Monday, October 10, 2011

Dispatch from an Occupied City

From Zuccotti/Liberty Park, 9 October 2011
by Richie Jay

What struck me this evening--more so than at Wednesday's march when tens of thousands of people took part, including more well-established and traditionally-structured organizations like labor unions and nonprofits--was that a big part of the Occupy Wall Street movement (or event or gathering or moment or protest...), in New York City at least, is not politics, or policy (although these are important), or even the grievances of its participants (which have actually been laid out quite clearly by the participants in their Declaration of the Occupation).

Rather, it is the act of democracy itself, the structures of self-governance--some rather elaborate, like the hand signals, vocabulary, and procedures used to conduct daily General Assemblies--and the unwritten codes of conduct, morality, and altruism that 'govern' Liberty Park. As much as it is a movement to change the system, it is also an experiment in creating a new and better system just beyond the reach of the old one, a one-square-block city-within-a-city that plays by its own rules, while still adhering to the 'non-negotiable' rules of its surrounding society to ensure a peaceful co-existence across its porous borders. It is also a space for conversation, where dialogue is encouraged, harsh judgment is generally frowned upon, and random strangers literally approach you to ask you why you're there and what you'd like to see change in our country.

These photos and videos do a poor job of capturing what I observed, but what you'll see is a miniature city, complete with basic services and sanitation, clothing distribution, food preparation (accommodating dietary restrictions), health care, a library and educational lectures, entertainment and performance, meditation and spirituality, media and communications, foreign and domestic ambassadors (to provide assistance to 'residents' as well as 'visitors,' though I'm pretty sure they would not make that same distinction), and meetings and governance...all with a purposeful geography, with different activities occurring in different places at different times (i.e. no food prep in the library, no loud concert during General Assembly).

So while I think questions about what Occupy Wall Street stands for and what it hopes to accomplish are valid, it's important also to ask what they have already created and why they have captured so much attention and support.

It's an awfully unique place with a distinct culture. If you're in NYC, you should take a moment to check it out. There are occupations in several cities around the country, but I don't know if they've placed nearly as much focus on building an intentional community, in addition to simply building a social/political movement.

(Apologies if I sound like a student of geography when writing this. I was, in fact, a student of geography.)

Link to the whole album of photos and videos here.


Anonymous said...

Richie: Thank you for your insightful comments.I have been hearing conflicting comments on the objectives of this Occupy Wall Street movement. Your link to their Declaration is the most important outline of their [and my] concerns. I wish I could join them. Everyone should, as they are fighting my battle too.

Robert said...

I also want to thank Richie for providing us with an excellent visual and written synopsis of what is happening at Zuccotti/Liberty.

It is particularly meaningful to me that both my children have taken an active interest in trying to comprehend what has been unfolding in this little park over the past 3 weeks.