Even though I go every day, sometimes I feel like I can’t believe it’ll still be there. When I approach from Fulton Street, I look for the arms of that weird red-orange sculpture sticking out over Broadway, and from blocks away, I find myself thinking: there it is. A kind of home. A place to talk about how things really are. A place where I don’t have to mute my anger, my unwillingness to be reasonable, to compromise with social vileness as the price of being allowed to think I might be able to make it a little less vile. A place where people who feel some similar ways are keeping at it day after day, even when I’m not there. An aperture that I don’t have to feel solely responsible for keeping open, because the need to do so is so broadly felt. A zone freed from the stranglehold of corporate thinking–the kind of mentality that has infected even the New York Foundation for the Arts, an organization I am deeply grateful to for once giving me a grant, to such an extent that it has seen fit to publish a handbook called “The Profitable Artist.”
Today, I read a few of Shakespeare’s sonnets. I’m not sure why. I felt like I wanted a treat. I wanted beauty, purely delicious language, and decided I didn’t have to justify its political relevance. I did think I had a good line to introduce my reading, however: I would announce that Shakespeare “wrote for us–he was one of the 99%–even though there’s a movie out there that wants to persuade you that he belonged to the 1%.”
I don’t know Shakespeare’s sonnets that well. I couldn’t, for instance, identify by number any of those I’m most familiar with. So I was more than surprised when a young man named Julio (as I later found out), after waiting for me to finish the sonnet I was currently reading, asked me to read Sonnet #14 (“Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck”). I obliged, and asked him why he was partial to that particular poem. He said that he regards it as the record of a struggle, and he has been struggling a lot lately. He recently graduated from college, and is unemployed. “Who were you, before this movement?” he asked me. I said I had to think about whether I am a different person now that there is this movement–it seemed a serious question. Julio said that he doesn’t come down to the park that often–despite being jobless, he has other responsibilities–but tries to participate in other ways, like on the Internet. He looked around. “I’m surprised I haven’t been arrested yet. Maybe because it’s dark.” “Has that happened to you here?” I asked. “Not yet.” And he told me he would definitely get arrested if he saw a policeman hitting a woman.
I also spoke with Andrew, who is 79 years old, worries about the state of the world, and contributes financially to the Occupation when he’s able. “I have a few means, because I live a quiet life. In a way, I have more than I need.” We discussed my sign, which had just been criticized by yet another skeptic who informed me that there is no “cliff” in outer space for the planet to be driven off, after which he suggested that “if we fuck things up so badly, excuse my French, that human life disappears, then isn’t that natural selection?” Andrew agreed with me that we need to try to make some serious changes before throwing up our hands and resigning ourselves to extinction. We discussed the history of the Cold War. “I consider it a major achievement that we didn’t have a full-scale nuclear exchange,” he said. “That was big.”
I finished my reading with Sonnet #73 (“That time of year thou mayst in me behold”). As with several of the other sonnets, I secretly attributed to it a meaning specific to OWS: for me, the ubiquitous references to the fading of youth, the onset of age, and the need for renewal recall the gratitude so many of us older folks feel to see the young ones stepping up.
Just before I left, two young women, possibly high school age, asked me about my sign. They really wanted to know what I thought. “I have so many questions,” one of them said. “I mean, I don’t know where to begin! How can it happen that 1% just manages to grab everything?” Her friend asked what I think is the best form of government; I told her that’s something we all have to figure out together.
It was a warm day today, highs at least in the upper 60’s, making it strange indeed to remember we had a significant snowstorm 10 days ago. I want to hold onto my memory of how the park looked in the early darkness: under an almost-full moon, the women knitting in lawn chairs, cops lounging, an individual in a Guy Fawkes mask nodding approvingly at my sign, the drumming circle going full tilt, somebody with some kind of flashing blue light thingy arranged around their forehead, behind the barricades, twinkling in the dark.