There were at least a thousand people at Liberty Park on the corner of Broadway and Liberty in New York City, now known as the site of the Occupy Wall Street protests. There were drums, songs, voices, hand-held signs, lots of police, but mostly the energy of people with a big dream. Yes, the big dream of a world latent with possibilities, of true justice, food for everyone, homes, creative flowering, and more.
It was a dream of a cooperative, abundant, sustainable, and free world.
I was there on the evening of Tuesday, October 4, to join in with thousands of others around the country pushing against capitalism, the corporations, the financiers, and the politicians who have helped rob, push out, and drive millions into poverty and despair.
When I got near the park, there was a stage where city workers made speeches calling on New York City to meet its obligations of collective bargaining, jobs, and workers’ benefits. Afterwards, hundreds of those in attendance—including me—marched around city hall and then to Liberty Park (the official name is Zuccotti Park, but people have been calling it Liberty from the original name of the park) to join the mostly young, many homeless and unemployed, dog-tired refugees of the economy’s continual collapse.
Food filled a table—I grabbed an apple and nobody asked for money (I donated any way). In one corner an orator spoke without microphone or megaphone. The audience repeated back what he said in phrases so others could hear. Tarps, blankets, pillows, and more filled the park’s center (on September 20 tents were forbidden by the NY police department, leading to several arrests). Donations included a pile of blankets and pillows. The night was getting nippy as the autumn cold fell on all of us. I took photos, talked to participants, signed petitions, met new friends.
Throngs of police followed the earlier march, but there was no trouble, although a couple of days before, police arrested 700 protestors on the Brooklyn Bridge in one of the largest mass arrests. And the day after I left, video of officers hitting protestors with batons made the Internet. Yet other municipal employees have joined the occupation and some police realize they aren’t just dealing with isolated groups of disconnected youths. I overheard one African American police officer say, “This is good—exactly what Martin Luther King, Jr. would have done.”
I arrived in New York City on Monday to speak at Gregorio Luperon High School in Washington Heights to Dominican and other Latino students at one of the most progressive and socially minded schools in the country. Around 200 students were there to hear me speak and answer questions. My thanks to Juan Villar, Luperon’s principal and one of its founders, for being a fantastic host—I could tell the students respected and admired Juan.
The next day, I traveled to Kean University in New Jersey to address more than 500 students, faculty, administrators, teachers in the National Writing Center, and community. What a great audience I had—they were engaged and their questions were right on. At one point I was asked about the importance of the Occupy Wall Street protests, which have been going on for three weeks and have now spread around the country. I said we needed to support the Big Dream. This wasn’t about money. It was about the abundance in proper relationships, in a regenerative earth, in the new technology. In our imaginations and capacities.
The Big Dream is important since this often gets lost in the various agendas, programs, points, and pieces of the pie that many organizations, trade unions, and individuals bring to the table. Nothing wrong with collective bargaining rights, of course, or better schools or stopping foreclosures—we need all this. We need to fight for the immediate demands as well as the practical applications of real democracy.
Still, any and all of these demands must be enveloped by the Big Dream: No hunger, no homeless, no poverty, no exploitation, and no oppression. I talked to young people who reiterated they weren’t there for piecemeal demands or practical agendas. The whole enchilada reeks, they insisted. The capitalism system has to go. A new world is possible. “Why do we need to change a system that no longer works,” a young woman named Patty told me.
I also talked to trade unionists, teachers, city workers, and others who took vitally important programmatic issues to the protestors. The financial meltdown was impacting them on a basic survival level. They wanted relief and the power to live as decently as they could.
I could see how we need the nexus between these two things—the practical demands and a powerful vision of a just, equal, and free reality for all.
That’s why I was at Wall Street—to add my feet, my voice, my ideas to this amazing development. Interestingly, the protests were exploding as I took part in the inaugural meeting of the National Conference of Revolutionary Leaders, held in the Humboldt Park community of Chicago on October 1.
Around fifty people participated, including leaders in labor, youth empowerment, immigrant rights, prisoner rights, education—from the Puerto Rican, Mexican, African American, and Filipino communities as well as white working class. This was a first step in advancing an ongoing and mature body of practical leaders also linked by big ideas, big dreams, and big plans to bring working class political unity and independence during these particularly trying times.
This gathering could not have happened at a better time. The Wall Street protests and the network are interlinked. While the people at Liberty Park spoke against hierarchies and of a horizontal way of running things, I also recognize that we need to have a vertical aspect dependent on and conditioned by this horizontal.
The proper balance/energy of two opposite forces is what makes movement.
At the Chicago conference, we established a national organizing committee, a steering committee, and agreed on four basic objectives (for more, go to the website).We also set up outreach, communications, education, structure, and fundraising committees. And we made plans for regional meetings and conferences.
This network is an important way to inculcate and expand vision, direction, strategies, education, and technical assistance to every battle against capitalism’s now decaying system of profits, private property, and power.
Today when I returned to Los Angeles, I met with members of my community who took part last Saturday in Occupy Wall Street protests next to L.A.’s City Hall. The sentiment at this meeting was that the protest organizers still did not know how to incorporate people of color, the indigenous communities, women, the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community, and those of the “99 percent” who work for minimum wage or below, who have two or three jobs to survive, or the truly unemployed.
An indigenous-type talking circle took place at L.A.’s protest when some participants felt their voices couldn’t get heard otherwise (a bandana was used as a talking stick by anyone who wanted to express themselves).
I understand—there is more work to be done, which is always the case in any national mobilization. More voices, more ideas, more ways to organize and promote, need to be invited. This is all tied to how we continually put together practical needs, diverse communities and organizational forms, with the Big Dream.