A Gathering of the Tribes
A protest sign in NYC, “FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE I FEEL AT HOME.” Home is Liberty Park, a 33,000-square-foot plot where hundreds have camped nightly for over a month. During the day, they march together, their bodies merged into a common thrust, while at night, they lie together. Some are barely covered, while others are entirely wrapped, like collateral damage of yet another stupid war. Be careful or you’ll step on an arm, leg or even head.
In a country of walls and locked doors, where even infants have private domains, there are no barriers here. With everyone exposed, and no TV to distract, conversation comes more readily. Here, no canned music slops over each dialogue or interior monologue. Here, all crazy, percussive rhythms and melodies must be generated by living muscles and breaths. Here, all faces are real all the time, with none beamed from uptown or across the land mass.
Though we’ve been together all these decades, I don’t think I ever saw you good before this goddamn protest. Beatific apes, winged baboons or renaissance orangutans, why are we so gorgeous? Sweetie, it’s been so long since I had a leisurely gaze at your magnificence, fixated as I was by the hologram.
Yes, there are laptops, cell phones and cameras here, but machines don’t dictate. Most folks here have no ready access to electricity. During 21st century America, and in Lower Manhattan no less, this qualifies as primitive, and it’s not just something to endure, a nuisance, but a primary if hidden aim of this pow-wow.
In a society where proximity is the biggest sin, where another skin is best avoided, where virtual coitus has become a national pastime, these weirdos, misfits and outcasts have converged into one writhing body, and I don’t list these categories derisively, as I am one also. I’m all of the above. In any sick culture, it should be a badge of honor to not fit in. In my teens, I was inspired by Franz Kline’s “A bohemian is one who can survive where an animal would die,” and by Alfred Jarry having to write on his belly because his one room apartment has been divided, vertically and horizontally, into four quarters by an enterprising slum lord. To supplement his piss poor diet, Jarry also fished from the Seine, but water was still water then.
As always, it’s OK to drop out, train hop, squat in a warehouse, dumpster dive or stand in a trash can to take a shower, but one does not do these out of masochism, but to survive or save oneself from the deformations imposed by a system that sanctions endless war, torture and the humiliation of countless victims. Just this week, America gloated over the capture, sodomizing then shooting of a trumped up enemy, then stood by as our disneyfied allies barbarically displayed his near-naked corpse in public.
Suffering is endurable if our integrity and essential values have not been compromised, and sacrifice is worth it if it may lead to a better order. In this rat race hot house of calculating schmoozers who cheerfully suck up to keep their health insurance, gain promotion, bonus or tenure, not to mention a chance to screw down, there are still many who will eschew comfort and moolah to serve the common good. An Occupy Wall Street snapshot from 10/14/11: A young woman cleaning an unknown stranger’s vomit because, well, someone had to, not that she liked it, “Ah, this is just perfect! Just what I want to do, to clean someone’s vomit in the middle of the night. It’s just like Christmas, I tell you.”
They come to the center from lesser boroughs, cities and towns. Exiled to post-industrial, post-First World waste lands or strip mall and chain-burger-shack developments, they invade this privileged polis, where they must deal with the crooked policy of the pole lease and dicks. Lying on the ground, they can finally dwell in a proper and propaganda America, since, normally, few can afford to rent or buy within five miles of this tourist magnet, post card-ready hunk of real estate. This occupation, then, has aspects of a refugee camp. Here gather victims of an economic war, the homeless, unemployed, underemployed and those who may be fired tomorrow, but it is also a rebel camp, where these previously faceless, dispersed and downtrodden lumpens discover common cause and recover their strength for a counterattack.
In any community, renewals are essential. For health to be regained, mistakes must be acknowledged, structural defects corrected and character flaws identified, shamed then purged, but, in this society, all normal channels for healing have been corrupted. Once again, we are presented with an animated election pageantry that promises much, but will solve nothing. The American patient will be kept prostrate and exposed, so that it can be picked over by the military/banking complex vultures. (Yes, it’s time to update that term, since we hardly have any industry left in America.) If we want renewal, then, we must do it ourselves, from outside in and from the ground up, but before we can achieve anything, we need to sharpen our vision of what victory may look like.
Besieged by heaven-puncturing towers of double speak and obscuranto, an all inclusive tribe has gathered. Lapped by an invisible ocean, we teem in this common embryo, but mother is exhausted and may not survive this. Will light come?
Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a just released novel, Love Like Hate. He’s tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, State of the Union.