Thursday, October 27, 2011

Breaking and Entering

The Kingdom of God shows up in the oddest places. Like the southernmost stretch of Broadway, just north of Wall Street.

It’s pretty rag-tag. Twenty-somethings with cooler piercings than the likes of me would ever entertain. A contingent from the American Indian Movement. An elderly matron in a Liberty scarf patiently holding up a copy of Ron Suskind’s exposé Confidence Men, cover visible to those walking by on the street. Two middle-aged daddy bears just arrived from West Virginia to be part of the occupation for the weekend. Next to them where we flank the sidewalk, a mother of two teenagers from central California. People line up for lunch from a makeshift kitchen in the middle of Zuccotti Park. Plastic crates hold a lending library of 2000 volumes, just beyond a clearly posted but thinly inhabited Queer Space. A fresh edition of the Occupied Wall Street Journal, newly delivered to the square, sits on an information table.

Placards lie in a pile near the sidewalk for anyone who needs one. The slogans they bear prove the point that the scoffers make to discredit the movement: there’s no fixed or unified agenda here. But in the diversity lies strength and the bonds of a solidarity that difference doesn’t jeopardize, and surely that’s what’s terrifying, under the dismissive comments, to those who’d be glad for a narrower, more tightly defined interest that could be more easily coopted. “Do I contradict myself? I contain multitudes,” reads the quotation from Whitman at the information table.

Instead of rage, there’s celebration and a calm mutual respect, born of the moment when the dispossessed find one another and amongst themselves forge the will to see their lot as a bond between them rather than as a fate that each must try to escape on his own. There’s a gracious generosity, which sees that what’s particular to one or a few points the way to what all share. This is what happens when miscellaneous slaves decide they’re ready to leave Egypt whether they have a clear plan for getting through the desert or not.

This small concrete plaza amidst the high-rises is full of what the unbridled greed of international capital has most to fear: human beings following their hearts into the holy play of community, a non-sectarian liturgy in the making. A tall, beautiful young man with a black beard sits in lotus position on a tarp laid out on the pavement before a tanka of a wrathful bodhisattva. He carefully and steadily rings a singing bowl for fifteen minutes before the assembly of a meditation flash mob at the stroke of noon. A man in his sixties sits at a table churning out “We are the 99 Per Cent” buttons, inviting voluntary contributions as passers-by claim his output.

It’s all unbearably fragile, and inevitably subject to change. Perhaps the City of New York will try to sweep it away. In Oakland, California, another occupation faced tear gas, flash grenades, and rubber bullets two days ago, on the excuse of a few actions marginal to the protest . But for the moment, what matters most is raw hope. “The beginning is near,” reads another sign.

Last Saturday, walking into the midst of this wonder for a morning I’d stolen from errands uptown, holding a borrowed placard between the daddy bears and the retired matron, the clear tone of a meditating angel’s singing bowl ringing in our ears, I was grateful for the unlooked-for miracle of standing where I most wanted to be in the world.


  1. Thank you for posting this. I've seen so many movements either fizzle or be co-opted that I can't help feeling this will be another one. The problems that have moved them to protest are not primarily caused by the greed of capitalists but by the capitaiists', and everyone's, mistaken assumption that the supply of fossil fuel will last virtually forever. It won't. And every time we drive a car, fly in a plane, or heat our homes, we contribute to the shortage. Unless the Occupy Wall Street movement understands this, they are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

  2. I agree that the consequences of our environmental negligence may doom us as a dominant species, or at least vastly change the shape of the civilization we've built. But I view that failing not as foundational but as symptomatic of the effects of a system that commodifies everything and then sells our lives back to us--and that allows for ecological pillage on the scale necessary to satisfy our dependency on carbon fuels. Yeah, protest movements have come and gone often enough even within our own lifetimes. But I'm struck by how diverse this one is--by how deeply it cuts across lines of generation, ethnicity, and even class by many traditional definitions.