It's Sunday now, just four days before I return home, and I'm considering again my reasons for being here at Occupy Wall Street in New York. Things are tough here. It's sunny today, but snow has turned to ice. People are resurrecting tents that have collapsed, hanging out wet sleeping bags, piling up plastic bags of wet clothes for the laundry service to take away, and sweeping up snow.
Now I'm sitting here comfortably in a coffee shop, listening to Neil Young (“Old man take a look at my life, I'm a lot like you”). I have a secure place to sleep, a metro pass, and money to buy whatever I food I need. When I get back to Nevada City I'll be returning to my comfortable home, loving husband, with my grown children and grandchildren nearby. Compared to many I live a privileged life. I have a home, an education, health insurance, and pension. But I'm seeing the bottom fall out from under so many, including people in my family, that I cannot just stand by silently and watch the social, economic, and environmental collapse that is underway.
I call on others who are comfortable, or who are not: find a way to lend your support to this movement for social change. It's easy to criticize, to judge, to dismiss. But please. What is your alternative? Join us. Put in your two cents, share your experience and learn from others who have had different experiences. Please don't let this opportunity pass you by.
Fortunately, after writing this “call” I was heartened to again attend Judson Memorial, where I found kindred spirit celebrating All Saints Day, remembering those who have gone before us into death. (I was missing my mom, while also feeling her presence.) There were prayers for the people at Zucotti Park—one member of the congregation was knitting scarves for them. The service included a sermon relating the Christian message to social and economic justice and a song by REM entitled “Occupy.”
In the afternoon an Interfaith group called Occupy Faith joined a march planned by historically black churches across the Brooklyn Bridge, on this 33rd anniversary of the Black United Front's March on Wall Street. I joined the procession as it got closer to the park. The energy was very high. People were carrying the Golden Calf (modeled after the Wall Street bull), chanting and singing. The march was followed by an Interfaith service made up of speakers from various faith communities, with hundreds of people singing songs and amplifying spoken words through the “human mic.” Inspiring.
I later went to the Atrium for a Teach-In on the banking system, given by a woman who had worked on Wall Street. She did a great job of explaining, in simple terms, derivatives and other complex financial instruments, as well as the system overall, how it works, and who it works for. I think we need Teach-Ins on “economic literacy” all over this country, so that we can better understand and speak coherently about what is going on.
The General Assembly met as usual at 7 pm, and dealt with issues through modified consensus, as always. This process can be contentions at times, and there are disruptions at every meeting, with various people, including passersby, challenging or trying to disrupt the process. People are drawn to this encampment for all kinds of reasons. Not all are here to bring about social change. The De-escalation and Security teams have their work cut out for them. They utilize various tactics to talk down or otherwise take the attention off the disruptors so the meeting can go on.
It is a real challenge to facilitate a group of hundreds under these circumstances, and to maintain a confident, friendly demeanor while keeping the meeting on track. I have gone to several facilitator trainings and have sat in on their working group meetings. I think it helps a lot to have group support, ongoing trainings, and a clear, consistent, and transparent process agreed to in advance by the whole General Assembly. I have seen facilitators handle chaotic situations very skillfully, surfing waves of disruption and discord that threaten to capsize the whole meeting. You can see these meetings, as well as the Spokes Council meetings that will be starting on Wednesday, every night at 7 at: http://www.livestream.com/occupynyc. You can find the guide with the hand signals that are used to communicate in meetings, at: http://www.nycga.net/resources/general-assembly-guide.
Actually, none of this is comfortable. People are standing or sitting on cold concrete, sometimes even in the rain. It can be exhausting—exhilarating, but exhausting. But the facilitators remind us, and we remind each other, that we are here to change the world, that this is a global nonviolent revolution, and that our moment is now.