Saturday, November 19, 2011

New York Fall - Sunday Afternoon

Sunday Afternoon

After church we went for a long walk down Battery Park on the southern tip of the island, and boarded the Staten Island Ferry with about 500 other people. (If you would like to know how cattle feel, board a ferry all at once with 500 other tourists.)

This was a fun free trip just to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, plus the magnificent view of Manhattan, the Brooklyn Bridge and Brooklyn from the harbor. (By the way Ken Burns made a great documentary about the Brooklyn Bridge: )

We returned to Zucotti Park and found a much different scene than the one we saw on Friday night.

There were more protesters and more onlookers, tourists and locals, and many more police officers.

There was a sing along being lead by musicians with guitars, harmonicas, and other instruments. It was very reminiscent to me of the 60s protests of the Vietnam War. While we stood there listening I heard “This Little Light of Mine”, “The Times They Are A’Changing” and other songs from that era. The musicians were varied in age, but most had white hair, if any.

Those of us born after 1953 or so were too young to participate much in the late 60s peace protests, and I for one really felt that I had missed out.

But I only observed this one in 2011. I felt like an interloper, I didn’t start it, I was only here for the weekend, and I didn’t come yesterday when the weather was horrible.

This cartoon by Garry Trudeau appeared that day, and seemed to fit well:

There were more food vendors than on Friday night, and as I said, many more people both occupying and observing. It seemed that quite a few people had come out to hold up signs and get their pictures taken for posting on news sites and blogs. One man was dressed in a Mad Hatter outfit and posed for photos drinking a cup of tea. There was a group chanting “We’re here, we’re queer and we're not shopping!”. There was a very energetic if cliché drum circle. Here is a video.

Someone was passing out newspapers with the word OCCUPY in 3 inch red letters on the cover with the subtitle “An OWS-Inspired Gazette”. 

It was filled with articles written since the beginning on September 17th by people who had come to New York to participate, taken from blogs and direct contributions. Topics ranged from personal experiences in Occupy Wall Street in Manhattan, to “how to” pieces about past experiences with other movements and demonstrations, to letters from other city’s occupiers, Oakland, Atlanta, Philadelphia… It includes articles titled, “Occupy the Internet”, “The Police”, “The 99%: Parsing the data and ideology of the We Are 99% Tumblr”, “The Politics of the Poor”, two pages of song lyrics (“Themselves” by the Minutemen, “This Land is Your Land” by Woodie Guthrie, “Distraction” by Talib Kweli, ( language alert) “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone (!), “New York, New York” by Kander and Ebb (“Start spreading the news…), and the protest chant “We Shall Not Be Moved”.  

There were also drawings and cartoons like this one interspersed throughout:

We walked all the way around the park. There were displays about environmental issues along with someone riding a stationary bicycle used to generate electricity for occupiers to use.

There was a party atmosphere, more of what I expected to see when I imagined Occupy Wall Street before coming here. But it was still serious, no marijuana smoke or people with thousand mile stares from tripping on acid. These young people are determined.

Then, as we finished a walk around the little park we saw a demonstration march making its way down Broadway toward the park, about a block away. Police officers walked backwards ahead of the group of about a hundred marchers, and flanking on both sides, limiting it to the right lane of the street. I wasn’t clear what they were marching for, or what group it was, though they walked right past us as we stood on the sidewalk.

As it was passing in front of us Cami and I made different decisions. I decided to get up on something and take a video of it, while she decided to join it. Here she is in the very beginning of the video I shot:

When she couldn’t get my attention while I was recording, she had to step back out because if she continued we would have become separated with no phone to reach me.
She explained later why she wanted to join in:

"I saw signs that expressed some of my concerns about the direction the country is going in, signs calling for integrity in leadership, getting big money out of government, equal justice for the rich and the poor and an end to corporate welfare: "Corporations are not people". I was impressed by the marchers who all looked as though they could have stayed home, and several were wearing collars indicating that they are priests or pastors."
When I learned this later I felt bad for holding her back. I started thinking about our different responses. I think there are a great many of us in America, and around the world wrestling with how to respond to this movement. I believe that is why this is making such a compelling on-going news story. Do we watch and wait, or do we plunge right in to be counted?

I can’t speak for her, but when given a choice to join or watch, I usually tend in favor of observing, analyzing, writing about, recording instead of acting, participating, and interacting. I was tempted to become part of this movement, to march in the streets, to sing with the protesters, but I did not.

I support some of the goals I have seen related to this movement, but not all of them. As I said earlier, I support some of the goals of the Tea Party, but not all of them. Part of me holds back from embracing this movement because I am aware of the complexity of making public policy, the likelihood of unintended consequences and the errors committed in the past by mobs suddenly seizing power (take, for example the aftermath of the French Revolution).

While I get the impression that members of this movement are serious, and some are educated and articulate, and they have the wherewithal to organize themselves creatively, they are not public policy experts. I do not think that the organizers of the Tea Party were public policy experts.

But mostly I held back because it is my nature. And the words of the priest were still rattling around in my mind: humble yourself. It is easier to talk about love and justice than to do it. And being human means getting involved, getting our hands dirty, getting our lives dirty.

I don’t really want to punish Wall Street workers for their wrong doing and greed. I don’t really want to punish Washington lawmakers for their inaction. What I really want is morality and compassion in business, conciliation and compromise in government. And work for the unemployed, food for the hungry.

OK, part of me wants to punish the greedy bankers.

Instead of protesting in the streets I came home and cancelled my Bank of America credit card, joined a local credit union, because that seems like a good way to send a message. They won’t get any more of my money. I had heard about this through Bank Transfer Day ) But I am not a financial expert either. I wonder what the unintended consequences of this might be.

As I write this, it is two weeks after our visit, and a couple of days ago the mayor of NYC ordered Zucotti Park cleared. I am dissappointed but also hopeful. You can clear the park, but you can’t kill the spirit that started this movement. 

We left New York that evening, by train, then by car, and back to our happy home on our sleepy street in this northeastern college town. I am grateful for the sweet life and warm home that we returned to. I wish that this protest could somehow produce a world where every human can have a warm safe place to live, enough food to eat and care when they are sick, just for being human. I believe it is possible.

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