Monday, October 31, 2011


It was almost midnight, and he had separated out the weakest link, gotten himself between her and the rest of our co-workers. He was bouncing and tall and I suspected he was on drugs because at that time of night, on that street, the only people who weren’t rushing home from work were rushing towards an altered state.

I looked to the men in our small group—yes, I am a feminist, but cultural conditioning is hard to beat, especially in the dark with the threat of the unknowably violent—and they looked down at their feet. To be fair, they were very small feet, attached to very small guys. And this stranger was very big.

I looked at all of us, and I stepped forward. I knew she had a boyfriend, I knew this stranger’s attention was unwanted and I knew we all had trains to catch. And I knew where his knees were.

I also knew that I wasn’t good enough at martial arts to physically stop him from harassing her without doing enough harm to him that the cops would want a word with me—I don’t know how to pull my punches or to hold somebody down gently who doesn’t want to stay down. And I decided that I would deal with that consequence, because she was weaker than me and he was stronger than her and that wasn’t right.

He had put himself between her and the rest of us, so the first thing I did was reach around and slowly—oh so painfully slowly—draw her back to us, to the safety of the group. The group that was now behind…me. 


And breathe.

And maybe he wasn’t as drugged up as I thought, because when I pulled her away and his roving eyes finally fixed on me, he said, “Oh.”

And I stood, knees loose, and waited. I couldn’t tell you if there was any traffic noise or if anyone was breathing heavily, all I knew was that my blood felt like bees were flying though it and I Knew Where His Knees Were.

He blinked, “Oh,” he said again, “I didn’t know she was with you.”

I had to think a minute, to remember how to speak, so little blood at that point was being allocated towards the higher orders of brain function. 

“Yeah,” I said.

“Oh,” he said… and turned around and walked away.

I don’t tell that story often. The witnesses retold it at work the next night, laughing about how he thought she and I were a lesbian couple. That wasn’t how I read it at all, though I laughed along with them. 

At the time, I thought he hadn’t realized that she had anyone who would fight for her or stand up for her, so he thought she was fair game.

Now, she didn’t fawn all over me or even speak to me much, I’m not sure she realized what I was prepared to do— she didn’t know where his knees were, that information would mean nothing to her. But I knew.

Not many times a middle class person in modern, civilized society gets to see what they would do in that sort of situation. At least, that’s what I thought.

But having done it once—having been tested once and finding that I have the power to protect someone else—I find myself in situation after situation where someone bigger and stronger takes advantage of their bigness and their strength.  I do what I can, I click and I forward and I call and I write. But for a very long time, I have been aware of so many things where I could not stop the strong from oppressing the weak no matter what I clicked or said or wrote. It has hurt my heart, yes, but it has also corroded my honor, my sense of self and my power.

…I am not a cop, and I don’t think I would be a good one. I am too suspicious of my ego and my passionate nature. But it wasn’t the part of the video up there addressed to cops that caught at my heart. It was the first bit, where he talked about warriors and honorable battles.

I have fought a thousand tiny battles all by myself. When I go to Liberty Square, and I see all those other people fighting their own ignorance, their own fear, building new windmills that don’t need to be tilted at… I cry. And one reason I cry is that it feels so good, to be surrounded by so much honor.

There is honor in this place. There is sweetness and there is pain and there is redemption.

There is honor in protecting this space, whether the physical concrete quadrangle between skyscrapers or the space in the heart.

There is honor in crying for it, for I have found that I am not fighting all these battles alone. 

We find our own glory, reflected in the hearts around us.

Thank you.

It has been an honor to serve you.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

My response to the Color of Change "Occupy Survey" that was too long to fit in their comment field.

So I just filled out your Occupy Survey and was disappointed-- I think you are asking the wrong questions. I am a white girl, btw, so I could be wrong about that. :)

I've been visiting my local Occupation (Wall Street) since the first week, and it has been transformative. But enough about me:

People of color helped start OWS, and Hero Vincent has been arrested four times for it. Cornel West was one of the first intellectual luminaries to visit us, and he keeps coming back. Your survey makes it sound like people of color have to shove their way in-- but the door is open-- people of color are holding the door open.

We are not perfect, and there is room for improvement. But I human mic'd a a Sankofa Day  celebration a couple of Saturdays ago. Shouting so that speakers of color could be heard further than they otherwise would was a deeply moving experience. Ok, so me (short, white, mom) shouting, "I am a Latino man!" got some giggles from his audience-- but they heard him. They heard the young man who wanted us to get arrested with him and Dr. West against police brutality. They heard the homeless advocate whose voice was rough and they heard the young woman who lead us in chants.

And then we marched to the African burial ground monument. I have never felt like I was entitled to shout about "the people," especially, "The people united will never be divided" because I am too young and too white. On the way to the monument, some people shouted about reparations, others shouted about banks getting bailed out. But I walked together with people of color of all ages, their words went through my body--and on the way back, we *all* shouted, "Can't stop the power of the people 'cause the power of the people don't stop!"

Come see. Come speak. Come shout.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Joss and Emilio

Today: I made a big salad (washed and sliced veg, carried them down separately in Ziploc bags so they wouldn’t smoosh each other) and 3+ gallons of squash risotto (today’s was heavy on the mushrooms. I think I’m still under salting it) and a bag of 14 kerchiefs so the kitchen staff can pull their hair back—making for easier visibility and increased appearance/reality of hygiene.

But what really happened was I took it down late, they had cleared up from lunch and were finally having their own lunch (looked like they ordered in, which was amusing)… So it took them a little bit to collect my donations (and give my cloth bags back.)… But they were excited about the kerchiefs because, as the woman who took them from me said, she had just gotten back from buying a bunch of aprons for the Occupied Kitchen volunteers: so dinner tonight was served in style. :*)

I only had a few minutes before I’d have to go pick up The Child from School, but I decided I really wanted to hug a librarian. (The library—it’s HUGE! Last week I sat on a bench, this week, it’s a library annex. Beautiful) Caught the eye of someone standing still and decided to chat him up.

We exchanged stories (he’s not a librarian, but currently part of a new group that wants to do, among other things, cheerleading at marches and in subways. You can get more info about them on the GA website) and in the end I asked him for a hug. He let me hug him, but giggled shyly. It was good, another donation to the cause, but I was still feeling not quite as connected as I wanted to be…

So I decided to read the signs (they’re back, at least on the east side of the park), and acknowledge the people standing there holding them up in the face of whatever the passing throng might throw at them. One guy caught my eye, because I had seen him start writing the sign earlier at a table.

It started out “Starve the beast” so I had dismissed it as hyperbole… but the rest of the sign was a very calmly worded “remove your money from the big banks, put it in a credit union.”

I stopped and looked up… and up… at him. And I said, “Thank you.” I expect he doesn’t hear that tons (why are we so shy about being grateful?), so I decided to keep going, “Thank you for being out here so I don’t have to. I mean, I have two little kids... and I can’t…” and my voice broke.

And he reached down… and down… and gave me a hug, “It’s alright," he said, "You’re not alone any more.”
Are there more beautiful words in the English language?

…I grinned and sniffled and agreed, that was why I came down so often—and brought food! I brought risotto and salad, you should eat some vegetables! Stay strong…. And then I started to cry again. Because he was big and strong and I had watched the Oakland twitter feed this morning and I feared that he would get hurt…

He was big and strong and kind.

I know he was kind, because he reached down and hugged me again.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


While the food we cooked arrived promptly around 11:15, I didn’t get to Liberty until 4ish yesterday. I was the official OWS tour guide for a friend from high school. 

She had some interesting thoughts on fracking and local job creation—like, it doesn’t--having met a few workers (all from third world countries far away.) while doing her own job—which involves hiking through the Pennsylvania woods and counting bats. (Pennsylvania has some excellent woods.) I was very proud that when she told me about discovering a huge pile of fresh bear poop on the trail in front of her, I made no “If a bear shits” jokes. Yea, me.

We got several copies of the new Occupied Wall Street Journal, but all were next to—or firmly underneath—“Donation” jars. That made me sad. They handed the first two issues out freely with smiles. (Also, it was pretty clear that the more stubborn the “donation” jar, the less interested the newspaper hoarder was in the larger Event happening around them. Er. It appeared to me I don’t know I don’t read minds argh...) There were many people selling buttons and shirts—the regular guys selling to tourists had a cheaply printed “Occupy Wall Street” hoodie. The person selling polaroids of sunsets on a blanket seemed out of place, but they were there, too, at the edge between the square “proper” and Rafi’s Place (for Egyptian coffee and Tahrir solidarity).

We passed one Working Group sitting cross-legged and wooly-hatted on the ground, anyway, and that was a relief. I felt in familiar territory there, like discovering your childhood home is still there,  even though now it's surrounded by highways and apartment blocks. There, there is a signpost to my past and the memory I have of this place. Note it, tourists, so you can understand my present and guess at our future…

It was interesting how little was still happening directly on the ground. The kitchen is getting higher and higher, no longer is the feast at knee or even hip height. It’s more of a wall, now… And with all these plastic walls inching closer to my shoulders, and the pressing crowd trying to squeeze between, it started to feel more like the rest of NYC. People just scraping by without looking at each other, even when they need something, even when they just need to be acknowledged.

…But also, I was stomping through, non-native guide to wood-tromping tourists. I went in knowing that there wasn’t a march to march or a meeting I could Human Mic. As part of the clean-up/restructuring of the site they seem to have removed the paint and cardboard where anyone could express themselves. I am sad about that and hope that they find new ways to give anyone a space to speak, even when the drums drown out our voices… But the point is, I was exhausted from cooking and it was getting cold and I wanted to pay attention to my friend and her son, not spend the time it requires to become a part of the Liberty community.

And so… I saw what a tourist sees, the selling and the begging and the cold and the dirt. 

I was outside the plastic wall.

It made me grumpy, that it wasn’t as easy to slip in and be a part of their world. But I was already grumpy, and I really think that one of the interesting things about Liberty is you find what you’re looking for.  I actually texted my husband, “I have to remember to look for love and generosity here, so that I find it.” 

And maybe walls are a natural part of the process. Occupations need walls to rest against and protect themselves from clumsy-footed tourists and media representatives. I am, after all, a huge fan of boundaries in my own life. 

When I feel myself going all protest hipster (I was here before it was cool!), I have to remind myself that the more stuff and people and good and constructive ideas collect around them, the greater their gravitational/cultural pull. And if love and generosity and listening and transparency are at the center, wouldn’t that make those things mainstream? 

Non-hierarchical direct democracy could be the new normal.

Can you imagine?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Another chipping in opportunity:

So this car had delivered my food donations for a week-- and then got hit by someone who turned on red. I've gone back to carrying my donations (limited by what I can haul in my backpack) or calling the local car service... but it would be great to only have to cover gas money again.

If you want to help, this is a great way to support those who are supporting Occupy Wall Street.

Back to growling soon, don't worry.


Saturday Morning:

With help from M and M, sitting on the floor in boxes there now  rests:

20 lbs of baked botatoes
10 lbs of roasted sweet potatoes
10 lbs of roast carrots.
2.5 gallons of apple pear and ginger sauce (half with raisins)
8 spinach quiche
Salad fixings for… a lot.
34 hard boiled eggs
4 gallons of split pea and barley soup now simmering on the stove.
M & J will arrive in the next hour to escort all that food (all that food!) to the protest.
Then I think I will take a nap. 


Friday, October 21, 2011

donation page...

I just told M, "I'm shy"

Snort: Says the loudest Human Mic in the place.

Me: For *myself*... for *others* I'm a screaming lunatic.

Consider this my shy scream for help. Cab fare is expensive, Costco even moreso. (The Liberty Kids won't be hungry tomorrow, though, so it's worth it to me...) If it's worth it to you, too, click on the link.


Thursday, October 20, 2011


My grandmother marched on Washington for every good cause of my childhood. I remember she almost fainted, when she marched for queer rights at the height of the AIDS epidemic. “That was my last march,” she said, sitting on the curb, while my aunts plied her with water and cool cloths. But she still writes letters, she still pays attention, she still loves longer than she has to, because she can.

Now when I walk through Liberty Plaza, I’m not the oldest person there by a long shot—but sometimes the youthful enthusiasm in the air gets a little exhausting. I feel like a mother to 200—they’ve eaten food I cooked with my own two hands, they are mine—and I don’t know how I can possibly love them long enough, hard enough, for what lies ahead. And then I remember the picture of the raging grannies getting handcuffed, and I am reminded that there are generations of women who have made it this far and farther, and I am heartened.

The night before the threatened cleaning, I brought hot vegetables and squash risotto to the park. I walked around the piles of black plastic bags and held my son close to keep him warm and safe from the gathering dark. An older woman—older than me, anyway—walked past us wearing the bright green cap of the Legal Observers.

“Thank you for coming,” I said, stopping my son with a hand. She paused in her appointed rounds and smiled in bemusement as I reached out with awkward words, “Thank you for keeping an eye on them.” She nodded and started to move on. I leaned forward, urgently, “I feel like they’re my kids, you know?”
Now she leaned forward, “Yes. I do, too.”

I was grateful for that connection, that reassurance that others were looking after them when I could not. My first duty is to my children’s physical welfare, and my son’s rough cough needed to get indoors that night. But she sailed on, observing and guarding, because she could.

I was a human mic at the Sankofa Day celebration at the plaza a few days later. It felt so good to embody the words of the protestors from the Bronx—I knew I wasn’t “giving voice to the voiceless” a self-congratulatory piece of patronizing crap if ever I read one. I was listening to the words of the speakers and I shouted them to those behind me—no one within ten feet of me could claim that there was anyone voiceless on those stairs. They shouted as loud as they could, it was my privilege to make their voices travel further, riding on the wave of my own.

Afterwards, I stood in line for the march to the African Burial Ground, ready to raise my pale arm in solidarity towards the tourist buses. A grandmotherly woman, who had watched it all from the stairs, grabbed my wrist.
“I saw you down there,” she said. I was surprised, in a way. I don’t expect to be seen—I expect to be looked over as neither dangerous nor vulnerable enough to be of interest to anyone else. But I heard all sorts of meanings in that sentence, because grandmothers have a way with words—they add a weight to words—that the rest of us have not yet earned.

I shrugged, shyly, “Might as well use my privilege. …I mean, I’m not afraid to shout…” She didn’t say anything more, just held my wrist, hard. The march ahead of me moved on, and I slowly followed, but she held on, longer than she had to. 

Later that night, I stood at the bottom of the stairs by the McDonald’s bathroom, the same arm raised above my head. One after another, the young men in line there copied the National Lawyer Guild’s number from my forearm to their own, usually with my marker since they hadn’t thought to bring their own.

I laughed, thinking that instead of being a soccer mom I was a protest mom. Instead of, “Have you got your cleats?” I asked them, “Have you got bail money?” But it’s that same concern for the details, the same practical worry about their bodies that they are too busy and excited to attend to themselves, that moves me.
It felt good; for a moment, I was a modern Mother Liberty. 

But I keep thinking about the grandmothers. I keep thinking about them marching and getting arrested and guarding us all. 

Thank you for seeing us, grandmothers. Thank you for paying attention. Thank you for loving us as long as you have. I wish we didn't need you to, but I'm grateful that you can.

At Liberty to Say

At Liberty to Say

My entire life my country
Has not had room for me and my love.
Any love of country not rooted in distrust of the Other,
The Unloved,
Was mocked and dismissed.

I have questioned my compassion.
I have treated it like a disease or a handicap,
Because my country didn’t want it,
My culture didn’t value it.

In occupied territory
I have found a place where I can love safely,
And my heart is free.

If you look for me at home or at school
If you cannot find me in the gym or at the garden
You will find me
At Liberty to say
I love my country.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Rain, rain...

Today: 4 gallons of red lentils and ginger (vegan *and* gluten free! woot!) plus a bunch of other stuff. I decided I couldn't drag the toddler out into the rain and through the public transit system with several pounds of hot liquid on my back, so we took a cab. To justify the cab, I brought some non-perishables (tortillas, jam, rice cakes, tissues, 18+ bags of Ricola) I was going to bring on Saturday. Guess that means there will be more room in the car for cooked food then... la...

Every time I start to worry about the Liberty Kids-- are they taking X for granted, are they forgetting about Y-- they step up and they *do* it. Better than I feared. Better than I hoped. I just have to remember to believe in *them*, not the sound bites.

They really are for real. Real human. Real humane.

(And, after today, really damp.)


Some thoughts on being a Human Mic, with Growling

First, the practicalities: 
The taller someone is, the further their voice carries. If you can get up high, please do.

The corollary is: the shorter the listener/speaker is, the harder it is to hear. Tall people put their sound muffling bodies between a short person (me) and the speaker (far away) and I am stuck and it sucks. 

(Note: Hey, guys! You with the Y chromosome that, on average, puts you a head taller than me! Don’t shove in front of short people, and if you do, use the voice you’ve got and speak up so the little folks behind you can hear. Or I will kick you in the knees. In my head. Gr.)

How to speak so the people around you can hear: Face them. Seriously. The bright young people shouting words back at the speaker like they are in boot camp? Not so bright—the speaker can hear themselves just fine. Please turn your head—or better yet, your body—towards your audience. And the audience is behind you. 

It’s not just because sound travels the way you are facing—it’s about the visual cues. I’m a little hard-of-hearing when there is a lot of background noise.  I use lip-reading to get some of the consonants that are lost in shouting. “Democracy” and “My friend Stacy” sound very similar in a crowded protest. Show us your mouth!

Case Study: Friday morning at 5:30, when we were sure the park was getting cleared out and we stood in the dark anyway, a young woman finally took our pleas of “MIC CHECK! We can’t hear you!” as a call to action and stood up on the railing. (Yea!) That worked pretty well, except when she put her hands around her mouth to make a megaphone shape. That is great for directional noise-amplification, but she shouted forwards, and we were to her right and back. We shouted at her to take her hands down but I don’t know if she heard us. Gr. We had to use a relay that was directly in front of us and helpfully piercing—until they left their position, and we were forced to chat amongst ourselves because we couldn’t hear anything. Gr.

Frequency of Mic “Generations”: I heard someone say that a Human Mic can reach a group about 20 people deep. I do not know what planet they live on, but it is not Planet Short Person. Between the valleys of the tall, huddle the short people. Do not forget us! 

To be fair, I think that “20 people deep” thing is for Human Mics standing up well above the crowd. And the crowd should be otherwise silent and of uniform height. But for the rest of us…

If someone is watching me and not the Human Mic in front of me, I assume that I am easier to hear for them (plus, sometimes the first time you hear it you hear “My friend Stacy” and it isn’t until the second or third time you hear the phrase that it resolves into “Democracy”)… and in my experience, with tall people between us, it was best to have a person 5-7 people behind me relaying my words. Anything more than that, and it was uncomfortable for the listeners.

The revolution should be comfortable when possible, don’t you think?

Also, I think the more Human Mics the better in general, for philosophical reasons as well as practical--But I’ll save that for the next non-food entry.