Given my focus on the fascinating micro-level interactions that I get involved in every time I read poetry at Zuccotti Park, I’m afraid I’ve sometimes neglected to portray my sense of touching many spokes of a large and growing wheel. Often, this impression has come from seeing some chanting, sign-waving contingent or other march toward (or away from) the park. On Wednesday, I looked up from the page just long enough to applaud a lively group of men and women in camouflage fatigues. They were chanting a military training cadence repurposed with an anti-war verse, and they had signs suggesting that they were veterans, but such is the theatrical nature of many Occupy occurrences that I couldn’t be sure if they were actual veterans or just people wearing camo and making a point. (A little later, I did notice few older guys standing around in Vietnam Veterans Against the War T shirts, which should have given me a clue.) Only when I got home and checked the Internet was I sure that the people I’d seen were actual veterans.
On Thursday morning, I got an e-mail from a friend saying she was headed down to the People’s Tribunal on Goldman Sachs–was I going? No, I wrote back, I was headed to a yoga class, with my trip to lower Manhattan scheduled for later in the day. In the afternoon, I got an e-mailed update: the event had gone off well, with lots of press, good speeches by Cornel West and Chris Hedges, a march to Goldman Sachs to demand restitution of plundered funds, and civil disobedience arrests.
Yesterday evening, as I was entering the Park Slope Food Co-op on my way back from Zuccotti Park, with my sign tucked under my arm, I ran into Carol, an old friend of my generation whom I haven’t spoken with in a while. She asked about the sign and, as happens so frequently these days, began to talk about her own experiences attending a General Assembly. “I haven’t been to any of those,” I confessed. “Sometimes I think I’d like to go, but then, on the other hand, sometimes it feels like my whole life has been a General Assembly.” She smiled in recognition and told me about attending a meeting called for the purpose of addressing women’s issues. She was irked by the evident lack of experience of some of the privileged young white women in attendance, but had heard that a larger gathering was in preparation. “I hope they pull it together–I heard some really difficult stuff about how hard it is for women to stay at the site. I hope it’s not quite as unsafe as one of these women was suggesting.”
This afternoon, coming from a neighborhood meeting in PLG, I stopped at Pret a Manger on Broadway for a cup of coffee before heading to the park. Pret has obviously become a sort of annex to the Occupation; in the crowded back room, next to the snaking bathroom line, the chair opposite me was soon taken by a man of roughly my age who said, “I see we’re headed to the same place” and introduced himself as Brian. Brian turned out to be a Brooklynite and cultural worker with young adult children who got deeply involved in OWS early on: his 17-year-old son was “arrested on Day Four,” and his daughter, who’s in college, was one of the organizers of Occupy Portland. He told me that he’d been at Foley Square where folks from Rebuild the American Dream were demonstrating, calling on the administration to reconsider its decision not to prosecute the banksters. I expressed some skepticism about Rebuild’s agenda (are they really there to hold the administration’s feet to the fire, or will they ultimately be about trying to capture OWS’s energy for the Obama re-election effort?). Brian said he also felt ambivalent, but had made it over there in connection with some medical support he’s doing. He went on to tell me that he’s in recovery, has played a role in bringing information on AA to the park, and is currently deeply involved in working with a homeless, alcoholic Occupier who’d been on the streets for years before getting involved with the Occupation and finding a sort of home there. This man has decided he wants to stop drinking, and is now experiencing serious medical problems as he goes through detox without much help. “The medical folks are all volunteers, and they’re not really equipped to deal with a lot of stuff. I can’t blame them–they do what they can, and it’s all pretty ad hoc. But I think on Monday I’m going to need to take him to a public hospital.” Brian also told me that his daughter reports not feeling very comfortable hanging out for extended periods at the Occupy Portland site, because of the numbers of substance abusing men who are staying there.
I eventually made it down to the park and read some Langston Hughes poems, primarily the excerpt from “Montage of a Dream Deferred” that’s included in the Library of America volume American Poetry: the Twentieth Century, Vol. II. A young man I’ve seen at the park on other occasions (I think–there begins to be a strangely fugue-like quality of variation-in-sameness to some of these encounters, when one has been at it for a while) waited for me to finish and said, “Read me one you just love reading, even if you’ve read it a hundred times before.” I looked at the table of contents, but nothing leaped out at me (I have to say that in recent days these Library of America volumes have struck me as singularly unexciting, arbitrary and “average” in their selections). I read him Charles Reznikoff’s “Millinery District,” a poem I really do like very much, though in truth Hughes’s “Montage” was a more satisfying read-aloud number. At this, he confessed to me (saying, quite unnecessarily, “you would know about this better than I do”) that he finds reading old poems about New York City to be like hearing a description of a good friend from a period before you knew the person. Then for some reason he began to recite “Invictus” from memory and I chanted along with him, though I had forgotten the verse that begins “Beyond this place of wrath and tears/Looms but the horror of the shade….”
I came home with a flier, handed me by a young woman, that publicizes “A Dialogue with Occupy El Barrio and Occupy Wall Street,” to take place this coming Monday evening at the Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center, “Endorsed by unanimous vote by the General Assembly of OWS, the People of Color W.G., Immigrant/Worker W.G., Outreach W.G., Spanish Working Group, & Anti-Racism Allies Group.”