This past Sunday we had our second Ambiguous UpSparkle Story group at Occupy Wall Street. This time there were hundreds of people who came to tell of what brought them to the park, and to listen and repeat the stories of the others. There was something Greek and theatrical about this huge group of people repeating every line of every story. It was a story chorus. It took time in a culture and city where there is no time. It took attention in a world where we are trained to not pay attention. It required people to listen when people have stopped listening.
There was something so generous and receptive, as if the words, the stories were visibly permeating and engraving themselves on each person's soul. No one could leave. It went on for hours. It was a feast. We were feasting on each other. Stranger devouring the stories of stranger. I needed to know the Burmese man with the camera who stopped filming to say he had been searching for an America that wasn't like the oppressive silenced police state of Burma, and that he couldn't find anyone he thought was free until he stumbled into Zuccotti Park. I wanted to wrap myself around the thin black woman whose arms moved her story into the air like a gymnast. I found myself smiling this mad smile as a young white woman who stood at the top of the stairs spoke her story and with each line became happier and happier as if she were about to fly.
There was no way not to speak truth in that circle, on those steps. An African man was returning home because he decided his education was not worth a life of debt and then he stumbled into the park where he said he fell in love. We were all in love. The crowd, telling and repeating and listening, urged people to be braver, more honest, more passionate, more political, which I define here the way Adrienne Rich did many years ago -- "the moment a feeling enters the body is political." There in that circle, the 99 percent rewrote the dominant narrative created by the corporate elites and their media - the narrative that does not represent their grievances, their morality, or their dreams.
There on the steps in broad daylight I saw the confidence that comes and the leadership that evolves when people are listened to and taken seriously and honored, and I saw people's willingness to tell the truth and express disappointment and pain and embarrassment, and how that vulnerability inspires support and solidarity. I did not hear whiners. There were no beggars, no one looking for a hand out. There was no one unclear. I heard seekers, grappling with greed and gross economic injustice and fat cat bankers and a barricade of cops who were being paid overtime to police the poor but were never sent in to arrest the thieves. What I heard in each person was a much deeper vision and hunger, not for fixing or reform but for something new, something they would have a hand in, something radical, from the roots, from the park.
I have always trusted stories more than messages. I prefer confessions to demands. Movements to parties. Poets to politicians. When you tell your story, you enter the circle. You become part of the messy broken divine fabric that is humanity. You can't pretend that you know the way or you're somehow better but the trade off is you get to be lost and a part of something so much bigger than you.
So here's a few bites of what came through the cracks in the cobblestone on Sunday, a taste from the holy space between the towers of money.
W. Kerry Huang
Political oppression is woven into the very fiber of my family. I was born in China in 1979, in the wake of the Cultural Revolution and the death of Mao Zedong. Under the Mao regime, My grandfather, an architect, was deemed an intellectual and suffered repeated arrests. My parents, like millions of others, were forced out of schools and sent down to labor camps. Such are the experiences that shaped my upbringing. In 1989, when the government rolled the tanks into Tiananmen Square and opened fire onto the pro-Democratic demonstrators, my father, already in America on a student visa, knew he had to make sure such atrocities would never reach us again.
On January 9th, 1990, exactly two months after the fall of the Berlin wall, I landed in this country, and began calling Houston, Texas my new home. There I was, a pre-pubescent fresh off the boat math wiz -- at least according to American standards -- thrown right in the middle of the Texas public education system. I spoke no English, and was terrible at sports -- which meant zero social currency in the lone star state. My father, thinking I needed a way to improve my language skills and perhaps have an outlet of some kind, suggested that I take a theater class. That pragmatic decision would forever define the life of this foreign boy. American theater gave me my voice. It literally taught me how to speak like an American. More than that, it allowed me to be who I am as I am, and it gave me the imagination to be anything I dreamed of being -- all the while being a part of a community, much like this one, that are made up of people, experiences, and passions both different and similar.
Twenty years later, I'm still a student of the theater, now with a theater company that I run with a passionate, devoted, hard working team, creating original work that celebrates the stories of diverse individuals and communities: from the plights of refugees living in New York to the struggles of artists reckoning with creativity, success, and the fragile bond of friendships. I am hungry for these stories because they all contain the stories of my family -- each story is a fight for recognition, for progress, for the freedom to work, to create, to transform. And it is for that fight that I am occupying Wall Street. America nurtured the creative community that gave me my voice and the opportunities for that voice to resonate. However, recent history is proving that voice has no audience, no reverberations worth a damn. Power is outmoding liberty, greed is overtaking compassion. I am a child of the American dream, But I feel it fading, along with everything my parents fought so hard to earn.
Over the years, I've grown cynical of protests, sensing their ineffectiveness for lasting change. I'm also weary of revolutions, for the damages of violence, chaos, and social instability seem to outweigh the all-too-brief euphoria. Yet Occupy Wall Street, Now a movement spreading around the globe with its organized and evolving direct democratic structure, gives me hope. It has reclaimed our voice, the voice of the 99 percent, and it has the potential to achieve the necessary lasting attention to ignite the change we believe in. And this time, I hope America is listening, instead of resorting to tactics reminiscent of a police state -- tactics that remind me of the oppressions that my family faced, and the injustice that many in China, like the artist Ai Weiwei, are still facing. Instead, I hope America responds with the same set of values that taught me to be the American I am today -- where creativity is celebrated and encouraged, where individual thought is recognized and honored, where liberty cannot be taken away, and where hard work for a better life is validated with opportunities unique and dynamic. I am occupying Wall Street Because this is the America I am fighting for.
I stumbled on the occupation on day 12, after falling down a Facebook rabbit hole of European economic doom. Arriving at the occupiers' website, I was immediately captivated -- someone was doing something, standing for something.
Excitedly, I told my husband what was going on. We watched the videos on the site together. Sebastian is of Anglo Indian descent and a devotee of Ghandi and passive resistance. I am a fourth generation American of Irish descent, and a believer in the democratic system whose faith was fundamentally shaken when the supreme court gave corporations the rights of individuals. Both of us wanted to go. But we live in Portland, Oregon and didn't have money for the flights.
As musicians who play house concerts all over the country, we come into contact with a lot of interesting people. A few days after we discovered what was going on in Liberty Park, I received a text from some folks who had hosted us at their home in Idaho. They said that they might be able to help us if we wanted to participate in the occupation. They had a gold coin to donate to the cause.
A gold coin? This was a bit trippy. But it turned out to be true. They sold it and gave us the money to pay for our flights to New York City.
My apprehension in the days before we left was great. I believed in the cause, but I was scared to sleep on the sidewalk, especially in New York. I was also nervous about being accepted, and being useful.
This is our fifth night in the park. The ground is hard, but the atmosphere is electric. It's the greatest school of democracy I've encountered. People are excited and open and kind and articulate and smart. Everyone is conversing all of the time, and everything seems to be happening at once. We have a month before our return flight takes off, and I have a feeling we might have a hard time leaving.
When I first arrived to Liberty Plaza, I sat next to a middle-aged man who just arrived to from New Jersey. I asked him what brought him and he boldly confessed that he doesn't know. He said "it just felt right." I, too, cannot articulate what brought me here. In fact, I do not want to articulate what brought me here. It is a sense of empathy and solidarity that is bigger than words.
On the 25th of January when a group of my friends decided to storm Tahrir Square in Cairo, they didn't know what they want. We were frustrated with many things in Egypt. Many that fell under the category of inhumanity but we didn't have specific demands. The vision was a block of marble that we carved everyday until it became the Egyptian Revolution. Having lived the Tahrir Square experience, I observe the same pattern at Liberty Plaza:
- Step One: Groups of people share an overwhelming emotion of urgency and passion for justice. They do not know where it comes from and where it will lead them but they know that it will be a crime against themselves to ignore it.
- Step Two: People across the country begin to join them. This group of people is usually a group that had the same calling but wasn't sure if they should listen. When they heard that someone spoke up, they were relieved that they are not alone. They were assured that they were not mad.
- Step Three: As the numbers of like-minded people increase, they organize and assemble. They organically form a structured and sophisticated community driven by a passion to thrive and a common belief system in their core despite their diversity and apparent differences. An intense sense of love and selflessness makes everyone eager to contribute. Volunteers, committees, lectures, arts, entertainment, and other activities begin to take place. Meanwhile, the cause is still nothing but an intense emotion that is beyond words.
- Step Four: As organized groups begin to assemble, and knowledge and opinions are exchanged, people begin to articulate the message.
- Step Five: Slowly, as this newly formed community becomes a large family, the vision and cause are echoed and demanded in unity.
At this very moment, Occupy Wall Street is in Step Three. A stage I call the "Adolescent Days of the Revolution." To me, revolutions are a living organism with a life cycle and its energy is constantly reincarnated. It is the force that allows humanity to emotionally evolve. And just like humans, The Adolescent Days of the Revolution are the best days of its life. These are the days of innocence, fearlessness, and openness. These are the days where you form your identity and you demand to be different. I plan to savor these days for as long as they continue. I plan to immerse myself in the love and passion of this movement and nurture it as if it is my child. Tahrir Square restored my faith in Egypt but Occupy Wall Street restored my faith in humanity.
Every day that I spend at Occupy Wall Street, I ask myself the same question: Am I doing the right thing? Ten years ago, when I was in my early twenties, I unhesitatingly participated in every rally, march, and protest that coalesced around the traveling circus of acronymic, economic summits: WTO, WEF, IMF, etc. I whole-heartedly believed that, as the saying then was, another world is possible. We would show up, play cat and mouse with the police, and then disperse to tell war stories. I loved it, and I thought what I was doing was not only important but imperative, because my country had done and was still doing so many evil things in the name of virtuous principles--the public had to be educated and our exploitative systems dismantled. But nothing much changed, and it never felt like anybody was really behind us. Then came 9/11, two terms of Bush Jr., two wars in the Middle East, and an ongoing crisis of governance perpetuated in a climate of fear. The last ten years were enough to make a man cynical by the time he turned 30.
And then, suddenly, out of nowhere, came Occupy Wall Street. And suddenly, out of nowhere, I found myself neglecting the dissertation I am supposed to be writing to work at the Occupy Wall Street People's Library. It seemed easy to protest when I was younger. What else did I have to do? But now, like every other adult, I take myself and my work far too seriously. Every moment not spent on my personal career advancement feels like a moment squandered. Lately, I've been squandering a lot of moments. With my professional future in question and serious deadlines looming, how could I not constantly ask myself, am I doing the right thing? I've grown proud of our little library and the recognition it has received over the past weeks, but it's still such a small thing: a small, fragile, cardboard and plastic bricolage that shivers in the shadows of the world's most intimidating financial institutions. We could be swept away tomorrow, by weather or police action. Today, in fact, we almost were -- by both at once -- and I wasn't even sure there'd be a library afterward or, indeed, a reason to write this article. Somehow, miraculously we survived. Yet I still ask myself whether I'm doing the right thing, whether it can continue, and whether it makes any sense at all to put such stock in something that has the odds stacked so precipitously against it. And the answer is, I really don't know.
Occupy Wall Street is much more than a protest. It is an ongoing experiment in a truly open, transparent, diverse, and radically democratic society. This means that it can sometimes be impossible to get things done. Most of the people who gravitate to Liberty Plaza have very strong opinions and even stronger personalities. Achieving compromise with such people is a challenge, a frustrating but exhilarating challenge. We are all stubborn idealists, after all. Often, our ideals overlap. But not always. And it can be hard to compromise when you believe compromise itself to be the root of all evil. Why add all this stress to my already stressful life? Why sit around all day weathering my skin in the elements, exhausting my body with constant work that is more work than work, and talking so much that I can barely swallow at the end of the day? Why put up with all this when the powers arrayed against us seem so inexorable, their resources inexhaustible, and the pressure on us to leave unremitting?
For the past week and more I've been constantly exhausted, overwhelmed with the blitzkrieg of media attention, and in a constant state of anxiety about both the success of our movement and at what personal expense it might come. I've gotten into pointless arguments, had valuable possessions stolen, and nearly had an accident while driving in an emergency situation because of lack of sleep. It would be wisdom to go home, do the solitary work of academic writing, vie for grant money for my own projects, and leave the protestors to endure the challenge on their own, with my tacit support and the occasional touristic visit. And every day I have to decide if the goals of the group effort underway at Occupy Wall Street are more important than myself, than my own, personal, individual success and prosperity. And every day, so far, I have answered in the affirmative. But fear and doubt gnaw away at the strongest resolve. I have no idea what I will decide tomorrow.
My name is Mesiah Hameed, I am 16 years old. This is my eleventh day at occupy wall street.
What an 11 days it has been! I have witnessed police beat my friends, arrest my neighbors, and scare our youth.
Amongst all of the chaos I have never experienced more beauty. The serene feeling i get while re entering the park from a long day of school is absolutely indescribable. The people I've met and the things i am learning seem to be endless.
I have been attending protest since a very young age. Both my parents use to be quite involved in the world of activism. That may be one of the reasons i knew i had to attend wall street but that is not all of it. Since a young age i have questioned the rules of authority. It never made sense to me. With age came lots of fights and misunderstandings dealing with issue. Authority is everywhere we go it is inescapable! My disagreement with authority has continuously led me back to the worlds biggest authoritarian figures, The government.
I am the 99%. Though my age may surprise some i take advantage of it. I make a statement. I inspire youth of all ages to be more independent and learn things on their own. I am embarrassed of my age group because other 16 year old's discuss shoes, iPads, and sex while I invest all my time in protest and justice.
I have read newspapers and watched videos on this revolution. Many of them share false and fabricated information regarding our purpose. What the media does not know is that the purpose is much to big to be titled. i have met everyone from in debt students to homeless grandmas. We all fight together. Personally i am here to represent the youth. It is an issue when you are not born knowing about the corruption of our systems worldwide. it should not take several years to come to reality that we are being cheated of our freedom! I was raised in such a way that even if it does not affect me i am aware and do all i can because it could very well affect me anytime or moment. I am very passionate about this movement. I wake up at Zucotti Park with such drive, an open heart, and wide ears to listen to all. I know that my passion for this sparks passion within others! This is so important for the world. We must get our youth to the protest and tell them what is happening. ALL AGES NEED TO BE APART OF THIS. we need to stop having authority over the young and let them find their own understanding of life. That is why i am here. I will stay until we see change.
Follow Eve Ensler on Twitter: www.twitter.com/eveensler