29 September 2011

Back at Zuccotti Park

I went back to Zuccotti Park last night, for the first time since the 17th. Michael Moore was there, reporting for MSNBC from the corner of Liberty Street and Trinity Place. A crowd gathered around him; “down in front,” people called out, and everyone sat. Then most of them stood back up. A shot of Michael Moore sitting in a director’s chair, in a dark, possibly empty park, surrounded by a couple of security guards: apparently this does not make for good television. We’re live, someone said, and a boy standing behind Moore waved at the camera. People held their phones up the air and took pictures, like they do at concerts.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the park, the General Assembly was in session. The group here was much larger than the one gathered around Moore, but it didn’t feel like a crowd—people were calm, attentive, at ease. A lot of them were sitting down. In order to be heard, speakers relied on “human microphones”: they’d say a few words, then pause while the group repeated their statement. After an explanation of the assembly process for the sake of any newcomers came reports from working groups. A comfort team representative requested sweatshirts, sweatpants, and socks. Justin from community relations told everyone, “You look so beautiful tonight.” “You look so beautiful tonight,” everyone repeated, and they were right. They did look very beautiful. Maybe only someone as ignorant of strategy—of history—as I am would be impressed by this. But people—the ones who figured out how to do these things, the ones doing them now—are impressive! There was an announcement: the night before, someone named Sergio had asked for a translator. A translator had been found, and was present at the Assembly. If Sergio was there—and he was! There was Sergio, joyful, emerging from the circle. Someone else read a letter from the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, thanking the occupiers for rallying in solidarity with New York City postal employees on Tuesday.

Later, I dropped off the supplies I’d brought—cough drops, Cold-Eeze, tampons—with a protester manning the medical station. He’d come from California and has been there since the beginning. The first night, he said, about sixty people camped out; tonight he estimated it would be six hundred. Two recent arrivals had some questions for him: where did people go to use the bathroom? (McDonald’s—the nearby Burger King won’t even serve protesters anymore, never mind let them use the restroom.) Was it OK to leave their bags out? (Pretty much, just be sure to put your camera or whatever in a case.) And then: what were they doing? Or going to do next—or what—he wasn’t quite sure how to put it, but the veteran occupier nodded understandingly. It was the same implicit, atmospheric question that had been asked when I joined my friends in the park on the 17th, the first day of the protest. We sat, talked, proposed demands, and left before dusk—not a bad way to spend an afternoon. But it had been summer then, and it was fall now, and night: a new season, a change in the air. Something had been affirmed, and now there was a greater sense of opportunity—and also, perhaps, responsibility. The question might have been the same, but now, twelve days later, maybe the answer was—or could be, or should be—different. (Which doesn’t mean rushed: it takes time to take things seriously.)

Across the plaza, the General Assembly was still going on. Russell Simmons briefly addressed the crowd , followed by a woman who knew how to crochet and proposed starting a group to make hats, scarves, and gloves. It was, she said, going to get cold soon. It was already raining, and I left. On the train home, I opened the book I’d brought with me and found in it the words for what it was I’d felt in the park: “The present winter is worth an age if rightly employed.”

Image: Zuccotti Park at night, September 28, 2011. From Scott Lynch.

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