December 6, 2011

A Kind Of Elegy For Zucotti Park

A few days back, I arrived at Zucotti Park at about ten in the morning. It was not a happy moment. Occupy Wall Street! is like a prison camp, the old partial line of interlocking police barricades on the outer edge of the block now filled in and supplemented by an inner circle of shiny new barricades courtesy of park owners Brookfield Property. Inside the Park are a bunch of "security" people hired by Brookfield in yellow reflector vests and a Crispness tree behind its own additional, third, ring of shiny barriers.

Given that there were fewer than two dozen occupiers present, and that any time someone so much as put down a newspaper or soda can on a bench, a rent-a-cop would dart over and throw it away, I was pretty bleaked out. When I told one long-time occupier I know that there were more pigeons than people in the park, he pointed out that the pigeons had made no specific demands, refused to appoint a leader and had been accused of shitting inside the park. We agreed that they had to be numbered among the OWS! supporters present.

Still, even as the movement continues to debate what path forward now that most of the large urban encampments have been broken up by state intervention and police attacks, I think it important to remind ourselves just how much we have lost with these attacks. I was in Zucotti Park for the afternoon on November 14, the last day before Bloomberg's middle-of-the-night assault on the camp. Here are some comments I made for an article explaining OWS! to folks in Norway:

Returning after 10 days away, I saw the self-organization of Liberty Plaza, as it was also known, had advanced notably from the previously high levels, let alone the more primitive structure of the early weeks. My friend Mike Zweig gave a tight noon-hour talk on how class works in the US to dozens in the northeast corner of the park via the Mic Check method, then delivered advance copies of his book, The Working Class Majority, to the professional and amateur librarians operating the library, 5237 volumes and counting, now in its own tent. The information, food serving and medical operations were all better housed and organized and a Zucotti Park Fire Department had popped up.

An unofficial stencil and spray can operation put slogans on shirts on one side of the park and on the other, a full scale silkscreen operation was turning out free t-shirts, raising from donations the money the GA had voted to buy shirts and supplies. On line to get one, I chatted with a retired Black clerical worker, 75 years old, on her third visit to the park from New Jersey. She agreed with me that right after actual tents had gone up in the park some weeks before, some of the openness and welcome of the encampment had been lost, and that it was now back.

Before I left, I chatted with a hard-hatted IBEW member and a dude from the Labor Outreach Committee. The three of us talking in union jackets attracted others who wanted to discuss potential labor participation on the upcoming November 17 action. At last, on my way out again, I paused to join in on "16 Tons" and "For What It's Worth" with four or five folks around a guy with a guitar. Occupy Wall Street! was in full flower.

That night, the hammer came down.
Two last points. First, watch Michael Zweig's video! At 15 minutes, it serves as a microcosm and a particularly stellar example of the kind of education that was taking place in the Zucotti Park. Despite the challenging conditions, Michael helped unpack the whole question of class in the US for an avid audience. Individual discussions continued for more than half an hour after his talk concluded.

Finally, I write this not to bum myself out, or you, dear reader, but to remind us what we were capable of building and what was such a threat as to demand scores of brutal raids, over 5000 arrests have taken place around the country and untold millions in police overtime to disrupt. And the struggle continues.

No comments: