Tag Archives: Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Us All

I’m sorry to see the stalwarts of the Occupy movement kicked out of their encampments. Not because I thought they could change the world by reinventing it on a small patch of grass — I didn’t. Not because I thought they should seize property to which they had no legal claim — in a capitalist society, that’s a non-starter. Yet over the past two months, I’ve grown tired of cynical pundits who’ve picked away at these protestors because they lack a programme; because they’re noisy and unkempt; because some of them end up behaving as humans always end up behaving in groups: with a measure of arrogance, stridency and naivete. It’s useless to critique a movement by using human nature as a bludgeon, since we’re all human and prone to the same mistakes. In any case, human nature also prompted acts of kindness, generosity and imagination in each encampment’s tiny polis and its newly-awakened citizens.

This awakening is the whole point. The occupiers bear witness to the silence that corrupts us and the moral power of people who say no. They are the voice of conscience; that is their function. They are Kafka’s axe for the frozen sea inside us. The Occupy movement has woken me up from a long sleep, a torpor that bordered on despair. Like most people, I don’t know what to do about the crimes of High Finance; in my writer’s tower, I coax my most difficult thoughts away from the window-ledge; I’m afraid to look down at the shattered lives below, the out-of-work and homeless. Yet now the occupiers have got us talking and sharing thoughts, feeling the sting of conscience and the relief of long-supressed outrage. Their encampments stand for the psychic space they’ve cleared for hope to grow. They’ve brought us home to our humanity, from which no one can evict us.

This movement is a blessing. I wish it well.


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New Brooms (2)

Faced with the protests of Occupy Wall Street (and its offshoots), we’re all a bit like the illiterate folks in the Middle Ages who had to “read” the great narratives of human existence in the stained glass windows of the local cathedral. Not that I’d compare New York’s Zuccotti Park to Chartres, but the small dramas enacted there tell their own stories and mitigate the need for communiques and “manifestos.” I’ve stopped wondering about the protestors’ demands. Instead, I find myself shaken out of chronic cynicism, thinking and talking about the unscrupulous system that is harming millions, and I hear this same conversation echoing all around the world — not a complaint but a call of vitality and hope. Literacy has the power to awaken us. This form of linked demonstration is a new way to read the world.

Think about this: last Friday, the Occupy Wall Street movement took scrub-brushes and buckets of suds, and set about cleaning up their scruffy little park in lower Manhattan. Faced with possible eviction, protestors out to take capitalism to the cleaners decided to tidy up after themselves when faced with the threat of a power-scrub from the property managers who own the park. A storyteller loves these details, these plot twists that befuddle political theory, that reconstruct the work of social change. Brooms, not guns: nonviolent active resistance, a line of protestors prepared to greet the police not with firepower, but with garbage bags, squeegee mops and buckets of suds.  Meanwhile, we modern illiterates, schooled in party platforms and rhetoric, wonder how to read all of this. A tiny polis in the park with its own cleanup crews, food distribution, and decision-making body — it’s too idealistic; it can’t last. Sure, but duration isn’t the point.

The point’s found in a print analogy: the protests with their encampments are giant magnifying glasses that enlarge the most important words in a paragraph: the ones that call us to wake up, to face the endemic hopelessness that robs social life of its creativity and value. Whatever the outcome of this movement, it’s given us at least that much.

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