Occupational Hazard: Freedom

He had these gentle eyes, she had a pink, knit cap, a lovely visiting couple who were here from Atlanta. They asked me my views on why this was important. I spoke with them and we included the blue-clothed cop. It was his first day at Liberty Park. His regular beat is in Brooklyn. So here, we four, we started talking.

One thing I know about the Occupy Movement is that dialogue is a key factor. At the information desk someone asks about working groups for entrepreneurs. I pass by a man describing innovations in permaculture while inadvertently blocking the grey water recycling placards. People push in and out with cameras and on a Friday night before Halloween the air is alive, the Occupation is bustling. Some people look pretty tired, especially to my eyes, the librarian. They took the generators early that morning and the night before they tried to seize the books. Knowledge is power they teach the kids when urging good grades, so true to that axiom, one of the first things they came for were the sources of knowledge. Later I’ll hear the young officer say it was FDNY, not the NYPD. I look at him and sideways smile. It’s all the same Powers That Be. You’ve all got the same big bosses. But I appreciate his desire to clarify and maybe in his denial there is a plea to acknowledge his working class solidarity. His eyes ask, so mine give it to him. What does he want? He wants compassion.

First things First

When the older couple keep talking to me I learn a lot. All the old people here have so much to teach. I tell them that, too. Talk to the kids, talk to me. Tell me what you know. Tell me what you see. We have new thoughts, ways and ideas, but you, too, you must share older knowledge. So, something I learn is that once you’ve been pepper sprayed, you never forget it. As a small child this man’s father and uncles took him to Civil Rights marches in Louisiana. My eyes open wide, my humility deepens. So, you’re not scared. The word “No” comes out of his mouth so peaceful and simple it sounds a lot like “Om.” He said, It gets in you and you never forget the taste, the smell or the feeling. I thought to myself, how many weapons we put on these police officers. They’re like work animals for a system of violence. They load them down with so much heavy stuff; no tools for communication, just tools for control. I learned a long time ago that if I want to go swimming, I bring a swimsuit. If the government wanted the NYPD to truly engage in Courtesy, Professionalism and Respect, then maybe they’d give them less weapons, more notepads or business cards or information leaflets, ways to direct people to community and civic groups; to services and forums: basically paths to dialogue and empowerment. Nope, they’ve just got an array of increasingly potent tools of suppression. Apparently, we all have different visions of what it means to be a warrior.

So now, the conversation turns and the older Southern couple ask me, what am I learning, seeing and thinking here? I say I see the revival of the First Amendment. I say I see that the Civil Rights Movement is being reborn and that it’s going to require us all to destroy old grudges of class, race and gender. I said I see that people are people and people have these inalienable rights and that this movement will accomplish something if it reminds people to keep those rights alive. It’s one thing to get equality but if everyone’s rights go down equally, then that’s a problem. What I see in this movement, by chance or by plan, is an opportunity to push back on restraints of human rights in America. What I see is a return to activity, a challenge to apathy.

My spork and the 99%

The couple moves on after a time. I stay and continue to speak with the officer and another who has just joined him. This one, he’s a different kind of 1%. He comes originally, from Brownsville. It wasn’t easy to avoid gangs and drugs and make his way through college, but he did it. We talk a little bit about local, non Occupy Wall Street stuff. Little by little we share, like normal people. I go off to check out what else is going on. We say goodbye, and see you soon.

I don’t blame someone for being rich. I don’t blame someone for getting born into a fancy household. I don’t blame the 1% for who they are any more than I could blame the cop for being born in Brownsville. As I walk the paths in between tents I try to send out compassion. I remind myself that we, all of us, are co-creators in this moment. We shop at Walmart. We look for extra good deals because we don’t have lots of money. But what is the supply chain? Who gets paid how much for me to get a good deal from Old Navy? How about that cheap piece of chicken? Some parts of compassion in action are easy to see and create, some parts of a new society are much harder than some of us want to admit. That’s why I think a lot of us come here. Some want quick and easy answers, but a lot of us, just want to create a meaningful conversation. That is why public assembly is so important. It gives us a good opportunity to find common ground, which is a force for adapting to change and progressing past staid concepts that we debate and regurgitate while staying glued to our homes, our comforts.

The other day I sat with a friend and while looking out his window I saw a multi-function tool, a type of spork. His is yellow, mine is red, otherwise, they’re the same. His sits tucked away for camping. Mine comes with me almost everywhere I go. I try to use it, despite the eye-rolling comments of some, because I know it’s a way to cut down on using a little bit of plastic. Sometimes it makes me look stupid, sometimes it’s incredibly handy. How many plastic forks have I saved? Quite a few in fact. But still, I was eating takeout. So, I save forks, and usually avoid plastic bags, but you know, sometimes I don’t. Still, I felt badly for the wasted potential of the spork. Silly and fickle is what I am and pretty much I expect we all are in some ways. At the core of this web of overwhelming choices and potential change sits a web of connection, and perhaps the only way to gauge action is to examine intention.

Fashion Police Are Fickle

In blue suits and white shirts, wearing hippie clothes or preppy outfits, this is the moment to avoid easy summaries of who we are or what we intend to change practically. Some, like the entrepreneur at the info desk are going to bring ideas to the table that combined with information on alternate currency might take some of these homeless kids and give them a path towards alternative entrepreneurship and sub-economies. That would be preferable to little begging pots dotting the path of Liberty Park. Yes, we all have to find not just metaphysical, but truly practical ways of freeing ourselves. We need all kinds and we need all types of spaces so that we can allow all kinds to flourish. We need a safe space so older couples can join young people and engage in discussion so that wisdom can flow in myriad directions. We need meditating people to stand alongside atheists to find common ground just as much as the drum circles need to go silent so that a single grey haired man with a cello can have his moment, too, playing by candlelight, offering his passion.

Give and take, ebb and flow. We need public assembly and free speech because for a while, we forgot about them. Maybe someday in the wireless world of Cyber-reality I’ll be able to sit with anyone from history and have a discussion and I’ll learn more than I thought, from watching the slight movements and nuances of a talking genius’ expressive hands. I’m excited for that to happen. However, it can’t, by design, happen there if it doesn’t happen here first. As Above, So Below. is a popular phrase these days. Well, let’s move that phrase laterally. As it is here, so will it be in the next. As it was analogue, so it will be digital. As on earth, as in cyberspace. So, when it comes to first things first…Freedom of speech is what this movement is reclaiming so that all of us can reform, remodel and develop. For each person that says, hey I’m bored of this whole thing, then I guess you’re just tired or scared of freedom.

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