This piece, a companion to my post https://rabbielimallon.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/10-14-11-forgetting-the-poor/, is just some impressions of a visit I made today to the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstration. I’m not a journalist. I didn’t do any interviews or even take any notes (I should have) or pictures.
“Zuccotti Park,” where it’s all taking place, is diagonally across the street from the Stock Exchange building. The World Trade Center site/Visitors’ Center is about a block or so away.
The park is an open area, only about 1 block square. It must have been chosen as a symbol for its nearness to the Stock exchange. I don’t think it was chosen for its size. It’s barely large enough for those who are part of the demonstration.
On the other hand, no one knew how many would be involved when it began.
First thought: It’s not a “demonstration” — not the way that word has been used at other times — like anti-war and pro-civil rights marches.
It’s not a “sit in,” although some mild civil disobedience is involved.
It reminded me more of a “Be In” — just a collection of people in the same place, “doing their thing” as an assertion of their freedom to do so. Sort of like “Woodstock.”
It also reminded me of a camping trip that went on too long.
I saw people smoking marijuana. I was surprised — they’re literally surrounded by police. But perhaps they knew that the police wouldn’t break in over something relatively minor (despite the harsh “Rockefeller” laws in NY State). My overall impression is that the mayor and the police don’t want to make this into even more of a cause célèbre.
I didn’t experience much “tension” in the air, but this was a Sunday, around noon. The police told us not to stop moving within the sidewalk area that had been fenced off for foot traffic. We were welcome to move or not within the “demonstration” area. Fair enough.
I didn’t see any police having relaxed, friendly chats with any of the participants. We shouldn’t underestimate how serious the “control” issues are for them.
There was no drumming when I first got there; it came later. There was one older fellow playing an accordion and singing “My Name is Morgan, But It Ain’t J.P.,” accompanied by a younger woman using a dustpan as a percussion instrument. No jugs (for a jug band) that I could see. No guitars, banjos, or even recorders (flutes). No singing. Not much joy, either.
I saw one young man crying, being comforted and encouraged by someone else. The stress level of at least some of the participants must be much higher than we might think.
I don’t think we can know what this is really like without being part of it — sleeping there, eating there, being rained on.
There was a corner area marked “Sacred Space.” There were various religious pictures, symbols, plants in pots around a tree, and some benches in a circle around that. I sat for a while, but didn’t feel the peace I often feel in places where people pray or meditate.
I saw one young woman sitting on a bench with her eyes closed, praying or (more likely) meditating.
I saw an older woman, clearly not a participant, walk in with her dog. The dog immediately peed on one of the flower pots. The woman didn’t look around or even seem to care. She sat down on one of the benches, and invited her dog to sit up next to her. No one said anything to her; no one seemed to have noticed.
Walking around and through the demonstration, I wondered: Was this what the B’nai Yisrael looked like in the wilderness, just after leaving Egypt?
There was something vaguely sukkah-like about the whole scene to me — it just needed an overhead covering about 1 block square.
Walking around, I heard one young man trying to find a ride to Michigan and back. “It’s only 11 hours (each way),” he was saying. It told me something about the underlying thinking and feeling: Like the hippies of Haight-Ashbury, there seemed to be a feeling that we’re all able to help each other, if we only let each other know what we need.
Some of the people in the make-shift tents didn’t look too different from some of the homeless I’ve seen. Some looked like artists or creative people. Some looked more “groomed” (which isn’t meant to imply — G-d forbid — that artists aren’t, or can’t be, groomed. Oh, never mind.).
People were sleeping in the “tents” — sometimes no more than a sheet of plastic — with their legs and feet jutting out. It was the walkers’ responsibility to avoid tripping over them.
I didn’t see much overt anti-semitism; just one fellow carrying a sign about not fighting Iran to protect Israel.
Lots of people with different viewpoints, some with their own literature and handouts, but no “soap box” debates à la the old days in Union Square. I’m not sure even the “OWS’ers” know how to debate without getting loud, nasty and violent — as the wider culture can get. But I admit, that’s a generalization.
Overall, I saw this as more of an expression of feeling than as a “demonstration” with any specific goal. The feeling — weariness and anger at being economically beaten up, without adequate political representation to protect us, coupled with a desire to stop feeling so powerless.
I saw a lot of people taking pictures. I hoped that someone is recording the details in words, for posterity, too.
I thought that some of the younger participants would some day be Republicans.
Will anything come out of this, in terms of direct changes in the economic structure of the country? I don’t see how it could. But this could be only the first wisp of steam from a pot of boiling water: it shouldn’t be ignored, if a disaster is to be avoided.