Thursday, November 17, 2011

November 17th: conversations with the 1%, what next?

Awoke at 5 am. Rode along the Hudson, waking up in the pre-dawn, fast but groggy. I was headed to Zuccotti,  to be a bike scout for today's blockading of the Wall Street entrances. I was vaguely aware of what that entailed, imagining I would be reporting on the movements of cops and the construction of police baracades. The short answer was there were cops everywhere, barricades everywhere. An army of police in the constructed DMZ around the financial district. I lean into a blue-helmeted cop. "you guys must get called in from everywhere! Is everywhere else on a skeleton staff?" He grins. "40000 of us in New York." if you've had occasion to be wary of standing armies specifically or authority in general, that's a pretty terrifying thought. The cops outnumbered protesters easily 3 to 1. I felt like asking them what they were protesting, but remembered my ostensible position was to be discreet, and thought better of it. 

I watched a small number of people congregate near the park, feeling disoriented. I couldn't tell what the plan was, where this group was headed, or how i could help them. I stood around with a few friends, a rising urgency in my stomach. Had i once again signed up for what sounded like a fun job but was in fact edging me our of other effective action? The crowd began to rumble,  I stared to bike. 

I soon realized that my group was just one of 5 or 6, all swelling and congregating around the many entrances to the stock exchange. I lost my trepidation and, calling back to coordinate with the central group conference call, began informing the crowds. 

I would witness a paddywagon unload, a column of police march in, a group lose morale. In response I would floor it, dodging and swerving the stalled traffic, and roll up to another group. "mic check! Mic check! Bike report!" and in that fascinating passage from self to group, my words would be roared back to me in the people's microphone. The effect is thrilling and immediately humbling, I was compelled to keep my updates as factual as possible. People reacted, or didn't, but the fact alone that for brief moments a mass of people are able to act as one is a tremendously empowering thing. The lines of communication were open. 

I witnessed some arrests, some beatings, some notable quips and street conversations. I was shoved aside by a cop mid-message for being in the street, and the crowd howled, supporting me.  A young woman in business attire and I exchanged smiles. "Sorry, I work here, but I support what you guys are doing." "you aren't the enemy" I reply, obviously. "the thing we're fighting is a broken system, corruption, not people. We're FOR people."

Later, once my work feels done, I post up by a police barricade and watch wall street workers get upset at the heavy-handed and arbitrary treatment they receive in the hands of the cops. "This is an Exit only!" shouts an officer, much like a child when, having freshly made his own rules, he clings to them with unbreakable resolve. I felt like pointing out to the well-dressed men with thinning (yet *perfect*) hair the similarities between their situation and the everyday experience of palestinians or anyone else trapped the the mechanism of authoritarian bureaucracy, but I thought the point might be a little graceless under the circumstance. So instead I watched, and listened, to power argue with power. One elegantly dressed businessman was shunted out the exit, roughly.  "why are you shoving me, officer?" he held a neon green sign. It read, "Get a Job."

I had a chance to talk to this fellow a little later, after I heard him rant on camera about mismanaged government spending and rampant free marketeering being the root ills of society. He sounded like an OWS protester, but he couldn't have been angrier with them. "these assholes are just lying around a park, when the problem is policy in Washington!" He went on to say the group could be sending mass calls to representatives and frying their phone systems. He had a point. I argued diversity of tactics, and suggested her get involved in a working group through NYCGA. He wasn't interested. 

Later, from the other end of the spectrum, I was shouted at by a carpenter for suggesting that there was merit behind protesting a broken system. His argument also centered around the whole 'these bums should go get a job' tack. "I worked 3 jobs out college! I had 3 kids! These freaks just wanna do drugs!" We yelled at each other for a while and that was nice, but after drawing sone other bystanders into the conversation we were suddenly on better terms. He didn't think a single person under 30 would work hard with their hands. I assured him there were competent engineers and carpenters living in that park. He brought up a good point, within a limit: what people needed to do was work, hard, at whatever came their way, and be grateful for it. What evolved was a larger conversation on the lines we draw regarding personal needs and personal values. He saw the contradiction in hating that the US was losing jobs overseas and personally investing in an outsourcing company like Sysco (cisco? I'm too lazy to fact check on my phone), but he ultimately shrugged off the moral burden in favor of having a retirement. I, on the other hand, wasn't going to cede that getting a job at walmart was a solution, because of the systemically awful things they perpetuate societally and environmentally. Thus we talked, and I almost asked him to give me a job, until I quietly stepped back and reminded myself that I didn't come to New York to do construction. Thus passed another morning in the struggle. 

What both of these men were evidencing and getting close to articulating was the root problem the movement is facing: how do we stop whining, pointing, and counter-whining? How do we best take these core issues and work on changes to them? Through protest occupations around the world? Through intervention in political policy? Through education? Through burning the fucker down and starting over? 

The suit-and-tie's right: we need to move from protests to influencing policy, the carpenter's right: we need to learn the value of hard work, with your hands, and the protesters are right: we need some attention on these issues, and the whole thing's a mess. 

Diversity of tactics. Get in however you see fit, and get to work.  Read More......

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cranksgiving 2011

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Morning After: Bulldozing Liberty Square

In the middle of the night on November 15th cops finally decided to oust the protesters from Zuccotti park, on the flimsy premise that they needed to clean it, that the park was unavailable for other users, and that the protesters would be welcome back, sans any of the tents, awnings, and other structures that make the physical location of the movement tenable. Nice compromise, NYPD. There's also some schlock out there about the peaceable dispersal of a few hundred people, which is glaring sharply with some protester accounts of sound cannons and teargas. I don't know, I wasn't there. But this guy was...

(this photo was floating around in a very prominent news source's photo essay until today, when it inexplicably went missing. #copwash.)

I was present, the night before, in the public atrium on 6o Wall St, where a buzz of different groups organizing with diverse tactics filled the air.
photo thanks to, who has a nice write-up about the space.

I was present in Charlotte's Place for a conversation with Ted, from the Open Source working group, about the future and power of the movement. "I love having this locus, where people can congregate, share ideas, give a face to the movement." At the time I had been thinking how permanent and filled with momentum Zuccotti park was, how it couldn't be washed away nearly as easily as Salt Lake, or Oakland, or other evicted movements. Ted shook his head. "We're to the point where we don't need to be centralized, there's too much going on to stop." He smiled. "In fact, destroying the park would just let us be one step ahead..."

I hope he's right. At the moment it's clear what a resource the park was, a place of free shelter and free food for a diverse group of activists to come together and focus, in their gamut of ways, on problem solving. Tactics as diverse as the energy bikes built by Time's Up...

here being rounded up and presumably trashed (as per the Police's statement that all objects 'left' in the park would be destroyed) by the Police after a huge effort to construct them) to the great art of Rachel Schragis and the Call to Action working group (headline image).

Yesterday this movement seemed full of productive energy, which to the guardians of status-quo and order was untenable. Now we evolve, in an unknown direction, but the work will continue and the people who labored, loved, and were activated behind the barricades and under the tarps won't easily lose the education they gained in Zuccotti park.
(one of many good before/after images from enhanced buzz)

See you November 17th.
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Sunday, November 13, 2011

This needed to be shared

Orange bike by dreamiurg
Orange bike, a photo by dreamiurg on Flickr.

This guy knows how to do it...

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Relentless Art: The mean, huge brain of William Powhida

Wandering around Chelsea Galleries is a good way to be shunted into a green passive-agressive disgust/envy at all the earnest art-world salesmanship that circulates around mediocre work in the big city, which is my highbrow way of saying that I have my personal tastes and the things that fall outside of them annoy me. It is also a great way to learn about actually interesting stuff. Today that stuff was the work of William Powhida in the Postmasters Gallery, which not only blew my mind but left a residue of cynicism toward all the other art that followed it. Powhida's work centers around a style of pencilled, colorful art-world rants on a facsimile of notebook paper.

His snarky insider commentary and sarcastic anti-capitalism alone would probably be enough for me to fall in love, but beyond that it turns out the dude is SMART. Angrily smart, in fact, with a mathematical brain that has a penchant for mapping out social and political infographics with cutting personal attacks and diatribes. My favorite works in the show were giant parsings of the political landscape that appeared to contain years worth of interconnected, venomous insights about, well, everything. You could probably justifiably devote a news channel to extracting and presenting all of the information in this one piece:

The picture is huge, 5x10 feet. And though the gallery has some high-res versions of his pieces online, it's only in person that the barrage of information becomes apparent. And that one's logistically simple; it only separates political players by their place on the bi-partisan spectrum. My favorite piece in show is a 4-way nexus of the forces of pro-culture and sub-culture along a political spectrum, a "Continuum of Ideological Futility."

The artist appears to be hitting on all cylinders. The banner piece for the show deals with the challenge of art and protest articulating over-arching social problems. #OWS is a standout footnote, and he nails the collective messiness and circuitous nature of the challenges facing the radical social reform that we're attempting to get our heads around. He also may be the most prolific bridge-burner I've ever heard of, with pieces like a 'where are they now?' of Williamsburg's turn-of-the-century art startups. Mean as hell, but he's got the goods to back up the rhetoric.
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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Being new to New York

feels exactly like this, in case you were wondering:

Just kidding. Kind of. What it really feels like is a total reinvention of the self under an unfamiliar network of very bright constellations. It's an adrenaline rush and filled with potential and utterly disorienting. This morning on the subway I was set upon by a goofy-looking semi-crazy fellow whose breakfast hobby, it appears, is to eloquently bitch and insult other subway riders, breaking that 4th wall of collective public indifference that we all know so well. I appreciated his spirit, but his choice of target (me) was obnoxious. My current situation of slightly heartsick joblessness was done no favors by the fact that I was late, on a train during rush hour, with a bike (oh the inconvenience, my fellow riders collectively asserted), headed to a sterile office environment where I was expected to masturbate into a cup and otherwise cement my position in society as a desperate creative type. So within all that psychic malaise Richard (for he introduced himself in soliloquy) struck me as a dick, and I told him so (in different words, rising to the occasion of his eloquence). The look with which he then regarded me told me, quite plainly, that I didn't belong. "As a native New Yorker I have long since learned..." he began his next diatribe, and with that phrase I knew I'd been bested. See, I have been on a bit of a winning streak when it comes to being out of place.

In Palestine it was fairly easy, given that people regard foreigners as you would a rock star and treat them with shocking deference, interest, celebrity, and hospitality. But any good post-colonialist gets tired of that positon after a while, and at the end of the day getting stared at wears you out regardless. In Haiti it was more of the same, but now whiteness was a synonym for exploitation and bad history, which made breaking the ice with a videocamera a bit of a challenge. Then there was not speaking Spanish in the DR, or, for that matter, speaking Polish in Poland, Mayorg in Hungary, etc. All's this to say that after 10 months of travelling in as many countries this puppy is worn out. And the last thing I wanted, in the US of A, the goddamn melting pot, and furthermore the only place I can ever be from, was to be an outsider. But an outsider I feel. Up on 181st I feel like a visitor in a sea of black and brown faces whom have made this place theirs, over the generations, and down in Greenepoint I am disgusted by what I see as the fruits of the young bright things' invasion into such places. With the punks of Zuccotti park I feel like a square (who needs an apartment! Who needs a job! Who needs upward mobility to be effective! That world's tired, and broken, and no fun anyway.), on my bike I feel like a stereotype that's been co-opted, and in a tie and a button-down shirt I feel like I'm playing dress-up and being earmarked as an impostor with my self-inflicted haircut.

Ahem. So it's funny, despite all that, that I'm having an incredible time. Building the beast that other folks know as 'the network' and I simply know as making friends, one hears glimmers of things again and again that start to materialize in front of you, names of organizations and initiatives and projects and places. Already, 10 days in, I've popped inside some of those places and felt the potential there. The roofless ability to, if one plays one's cards right, be effective. That's where the intoxication of New York comes from, the fact that behind the glibness and the hipness and the self-involved posturing and the bustle and the grime and the ego and the challenges there's actually potential, real potential. The ability to take what you do and kick ass with it. That's already been worth it. Furthermore, there are 8 million people of every stripe out there, and while you can't get to know them all, you can meet a ton of them, even in your first week, and they'll let you into their worlds. I'm tremendously grateful to the people that have so far done things for me, large and small, considered me for piecework, introduced me to friends, hosted me on their couches, gave me places to connect and volunteer, initiated projects with me, hung out in the park, invited me to meditation, found me jobs, searched for apartments with me, made me feel at home, and are beginning (or returning) to call me friend. So much so soon, and so worth it. Even if there's a moment or two where I feel like I'm getting run over by a Camero Camaro.
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