Saturday, March 24, 2012

Occupy Union Square

Maybe I did see a sign and not just a sign of an AmericanSpring? On my usual jaunt through Union Square taking a meandering route through Manhattan Island on my way home to the Jersey Side and saw Occupy Wall Street had set up shop. The news had reported there was some demonstration activity here – which is only keeping with tradition, the labor union (the park is name for the nation union not the labor union) movement, civil rights movement, anti-war movement and dozens of other protests have coalesced on this stretch of park – but the recent protests, from what I was led to believe by the news reportage that the protests were mainly about the slaying of Trayvon Martin in Florida, the so called Million Hoodie March.
Whether it will prove to be the blessing or the curse of the OWS movement, in keeping with its  big tent attitude, the occupiers encompassed the public outrage about the latest race-based shooting and organized protests even though it seems at best tangential to the themes of economic justice prominent in the OWS agenda. What I surprised me, what I had not been aware of, is that the regardless of the Trayvon Martin protests, OWS seems ensconced in the park. The hand written signs, the hippie vibe, all reminiscent of the downtown location.
I liked the guy in a box, which had a think outside me sign on it. A saxophone and guitar player improvised, people were dancing. The park is almost always crowded; it’s a place to coalesce, especially on a Friday with summer-like weather, which brings out the droves, anyway. The usual numbers either absorbed the OWS or were absorbed by them; it was hard to tell exactly who protesters who were just regular neighborhood residents were. Everyone hanging out together just to enjoy the day, which only reinforced the 99 percent message. Of course the more than a dozen cops standing nearby by the main conglomeration of tables and signs was the tip off of who among the bohemian crowd were political undesirables. We live n different times, and a different N.Y. You can act on your right to assemble as long as you remain under surveillance by a contingent of police officers (I didn’t take a picture of the cops, they were too depressing).

A vendor I know told me the occupy people had been there for about a week. They were bothering anybody. Union Park basically has a large swath of lawn and paths with park benches aligning the paths, in addition to a dog run and statues and is surrounded by wide sidewalks and it is on the sidewalks where the vendors and a famous Green Market do their commerce. At the southern tip of the park, on the cement, the crowds coalesced. The difference between here and Zuccotti park is the latter isn’t a public park and can stay open 24/7, but Union Square is a public park and closes at midnight (the city that never sleeps, what a load of bilge water) and the vendor said there is always a chase or some kind of skirmish between the police and OWS supporters who want to encamp the closer it comes to the wee wee hours.

What gave me the most hope was the single, handwritten poster, about the collective needs of OWS in Union Park – sugar free drinks! – but while not first, there among the list was * REGISTER TO VOTE. Lack of hierarchical leadership, the unwillingness to state specific goals or how to achieve them politically and the willingness to be an umbrella organization for a range of issues, fracking, public school funding, anti Afghanistan war, and now, the Martin shooting – these are all aspects of the movement that induces skepticism, in me at least. Please understand, I am in solidarity and skepticism is not a hanging offense. Political change requires the balancing of idealism, pragmatism and compromise and I’ve wondered if OWS understands that balance. But seeing the Register to Vote line gave me hope, instilled in me a new respect. Indeed, we may be in an American Spring. OWS is finally cognizant – no matter that it was only a mid-point position in a list of agenda items – that this a presidential election year and the indisputable fact, that political change is not only about shifting paradigms and changing consciousness, but using the electoral process to affect that change.

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