My visit to #occupywallstreet

October 4, 2011 Leave a comment

I made it out to #occupywallstreet last Friday night.  Here is how my experience unfolded:

1.  Culture Shock

I’m into showers, they’re not.  I’m in my mid-thirties, grew up in a working class Puerto Rican community and I’ve been yupified over the years.  I didn’t see a lot of people of color and I wasn’t feeling the vibe.  I wondered how people from my community could ever make a link to this crowd.  I was welcomed to walk around, curiously browsing, checking out the scene, the art and the people.

2.  Seduced

I made my way to the musical corner, people were jammin!  Drums, horns, dancing and chanting – joy – it was lovely, and it was energizing.  I allowed myself to be present and bear witness.  I started to sense the high level of intentionality among the occupiers; the conscious efforts to be kind to one another, the formulation of better ways of being-with.  I was happy.

3.  Blown Away

The General Assembly was like nothing I have ever seen through my years of group process and facilitation.  The people’s microphone, an anarchist tradition and a response to loudspeakers being outlawed, is nothing short of inspiring.  It is also a direct affront to the cult of efficiency.  (See Cornel West working with it).  The commitment to radical democracy became palpable.  Here are the opening words of the GA, spoken slowly and sequentially so that they could be repeated by the crowd, not once but twice (due to size):

–       My name is xxx and I’m a facilitator

–       A facilitator is not a leader

–       Anyone can be a facilitator

–       We have trainings every day at 5PM

Amazing! Specially for someone who makes a living facilitating!  Then they went on to introduce a “progressive stack,” whereby traditionally marginalized voices are privileged in the facilitation process.  Deep.

There a lot of fair questions about the occupation movement.  I’ve been disappointed by the naysaying in the professionalized nonprofit sector, but I do honor the questions.  Something powerful is emergent, it is a learning process, we don’t know what the outcome will be, but have become more aware that something else is possible.

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  • Myriam says:

    Hey Gibran. I havent been to Wall Street but I asked someone who works downtown Boston about the “occupy Boston” crowd and he said the same thing about the demographics of the group. Matter of fact, his response was “there was a bunch of white kids, probably concerned about their trust funds and inherited money being lost”. And although I feel completely disconnected from a crowd like that, I also recognize that those are precisely the people that should be there, “occupying” Boston, Wall Street, etc. These are the occassions for which our white progressive friends ought to use their white skin priviledge and demonstrate on everyone’s behalf. And get arrested and make the court system take them to trial, etc, etc, etc. Just saying… 🙂

  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    Thanks Gibran. I had a similar skepticism and have not yet been to a General Assembly. Hoping to be blown away! Meanwhile, to Myriam’s comment, it is true that the Boston group is mostly white, but I’m not sure it’s a fair assessment of the class make up. I only spoke with a few folks at the Boston Occupy site, but they were students concerned about educational debt, and a host of other issues, not the disappearance of trust funds.

    I had the privilege of being part of a meeting between Boston Occupy folks and long-time Boston organizers and activists. It was by turns tense, careful, awkward and even funny. There were moments of genuine respect for one another and attempts to bridge the us/them divide that had been growing between the occupiers and the long timers. I had to admire the enthusiasm and really took to heart what one organizer said. “We’re only four days old!” Looking forward to helping things emerge and converge!

  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    “Killing a movement w/kindness is easy” Interesting warning for Occupy from former Tea partier. Thoughts?

  • Chris corrigan says:

    One of the reasons there are not a lot of people of co our in the New York gathering is that there are A LOT of cops around. One black woman I was with last week stated that the occupation was interesting to her but there was no way that she was going down there. If any trouble breaks out, who do you think gets arrested first?

    So while it is a white crowd there, mostly, there are reasons for that and it is not that these guys are exclusive or that the struggle for fairness is not shared across racial lines. That’s my thought.

  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    Fair enough. Some of the same concerns have been raised here in Boston.

  • I was at #OccupyWallStreet yesterday, and found it to be quite remarkable…agreeing with Gibran — blown away and unlike anything Ive ever seen in terms of protests and such. My observation that it was in fact diverse — racially and otherwise…and my reasoning as to why it was is because New York City is itself an authentically racially (and otherwise) diverse city. It was the day when the unions came on blast and rolled deep — but even before they showed up, I was pleased to see decent numbers of black brown and other colored folks in the midst and even playing leadership roles of various kinds. Hope we get some opportunity as a staff to share about this “movement moment” sometime soon.

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