Taste of OWS
28th of October 2011; I took a bus to the big city; New York. After just winning a war against the Immigration Department, my partner had come up with a perfect celebration plan; a weekend visit to Zuccotti Park and the Occupy Wall Street Movement.
Between being half asleep and absolutely nervous about the bus driver texting, dozing off and speeding (all while still driving) my mind still managed to paint pictures of probable sights different from the ones here in Occupy Greensboro. Moreover, I was looking forward to hopefully, sharing the sentiment that my partner had been bragging about since returning from her first experience getting the whiff of this revolution in her beloved big city.
11:30 am; And then we were there; At the now infamous park, which from a distance looked smaller than what I had imagined. But it only took me a minuet or so to realize that the illusion of size was only the result of my unintentional comparison of the site with the grey concrete giants sorrounding it. As I made my way inside the camp, I saw more of how “big” the “occupation” really was, and in more than just one way.
The pictures I had seen on most social networking sites and then the main stream media, hadnt been very impressive to me. As a citizen of a colonized “third world country” , pictures of white kids (maybe just seeimng “white”) with Keffiyeh around their necks and Om tattoos on their skin, holding signs of revolutions don’t fully convince me. Simialrly, ninteen years of living in Buddha’s country does not allow me to jump in the bandwagon of angry protestors being extra and unnecessarily violent either. Unfortunately those were the only images being fed to me. Fortunately though, those images did not entirely match up to what I was seeing in front of me right there and then.
01:00pm; 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, comfortable in my skin and confident with my accent.
We walked all over the campsite. We talked to anybody who wanted to hear us and, we listened to everybody who wanted us to hear them. The only thing bothering our expedition was the all-pervading and prodding cameras that I had to avoid in order to prevent certain personal risks.
Nonetheless, even with the dodging and the ducking every two minutes, I felt more contented and connected than I had ever felt before in any act of “activism” in this country. I felt more whole- like I wasn’t just a token, or just an awakard or exotic immigrant; a feeling that “southern hospitality” of North Carolina doesn’t always bless me with. Here, I seem to have identity that was different but never, not even for a slight of second inferior.
2:30 pm; With every passing hour, I uncovered the politics behind why the movement was being written and read as “white people’s fight”. Most media groups- professionals and students from the surrounding universities, were wandering around, interviewing people with certain personas. 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 “simple” for them.
Weather 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 became very clear to me that the media was’nt doing a fair job at representing OWS.
4:15 pm; Our rescue from this let-down came in the form of a young African-American woman named Ijeoma Iheanacho.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 courtsey 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 constantly fight about.
6:00 pm; Another unexpected encounter was the NYPD stationed all around the camp. Not their presence obviously, 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 be more civil, act more polite.
6:15pm; 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”. This technique not only assured that people heard the announcements and the speakers 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 one another 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, making commuting easier for the protestors, the tourists and everyone in between. The site was also dividd intovarious 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.
8:00 pm; The resources inflowing, both human and materialistic were striking to me. In spite of the abundance of donated goods that the protestors were welcome to, I did’nt see anybody trying to abuse this opportunity at bagging free supplies just out of greed. My partner and I, our feet drenched in northern snow, walked to the station hoping to get new pair of socks. The volunteers kindly, without any questions, gave it to us.
8:30pm; There were volunteers with trash bags cleaning the campsite. There were volunteers running the various different resource areas. There were volunteers giving away the Occupy Wall Street Journal- These volunteers were large in number, and would often stop by to check on each other and on everybody else in their current home.
The lawyer sneaking legal books from his firm to the OWS Library, the Chinese food restaurant owner delivering boxes of hot soups, the “ex-bank robber” sharing his wisdom, the genius- street philosopher looking out for camp safety, the Pakistani activist who hugged me as his way of saluting Nepal..these people, their actions, their intentions together were inspirational to me. This was all inspirational to me.
9:15 pm; We didn’t get to attend any GA while we were there but I have heard and read reviews of how these meetings are frenzied and, often lack consensus. But to me that doesn’t matter too much. The decision process does not have to be perfect 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 my heart, whenever I will think of America that is truly and finally the “land of the free,”
Meeting Angela Davis, whose speech was as powerful as her intellect was honorable. Witnessing a rare moment in this nation, where a scholar (Davis) was given more attention than a rapper (Russel Simmons) was promising. Listening to leaders of varying faiths, come together to sanctify and support this struggle was empowering. Watching hundreds of Brooklyn residents march around the park in support of the movement was beautiful. And being blessed enough to share this moment with my partner who was tearing up from joy at being able to be part of a rally that represented her childhood and her hometown Brooklyn, was beyond blissful. This to me was the glimpse of a better America.
10:30pm; I understood the “feeling” that my partner had so passionately been talking about. And as I left my prayer beads in the little temple on the campsite, amidst all the other special and spirutual symbols underneath the tree, I also understood the mission of this movement. At least from my perspective. To have our voices heard, to fight against corporate greed, to unite, to assert our power, to build a better, more fair system, to reclaim from the one percent what belongs to us and the universe. Yes , all that and more.Furthermore, for now, to experience, to share and to spread the taste of revolution and of the new , possible, beautiful America.