Tuesday, November 22, 2011

An OWS Thanksgiving

In previous years, whenever holidays like Thanksgiving rolled around, many of the marriage equality groups that I support have sent out messages calling on us to have "courageous conversations" with family members around the dining room table. Be courageous, they say. Bring up your support for marriage equality. Explain why this matters so much. Hearing from someone they know and love as much as they know and love you might just change the way your family thinks about this topic.

Well I've done that. And it all finally paid off here in New York when in June the New York State legislature passed the Marriage Equality Act!

This year, I suspect the dining room "courageous conversation" will be about Occupy Wall Street. (But I've promised myself not to voluntarily bring the subject up on Thanksgiving, because my parents taught me never to bring up religion or politics when dining with company. That's generally a good rule. So that's why I'm bringing the subject up here in this post!)

What am I thankful for?

My "courageous conversation" about Occupy Wall Street takes the form of a list of all the people I am thankful for this Thanksgiving. So here goes...

I am thankful for my family. For my mother who always warns me to stay safe and not get too occupied (pun intended!) with dangerous pursuits. Now she and I agree to disagree about the exact dangerousness of Occupy Wall Street. I argue that the mainstream media has overly exaggerated any dangers; yet on the other hand, first hand experiences have shown me that if any danger is underplayed by the media, it is the danger posed by the NYPD towards peaceful, nonviolent protestors. So I try to stay close to my friends in the movement, because they will protect me, and I them. And we all try to keep a good distance from the police. Don't worry, mom. I've got thousands of supporters here who will protect me!

NYPD "white shirts" and riot police at Washington Square Park, Oct. 15

Yes, I am thankful for my family. For my grandmother who warned me on facebook (and for that, you are the coolest grandma!) to not get overly occupied with dangerous pursuits. For her, and for everyone else in this family, I have to explain that what it looks like I'm doing on facebook is not exactly the same as what I spend my time doing in real life. I might read for four to six hours each day, but I don't broadcast that exceedingly boring news to the world every day via social media! On the other hand, when I attend a march or rally and I witness the police using excessive force or disallowing us to engage in our constitutionally protected forms of speech or assembly, yes I do post the heck out of that onto facebook, with photos, and videos, and whatever other evidence I have. Because we are up against a Goliath here: a mayor who is one of the 20 richest persons in the United States and could care less about us, and a police force that is corrupt, deceptive, and has shown itself willing to bend and break the law as they see fit. Our power is in the stories we can tell, and that, my family, is why your news feeds are always overflowing with radical postings from my wall!

NYPD as Goliath. Multitudes of riot police against handfuls of protestors. This was 3 am on Nov. 15, the night of the raid on Liberty Square.

I am so thankful for my family. Today I left militarized Manhattan for the peace of my upstate childhood home. I got home today, to be with my parents and my brother. We have already had many "courageous conversations" about Occupy Wall Street. But I know here, in the safety and security of my home, among my own kin, that these are safe conversations to have. That we can agree to disagree and still love and respect one another. And even if the conversation with family most frequently revolves around questions of personal safety rather than economic inequality, I know this is because I have people who love me deeply, and care deeply for me. And I love you in return. This is why I came home for Thanksgiving. Standing on Wall Street makes me angry. But sitting around the table with you makes me smile.

I am also thankful for more than just my family.

I am thankful for my friends. For my best friend, my partner, my companion through everything, night and day, rain or shine, winter, spring, summer, or fall (all you've got to do is call), I am so thankful for your unceasing, unfailing, limitless love. But on this special OWS Thanksgiving, I am particularly thankful that you support my involvement in this movement. Most telling, in everything we've been through in these past two months, was the comment you sent me online the morning after I had ran around downtown Manhattan all night trying to comfort and support those who were violently evicted from Liberty Square (Zuccotti Park). You told me that you were "so proud." I was afraid you were going to be mad at me for being so reckless, for staying out on the street all night until 10am in the morning, facing off against police half of the time. But you told me you were "proud," and that one word from you made me ten times stronger. I love you so much. Thank you for your love.

Facing off against police near Liberty Square, 2:30 am, Nov. 15, night of the eviction.

I am thankful for my friends. For my friends who have gone down to Liberty Square on their own initiative, who have recorded the stories of the occupants, have taken photos, and have supported the movement. For my friends who introduced me to the movement in the first place, when the subject came up at a dinner party with friends on Oct. 1, and I heard for the first time about the 700 protestors who had just been arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge. Without friends to share their knowledge, ideas, and insight with me, I would not have come to the movement in the first place, to march with OWS on Oct. 5 along Broadway, to visit Liberty Square for the first time that night, and to give myself, slowly, and cautiously, but with growing determination, to this nascent movement.

One of our friends has been recording video of the occupation at Liberty Square since nearly the beginning. This video is from Oct. 4.

I am thankful for my friends. For the ones who disagree with me. Who say that we are all whiny babies just asking for government handouts. Thank you for the courage to share your criticisms with me. I have never been as sure about the importance of Occupy Wall Street as I am now, but it has taken most of the past two months for me to get to this point. I did not just unquestioningly jump onto this bandwagon. There are some aspects of OWS I still disagree with. You have helped me work through many of these issues by criticizing and questioning me and the movement. Thank you for making this harder for me! Which in the end somehow makes things easier. That's because debate and dialogue are more productive that shouting matches and standoffs. (Ironically, though, I do appreciate a good "mic-check" now and then!)

Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin gets "mic-checked" by Occupy Chicago, Nov. 3.

But I am thankful for more than just family and friends.

I am thankful for Occupy Wall Street, too.

Now what does that mean?

I am thankful for the young man who marched next to me on Oct. 5 and held this sign (and that's me in the red shirt with the blue-green backpack!):

Oct. 5 march with organized labor to Liberty Square.

I am thankful for the union men and women, and students, and 9 to 5 workers, who showed up at 6am on Oct. 14 to help defend Occupy Wall Street from eviction. I am thankful to the young men and women who brought brooms and who swept down the park, showing Mayor Bloomberg that we could keep the park clean without the NYPD's "help."

I am thankful for the drummers, of the group Pulse, who have drummed away at Occupy Wall Street since the beginning. For the drum circle on Broadway on Oct. 14 where any and everyone was welcome to grab a drumstick and hit something. For the young woman with the dyed hair who I have seen at every single OWS event these past two months, for just being there, I thank you. When you go to enough of these things, you start to recognize the people who hold the whole thing together. I thank you for being there day in and day out. And for the crazy man who dances so wildly, yet captivates protestors and Wall Street bankers alike with his movements, I thank you. I especially like the dance you do where you point a finger at your forehead and tell us to "think" to the beat of the drums. You made me think, for sure, and I also bet you have made many others think. (If you haven't seen him dance yet, he appears a few times in the clip below.)

Pulse drum circle at Liberty Square, Oct. 14, including the "think" dancer.

I am thankful for those around me, at Times Square on Oct. 15, who taught me new chants.

Over 5,000 assembled at Times Square on Oct. 15.

For the older man with the thick immigrant accent who couldn't keep up with the chant "Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!" But he tried his best. And he screamed out the words with conviction and passion. I was so proud to stand with you.

Times Square, Oct. 15.

I am thankful for the NYU students who made room for me to sit on top of a row of police barricades with them at Washington Square Park in the middle of the night on Oct. 15 so that I could participate in my first General Assembly. I thank the young man in front of me for teaching me how the "human microphone" works. And for teaching me the hand signals for "I like," "I'm not sure," and "I don't like," as well as "Get to the point already," and "I can't hear you!"

My first General Assembly. 1,000 gathered at Washington Square Park, Oct. 15.

I am thankful for the reporter from South Korea who really wanted to talk to me at Washington Square Park that evening at 11:50pm, but who finally agreed to exit the park with me before 30-40 riot police were to come in and bang our heads in for breaking the midnight curfew. I had to ditch him, but I hope he got a good story out of it anyway!

Police guard the Washington Square Arch after the midnight curfew has passed, in the wee hours of Oct. 16.

I am thankful for whoever ordered the pizza that night, and for the young female student who nicknamed it "NYPD pizza." We all got a kick out of that!

Two students, many police. Washington Square Park, Oct. 15-16.

I am thankful for Pete Seeger, and Arlo Guthrie, and the other folk legends who led us in a march from the Upper West Side down to Columbus Circle in the middle of a cold night on Oct. 21. I am thankful for Pete, who at 92 years old, marched and sang with vigor! And to Pete, again, for teaching me some new songs, like: "Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around. Turn me around. Turn me around. Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around. Just gonna keep on walkin'. Keep on talkin'. Marching down to Freedomland."

Pete Seeger, 92 years old, marches and sings with us on Oct. 21.

I am thankful for the young woman who I met at Wall Street and Broadway on the morning of the first eviction attempt at Liberty Square. We were watching the NYPD restrict access to only those with company IDs. I am thankful for the man behind me screaming "Show me your papers" in a fake German accent. I did not agree with his analogy between this situation and Nazi Germany, but I respected and thought hard about his point. And so I thank him for that. I was thankful to meet the same woman again on Oct. 28 in front of the public library as we prepared to march on bank headquarters at midtown. She had my back when we confronted the police, and she shared a snack with me when I was tired and hungry. Thank you!

Oct. 28, meeting in front of the public library for our march on the banks.

I am thankful for the young man who got really angry at that protest, who raised his voice against the bankers. He pointed at them and yelled "Shame! Shame!" Your strength in turn strengthened me and others. You inspired us to be stronger in our collective resolve. Thank you.

I am thankful for the Chase employee who collected thousands of letters we delivered for the banks written by people from all across America. And for those banks who refused our letters, thank you for letting us fold them up and throw them as paper airplanes at your corporate doorstep.

"You've Got Mail" Occupy the Boardroom march on the banks, Oct. 28.

I am thankful for the Occupy Wall Street Jobless Working Group. I am thankful for all unemployed and underemployed people who have found an "occupation" here at OWS. Others will say that you'd be better off looking for work and applying for jobs rather than holding banners and marching with us, but they are wrong. (And of course you can, and do, do both.) It will be because of your self-sacrifices that we will create the public support necessary for passing a true jobs bill, with teeth, in the U.S. Congress. But there will always be a job for you, if you want it, right here with us, letting people know that unemployment and underemployment is no fault of our own. It is the fault of a much larger system that advantages the wealthiest and disadvantages the rest of us.

Members of the Jobless Working Group at Union Square, Nov. 6.

I am thankful for the New Museum, for "subletting" your event permit to the Occupy Wall Street Arts and Culture Working Group on Nov. 6 so that we could witness some amazing performance art at Union Square. I am thankful that you stood up to the police who wanted to shut you down. Your subversion of the "law" was beautiful and inspiring.

I am thankful for the NYU, CUNY, New School, and other student bodies who continue to convene every Saturday at noon at Washington Square Park to discuss issues that matter most to students.

All-NYC Student General Assembly at Washington Square Park, Nov. 5.

I am thankful to everyone who has ever occupied Liberty Square (Zuccotti Park), up until that last fateful night, Nov. 14-15, when Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly violently evicted you from what was your home. They called you dirty, deranged, and lawless. But I visited you countless times and all I ever saw at Liberty Square was cooperation, creativity, and passion. I saw white people and black people, young and old, male and female, living together in an environment where everyone's voices were heard, and where none were turned away.

Liberty Square, as it was, on a very cold morning, Nov. 5.

I thank the Kitchen for feeding everyone.

I thank Comfort for clothing and sheltering everyone.

I thank all the New Yorkers and visitors who donated food to the Kitchen, or who donated clothing, tents, or sleeping bags to Comfort. Many of our donations were destroyed during the NYPD raid on Nov. 15, but our donations were not in vain. Some criticized that Liberty Square was attracting the homeless. I say, good! I say, thank you to OWS for feeding the homeless. Thank you for sheltering and clothing the homeless. New York City has an estimated 40,000 people who sleep on the street or in emergency shelters every night. Those are 40,000 voices we need to hear. Those are voices that belong on Wall Street, and don't let anyone ever say that they were a "bad element" at Liberty Square. The bad element is, and has always been, inside of the corporate buildings on Wall Street.

A spiritual space, a place for centering, at Liberty Square, Oct. 14.

I thank all the media. I thank those who publish the Occupied Wall Street Journal. I have collected all five issues so far, and I have submitted a piece for your next issue, if you'll accept it. I thank those who produce and participate in Occupied Wall Street Radio. I try to listen every weeknight at 6:30pm to your informative and insightful program.

I thank everyone who has ever taken a picture or produced a video clip about something they saw at Occupy Wall Street. We are the media. Facebook, twitter, and youtube have blown up with our own creations. And that's the way it should be. We know the story better than those on the outside. So let's tell it! (And yet I also thank the card-carrying journalists. The NYPD have bonked you on the heads, and have arrested you, for trying to tell our stories. Thank you for doing everything you can to share our stories with the world.)

I am thankful for those who led me to Foley Square at 3 am on the morning of the eviction. I am thankful for those who facilitated that emergency General Assembly. I am thankful for the young man who slept beside me around 6 am as the sun rose, and who made a little space so that I could shut my eye for a second, too, as I leaned up against a cold concrete wall. I am thankful for the guy who showed up with piles of Occupied Wall Street Journals for us to look at while we waited for Bloomberg's morning press conference.

Dawn at Foley Square, after the eviction from Liberty Square, Nov. 15. We slept whenever and wherever we could.

I am thankful for those who scaled the wall at Duarte Square at 9 am that morning.

Duarte Square, the morning after the eviction, Nov. 15.

I am thankful to the National Lawyers Guild, and to the OWS Legal Team. You have drilled your phone number into my brain for all time. I will never forget it. I don't even need to write it on my arm. If I get arrested, I know who to call. Thank you for sending out your legal observers to all our events. Thank you for collecting evidence on NYPD transgressions of the law. Thank you for defending what now must amount to thousands of protestors who have been arrested on trumped up charges. And thank you to the New York Civil Liberties Union who have also sent legal observers, and who are helping with some major court cases right now against the city and the NYPD.

I am thankful to Medical for having bottles of that liquid, whatever it is, that you will throw in my face if I get hit with pepper-spray. If an 84-year-old woman can handle it, then I can.

I am thankful to the tens of thousands who came out on Nov. 17. I am thankful to those who engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience outside the New York Stock Exchange. I am thankful to the thousands of students who went on strike and gathered at Union Square. November 17 was so beautiful. I will never forget that day. 30,000 people. 300 arrests. We nearly shut down the New York Stock Exchange. The New School was occupied. Foley Square was a dance party! It was amazing.

Video of civil disobedience and mass arrests on Pine Street, one block north of the Stock Exchange, 9am, Nov. 17.

2,000 striking students take over Fifth Avenue on a long and winding march to Foley Square, 4pm, Nov. 17.

I am also thankful to the students. For my students, for challenging me to make the past relevant. To my graduate student colleagues, for supporting the movement in your own special ways. To the students at UC Berkeley, who courageously occupied a space on campus only to face batons and arrests from the police. I also thank the faculty who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the students, some of whom also got beaten.

To the students at UC Davis, at least ten of whom were pepper-sprayed at close range for engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience. You are courage embodied. You have inspired a generation to put down their books and take to the streets. Across the UC system, I thank the students and faculty who have kept up the fight against tuition increases and privatization. We face the same issues here at SUNY, and we can, and will, learn a lot from you all.

To Students United for a Free CUNY, thank you for marching and rallying for a return to the days (from 1847 to 1975) when CUNY was free and open to all New York youth. You are right that tuition increases will make CUNY inaccessible for the most disadvantaged students and families in the city, who also happen to be overwhelmingly people of color. Thank you for bringing your voices to the public hearing on Nov. 21. Even though you were literally beaten away by the police, and 15 of you were arrested, the whole world was inspired. Next time, we will march with you in the thousands.

And finally, thank you to Tunisia. Egypt. Yemen. Syria. Libya. You have inspired us all. There would be no American Autumn if it were not for the Arab Spring. This might be the topic of a future post, so I will leave it at that. But I want to particularly thank the revolutionary youth of Egypt. You are our direct model and inspiration. And as I write, you are continuing your fight for freedom and democracy in Tahrir Square. We support you. And thank you for supporting us.

So, in summary...

I am thankful for my family, for my friends, for the new friends I have made at OWS, for the students, and for everyone involved in this fight. We have accomplished much in these past two months, but there is still a long and difficult road ahead of us.

It is vital to remember that our greatest asset is each other. So this Thanksgiving, reach out to those around you - those who support OWS, and those who don't - and have "courageous conversations" about whatever it is that matters to you. And give thanks. Give thanks to your family for letting you join this movement. Give thanks to your friends, for having your back. Give thanks to each other, for it is only collectively, not individually, that we have achieved this much. And it will be collectively, not individually, that we will eventually win.

This is my new favorite video of the moment! It is the best introduction to what we have suffered these past two weeks.

From Occupied Wall Street to the world, thank you!!! And Happy Thanksgiving to all!


  1. This is a spectacular post. Thanks so much for sharing the emotion and the experience of the protests with those of us who aren't in the thick of it right now. Yes.

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