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?