Disgusting. Foul-smelling. Ungrateful. Homeless. Lazy. Un-American. Vandals. Useless. Worthless. Polluters. Disrespectful. Vile. Dirty. Diseased. Bottom-feeders (and on and on…)
You might recognize those words. They’re just a handful of the words that I’ve seen published, heard in the news and witnessed friends and co-workers say in regards to the OWS “kids”.
My response is simple…You haven’t been there.
I spent about three hours today in the cold with them. First at their concert at Foley Square and then down at the encampment itself. I think it would do everyone in this country a bit of good to go down to your closest movement and stop in for a few minutes as well.
I don’t have much time to write this, so, I will just shed some truth to some myths that I repeatedly see and hear.
They are dirty, homeless, drug-addicted kids who are too lazy to do anything and want to live off of the hard wages of others while spreading disease and feces all over a once beautiful public/private space.
Have you ever been camping? Have you ever been homeless (whether voluntarily or not)? Have you ever stood up for anything in your life and found yourself all alone for it? I spoke six words the entire 3 hours I was there. I listened, I looked, I observed, I imagined, I slowed my life down for three hours and just stayed open, but I wouldn’t speak. I felt like a guest and I wanted to understand them.
I don’t and didn’t feel like I was in reality. This place, spiritually, was so much better than reality. Viscerally, it was not the polished glass of the new 1 WTC is just 2 blocks away and it’s tenants weren’t shaved and suited up (though, a good many people were). I will, though, vouch that the entire time (and I walked the entire camp a few times), I saw not one piece of garbage on the floor (including feces) and never once did I smell anything but a faint whiff of incense or the amazing food coming out of the kitchen. Now, I don’t know if you have been down to that neighborhood in the past 10 years or so, but, it’s a flat out shitty looking neighborhood. There are either construction sites or post 9/11 police barricades everywhere, and I literally mean everywhere. I walked down there from City Hall and did not come across one street without either or both.
These people respect what they are doing and who they are. On one side of the camp, there is an enormous cleaning supply tent, with dozens of brooms, mops and all the like. The amazing thing is, all of it is either purchased or donated (no entitlement funding here). They get dollars from people like me, people like the unions, people like Colin Powell and they get money, and a lot of it, from themselves. Contrary to what most people believe (or even know), a lot of these people sleeping out in near freezing weather hold full-time jobs during the day and sleep there at night. They are people like the guy with the hiking backpack and the North Face outfit I witnessed at the kitchen area who told the cook “make sure this money goes right to feeding these people” and pulled out a large handful of $1s and $5s from his pocket and dumped it in a ziplock so people, regardless if you live there or not, could have hot coffee and three hot meals.
And, please, make no mistake. These are not kids. These are college graduates, these are elderly men and women, these are 40-somethings, these are the police who stand guard but are engaged in conversation with them, these are human beings who work, who have families, who have friendships, who pay taxes and who appreciate the ability to be able to do this and respect the country that allows them to do so. They are respectful, they are polite, they pray, they are constantly helping each other and they are selfless. I think that’s something everyone should witness.
Oh yea, and they are also veterans.
And those six words? “No, thank you. Really, Thank You!!!” This to the young man who was in deep meditation in the chant circle only to come out of it, look around and realize that there were a lot of really cold people standing around supporting and participating with him and his community. So, what did he do? He got up, poured whatever hot tea they had left and starting handing it out to every “non resident”. I saw how little they are living with all the while making a sacrifice that, for all of my talk, I find myself unwilling to make. I was deeply touched by his offering, but I could not bring myself to take this from them. I meant what I said sincerely to him and I hope he understood. He was my only reason for using my voice the entire visit.
They are unorganized, uneducated, don’t know what the hell they want and are useless camping out when they could be doing something productive to change things.
“We are a horizontal movement, not one based on a single voice. We are everybody.”
Listening to the music, the lyrics, looking around at the dozens of police officers barricading the square that was filled with little kids, parents, grand-parents, men in uniform, teenagers and college kids, couples and the 6 or so activists passing out flyers with their own mini movements, I realized exactly what this movement is about. There is no need for them to have a single cause. They are what they say they are. A Microphone. The 99%.
It was amazing. Everyone was talking. Even at the camp. Every few steps, you would leave the sound of one conversation and walk into earshot of another highly intellectual debate, from all different sides. Police were talking to hippies, 80 year olds with veterans, people who were exactly like me talking and educating people 20 and 30 years older then them, and not being condescended.
“We are a horizontal movement.”
When I was there, I could feel the energy of the endless cities in this very country where at that very moment, people were gathering and doing the same thing as I was, as we were. I was thinking about the people at Tahrir in Egypt, who send messages thanking OWS for what they are doing and how it has inspired them as well, hoping to return the inspiration. I was thinking about Spain, and Australia, and England and how, literally, thousands of people from all over the world were doing the exact same thing at the exact same moment as I was, witnessing the same conversations, the same feelings of unity and peace and frustration and passion. I realized at that moment that the movement has succeeded and that the rest is up to us. The rest is up to the people who have been sparked by the dismal state of the current world and have been talking and Facebooking endlessly about all of the illogicality yet do nothing.
These people, these citizens are and will risk their lives out there for what they believe in. You could judge from your couch and call them what you want, but, until you have been there, you speak only from righteousness. It is every American citizen’s right and duty to protest, to stand up for those who cannot fight for themselves, took look out for their neighbor and to hold accountable the humanity of our principles. They are out there so we stop complaining about what pisses us off and begin to do something about it.
They are the spark. We are the fire.
They are a flash-in-the-pan movement. They are too unorganized and they’ll just go away or fall apart.
Every generation, I suppose, has had a tent city rise up in one way or another at one time or other. And, predictably, they either fell apart on their own or they were dismantled by the powers that be (usually the same powers that those people paid for to be there).
Spend some time at OWS, do your research and you might realize that this movement is exponentially building itself stronger, and it is growing. This movement doesn’t have an age or a color or a gender or a party or a religion. This is Everyman. People, world-wide, secretly believe in what they are saying and connect with them on an intellectual level, even if they do think they’re hippies.
This one has all the tools that it needs to have in order to succeed, from the people to the causes to its reach. And the people know this. The government knows this. Wall Street knows this as well. And the enemies the latter two have made know this all too well. One by one, we are seeing all of the good people who those establishments have tarnished come out vocally in favor of OWS, and snickering all the while doing so.
They know, as we know, karma is ferociously honest. They know the people, we the people, are finally realizing all we have in common. That people are realizing just how large in number we really are.
And they know that this movement is and has exactly what it takes to bring down a government and, even bigger, to bring down the markets.