Doing the Work

New York City.

Last Saturday I found myself sitting cross-legged in the middle of Times Square singing peace songs and wondering to what exactly I was committing. Arrest? Pepper spray? Beating? About half an hour earlier I had arrived at what was being called the Occupy Party, meant to imply the fun kind not the political kind.  And fun it was, music, costumed stilt walkers, families, tourists. Then, for what reason I still do not understand, the NYPD swarmed in on horses and in riot gear with trucks of metal barricades and began penning people in, block by block.

I think the police action took many by surprise because the day before Occupy Wall Street had celebrated a huge victory when Brookfield Inc., owner of Zuccotti Park, and city officials called off the forced evacuation of the park. The Times Square crowd, now pushed into close quarters by the police barriers, reacted with chants of  “this is a peaceful protest” and, as the intimidation increased, “the whole world is watching”.

And so there I sat, not sure how far I was willing to go as a passive resister, but unable to move because I would not be bullied into surrendering my right to peaceful assembly in my own city. I hoped my husband, at his 25th high school reunion that night, would not have to come bail me out. More than that I hoped getting arrested on a Saturday didn’t mean jail until Monday. Fortunately, a legal observer (a volunteer attorney with Occupy Wall Street) spoke with police then relayed the request for us to head out peacefully, which many of us did. Some stayed and about 40 were arrested. Many moved on to Washington Square Park. I went home, admittedly relieved.

It was a huge day for Occupy protesters in Times Square and around the world, and these big days buoy the movement.  They make us feel like we are really doing something. They are filmed, photographed and written about on and in every media outlet. But they can’t all be big days. The real game is sustain and maintain. The daily work. It can be boring. Cleaning, preparing food, meetings, meetings, and meetings. You can see it reflected as journalists and bloggers struggle to find new angles on the story.

They often revert to the favorite topic, the constant drumbeat in the background, and not the one downtown residents have been complaining about for a month. The demand for demands. This is just a distraction. It is not for OWS to come up with the solutions. We don’t all agree on solutions and that is fine.

I believe, perhaps foolishly, that some things can still be accomplished through our existing political system, so I continue to work within that framework as well as OWS. The two are not mutually exclusive. I recently volunteered on the campaign of a candidate running for Civil Court Judge. Today I will be volunteering at a political table at Zuccotti Park. There we have petitions against hydrofracking and expiration of the New York State Millionaires Tax. We have voter registration forms. I choose to work in this way, but I will sit in protest in the middle of Times Square if I have to.

I don’t expect or need others to bend to my point of view or to work in the same way I do. It’s not a choice between individualism and socialism. Work on your own and with the collective. Sustain and maintain. Just show up, and remember, every day is not a headline.

Photos by Hillary Atiyeh.


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