Last night Reinette and I marched with the Occupy Wall Street contingent in the Greenwich Village Halloween party, supposedly the largest Halloween parade in the country. It was quite an adventure.
OWS participants had elaborate costumes, with whole sections themed as zombie bankers, corporate vampires, superheroes saving the day from budget axes, Marie Antoinette and her musical courtiers, marshmallows (“because we are 99% sugar”), and other groups. Reinette and I were in the section of people wearing the ubiquitous Guy Fawkes masks made popular by “Anonymous,” the group that originally issued the call to occupy Wall Street. In addition to all the colorful costumes, there were huge signs and banners, flags, musicians, and giant puppets designed to express our concerns through art and celebration. (These videos don't show the 20 or so giant puppets or capture the whole event, but they can give you a taste of what it was like: www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/NYC-Halloween-Parade-Village-Occupy-Wall-Street-132972723.html and www.youtube.com/watch?v=94CY5cGDya4&feature=player_embedded.
It reminds me of the words on my Art and Revolution T-shirt: “The goal of the revolutionary artist is to make revolution irresistible.” Not just on Halloween, but every day.
Earlier in the day, we attended a special meeting of the OWS community to address security concerns in Zucotti Park. The meeting was held on the steps on the west side of the park, where there has been trouble. Using the peoples' mic, the Peace and Security working groups outlined ways that the OWS Good Neighbor Policy” was being violated. (see it at www.nycga.net/resources/good-neighbor-policy). Drug and alcohol use, off-the-wall behavior, aggression, and even violence has increased in the past few days, especially at night. It also seems that some police officers have directed troubled indigent people to come to Zucotti Park. The best article I have seen about these issues is at: www.nydailynews.com/opinion/occupy-wall-street-central-a-rift-growing-east-west-sides-plaza-article-1.969320?localLinksEnabled=fals.e
The facilitators proposed that we brainstorm about how to respond to disruptive, harmful, and/or violent behavior when it occurs. In small groups we came up with a lot of ideas, including having more lights at night, inviting people from the community to help with Night Watch, passing out self-defense flyers, feeding people through the working groups rather than providing food to all, call the police, get restraining orders, etc. etc. The key question was how the community might eject people who cause disruption or harm.
The experiment taking place at Zucotti Park is vulnerable, not just to the coming cold weather, but to the challenges of our violent and dysfunctional society, magnified by the difficult conditions and the number and variety of people drawn to this occupation. The problems the protestors face is a reflection of our society and of the very economic problems they are protesting. We are all affected by the increasing numbers of homeless, hungry, mentally ill, and desperate people, and such people remind us of how vulnerable we and our loved ones are. In the words of Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickeled and Dimed, “Homelessness is not a side issue unconnected to plutocracy and greed. It's where we're all eventually headed—the 99 percent, or at least the 70 percent, of us, every debt-loaded college grad, out-of-work school teacher, and impoverished senior—unless this revolution succeeds.” (Read the article at http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/10/homelessness-occupy-wall-street.)
As for smaller-scale disruptions, I've had fun watching creative tactics of de-escalation. When singing with a group of musicians, a man came up loudly saying, “Sing for Jesus, sing for Jesus.” The energy shifted and people became uncomfortable as he insisted, pushed, and sought to dominate the direction of the music. “Sing halleluia,” he shouted. Finally one musician began singing an old spiritual, bluegrass-style, “Oh glory, how happy I am... glory halleluia!” All the musicians started playing, it was all in fun, and the jam session was back on track. A simple creative choice to go with the energy, rather than against it. Graceful, satisfying, fun.
On a side note: You may have heard that the police confiscated the diesel generator, but within two days we had several people-powered bicycle generators that passers-by could sign up to pedal. So creative! The lights and the computers are back on.
After last night's parade, it took awhile for Reinette and I to get out of the crowd and find a subway. We finally got back to Brooklyn, tired but exhilarated. She got up early this morning to catch her flight home, and I'll be leaving tomorrow. I'm looking forward to being home, bringing back all I have learned and experienced.