Friday, October 28, 2011

The Streets Are Sovereign

'Tuesday night I participated in the NYC Occupy Wall Street General Assembly in which we voted to send $20,000 and 100 tents to Occupy Oakland to help them post bail for arrested protestors and restart their occupation. At 9pm, we had a two-hour march through the streets of Manhattan that shut down traffic from the Financial District to Chinatown to the Village, chanting for solidarity with Oakland and an end to police violence and harbingering the new era of democracy, freedom, and equality. "We are the 99 percent!" "New York is Oakland, Oakland is New York!" "From Oakland to Greece: Fuck the police!" "Join us!"

There was no plan, no leaders. We just marched. From Zuccotti through the Financial District to City Hall, up from City Hall through Chinatown and SoHo to the Village, through the West Village, and back south through Tribeca, arriving safely and soundly back at the Occupation. The front of the march would occasionally yell to slow down or speed up, to turn left or right, and volunteers in the middle of the crowd would get people to fill in the gaps and stay together, both to keep the march impressive-looking and to keep it more secure (there is safety from police in numbers). When police vehicles tried to flank us, heroic protestors would stand in a line dead center in the road, arms and legs spread wide, throwing up peace signs, holding the cops back as we passed. If they set up a blockade in front of us, the front of the line, without ever stopping, would debate which way to go, and simply detour around them. When they tried to snatch us up, we'd just have to run straight past them--there's little seven cars of police can do to stop five hundred free people. I even heard later that protestors successfully de-arrested a few individuals who had been forcibly detained by prying them away and putting so many cameras in the cops’ faces that they were like deer in headlights. Don't believe the haters: mobs are deeply intelligent—even witty! When we confiscated one of the giant orange nets that the NYPD had used to pen in and pepper spray protestors and carried it aloft like a dragon at Chinese New Year, the chant "Whose streets? Our streets!" morphed into "Whose net? Our net!"

I started on the march solo, but soon caught up with harder-core friends at the front, as well as some veteran activists I'd met for the first time two weeks prior in a smaller march when riot police cleared Washington Square Park. Like magic (or perhaps just like the not-at-all distant past when people simply ran into each other without the aid of cell phones) I ran into friend after friend after friend, until we had our own little bloc among the masses. We were raising the temperature of politics in this country, reminding everyone how damn good it feels to be free. It was chaotic. It was wonderful. Sometimes accidents happen or the temperature gets too hot but solidarity and joy always prevail. Two guys exchanged words and got into a fist fight. Their friends pulled them apart as the whole march chanted "Peace! Peace!" and the antagonists apologized and marched on together.

You know me, I'm not at all in good shape, and as the two-hour odyssey dragged on I pushed my poor, doughy body to the edge of oblivion. "I'm going to bail at this intersection," I threatened my friends, but mostly myself, every fifteen minutes. When Michele and I had to bolt from a skirmish with riot police, I swear to God, as I sprinted in the train of that skinny fuck's wicked, wind-lashed locks, everything went blurry and I nearly hurled up the three shots of whiskey and two gourds of yerba maté that had passed as dinner that night. Later as I dashed delirious across Canal Street, the main commuter thoroughfare of Lower Manhattan, trying to get away from an oncoming column of unmarked police cars, I collided head on with another demonstrator, a bright-eyed student whose delicate looks and too-beautiful hair are not as out of place in such events as you might think. She had been running toward the police to stand with those blocking their attempt to bisect our march. Her tiny frame went flying and she landed smack on the pavement. I scooped her off the ground and we embraced in the street. I handed her her fallen cigarette. "Are you okay?" "Yes! I'm OK!" We hugged again and ran back into the fray!

We marched against traffic whenever possible, shutting down blocks and blocks of traffic in the most densely trafficked neighborhoods of the most densely trafficked city in the country. The city was electric. Motorists everywhere, especially taxi drivers, honked their horns and waved peace signs and clenched fists in solidarity. Construction site workers chanted. Revelers just out for a drink spontaneously joined in. We marched through the set of Gossip Girl in the West Village, and the teenage girls who lined the sidewalks hoping to catch a glimpse of the stars shrieked with delight when we passed and chanted, “Join us!” and they realized that they, themselves, were the real heroes. Every single sanitation and freight truck we passed blasted their massive horns. Everyone screamed and the ground shook beneath our feet. Entire city blocks resonated with the sounds of whooping, hollering, chanting, drumming, and industry. It was utterly intoxicating, and to reject such intoxication would be sheerest reaction. I've never had such fun in my life. And this is just the beginning.'

- Rick Parry, October 2011

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