Occupy Wall Street: Understanding the Occupation

This is an article I received via email by a friend in the US. It is an excellent account of the first hand experience of Occupy Wall Street. Do take a read.

Understanding the Occupation By Ray

Early morning on the 28th of October, I took a bus to the big city; New York, the current capital of revolution in the U.S. of America. I had just won a war against the Immigration Department, and my partner had come up with a perfect celebration plan; to visit Zuccotti Park and witness the Occupy Wall Street Movement for the weekend.

My curiosity about this movement increased with every city border crossed. Between being half asleep and extremely nervous about the bus driver who was busy either texting or dozing off while also speeding, I was doing pretty good managing my excitement.

Honestly though, I wasn’t really interested in what this “occupation” looked like or how it was different from the one here in Greensboro, North Carolina. My anticipation was based more on the prospect of getting to understand and, hopefully share the same sentiment that my partner had claimed to have experienced during her first time getting the whiff of this revolution in the big city.

Our arrival there was accompanied by more wind and snow. The park from a distance looked smaller than what I had imagined. But it took me less than few minutes to realize that the illusion was the result of my unintentional comparison of the site with the giant concrete buildings surrounding it. As I made my way inside the camp site, I saw more of how big the Occupation was, in more than just one way.

The images I had seen on most social networking sites and then later on main stream media hadn’t really impressed me. As a citizen of a colonized “third world country” , pictures of Caucasian kids (maybe just Caucasian looking) with Keffiyeh around their necks and Om tattoos on their skin, holding signs of revolutions don’t really convince me. Nor does my nineteen years of living in Buddha’s country allow me to jump in the bandwagon of angry protestors being extra and unnecessarily violent. Unfortunately those were the only images being fed to me. Fortunately though, those images did not really match up to what I was seeing in front of me at Occupy Wall Street.

I fell in love with that moment right there, when I passed by waves and more waves of black and brown faces; different ages, different genders, different personas. I felt powerful and strangely at home for some reason, comfortable in my skin and confident with my accent.

We walked all over the campsite more than just a couple of times. We talked to anybody who wanted to hear us and, we listened to everybody who wanted to talk to us. The only thing bothering our expedition was the all-pervading and prodding cameras that I had to avoid in order to prevent certain immigration risks. None the less, even with the dodging and the ducking in every two minutes, I felt more contented and connected than I had felt before in any activism, or attempt at that, in this country. I felt more whole- like I wasn’t a token or just an awkward immigrant; a feeling that “southern hospitality” doesn’t always bless me with.

Being there, I also understood why the movement was being written and read as a “white people’s fight” by the outsiders. Most media groups, professionals and students from the surrounding universities, were going around interviewing people with certain images. White young people with facial tattoos and piercings attracted these journalists and their cameras while older and “simpler” looking non-white participants seemed to be too “boring” for them. Whether it is an intentional strategy to debase the movement by painting it as being racially un-diverse and un-unified, or an unintentional, subconscious journalistic decision to select what looks “hip” yet “safe enough”, it is very clear that the media isn’t doing a fair job at representing OWS.

Our rescue from this let-down came in the form of a young African-American woman named Ijeoma Iheanacho, who was wandering around the camp with her camera and a recorder. She stopped us and asked us for an interview and a picture. I had to refuse; again curtsey of my lack of the right to Freedom of speech; but my courageously extrovert and beautifully eloquent partner spoke about the need of black and brown communities to be more involved and active in fights like these. Ijeoma shared her aggravation about the media bias against “non-white women” and her mission to forever fight against this frustration. We left her to share more stories with more strangers after thanking this young journalist for her opinion and efforts around something that my partner and I both, very passionately feel and fight about.

Another unexpected encounter was the NYPD stationed all around the camp. Not their presence of course, but their civility and diversity. It felt  as if the presence of so many national and international media houses and human rights groups had led to the NYPD intentionally deciding to send groups of ethnically and racially diverse officers who were told to act polite with passersbys.

To have our voices heard, to fight against corporate greed, to unite, to assert our powers, to build a better, more fair, system, to reclaim from the 1% what belongs to us and the universe …Yes all that but furthermore, for now, to experience, to share and to spread the taste of a revolution and of the new America.

At a quick glance the Occupation at Zuccotti Park looks like a giant crowd of chaos but as your eyes and mind slowly adjust, you start to notice an order; a seemingly chaotic order that to me seemed and felt like it was functioning with a grace often absent from a large and diverse group activity such as this one.

For instance, the “human microphone” technique not just assured that people could hear the speakers and announcements without the conventional (and now boring to me) megaphones but also gave life to the words making the speeches more powerful and persuasive. This dependence on each other to communicate united people in a way that to me was innovative, efficient and very impressive.

Similarly, the camp was carefully organized with taped off walkways, so that people- protesters and the tourists could commute easily. Then there was the division of the site into various categories; a makeshift medical facility, an information booth, a kitchen, a media area, “comfort zone” with clothing and other necessities, a library, drum circle area, newspaper distribution table and some more. The resources inflowing, both human and materialistic were striking to me. In spite of the abundance of donated goods that protestors were welcome to, I did not see anybody trying to abuse this opportunity at bagging free supplies just out of greed. People came and asked for what they needed at that point and the volunteers kindly, without any questions, gave it to them. There were volunteers with trash bags cleaning the campsite. There were volunteers running the various different resource areas, there were volunteers giving away the Wall Street Journal (their official newspaper). These volunteers, large on number, and all of them were also stopping by occasionally to check on each other and everybody else in their current home if they were doing okay. The lawyer sneaking legal books from his firm to the OWS Library, the Chinese food restaurant delivering boxes of hot soups, the “ex-bank robber” sharing his wisdom, the genius street philosopher looking out for camp safety…these people, their actions, their intentions were inspirational to me.

We didn’t get to attend any GA while we were there but I have heard from couple of folks how their meetings are frenzied and, often lack consensus. But to me that doesn’t matter as much. The decision process does not have to be perfect or in a particular way as long as the outcomes are as impressive as what I found at this campsite.

The weekend was filled with moments that I will relive in my head and heart whenever I think of America’s possibility of finally, truly being “the land of the free.” Meeting Angela Davis, whose speech was as powerful as her intellect, witnessing a rare moment in U.S.A. where a scholar was given more attention than a rapper (Russel Simmons), watching couple of hundreds of Brooklyn residents march around the park and join the protesters inside and then watching my love tear up from joy to be able to be with and be part of a rally that represented her childhood and her hometown Brooklyn, listening to leaders of various faiths come together to sanctify and support this struggle…this to me was the glimpse of the better America.

I then  understood the “feeling” that my partner had so passionately been talking about. And as I left my prayer beads in that little “temple” (with symbols of almost all faiths and religions) on the campsite and walked towards the bus station, I also understood the mission of this movement a lot more. To have our voices heard, to fight against corporate greed, to unite, to assert our powers, to build a better, more fair, system, to reclaim from the 1% what belongs to us and the universe …Yes all that but furthermore, for now, to experience, to share and to spread the taste of a revolution and of the new America.

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