Following up from last week with poet CAConrad at Occupy Wall Street, I sought out poets Debrah Morkun (author of Projection Machine From Blazevox and holds an MFA in Writing & Poetics from The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University) along with Frank Sherlock (co-author of The City Real & Imagined and Over Here From Factory School), both active in the poetry community in Philadelphia and now Occupy Philadelphia.
"This is a Communique from one person among many joining Occupy Philadelphia and soon its money centers. It is now time to join the wave of dissent. Other countries and US cities have joined Occupy Wall Street after the uprisings of the Arab Spring. There will be no end to this until change takes place. I live in a country in which important decisions are made not in the interests of the people, but in the interests of corporate elites. I am ready, along with so many others, for a major shift in political thought and action.
Historically, the only way change has come is from a swelling of the people, a swelling of voices, which enacts a riptide effect. Before heading to Occupy Wall Street on Day 7, I saw a film with my friend, poet CAConrad, about the French Commune 1871. This film depicted the working class protests of this period with such strokes of reality that I kept forgetting I was sitting in a theatre in 2011. While watching the film, I kept thinking, why isn't this happening here?
But then I realized it IS happening here. For the first time in my lifetime, people are beginning to stand up for themselves en masse with nationwide demonstration. OccupyTogether.org radiates a communal energy, which also indicates that enough people are finally fed up with the way things are run in this corporate country -- the way things have been - that we are willing to risk arrests and police brutality -- that JP Morgan funded NYPD which bears a connection to 700 arrests of peaceful marchers. We are here in a shared mission.
Occupy Philadelphia waves a very particular flag. Philadelphia is largely poor and working class. Because of this, it has a history of being very interesting politically. We are the city of Mumia. We are the city of MOVE. We are the city where this country was founded. The historical resonances of Philadelphia as the birthplace of this nation make an occupation of this city emblematic. There is also a very large and quite active Poetry Community in Philadelphia. Poets have always played an important role in helping to spread the language of dissent. I am confident that the Poets of Philadelphia will find new and invigorating ways to help Occupy by using the communal model we already share and utilizing it in an artful way to create change."
"The popular demand to make demands has taken hold in the City of Otherly Love. Beginning plans for Occupy Philly launched at a public meeting in a Center City Methodist church. The house of worship that opened its doors is in the shadow of William Penn. His statue atop city hall looks over those gathered outside in search of liberty and a better way of life, centuries after his own efforts helped found the city. Interest in the gathering outgrew the initial meeting space days before, which is the best kind of problem organizers can ask for.
As a sometimes poetry curator with extensive reading series experience, I can't resist the temptation to do headcounts in any given room. I'm guessing there were about 300 people gathered for a planning meeting. I'll say this again: for a planning meeting! There was a cross section of well-scrubbed university students, crunchy anarchist and a lot more older folks than I expected. Some were activist veterans from peace and justice movements, but others seemed like your everyday seniors unhappy with the ongoing kleptocracy.
In the wake of Seattle '99, I was energized and activated by a question from my old friend Greg Fuchs. As that fresh wave of radicalism swept across the continent, Greg wanted to know, 'Where are the poets?!? There should be poets!' I'm happy to report that times have changed, and our community was well represented at the kickoff meeting. Early in the night, we heard testimonies from those who've been part of Occupy Wall Street. Jacob Russell, the self-described 'Barking Dog' of the poetry world, reminded us that the general assembly process and consensus building strategies have been practiced in Philadelphia for hundreds of years by Quakers. When speaking of the democratic practices being used in the occupations, Russell insisted, 'You can't get any more Philly than this.'
The moderators worked hard to hold fast to their tight schedule while making space for everyone who wished to be heard. Tensions rose as it became apparent that many of those gathered wanted a plan of action ASAP. There was a sense that many in the church wanted to act immediately, a palpable energy rejecting business-as-usual protest planning that can bring on an acute case of activist fatigue. The General Assembly happens this week, when more definite plans will be agreed upon to maximize effectiveness and visibility.
And there were those who did act over the weekend. I spoke with Eric Lavalley, a stagehand who picketed with his IATSE union Saturday afternoon on Broad Street. Local 8 is fighting a familiar formula these days -- wage and benefit cuts for the workers while executives reward themselves for suspect management. Lavalley was heartened by acts of solidarity and outreach from Occupy Philly Facebookers. They responded to an online call to rally with the union, bolstering the numbers and morale of workers targeted in the larger War Against Labor.
How or when the occupation will play out is yet to be defined, though soon to be decided. As an agitated and eager crowd gathered beyond the church, they discussed their ideas outside the Masonic Temple. On the sidewalk of the city's reputed house of nefarious secrets, a public continued to organize. Tactics and locales will likely shift, but one thing is certain. Philadelphia's reclamation project in the early days of this American Fall has begun."