Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Occupy Wall Street!

Today we share a guest post from Ann Holder, a friend of ours who celebrated Yom Kippur down on Wall Street and was touched by the commons spirit of the service and the crowds:

Easily 600 people celebrated the Kol Nidre in the plaza across from Zuccotti Park last night. I’m not a religious person, having already received a severe overdose of Christianity, and neither is my secular Jewish GF (who usually has a small identity crisis at the High Holy days).

But both of us were incredibly moved by this very public ritual of remembrance and atonement, the words of being born anew to move forward without the baggage of regrets or resentments from the past, in the context of this hopeful seizure of the Park, and the outpouring of both righteous anger and goodwill that have accompanied it.

The occupied park—as usual—had a host of activities going on: musicians jamming, people holding signs to be seen by the passing traffic and media, a group cooking, clusters of people talking. As seems to be the case in general, the Info Desk was very helpful and organized, directing traffic, needs, appeals in all directions. They sent us across the street to the Plaza, where five or six headlamp-wearing rabbis were surrounded by an enormous crowd.

Like the flavor of Occupy Wall Street itself, the Yom Kippur service was an immensely joyous and forgiving—if very talkative—circle of humanity. Surrounded by huge office buildings, no one complained about the noise, or the crowds, or the close quarters, or the occasional disruption as bursts of cheering wafted from the Park across the street. The Rabbis and Cantor competed with the roar of traffic, the rumble of generators from the food trucks that are now stationed next to the occupation 24/7. The occasional sound of a blender frothing a fruit drink, or the banging of massive garbage carts being used for Occupation Sanitation provided a fairly steady backdrop, along with the queries of passers-by who stopped to ask what was going on.

No amplification was allowed, so the entire service was done in a kind of call and response, with the inner circle shouting a repetition of rabbis’ words in unison so all could hear. Ritual phrases repeated by hundreds, echoed through the plaza, alternating with “Here’s what we’re going to do now,” or “Turn to page 32, 334 or 331,” the latter of course depending on the various versions of the machzor in use. People shared xeroxed copies, or dialed it up on IPads and smart phones.

The crowd was made up largely of PWC’s, people without children, which meant it was largely the very young adults and then elders like us. There were lots and lots of ‘older people,’ whatever that means these days, many who had brought their own chairs.

To our eyes, it looked like an exceptionally mainstream crowd considering that the Facebook invite had warned, “there may be disruptions and/or the possibility of police interference. Though it is highly unlikely, participants nonetheless risk the possibility of arrest. Please be prepared for that possibility.” It was largely white, though not entirely, and very, well, Jewish—as in lots of prayer shawls, yarmulkes, hardback copies of the service in tow.

The most interesting provocation was the public character of the event.

We left awed and wondering: What would it mean to do more of these kinds of things ‘in public’? Religious services, rituals, celebrations, classrooms—or even a variety of ordinary activities and conversations, all made available for respectful viewing or participating?

(And here I reference the number of people walking by, who had no idea what was going on, and seemed puzzled by the explanations, but who stayed to watch, and listen, with great interest and attention.)

It is this ‘new public’ that is one of the most hopeful and appealing aspects of the Occupation as it heads toward a fair weather weekend. The handmade signs continue to proliferate. Including, “Beware of Dogmatism.” There is now an informal sign gallery, where people leave their signs for display and re-use. Every kind of topic, lettering, color, idea, complaint—all different—mostly on brown cardboard.

Waiting in line at McDonalds, one of the only public bathrooms in the area, I met a young African-American woman carrying her sign. I asked if she was occupying. “Oh yes,” she said. I asked about staying over night. “No” she demurred, “I’m a high school student in Brooklyn. I come down here everyday after school, around 3:00.”

“How’s the homework going?” I asked.

She laughed and said, “pretty well,” adding, “Actually, that’s mostly what I do—sit and pull out my computer and write my homework.”

People are talking, learning to live in close quarters, in far from optimal conditions, to depend on each other, to enjoy the realm of the non-commercially social.

As we walked to the subway after the service, we passed a small group of young people talking excitedly and carrying their backpacks and bedrolls heading towards the park. With the warm weather, the growing crowds and the release of our regrets, anything seemed possible.

Unfortunately, the city/state/police will close this down as soon as they can figure out how. Note headline in the NY Times this morning: “Neighbors are Weary of Protest”

[Apparently the Park is privately owned by a developer who was mandated to build this sliver of ‘public space,’ and keep it open 24/7, as part of agreement with the city. The irony of this privately held public space offers a sanctuary of sorts.]

Wishes/Needs: We’d love to see a solidarity campaign emerge. A ‘Support Occupy Wall St. movement,’ with some strategizing about how to continue to maximize the PUBLIC character of this protest, and a mechanism for calling out a protective ring of civil disobedience when the moment comes for ‘clearing the square.’

Is any such thing in the works? Anybody know? Any ideas?

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