Yesterday the rich were soaked as well as everyone else. The rain was such that the gutters were rivers, and at Zuccotti Park a giant tarp was quickly raised by several people to cover an impromptu General Assembly. A separate Rain Committee was established to deal with the catastrophe such a volume of sudden rain could bring. I helped hold up a corner; ironically we had tents but could not use them because they are “illegal structures,” but a Solidarity Tarp is just the thing. If any one person moves a pole, arm or vuvuzela, many can be drenched.
A passerby strolled into the park and asked me what all this (tarps, ponchoed people talking in clusters) was about. Turns out she is going to SUNY Downstate (in Brooklyn) for a Master’s in Public Health, and working up in Harlem as well, so while passing through Manhattan she thought she’d drop by. She’s graduating in a few months and is anxious, but applying for grants. It was a tough day to look compelling after the lakeloads of rain. She seemed genuinely interested and unbiased, which was refreshing, and I gave her my take on the purpose of Occupy Wall Street, being careful to emphasize the autonomy and diversity that is central to the movement—no leaders, no party line, no fiat. All nonhierarchical dialogue and consensus.
I also chatted with some elderly folk who were real protest veterans, having been in the streets since the 60s. Because of the media characterizations I’ve seen, I said, “It’s nice to see someone who’s not a twentysomething or hippy.” They booed, because they had participated in the invention of hippy. One of them said that young people who weren’t there had been “promoted away” from activism or even awareness, their own personal success obviating any larger cultural concern.
N., the man behind the coin mask on Saturday, introduced himself to me because he thought I was Demian. (I hope he meant Max Demian.) I photographed him earlier because he was dressed professionally, which he said he’d done to do something different from his prior visits. Aside from the need for nationalized health insurance, we spoke about art’s role in political movements and protests, and how important it is for art to encapsulate the message for the wider world. N. indicated where he stood and how to avoid arrest by being masked alone. “Whenever I wear that mask, I pretty much just talk to the media,” he said, which was the most ringing endorsement of ideology’s expression in art that I’ve yet seen at Occupy Wall Street. The earnestness of markered-over chopped pizza boxes can be touching, but ours is a country that’s trained us to distrust what is not sleek and produced. It’s true the movement often has wanting “optics.”
I was nonplussed later to find N. heckling a drummer at the daily 1530 march. He stood against the corner of a yelled: “Get a job!” I laughed, but the drummer didn’t, and N. repeated his imperative, looking well serious. Fingers and drumsticks were jabbed accusingly. The march pulled them apart.
Suspicion and fear of infiltration had come up (again) at the General Assembly a couple hours earlier, and one facilitator had repeated a saying he’d learned in Arabic in Palestine, where he grew up: “Trust does not eliminate caution.”
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