Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sunday in the Park with OccupyWallSt!

NY Gen Assembly

September 17, 2011. One week and a day since a few hundred people went to Zuccotti Park (formerly, and once again, Liberty Plaza Park ) in lower Manhattan and pitched tents for OccupyWallStNYC.

One week and a day, (as of 9:00 EDT, September 26, 2011, and there are now ongoing, or in planning, Occupy movements in:
o Occupy Chicago
o Occupy Cleveland
o Occupy Columbus
o Occupy Indiana
o Occupy Indianapolis
o Occupy Kansas City
o Occupy Michigan
o Occupy Minnesota
o Occupy OKC
o Occupy Omaha
o Occupy OSU (Stillwater)
o Occupy St. Louis
o Occupy Tulsa
o Occupy Wisconsin
o Occupy Yougstown
o Occupy Binghamton
o Occupy Boston
o Occupy D.C.
o Occupy New Jersey
o Occupy Philadelphia
o Occupy Richmond, VA.
o Occupy Vermont
o Occupy Atlanta
o Occupy Birmingham, AL
o Occupy Lexington, KY
o Occupy Mississippi
o Occupy Nashville
o Occupy New Orleans
o Occupy Orlando
o Occupy Tampa
o Occupy Austin
o Occupy Dallas
o Occupy Houston
o Occupy Phoenix
o Occupy Denver
o Occupy Las Vegas
o Occupy Los Angeles
o Occupy Olympia
o Occupy Portland
o Occupy Sacramento
o Occupy San Diego
o Occupy San Francisco
o Occupy San Jose
o Occupy Seattle
o Occupy Brisbane
o Occupy Manchester | March on the Tory Party Conference
o Occupy Toronto Market Exchange
You ask, does it have legs?

Saturday, 9/24. An extended action was planned. Those who chose to participate would march from their base 30 blocks to Union Square. Eighty were arrested. (the latest number I’ve seen posted from the OWS site). I watched for hours, saw the women penned and maced, Saw police single out individuals at random from the group, walk in and throw them to the ground, cuff them, drag them across the pavement. There were perhaps a couple of thousand in that march. This is what has made it on to YouTube, what has been the focus of what little attention the Media has given to the movement. While it’s important that this was recorded, that there is a record of what happened, that there are witness who can confirm that passers-by taking pictures, not part of the march, were arrested without cause—it is incidental to what is happening in newly named, Liberty Square. I’ll have no more to say about it.

In the days before the Union Square march—days of continuous rain, tents were banned and taken down. Umbrellas forbidden. Tarps over electronic equipment, forbidden—there were at least rumors that people would not be allowed to bring food and water to the Square—all which seemed to point to a plan of attrition, to gradually make it impossible to maintain occupation of the park. Viewing the Livefeed Saturday night, there was a feeling of crisis. The police presence was overwhelming. One could only wonder if there would be a final sweep in the night. I made up my mind to take the Chinatown bus Sunday morning… if they were still there.

Sunday morning, the rain let up. Livefeed showed the Square coming to life. You could hear the
‘human mike’ chants… which recalled memories of children reciting the pledge of allegiance in class rooms when I was in grade school. I surveyed what I had that might be useful. There was a drawer full of sterile gauze pads, tape, bandages, an ace bandage (the Livefeed said they needed them)—supplies for dressing wounds and skin grafts after I was hit by a car. I put it in an ACME recycle bag. I sleep on the floor. I know one can’t have too many blanket between one’s body and a hard wood or concrete. So I added a wool blanket. Put it in a handbag with an umbrella and my journal; a half hour later, paid $20 for a round trip ticket and boarded a New Century bus and was off to New York.

The bag was heavy. It was warm and very humid. A few blocks and I was soaked with sweat. Why didn’t I bring an extra shirt? I observed traffic, pedestrians. Watched passing tourist busses. Very few cops. I expected to see more as I approached the Square—with so many deployed I’d be in no danger of missing it… I didn’t, but came close. On north side of Broadway, half way to Liberty—too focused on the McDonalds in the next block that I’d been told let you use their restrooms. Across the street—partly obscured because the park is recessed, there they were. Drums going. Cops, but not that many. Up Liberty Street were several police cars and a couple of those big vans they use for communication equipment. More cops on Liberty, west of the park. Good thing. I have asthma. I wasn’t looking forward to the possibility of being pepper gassed.

Entering the park, groups scattered here and there, resting on the marble block benches, on the Liberty Street wall—a mic on a stand, people with laptops on tables. Nothing that looked like it might be an official headquarters. I estimated there were between 1500 and 2000, mostly young, but a few well past my 70 years. A man with a WWII vet hat and decorations looked to be well into his 90’s. More older women than men. I saw a shelf with a dozen or so books—and a sign that said LIBRARY. I’d brought a few books, too—including Mike Davis’ City of Slums, which I thought might make appropriate reading.

I asked directions to the medical station, and was pointed toward the other end of the park. On the way, I saw two large piles of blankets and sleeping bags, and a couple of mattresses leaning against a tree. Finding no one who seem to be in charge of this, I tossed my wool blanket on one of the piles, continued looking for the medical station. It was not far from the blankets. I showed them the contents in my bag. “Oh good! An ace bandage—we used our last one!”

The area was clean. Someone was picking up cigarette butts, and complaining, “we’ll have to bring this up,’ he was saying to no one in particular. On the Liberty Street side, south end of the park—dozens, maybe more than a hundred hand painted signs lay flat on the ground. A few people squatted or sat near by making new signs on pieces of cardboard torn from supply boxes by a trash receptacle. Cans of paint, water, colored markers, brushes. A few days ago there had been an issue with the signs—whether they were allowed to have them, or hold them up. A few people on Broadway did have signs in hand, though, holding them up for passers-by. A few people in each of the tourist busses flashed V signs, or fists from the platforms on top. If there were any problem with signs now—cops showed no indication they cared one way or the other.

I saw someone I knew—a former Philadelphia poet who now lives in Brooklyn. He told me he’d been pretty cynical about this at first… the idea sounded pretty unrealistic, but came to see for himself, and now wants to spend has much time here as he can. He sat on the wall during the General Assemble holding a hand painted sign--Whitman’s Barbaric yawp going round the world.

I tied two poems to trees—cards with spangles and glitter and a tag on the back of each: No Revolution without Poetry! No Poetry without Revolution! Someone stopped me with the second one—this was while we were in line for the evening meal. Said they were told not to hang things on the trees. I said I didn’t want to do anything that would cause trouble…maybe someplace else, but we saw balloons on another tree, and a sign on another… and thought, maybe use a tree more interior to the park and less visible from the street. That’s what I did.

It was a long line. Stainless steel trays of food, pasta, some kind of bean dish with raisons, broccoli, several kinds of bread piled in thick slices, pizza. People served up the food on paper plates, hands in latex gloves. So much for the rumor about not allowing food. A guy with a red cross vest went around tossing out bottles of water to those who asked for them.

I was hungry. This was after the General Assembly. A meeting that lasted… I don’t know, well over an hour and felt longer. It was in that meeting I felt the beating heart of everything that matters about this action. But it was long—and not always riveting, and everyone had an appetite--piled that food on those plates.

Let me begin with the Human Mic--the sound that had reminded me of children reciting the pledge of allegiance. It’s not call and response, it’s call & repetition. At some point, fairly early on, not sure when, bullhorns and loudspeakers were banned. The Human Mic was the solution. And what emerged was an action and process with wholly unanticipated consequences, something that deserves our most considered attention.

In a meeting, when someone wants to address the assembly, they begin by introducing themselves.


Everyone in hearing range repeats. Word for word. In something less than a full shout. When a hundred or more voice join, you don’t have to shout that loud to be heard in the back lines.

                                   HI, I’M MIKE

This appears simple enough. But if you pay attention, you see how much has gone into this, how much it has evolved, and how profound its consequences.

Vets here know exactly how to break up phrases into units short enough to easily, automatically recalled and repeated, and long enough to keep the flow moving. Too short is equally bad—if you can’t anticipate the meaning in units, phrases--not just successive words, it’s more difficult to follow and repeat, not easier—the mind refuses to go along. A single word—okay for emphasis. One after another—LIKE TYPING ALL CAPS ON FACEBOOK…. no, worse.







Easy to tell someone new. I got a kick out of Michael Moore! He so clearly hadn’t quite caught on. It’s not easy, If you want to use complex ideas—it takes practice to know how to break up the units. And it takes a peculiar kind of relaxed attention to be in the audience—to repeat the phrase without thinking about it too much, automatically—so you’re free at the same to think about what is being said. I can’t think of anything quite like it. You are both sides of the conversation at once—you are the speaker, and the one listening and formulating your thoughts and possible reply. You feel it with your whole body—not at all the disembodied inside the head voices of normal conversation. You have to think about the meaning of the words in a deeper more purely physical level. Like Brenda Iijima said, who was standing beside me… it’s cellular.

This is fucking worlds away from someone standing in front of a crowd talking more for his own benefit than the people he’s addressing, lecturing, giving orders. You can’t bully people into thinking your way like this—you just can’t! If there’s manipulation, it has to happen on a whole different level, and nobody’s gonna be fooled!

A set of conventions have evolved to accompany & supplement the Human Mic. Most notably—the hand signals. When you see the group holding both hands in the air, fingers spread, waving them over their heads—they’re not praising the Lord. It means, ‘We agree! We like this!’
Crossing arms in front of the chest: ‘No! There seems to be consensus, but I BLOLK this--it would violate our basic procedure or principles!’
Waving the hands, palms inward and down, arms about a foot apart, means: “I won’t block, but I think this is wrong and disagree.”

There are others. And requests were made at the Assembly I attended for suggestions for others. None were made. There is a committee that works on this.

Decisions are made by consensus. No votes. The nearest equivalent I’ve experienced would be a Quaker Meeting for Business, where the ‘cleark’ of the meeting guides the discussion, at points articulating what he or she feels to be the ‘sense of the meeting. In the Assembly, there were several facilitators who alternated in soliciting suggestions and calling on those who slated to say something. They would as the discussion evolved, suggest a ‘synthesis’ of the discussion at a point where they thought a decision was ripe for consensus. Members of the group held up hand when they had wanted to reply. A facilitator would point out who was to speak next. If it was quiet, the speaker would begin by introducing himself—with the group repeating in chorus. If there was confusion and people talking, he or the facilitator or both—or even someone from the group if they couldn’t hear—would shout out MIKE CHECK! This would immediately be repeated and respectful quiet restored.

What did they discuss? Several forms of outreach: a guided tour of local business to introduce themselves and foster good relationships with the community, a meeting with union leaders from CUNY about a joint action protesting loss of benefits for low wage adjunct faculty (this was to have been today at Baruch College). There was a proposal on policing cigarette butts, appeals for funds, a report on some people from wall street who supported OWS and wanted to contribute money (many hands waving in air on that one). There was a long discussion with much back and forth on future actions and ‘demands’ … with objections made to calling them ‘demands’—they weren’t there to force people or make demands. The marches are another form of outreach—extending their presence into the city. Where and when might the next one be. Cautionary advice was given on avoiding dehydration and remembering to eat enough to keep up energy and not get sick. Volunteers were requested to serve on several committees (which report back to the General Assembly).

This is a very busy group!

It’s an emerging society of consensus, discovering the principles they want to live by—an extraordinary level of creativity on everything—from the daily business of living to formulating their purpose and goals, both immediate and long term. There are many levels of education in evidence—I overheard an involved discussion on commodification and the shift from an economy of production to one of finance, drawing on Marx’s distinctions of ‘use value’ and ‘exchange value.’ Let me wrap this up by saying—that if you think you have an understanding of our economic and political crisis that is missing in this movement—it’s only missing because YOU are not there! If you can’t go to Liberty Square—go to one of the Occupy events listed above—or start one where you live!

The American Revolution isn’t over—it’s only just begun!

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