Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Peace Patrol at Occupy Wall Street

Fittingly, the address was right on Wall Street. An “atrium” of marble, ceilings too high to measure. Palm trees in winter. All the signs of wealth.

And fittingly, there were scruffy gatherings of “protesters” earnestly working the real democracy on plastic chairs or sitting on the cold marble floor.

Three generations of Americans: the 20-something “Millennials”, the X-Gens, and my compatriots, the Boomers. Mostly millennials. And aren’t they something: so NEW, so clear, so pure in their intent.

In ‘69, when we marched on Washington, we were idealistic, but back then cops were pigs and we were “experimenting” in a paisley psychedelic confusion of sex and drugs and, oh yeah, politics.

These young radicals got right to work. “I’m X, my preferred pronouns are ‘she’ and ‘hers’ and I’m from the Safer Spaces committee.” “I’m Y, and my preferred pronouns are ‘he’ and ‘his’ and I’m from De-escalation.” Each person introduced themselves and their assignment: “PR,” “Mediation and Non-Violent Communication”, “Medical”.

They have a silent language for meetings. When someone is talking, if you like what is being said, you hold your hands up and shake them back and forth like the a Queen’s waving. If you disagree, your fingers point down when you shake them.

This silent real-time feedback is such an efficient way of getting a sense of the group’s direction. It overlaps the speaking without disruption so takes no time, but directs the topics like wind carrying a kite this way and that. Who made up this language? How have I never seen it before? I learned it in a few minutes without anyone explaining it. It thrills me to witness progress, to learn and grow so effortlessly.

The topic is scary, drug addicts and street people are invading the occupation, and the media is dying to pounce, to use the confusion to misrepresent the whole movement. And the government is one reason away from bringing in its troops, and reasons abound (not that the media or the government actually need the reasons to be real for them to act).

Then, a couple of thrilling hours in, a bunch of cops amass near the doors. One pulls out a bull-horn. I feel the fear, the old fear, the primal fear as the bully saunters onto the playground.

“Now hear this,” he bellows through his electronic amplifier, “It is now 9pm. The Atrium closes at 9:45. Please have all your meetings concluded by then, and finish using the bathrooms as well. Thank you.”

Each of the caucuses stop and a spontaneous applause erupts. He is not the voice of hatred: there was respect and understanding here, and the applause is polite and touching.

The cop does an exaggerated stage bow, and turns to leave, then stops and through the bullhorn asks, “Does anyone have a copy of the ‘Occupy Wall Street Journal’ in English?” Laughter from all corners and several people run over to him with copies.

He takes one and looks up at us looking at him. We all stand suspended in silence, a precious and surprising moment of solidarity. It could have gone so wrong, and with this simple gesture of good will, it is so right.

He starts to leave, then pauses again, puts the bullhorn to his lips again and bellows: “Fuck Goldman Sacks!”

The room erupts in cheers.

(see for more stories and video about the cops who acknowledge that they are part of the 99%)

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