A reflection on Occupy Wall Street

(This is a reflection piece on OWS that I am sharing with other members of the Maxine Greene Salon. I hope to write a Japanese version soon.)

Liberty Plaza ‘commune’
              Yesterday, I went to Zuccotti Park, which came to be known as 'Liberty Plaza,' with other members of Maxine Greene Salon. Let me share with you my reflection on it. First of all, I was amazed to see and feel how the “occupation” has developed in terms of its size and energy despite the recent snow in NYC. There were a lot of people, over 500 I would say—a much larger crowd than the last time I was there 3 weeks ago.

There were definitely more tents, vendors, tour buses, and cops.

Zuccotti Park is now a hot spot for tour buses

And, to our surprise, at the center of it all was Crosby (Stills) and Nash singing and showing solidarity with Occupy Wall Street (OWS). Watch this video clip.

              The entire system was much more developed as well. It has indeed grown into a “commune” to quote one member of the Salon. There was an information desk, “people’s kitchen,” “people’s library,” community affairs, compost electricity generation spot, and even a “think tank.”   

People's Kitchen and the weekly kitchen schedule

It was clearly becoming more and more organized and sophisticated. There was a daily schedule board that listed detailed activities by the hour as well as a weekly schedule board which showed how different people were contributing different talents. In addition to the daily General Assembly, there was a media strategizing group, internet group, arts and culture group, outreach committee, public safety, kitchen crew, “know your rights” legal training workshop, and even daily meditations.

Community in the making
              In contrast to OWS’s lack of focus due to its loose organization often criticized by mass media, what stood out for me was rather an incredibly inclusive community made possible by the very looseness. The diversity of participants, or residents, was enormous. 

Besides the ‘normal’ participants calling for economic equity for the ‘99%,’ there were various special interest groups: “Decolonize Wall Street” group by Native Americans, veterans against war calling for a withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, more child-focused “Support Public Education” and “Occupy for Innocence,”

“Chefs against GMO’s” criticizing the danger and greed of the food industry producing genetically modified organisms,

as well as plain hippies and homeless people who have found a place for themselves. Amy Goodman, the main host of an independent news broadcast Democracy Now, thinks that this loose organization is the strength of OWS as “it’s uniting many different movements” because “there is a place for everyone.” (Video) I agree. Despite the coexistence of groups that are not only different but even in conflict with each other, communal decisions have been made on a daily basis through a consensus-building at the General Assembly. These are the people who are willing to live this extremely difficult and time-consuming process.

Countering the ‘faceless enemy’
Mass media’s another common criticism toward OWS is its lack of leaders, but Amy Goodman thinks the opposite here as well. Rather than its weakness, she thinks it is the very uniqueness and strength of this movement: “[the people] are empowered to feel that they are their own leaders.” Apparently, there have been undercover cops in Zuccotti Park, but the problem is that they cannot find one leader who is responsible for the deed. This reminded me of Mary McCarthy’s critique of bureaucracy: "Bureaucracy, the rule of no one, has become the modern form of despotism." Only this time, ‘the people’ are countering the ‘faceless enemy’ with the very strategy that has long tortured them.

People in dialogues
Another thing that stood out for me was how people were engaged in dialogues almost everywhere in the park.

It reminded me of something my mentor once told me. When I was a junior high school teacher in Japan, one of my routines was to observe the practice of my mentor’s kendo team (kendo is a Japanese martial art that uses bamboo swords). “Notice how many conversations are beginning to take place,” he pointed out to me one day. As I watched more carefully how the students were engaging in one-on-one duals, I began to see a number of pairs converging for questions and advice after each move. Watching them with a smile, he said, “These students are finally starting to think, and change.” What I saw in Zuccotti Park was exactly that—people engaging in serious dialogues to think what they can do to improve, to change.

Messiness of the “world”
Of course, when people with conflicting perspectives coexist, there are many disagreements and moments of discomfort and it’s not all that pretty. But it doesn’t have to be, for such messiness is an undeniable part of the unfinished world we live in. Hannah Arendt was well aware of this when she conceptualized the world to be inherited by children as something messy, containing not only the good and the beautiful but also the bad and the ugly, hardly perfected in harmony but still moving in all kinds of directions. Still, visiting Zuccotti Park, I could not deny the sensation that disparate forces were beginning to converge to shift the society in a major way.

Creation of a space
It would be a mistake, though, to assume that everyone in the Liberty Square was a ‘wide-awake participant.’ There were many ‘visitors’ wandering around, just like me, to see if there was a space for them as well. With eyes so curious and agitated, many seemed to be looking for a ‘participant’ with whom they could hold a conversation. Perhaps, any slight gesture from the other would spark a conversation. These were people on the verge of taking risks. Mass media have criticized OWS’s lack of concrete political agendas, but I think they are missing the point. I think that a true meaning of Occupy Wall Street movements lies in the creation of space for air and reflection in the vacuum created by the Corporate Sate. Asked where he thinks this is going, David Crosby said “This movement is so much larger than the Park. The Park is just a spark.” I agree that the space the participants have created go well beyond the limits of the Park. They now exist in various large cities, other countries, vast virtual space on the internet, and numerous individuals’ consciousnesses. And these are public spaces for dialogue and change.

              Feeling pleasantly agitated, I returned to the Liberty Square next day, but this time as a teacher, to show my two-year-old daughter what our ‘world’ looks like.


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