All occupiers are equal — but some occupiers are more equal than others. [Remember? "All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others?"] In wind-whipped Zuccotti Park, new divisions and hierarchies are threatening to upend Occupy Wall Street and its leaderless collective. [divisions and, gasp!, hierarchies arising spontaneously in the midst of people who deny that hierarchies are necessary - say it ain't so, Uncle Karl!]
As the protest has grown, some of the occupiers have spontaneously taken charge on projects large and small. But many of the people in Zuccotti Park aren't taking direction well, [you don't say!] leading to a tense Thursday of political disagreements, the occasional shouting match, and at least one fistfight.
It began, as it so often does, with a drum circle. The ten-hour groove marathons weren’t sitting well with the neighborhood’s community board, the ironically situated High School of Economics and Finance that sits on the corner of Zuccotti Park, or many of the sleep-deprived protesters.
“[The high school] couldn’t teach,” explained Josh Nelson, a 27-year-old occupier from Nebraska. “And we’ve had issues with the drummers too. They drum incessantly all day, and really loud.” Facilitators spearheaded a General Assembly proposal to limit the drumming to two hours a day. “The drumming is a major issue which has the potential to get us kicked out," said Lauren Digion, a leader on the sanitation working group.
But the drums were fun. They brought in publicity and money. Many non-facilitators were infuriated by the decision and claimed that it had been forced through the General Assembly. [Forced? You mean like unpopular health care legislation being forced through Congress? But, I thought this was the alternative to that . . . I'm confused.]
“They’re imposing a structure on the natural flow of music," said Seth Harper, an 18-year-old from Georgia. “The GA decided to do it ... they suppressed people’s opinions. I wanted to do introduce a different proposal, but a big black organizer chick with an Afro said I couldn’t.” [She wasn't named Nancy Pelosi, was she? It could have been a disguise.]
To Shane Engelerdt, a 19-year-old from Jersey City and self-described former “head drummer,” this amounted to a Jacobinic betrayal. “They are becoming the government we’re trying to protest," he said. "They didn’t even give the drummers a say ... Drumming is the heartbeat of this movement. Look around: This is dead, you need a pulse to keep something alive.” [I feel like occupying something to express how much I ache for the poor, oppressed drummers.]
The drummers claim that the finance working group even levied a percussion tax of sorts, taking up to half of the $150-300 a day that the drum circle was receiving in tips. “Now they have over $500,000 from all sorts of places,” said Engelerdt. “We’re like, what’s going on here? They’re like the banks we’re protesting." [Can you say anything worse to a person in that movement? A low blow indeed.]
All belongings and money in the park are supposed to be held in common, but property rights reared their capitalistic head when facilitators went to clean up the park, which was looking more like a shantytown than usual after several days of wind and rain. [Is it just me or do I detect a faint note of sarcasm in this sentence? I mean, this is the mainstream media, after all. They are not supposed to take the Revolution lightly or fail to support it in every possible respect.] The local community board was due to send in an inspector, so the facilitators and cleaners started moving tarps, bags, and personal belongings into a big pile in order to clean the park.
But some refused to budge. A bearded man began to gather up a tarp and an occupier emerged from beneath, screaming: “You’re going to break my f******* tent, get that s*** off!” Near the front of the park, two men in hoodies staged a meta-sit-in, fearful that their belongings would be lost or appropriated.
Daniel Zetah, a 35-year-old lead facilitator from Minnesota, mounted a bench. “We need to clear this out. There are a bunch of kids coming to stay here.” One of the hoodied men fought back: “I’m not giving up my space for f******* kids. They have parents and homes. My parents are dead. This is my space.” [I don't think he understands socialism. So many people don't at the moment they are being asked to sacrifice for the Revolution.]
Other organizers were more blunt. “If you don’t want to be part of this group, then you can just leave,” yelled a facilitator in a button-down shirt, “Every week we clean our house.” Seth Harper, the pro-drummer proletarian, chimed in on the side of the sitters. “We disagree on how we should clean it. A lot of us disagree with the pile.” Zetah, tall and imposing with a fiery red beard, closed debate with a sigh. “We’re all big boys and girls. Let’s do this.” As he told me afterwards, “A lot of people are like spoiled children." [Light shines into the darkness!] The cure? A cold snap. “Personally, I cannot wait for winter. It will clear out these people who aren’t here for the right reasons. Bring on the snow. The real revolutionaries will stay in -50 degrees.”
“The sunshine protestors will leave,” said “Zonkers,” [Is he for real, or is he a refugee from a comic strip?] a 20-year-old cleaner and longtime occupier from Tennessee. (He asked that his name not be used due to a felony marijuana conviction.) “The people who remain are the people who care. You get a lot of crust punks, silly kids, people who want to panhandle ... It disgusts me. These people are here for a block party.”
Another argument broke out next to the pile of appropriated belongings, growing taller by the minute. A man named Sage Roberts desperately rifled through the pile, looking for a sleeping bag. “They’ve taken my stuff,” he muttered. Lauren Digion, the sanitation group leader, broke in: “This isn’t your stuff. You got all this stuff from comfort [the working group]. It belongs to comfort.” [It belongs to the pigs. They hold it in trust for all the animals.]
And as I spoke to Michael Glaser, a 26-year-old Chicagoan helping lead winter preparation efforts, a physical fight broke out between a cleaner and a camper just feet from us.
“When cleanups happen, people get mad,” Glaser said. “This is its own city. Within every city there are people who freeload, who make people’s lives miserable. We just deal with it. We can’t kick them out.” [Its true - irony is dead!]
In response to dissatisfaction with the consensus General Assembly, many facilitators have adopted a new “spokescouncil” model, which allows each working group to act independently without securing the will of the collective. “This streamlines it,” argued Zonkers. “The GA is unwieldy, cumbersome, and redundant." [Oh my goodness; they have already got bureaucracy! That is obviously making their lives better and happier.]
From today’s battles, it’s not yet clear who will win the day: the organizers or the organized. But the month-long protest has clearly grown and evolved to a point where a truly leaderless movement will risk eviction — or, worse, insurrection.
As the communal sleeping bag argument between Lauren Digion and Sage Roberts threatened to get out of hand, a facilitator in a red hat walked by, brow furrowed. “Remember? You’re not allowed to do any more interviews,” he said to Digion. She nodded and went back to work. But when Roberts shouted, “Don’t tell me what to do!” Digion couldn't hold back.
“Someone has to be told what to do," she said. "Someone needs to give orders. There’s no sense of order in this f******* place.” [But once you abolish "civilization" and demolish hierarchies, the order will bubble up spontaneously from below and it will be better, much better, than what we have now. It's true. I read it on a website.]
Saturday, October 22, 2011
So How is That Lovely Anarchy Working Out in NYC?
New York Magazine has an interesting article entitled: "The Organizers vs. the Organized in Zuchotti Park" in which the "order" that is supposed to arise organically from the bottom up is not exactly producing a society of love, harmony, equality and peace. I read Orwell's Animal Farm a month or so ago and it occurs to me that it is no wonder that book has been so widely read. Life resembles it. [my comments in square brackets and in red]