapple with the escalating conflict, as the NYPD did their best Bull Conner routine, drawing more and more attention to the movement, their bad behavior, as well as escalating street actions.  A follow up march was already being planned for the following week.  The message would be simple:

Tell District Attorney Cy Vance to end his silence:
 No more NYPD violence against #OccupyWallStreet, LGBT New Yorkers and Communities of Color!
10/18 AT 5PM

On Friday morning, a senior NYPD officer sucker-punched Felix Rivera-Pitre in an unprovoked attack during an #OccupyWallStreet march. Now the police say they are looking for him and threatening multiple charges to cover up the assault.

Felix is a grassroots leader in the community group VOCAL-NY and has participated in #OWS solidarity actions during the past several weeks, including arriving early on Friday morning at Zuccotti Park to help resist the eviction.

Demand District Attorney Cy Vance Hold the NYPD and Deputy Inspector Johnny “Fists” Cardona Accountable for Violence Against #OccupyWallStreet!

Felix grew up in the Bronx and Puerto Rico, is openly HIV-positive, and believes the police may have targeted him because he is gay.  He is one of thousands of low-income and working class New Yorkers who have joined #OWS since it began, first becoming involved because he lives in a homeless shelter and cannot afford to move into his own place.

Violence and harassment by the NYPD is an everyday occurrence in communities of color, especially for people of color who are LGBT. There were over 600,000 stop-and-frisks by police in 2010, mostly among Black and Latinos and the highest number on record.

The NYPD officer who assaulted Felix has been identified as Deputy Inspector Johnny “Fists” Cardona. Inspector Cardona also tackled a female protestor during an Occupy Wall Street march to Union Square a couple weeks ago, at the same time another group was peppered spray out of nowhere by fellow coward Deputy Inspector Anthony Balogna.

After the eviction defense, many had been more than happy to stay and relax after a long intense night.  Walking through the square I was able to talk with friends from gardening to queer movements, many of whom I rarely run into elsewhere.  This, of course, is part of the power of this movement.  Without public spaces such as this, running into friends is less likely.  Ten years ago, our movement lost the Charas El Bohio Community Center in the East Village.  It and New York’s other public spaces are sorely missing.  Perhaps this is why this movement is gaining so much ground.  This is a space where people break their isolation.

Photo by Erik R. McGreggor

You cannot walk through the space without running into film crews, journalists, photographers. 
By the time the morning was done, I had talked with the New Yorker as well as my friend Michael, who interviewed me for the Gamma Blog.  While the corporate media has come around to the issue, alternate media, including social networks, twitter, blogs, photographers posting material to Flickr, and videographers have been on hand to disseminate the message of  the movement through Facebook, text messages, and so on.

by Brennan Cavanaugh

I left Zuccotti Park around 11 to go home to  blog and get ready for a flight to give a talk in Chicago.  I had booked my tickets three weeks prior on September 19th only a few days after this thing had started.  I could not imagine at the time that this thing would last so long.  But I had heard that Occupy Chicago had their own action going on so I planned to drop by in between session.


After running around with friends from grad school at activism the night before, I arrived for my morning session.  I was supposed to present with a panel called “Visions of Play, Pleasure and Technology in a Sustainable Post Capitalist Society.”  The session would into a time to consider the meanings of Occupy Wall Street from the outside and in.  The night before at the Blarney Stone we had tried to grapple with what the encampment could mean for a society increasingly incapable or unwilling to create a space for many to find work or even shelter or space.

So what did the topic of play have to do with the topsy-turvy organizational structure of the protest encampment?  “Carnival is what power is,” explained Talmadge Wright, a sociologist from Loyola who had done research on social movements around homelessness as well as play. The play element would be important for such a movement.  It is part of a moving beyond militancy towards something harder to grapple with or control.  “Play is serious and frivolous.  You don’t where it is coming from. These moving targets dispersion,” mused Wright, relating his point to the transgressive nature of the OWS.  This is part of why the movement’s lack of clear demands remains dynamic. The Onion pointed out that part of what the media wants from Occupy Wall Street is set of demands it an ignore.  Instead, a stream of messages flow out to the world every  night.  Elites do not know if the movement is accelerating or exiting.  Part of why Martin Luther King was so successful was because he was able to mediate a space between himself and the threat that if those in power did not deal with him, the crazies might take over. There is no clear beginning or end of such an approach.

Instead, the movement's anti corporatist power builds within an echo chamber of ideas, reverberating through stories produced by the journalists who visit, the multiple tweets, and the live feed echoing out into the world. And the message connects viewers and participants, from couches to streets, rioters to liberal reformers, across ideas and points of reference.

Yet, part of what makes this movement so vital is its emphasis on place.  Wright reviewed his typology of space from Out of Place, his ethnography of movements by and for the homeless. Here regular people navigate between marginalized spaces where they are displaces, transforming them into pleasure spaces, such as squats where self determination finds expression and they transform these places, constantly navigating away from the functional spaces where they are displaced again and again, the shelters where the homeless are relegated into prison like conditions.  The appeal of the ludic quality of these protests is an alternative to the prison like coldness of the shelters and institutions our system builds to warehouse the poor and homeless.
“We are certain that communities of joy will emerge from our struggle,” read one of the zines on anarchist basics I picked up at the park the night before.  To a great degree, Zuccotti Park  has been transformed into a transgressive space where people connect, dream and imagine something else. This is perhaps why so many have fought so long to maintain the space.  Loss of these spaces leaves the body isolated.  Many over the struggles over places such as this can be traced back to People’s Park.

Lauren Longman, another Loyola sociologist, would eventually chime in that Occupy Wall Street has already won by changing the conversation.  Referring to corporate media observers of the space, few of whom he suggested read Deleuze and Guattari, Longman would argue this is a rhizomatic movement, not a Union and this is part of why people struggle to understand it.   

Witnessing OWS, it is hard not to imagine that the time of the tribes has not come.

Beth Dougherty, a graduate student at Loyola, would describe the social play and connection of World of Warcraft, a wildly popular multiplayer which has spawned a vast network of players who have formed their own guilds.  Dougherty reveled in the point that people look to break their isolation in multiple ways, including game play.  Faced with a world of hyper capitalism and inequality, followed by alienation, apathy and an expanding gap between rich and poor as well as a general anomie, many have turned to game play such as a means of connectivity. “[T]hat play was  a collective ways o relieving social tensions, offering a luminal space in which culture could (re)create itself,” argued Dougherty.  For players, it offers a means to break isolation and create conversation, a space for cooperation & material assistance.  Here players build connections, advise and help others with tasks far larger that those afforded by the game itself, such as job searches and other forms of support.  And the guilds become spaces for mutual aid and exchange, which allows people to feel the pleasure of sharing, giving, and supporting issues larger than themselves. Here, those who were isolated by time, space and money are able to find an connection and a sense of democratic experience few could find elsewhere.  For many, the experience is creates an emotional uplift of effervescence.

Moving from game play to social organizing, Lauren Longman offered a paper on play, Burning Man and the transformation of work.  He began his paper with a cursory review of a few assumptions of Marxism. 
1)      Capitalism creates isolation and alienation.
2)      It is eliminating jobs through automation.
3)      The only way to abolish alienated labor is to abolish private property.
4)      Ideology sustains these systems.
With a job market with depression level 9.1 unemployment, 25% for those off the unemployment rolls, Longman noted: “Indeed, the various protests … bear witness to the growing  problems of unemployment, under employment, especially among young cohorts,” noted Longman.  “Various governments  and parties  debate the best way to create  more jobs- but  is that the best way to adapt the changing world, or indeed, we might question  whether job creation is even possible, and if possible if that would be a good solution.” Yet we really need jobs?  And if so, what kind?  Is it possible to imagine a world without alienating work?  To do so would be to change the way work is organized. With so many not working, many have already turned to do so.  The mutual aid models taking shape in spaces such as OWS suggest many are already actively creating these new models of living, not merely working or surviving.
Carnivalization rejects alienation. They support alternate values, as well as rejection  of repressive means. The appeal of the carnival is a way to create these new forms of work, play, innovation, and experimentation.  Take Burning Man, where pranksters and scenesters have descended for a generation.  A yearly gathering in the Nevada dessert, those who come create a “ludic” culture out the “default world.”  Principles of this world include: “radical inclusion,” “gifting,”  “decomodifying,” and “immediacy.”  Those who arrive are charged to “take no traces.”  While its limitations as a vacation activist space are easily recognized, it still opens a space for news ideas, values, and practices.  A similar dynamic takes place with the dance decompression bike rides Times Up! has been organizing.

What connects Worlds of Warcraft and Burning Man, as well as O4O and OWS are these are spaces where people practice non-alienating humanity.  They strike a resonating core, without demands on power.  Inclusive, they create a new sense of solidarity.  Each are supported through embodied gestures in direct action, rituals, and solidarity creating moments which emphasize participation and equality.  Here, bodies transgress and transform, with actions reinforming convivial social relations.

Yet, what about work?  What about the future of the 99% left out of the formal economy?  Burning Man has long been known as a way to release on the pressure valves.  Yet, what of material needs?  Today, many recognize the formal economy has left them behind, and the carnival of street protest as well as mutual aid is expanding.  Yet, gaps remain for those left behind.

Drums thundered through the cavernous downtown loop of Chicago as I walked through the streets where the Haymarket Martyrs were murdered, Fred Hampton was killed in his own bed, and the 1969 Days of Rage exposed a lingering violence generations ago.  Still, the struggles for work, unions, self determination, and dignity felt very present as I walked to Occupy Wall Street.  Located at LaSalle and Jackson, outside of the Board of Trade, just across from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, the space is open to everyone who wants to join.  Like New York, the street corner includes a library of books, an information booth with zines and flyers, as well as a food station with an open box of Duncan Donuts.  

“People are bringing whatever they have for whoever needs it” an African American man running the food station.  “It’s a lot in this racist city, even if the media does not seen to recognize this.”

“We Are the 99% and We Will No Longer Be Left Silent” declared one sign.  “Capitalism will never be a Democracy;” “Tax the Top, We All Should Pay for the USA;” “Today’s Tax Burden is the Lowest since 1950” read others. Many have been spending the night for weeks.  A briskness rarely felt in New York filled the Chicago afternoon. Still those on hand reveled in participating in a movement growing from Canada to London. Unions, Jobs for Justice, and labor felt very present on the corner.  This was a struggle for a different kind of democracy.  “Capitalism will never be democracy,” declared another sign.  It was also a movement for fairness.  “Tax the Top, We Should All Pay for the USA.”   This was also a struggle for the working poor. “Dear 1%” read one sign held by a younger man in a suit.  “I walk like you, I work a job like you, Whats the difference between you and I? I grew up on food stamps.  We Are the 99%.”  The issue of work loomed larger here than it seems to in New York. 

“Do you know where there are any jobs,” a middle aged man asked me. 

            “No, I’m from out of town,” I responded.  He reminded me of the men I worked with in the mid-1990s at the Living Room Café in the Woodlawn, where poverty rates are the highest in the country, along with the South Bronx and West Texas border.   William Julius Wilson wrote When Work Disappears about this population, who once worked in factories, watched those jobs disappear, and today walk the planet isolated, dispossessed.  For almost a year during the mid-1990’s, I interviewed men and women who had organized during the Great Depression.  Six-decades later, many still spoke in awe of the years when they were forced to steal milk from their neighbors just to survive. 
            “I have to look for work,” he continued, later asking me if I could help out.  Dropping him a ten he thanked me.   “Been unemployed since June.  Its bad out there.  Too many people are unemployed.  Food stamps are not enough to live. Too many people are unemployed out there.  Its gonna be like 1969 out there.  What am I going to do, take stuff?”  Yet, he wasn’t turning to crime.  He was supporting the occupation.  “The more people out there, the stronger we are.”  By the end of the day, the group had grown to some 2000 people.  That night there would be 175 arrests of those making this movement.

 On the way back from Chicago, I spoke with my friend James Tracey about the mutual aid taking shape in Chicgao. He chimed in, “You have one or two choices: love your neighbor or mug your neighbor… Its all about the mutual aid.”

November 26th, 1999 Reclaim the Streets had clogged up the Times Square with bodies on Buy Nothing Day.  Many of those same activists, drummers, and musicians were on hand to participate in an event which quadrupled the 1999 action held in solidarity with the Seattle World Trade Organization meetings planned for the following week. 

A coalition of over 200 musicians and artists from New York City calling themselves simply “the 99%,” planned to stage a unifying creative spectacle at Times Square on Saturday, a culminating moment in what has been billed as a full day of decentralized autonomous actions targeting the banking industry by #occupywallst demonstrators.

Though the organizers were keeping the details a secret, they promised a spectacle that would create a “stunning moment of hope and solidarity” noted Willam Etundi, an event producer known through his group, “The Danger” and one of those who was on hand for the RTS Buy Nothing Day action in the space twelve years prior.  “The arts community has really been looking for ways to support this movement.  This is providing many of them with a unique way to do that.  A spectacle in the heart of spectacle.”

Performers and participants began arriving at Times Square at 5:00pm, where they sang and played music for an hour prior to the big event.  I got a call from a friend who reported Times Square was was filled with people, marching bands and dancing bodies.  “There are people for as far as I can see,” he noted. 

At 5:59pm they collectively “shine[d] the light of democracy in Times Square in an ode to Lady Liberty" noted action coordinator Mark Read, also on hand for the 1999 action. "We see this as a celebration of the emergence of a renewed nation.  A nation of, by and for the 99%." At 6 PM, those on hand passed out sparklers and sang “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.”  

by Brennan Cavanaugh

New York performer and activist Monica Hunken was on hand.  Later that night she posted on Facebook: “people filled the streets with dance, music and a spirit of revolution. The world is with us. I am thrilled to be in New York, to catch the eyes of my friends across a sea of people and we smile. Yes, this is happening.” 

Throughout the night, I caught up on reports of a 300,000 converging in Madrid and reports of the movement and rallies sweeping around the world.  And the movement against corporate greed was only gaining steam. Happy birthday Occupy Wall Street!  Its been a hell of a run.  Keep changing the world. 


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