I wasn’t going to go to Zuccotti Park today–there are limits, after all. Then I viewed a video of a remarkable press conference held at noon today by the OWS librarians and several attorneys (Norman Siegel and Gideon Oliver, who is president of the NYC chapter of the National Lawyers Guild) to publicize the wanton destruction of most of the 5,000 donated books the library had collected. Not only that, but the library group called on Mayor Bloomberg to explain the decision to trash the collection, apologize for it, provide assurances it won’t happen again, replace the missing books, and make available a space for the reconstituted People’s Library. I urge you to view the video of the event, made available, last I checked, by theother99.tv at the following URL: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/18701954
As upset as I’ve been about the library’s sad fate, I hadn’t really put together the full meaning of the city’s actions in attacking this site of popular literacy, artistic affirmation, and intellectual exchange until I heard the amazingly moving and thoughtful testimony from a range of library workers, some of them professionally trained in the ways of book collections and all clearly committed to their volunteer jobs at a level that few paid librarians would be likely to match. After hearing them speak about the ways in which the OWS library represented the heart and soul of the Occupation, I needed to get on the train and read some poetry for the people.
I thought I would check out what was going on among the very small group assembled at the east end of Zuccotti Park, but no sooner did I pass through the narrow aperture in the barricades, with its gauntlet of hefty Brookfield Properties goons, when my attention was caught by a thin, light-haired woman in business attire who was arguing with said goons. She was saying that she wouldn’t go in because entry had been denied to a white-bearded man who stood behind her holding a couple of shopping bags. The goons said they hadn’t told him he couldn’t come in, only that he needed to say what was in his bags. The woman–she turned out to be an attorney working in a law firm in a neighboring building–said, “I’m standing in solidarity with this man who you won’t let in, but you just let in another man with a canvas shopping bag exactly the same as this one.” The discussion went on for a while, with the Brookfield employee declaring that “this protest should be thankful to Brookfield Properties for allowing them a place to stay.” At that, I pointed out that Brookfield Properties created the park, which is supposed to be “open to the public,” in exchange for being allowed to build a massive real estate development. I asked about why the library had been trashed and the Brookfield guy said it was the fault of the Occupiers who didn’t move the books when they were told to, and “had no right to squat” in the park. I told him I was sorry he felt compelled to do this kind of work and took my business outside the barricades.
Up on Broadway, a group of about 30 people with signs reading Occupy 4 Jobs were rallying with a mic check speakout. I wondered if they were from some sectarian party, but later gathered they were from an OWS working group on employment issues. When they were done, I read a few poems by Susan Deer Cloud from her collection Car Stealer (FootHills Publishing, 2010). Hoping that Susan would approve, I dedicated the reading “in dis-honor of Thanksgiving,” given the resolutely anti-colonial thread that runs through her poems about indigenous memory and contemporary survival. I read “Ode to Binghamton,” “Are You an Old Hippie?–They Ask Me,” “Car Stealer,” and “Mohawk” (“For you, it’s your tribe.//For them, a bristle/of defiance tied to being punk/….For you, it’s the way a warrior’s/long hair gentles your hands/when you dream near a campfire/under peacetime stars.//For them, not seeing the bristle/behind your Mohawk smile” [pp. 17-18]). A woman with an “old hippie” look about her listened intently, her young son at her side. “Did it touch your heart?” she asked him. “It touched my heart.” She said they were from New Jersey, had visited OWS several times in the past. She thought the whole experience was educational for her boy; the kid just wanted to head up to Rockefeller Center.
NOTE: I will be taking a break from reading over the long weekend, but may continue to post on issues related to OWS.