Steve Iskovitz, a friend and former Green-Rainbow Party candidate for Cambridge City Council, has started emailing his thoughts from the front lines of the Occupy movement. Since this blog has lain dormant for so long, I decided to lend it to him. I will post the backlog of messages about once a day and then start posting them as they come in. I am posting them uneditted. His words are his own. You can find all of his posts under the Occupy tag.
I left Zuccotti Park and Occupy Wall Street Thursday afternoon to come back here to Pittsburgh to take care of some stuff for the weekend. For simplicity's sake, I'm just going to go chronologically, picking up where I left off last weekend.
Indeed, things did get back to "normal" at the end of the weekend. Actually, even Monday, though a holiday, felt more workaday. The problems I complained about so much in my last story went away soon after I wrote about them. I think there was one or a very small number of thieves, who must have left after a day or two.
I began volunteering with the people who receive, store and distribute donated items. From the time I started, Monday or so, to Thursday when I left, the operation has mushroomed. Daily donations have maybe doubled or tripled during that time, and we got a huge space donated to us. The day begins going over to the UPS store where donations are sent. Tehy get mad if we don't get there early enough, because we get so many boxes that they almost block access to the store! How many boxes? Maybe 400 a day? Just a wild guess. It takes three or four of us about three trips with the carts or dollies to take them all to the storage space. Pushing a cart through the sea of pedestrians for five blocks down Broadway past Wall Street itself to the space feels like some kind of archetypal dream experience. Down around the back, wave to the security person to let us in, up the freight elevator and in. The security guards and elevator operators are all on our side, ask us how we're doing, are we ready for the rain, etc. All around town this solidarity that still surprises me, accustomed as I've gotten over the years to hostility from average people for whatever issues we've supported in the past.
We open boxes, sort stuff, send some things back to the park and store others. Communication isn't perfect, but enough people go back and forth that things tend to get to where they're needed. What do people send? Every type of clothing you can imagine, and a lot of it is quite nice. Jackets, fleece, hoodies, socks, rain ponchos, etc. Granola bars, peanut butter, food of all types, sharpies, duct tape, medical supplies, bottles of chewable vitamin C, sleeping bags, hand-knitted hats and scarves, you name it. It comes from all over the country-- Oregon, Florida, Michigan, everywhere. A guy sent a box of food from Puerto Rico! (Speaking of distance, one volunteer came from Hawaii, specifically for this.)
Personally, I like working in the storage area. I can only take crowds and noise for so long, but mostly I like to be effective, and I can get a lot more done without having to wade through a crowd to walk a distance of ten feet. I usually work til around 5 or so, go back to the park for dinner, then return to the space and work til around 11. Besides, there are plenty of people who like holding signs and having their pictures taken. Yes, there is NO SHORTAGE of people who like to have their pictures taken! I don't mean to sound negative about the crowds. It's good to have a lot of people. It's the price of success. Just as the painfully cumbersome process of trying to reach consensus at the General Assembly meetings. ("I move..I MOVE...I MOVE...that we table this issue...THAT WE TABLE THIS ISSUE...THAT WE TABLE THIS ISSUE...til tomorrow...TIL TOMORROW...TIL TOMORROW.) Impatient as I am, it feels so ridiculous to me, standing in the cold rain listen to procedural statements when I could be doing constructive work, that after about five minutes I run off. But that's me. Fortunately, others have the patience to engage in what really is a historic process. These meetings, and the way they're conducted, are changing history. Even the cumbersome process of repetition so that everyone can hear, is a beautifully creative response to the stupid, spiteful rule that prohibits us from using amplification. And I notice that some people really ENJOY being part of the human mic. I saw a young guy who I guessed wasn't a full-time occupier but a New York resident who came in after work or something. He was maybe 22, and he was all smiles as he enthusiastically repeated the speaker's words, as if participating in a choir or chant. I would have thought he would have felt embarassed, that it would somehow seem goofy, but he didn't feel this way at all. Just as it was hard for me to understand how he could have enjoyed shouting with the crowd, you might have trouble understanding how thrilled I was my first full day when, bothered by some trash on the ground, I found where the brooms were kept and began sweeping up. It was important for me to see the expression on the guy's face and to think about it. Because it means to me that everyone takes something different away from this movement, just as everyone has something different to contribute.
Ultimately this kind of thing interests me even more than the Wall Street greed that we're standing against, though again, that's just me. People say, "We know what you're AGAINST, but what are you FOR?" I would say, "You want us to answer you in words, or in actions?" Come to Zuccotti Park and see how we take care of each other. People have donated food, others have donated their time to cook it in their kitchens, others pick it up and deliver it here, others serve it. These people work all night cleaning when the space is clear, these people do security, these people are working with the media, I'm over there with the guy from Cleveland and the guy from Minneapolis and the girl from North Carolina opening boxes and running supplies over, those people are handing out sweaters to people who are cold and umbrellas on rainy nights. This guy takes a bunch of us out on a cardboard run so we can stack the cardboard under our sleeping bags to keep us a little elevated and dry in the rain, that guy let me use his phone to call Greyhound for the schedule. The other morning there was no sugar or cream for the coffee, so I rushed the few blocks to the storage space, found some honey, soy milk and rice milk and ran it back to the kitchen. So that's what we're FOR, taking care of people. We've got 1,200 people sleeping in a space so small, if you roll over you might land on the person next to you, yet if someone arrives and needs a space, we move over and make more space for them. I haven't seen one fight all week. A few shouting matches which were quickly de-escalated by whoever happened to be standing around at the time.
And to address a criticism that's been made of past protest movements: We're not all white. My first few nights I camped with all Chinese or Chinese-Americans.There are lots of blacks and latinos camped there. Locals and out-of-towners. And there are homeless people living there. There are some mentally ill people, some alcoholics Some media have criticized us for this. Criticized us for allowing people who are down and out or troubled in some way to camp in the park with us!
"But who's funding you???" There might be some rich people giving some thousands here and there, but a lot of it's probably $20 bills and $50 checks, and peanut butter from Missouri and band-aids from Tennessee. "But who's in charge???"...The questions themselves illustrate the inability of people who think within the terms of traditional politics to understand us. They don't even know what questions to ask. Q: If President Obama showed up here right now, what would you say to him?" A: "The kitchen needs help in the serving line."
The other night I told a young "occupier" about my experience during the "anti-globalization" movement back in 2000 and 2001: We seemed to be forming a new culture. Internet networking, consensus meetings, convergence spaces, free meals, an evolving sense of global justice, and the sense that we were communicating, through our actions, with similar movements in South America and Europe. In April of 2001 in Quebec, we helped stop the Free Trade Area of the Americas dead in its tracks. Then 9/11 happened and we went on the defensive. Instead of successfully stopping "free trade" treaties and creating a vision for a better world, we were unsuccessfully attempting to stop wars, becoming paranoid over police-state eavesdropping techniques, watching the world slip into chaos and envisioning hellish a future of autonomous killer drones. And withdrawing into ourselves. For ten years! Then some loser, a total failure of a human being, lights himself on fire in Tunisia and burns himself to death. What a pitiful jerk he must have felt like at that moment! But from that desperate action from that pitiful loser jerk comes Arab Spring, European Summer, and American Autumn. It sounds like some crazy story from an old DC comic book or a children's fairy tale, but it really happened.
I'd thought that the culture that disappeared after 9/11 had died. But it didn't. It had just laid dormant, and now it's back. We just picked up where we'd left off ten years ago! With a few differences, like: Now half the people in the crowd have video cameras in their pockets. Years ago a police commander could spray pepper spray in the eyes of three hippie protester girls and no-one would care. . Next thing you know there's a thousand people in the streets for each one of them. "Whoops," the police might have said. "Oh well, we'll make up for it by...arresting 700 people on the Brooklyn Bridge!" Now we're front-page news around the world. "Whoops again."
Now I'm starting to wonder: Maybe we can occupy the research facilities where they're developing the autonomous killer drones, or the factories where they make them.
Okay, just to wrap up my chronology: As I was getting ready to leave Thursday I became aware of the emerging threat. Brookfield Properties said we would need to clear the park in sections Friday morning so they, under police guard, could clean it. This is the technique they used to get rid of "Bloombergville," a similar but much smaller occupation that happened recently. I hated to take the easy way out and leave, but I had a previous commitment. They called out to their supporters, and a big showdown was to occur Friday morning. How many thousands of people were there to greet the police? How many arrests would have resulted? 3,000? 5,000? The mind reels. But Brookfield and the city backed down. They knew they could never have pulled it off. What would have happened if they did? Some kind of general strike across the city?
Tomorrow (Saturday) is to be a global day of action. Occupy Pittsburgh might start then. Something's going on in Harrisburg. Philly's going, DC's going strong. Sorry this was so long. All for now,
(Any or all of this report can be forwarded, attributed or not.)