Occupy Wall Street is A Seed,
an Expression of What We Need
By Carole Travis
Progressive America Rising
I have been to Liberty Plaza (Zucotti Park, NYC) every day for almost a week now. Immediately I loved it. An early favorite sign read: For the first time in my life, I feel at home.
I have never seen anything like this. I am almost 70; I have organized all kinds of things and been to all kinds of places. I was on the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in VietNam (MOBE) staff in NY for about a year, the Demonstration staff for the 1968 Democratic Convention, the Conspiracy Trial staff, President of a United Auto Worker General Motors local (UAW Local 719, we built locomotives) and then was picked up by SEIU and worked for them 13 years in various capacities. I wasn't at Woodstock, but I was in Haight Ashbury for a few moments here and there. Occupy Wall Street is unique.
Many love it and others are perplexed. What are the demands? It's like a be-in, no politics no direction. I got bored there, there was nothing to do. How long can it last? …and so forth. Again, as I said, me, I loved it, instantly. But it took time to digest the meaning of this vibrant community Occupy Wall Street.
Wednesday, the day of the 'big march', I marched from Liberty Plaza to Foley Square and back. At Foley Square was not possible to tell how many people were there. It is a spread out segmented space. I couldn't see where the speakers were and could not hear them in any of the places I was able to get to. I walked around quite a bit. Packed crowds were in every corner stretching back and winding around. The front of the place I am sure had no idea how many thousands of us were in the various back places. I don't like over estimates of crowds, because then you never know what you represent or when things are getting bigger. But there was no less than 15,000 people. Two guys from NY who I ran into over and over in the course of the day thought there were 50,000 people there, probably not, maybe 30,000?
That day was a 'labor day' and each day some labor people visit the plaza; hundreds of people every day visit, some days, thousands. But, obviously, the people who live there have no jobs. In coming there and living there, they have created a community. There are rules, food (donated, much by unions), music, a library, a comfort station with donated clothes and blankets. Somebody donates laundry services. Some are college educated, some aren't. It is racially diverse and people are mostly at least 20, some quite a bit older. A few who I noticed regularly were physically disabled. Mostly white people go to the morning organization meetings.
Friday night there was a passionate speech by 2 visiting Greeks with many political insights. Greece is, after all, on the verge of General Strike, France too. They spoke to a small crowd at the southeast corner of the park, through, of course, the peoples mike. While I was listening, suddenly I understood my sense of this place, I too then spoke, my words sprang from my bones, I don't remember what I actually said. People picked up my last words as a chant for a few rounds. Later 2 people, at different times, found me, came up to me and said they loved what I said. I don't remember what I said, but I do, finally, know what I think about as a result of Occupy Wall Street. It is not what they are saying, but what they are doing that strikes chords of hope in me.
They are doing what we all must do, live a different way, a way that is not part of the system and situations we find ourselves, those ways are killing us and the planet. In having no demands, in some way they embody all demands, a different world.
The people who are there did not stop participating because they chose to, they were excluded from participation, there are not enough jobs, even while there is plenty of work. Yet, whatever their individual intentions might have been, they have made a place for themselves, taking care of each other, listening, learning, being human beings. In some fundamental way, they are free; that is the attraction I feel.
It is a scary time, without dramatic drastic changes in how we live, we will not survive. The scientists tell us that. Our planet is, at best, on the verge of dying. The way we have organized society is unsustainable not only for those who are suffering now, but for everyone. Currently, the military/industrial/prison/anti-privacy complex, the banks and financial speculators, the oil cartels, the pharmaceutical companies, the insurance companies are running our country, our world leaving death, misery, starvation, hopeless in their wake. And their natural…and ruthless practices have endangered even their own system.
To me, Occupy Wall Street represents is a seed, a lesson, an expression of what is needed. Non- complicity, a community outside the normal. However small, it is a grain of hope, a spark of a different fire.
With General Strike looming in Greece, in France, having occurred in Egypt, the notion of General Strike is spreading. Those situations are much different than Occupy Wall Street, yet the appearance of the concept in the world along with the encampment in NY, the speakers from Greece raising the concept, is part of a dramatically changing conversation.
What struck me as I listened to the Greek speakers was the dream of an International General Strike. Not for a day or a week or until our demands our met, but rather until we figure out how we should run things. How can a 'they' make the world we need? We need to create, not demand.
Will we get there? I don't know, but for the first time it seems to me, at least, conceivable.
[Carole Travis, Liberty Plaza, 10/8/11 I live in California after a lifetime in Chicago, but am loving New York]