Thursday, October 6, 2011

Solidarity & Hope

A dream is coming true. That’s how I felt, standing in Foley Square, watching tens of thousands, the vast majority union workers but also students and fringy groups, heading en masse to Occupy Wall Street. A statement was being made. Unions were not just represented. They were represented in force. According to the N.Y. Times, Transport Workers Union, the Service Employees International Union, the United Federation of Teachers and the United Auto Workers were represented. I also saw a Nursing Union Sign. Finally, the long hoped for, dreamt about coalition between progressives and labor.

I hemmed and hawed all day, thinking of reasons not to leave work early to see the demonstration.

I’m just not a protest person, unless you count going to a Central Park for Nuclear Freeze Rally in the 80s and an Earth Day in the 90s.

But Occupy Wall Street has fired my imagination and filled me with hope.

My optimism was only confirmed and increased by the Foley Square to Freedom Park March of Solidarity. I was teary eyed with joy. October 5th was a historical day and one hopes a positive turning point in both the movement and awareness of the need of economic justice in our country.

I first went to what I thought was Foley Square Park, which is actually City Hall Park (it’s the park closest to the great JR). There seemed to be no activity.

Then I went to the Liberty Park. It was a like Student Commons, at least three times more crowded than it had been last week. The energy level was higher, signs were plentiful, in full view, clever, funny, thought provoking.

On one end was a drum circle, rocking steady beats and the other end, kids were sitting in lotus positions and chanting OM. Others were just hanging out, talking, playing chess; they were being young for a good cause. I dug the people, dug the signs. But where were the Union Members?

I was reassured, they are coming, permits were granted.

They will be marching from Foley Square. Where was Foley Square? (Except for a five block radius around my apartment, I have no sense of direction).

There’s a message on cell-phone, my friend, Debra, die-hard New York liberal who also has been captivated by Occupy Wall Street. She tells me lots of people are here, just walk up Broadway, you’ll find it.

Foley Square is right in front of City Hall. It’s the 6th Train stop. I’ve been there before, but only half a ba-zillion times so my disorientation is understandable.

Anyway... tens of thousands were behind barriers. The vibe can only be described as energized joy. Then they began to march. Tons and tons of people.

I met Johanna holding a sign quoting Henry Wallace, who was a pre-Truman Vice President for FDR, who then launched a third party bid for the presidency. We talked a bit, she told me she was named after Visions of Johanna, so of course I recited a few lyrics. What is happening? Lovely young women named after Dylan songs holding signs about semi-obscure labor history moments of the early to mid 20th century. I am in the heaven Tom Joad implies exists at the end of Grapes of Wrath.

I felt like I was dreaming, and unlike the eight years of the Bush administration, this was no nightmare. It was the opposite of nightmare.

I felt incredibly happy. My dream has been for a new coalition, between labor and the splintered progressive groups to join together and bring back the New Deal. Today was the first time I saw a glimmer of that dream come true. The police sanctioned off streets, implemented crowd control that would reduce any possibility of a large group swelling in any one place. But they could not suppress the feeling shared and it seemed most of the cops, union members themselves, were supportive.

Occupy Wall Street has been criticized for not having specific demands, yet.

I think this will ultimately prove to be their greatest strength. They already command the symbols of debate by its location – Wall Street, the literal and symbolic center of Corporate Greed Bush-era policies empowered to rape and pillage the middle class – and by doing so, while not formulating the specific issues of the debate, they have defined the parameters of the discussion. The demands discussion can now begin on their – our – terms.

On the downside, the messages have diversified. One woman had this weird doll, said Screw You Alabama. What does Alabama have to do with Wall Street? This was against the new immigration law passed by the state, she explained, the doll was Dora the Explorer dressed like a Mexican. What? Dora is no Pipi Longstocking! Is it really wise to bring in immigration issues? I felt the same way about a Stop Fracking Sign. Another group called Revolution, purportedly were communists, I think they were a hoax. Another group was self-declared socialist – talk about a buzz words the right can latch onto to criticize this event and justify a crackdown by law enforcement. Another was for the N.Y. Green Party – gee, they’ve been an effective bunch! It seems these individuals were not forming a coalition, or expressing solidarity; they were using the event to promote their own agenda. The potential threat is that they can appear to embody this political movement.

At this time, that potential is small since it seemed way less than 5 percent of the visible signage. Most of the signs were different riffs on the overriding theme – Economic Justice! Rob, who has been sleeping there, aid that the organizers are aware of the potential of these messages hijacking the movement.

He also said the police are becoming more strict about sleeping bags, mattresses and tarps; they’re trying to make the occupation as uncomfortable as possible. A turning point is coming. But today indicates that turning point could turn in a positive direction. I don’t want to be a cynic, or such a realist that I abandon optimism.

Still, I wanted to see the melding of the two groups, the neo new left and the neo union movement, finally joining hands at Liberty Park. That didn’t quite happen to the extent my by then overly optimistic expectations envisioned. Seemed the union folks went to the park then went home. The kumbuyah moment where everyone held hands and sang classics form the Almanac Singers songbook did not occur. I had the feeling that when the march ended, the two groups were still trying to figure out what to make of each other. I don’t really having pictures of them together because my camera stop working, sorry. But, the first step was made.

A kinship was acknowledged, and around that acknowledgement a coalition can coalesce. Also, Unions have declared support and by doing so, augment the seriousness this demonstration Will they be here tomorrow, stay overnight, join in the twice daily marches in front of the stock exchange? Maybe solidarity can be expressed in a more effective way. There’s an Occupy New Jersey now, an Occupy Wall Street in other cities. Hope was kept alive on October 5th 2011, in and of itself, a remarkable accomplishment.

No comments:

Post a Comment