O c c u p y
[ That's Sarah Lawrence poet Bekkah Olson in the front row on the Brooklyn Bridge... ]
The night they raided Occupy Oakland
...with rubber bullets and teargas, I stayed up until four o'clock in the morning, watching via livestream and Twitter, in familiar helpless angry grief; the next night, exhausted after work, I went down to Zuccotti, after reading a tweet that said they were going to march for Oakland at 9. I stood on one of the barricades around the diSuvero to see the crowded circle of General Assembly faces; I don't remember what they were talking about, just the careful, inclusive labor of getting to consensus, then the happy temperature check of all the high hands approving, and the way some of us peeled off like a tangent of the Assembly's conversation to march from Broadway with the drummers, shouting Oakland's name.
By the time we turned north on Trinity we were already something other than the collection of individuals we'd been at the beginning, some new vibrant being, moving together, improvising, and already by then there were many police, on foot, on scooters, pushing people who stepped off the sidewalk, shouting together but not the way we were. By the time we turned east we were running part of the way, then north to march (but this is the wrong word) around City Hall park; someone was playing bagpipes, the music of police parades turned in another direction, and I noticed the difference between the faces of the men in suits with their arms crossed behind the locked park gates and the faces of the regular police closer to us, half of whom I suspected would go to sleep that night saying to someone else, "You know, they're right."
Slow down! someone would say, or Stay together!; whoever spoke would melt back into the crowd, and the next time someone spoke it would be someone else. On the east side of the park we were mic-checking half-running: If we dont! Stay together! The cops! Will fuck us!, just before people stopped for a minute to dance to a drum, yelling Oakland, Oakland with hands in the air.
On Chambers we moved past those big municipal gates where you go in despair to report for jury duty, where over the summer I visited the little Bloombergville encampment, which I thought then looked like another dandelion blown into the furnace of what's happening in this world, and which now seems like a seed. There was an old man looking bewildered walking in the opposite direction, and everyone was so careful with him, as the cops at the curb started to unroll the orange netting and we really started to run.
I was remembering that Martin Luther King's 'I Have A Dream' speech included the words "to go to jail together, knowing that we will be free one day"--and I was thinking about my daughter and about having to go to work in the morning, as I jumped over the low metal chains on the grass and threaded between the police scooters to get across the street. As I left, the man with the bagpipes was playing Amazing Grace; I saw later reading tweets how they de-arrested someone, how they grabbed the orange netting and carried it like a banner before stuffing it in the garbage, how they kept calling from New York to Oakland, We're with you. When I closed my eyes that night I kept seeing the courthouse facade and the orange netting and the faces, with the feeling of being part of some vibrant being with no name yet. I didn't feel resigned or helpless. I felt like a citizen.