December 23rd, 2011 12:53 PM
This is what a holiday looks like at Occupy Washington D.C.
While many occupations - from New York and Boston to Oakland and Los Angeles - have been shut down, the two Washington D.C. occupations seem to just keep going. We’ve been occupying Freedom Plaza for 78 days now. In one sense, we’ve relaxed. We no longer have our bags packed with the expectation that we’re going to be evicted any minute (even though we could be). I wish I could say that what appears to be acceptance of Washington D.C. occupations by the powers that be makes life in a tent community easy, but occupying is hard work. As one sign outside a tent on Freedom Plaza reads, “I had a job. Now I have an occupation.”
I’ve been an activist all my life, and occupying is definitely harder than any job I’ve ever had, in the movement or otherwise. Just the housekeeping part of keeping a community together is a fulltime job; forget about keeping up with the minute-by-minute changes that take place in the D.C. political scene every day. Whether it’s the National Defense Authorization Act, Bradley Manning’s hearing, housing foreclosures or Canter’s fund raising dinner, there is always something going on that requires us to be focused on organizing actions and developing strategies, going to yet another meeting, finding a place with WiFi to do research for a mic check… the list goes on.
We’re tired, and we get wet and cold. Sharing portapotties, walking 13 blocks to the showers the CWA lets us use and brushing our teeth and spitting into a soggy paper coffee cup takes its toll. Even though we’ve been told by visiting occupiers from all over the country that we have the model occupy kitchen, we still have to stand in line for dinner and then eat outside (although we just put up two gigantic army tents and will soon be able to eat inside). We gripe and disagree, and sometimes it’s hard to show up for G.A. – especially if you know there’s a major issue in camp… say… we’re drinking more coffee than we can afford and someone’s going to propose limiting the hours coffee is available… OMG… that’s gonna take at least 45 minutes to reach consensus on. But, we show up and listen to everyone who has an opinion or proposal and, eventually, we do reach consensus. Most often, whatever gets decided turns out to be the right thing.
So, between mic checking Carl Levin and John McCain for the hideous provisions they wrote into the NDAA, doing the camp dishes, joining our neighbors at Occupy D.C. for an action at the White House and mopping up the river running through your tent from the rain storm the night before, who has time for a Teach-In or a reading group? I am heartened to say, it seems like a lot of us do. Not all, to be sure. There are those who are here for a party, or a free meal, but we deal with that, too.
Yesterday afternoon, a group of young Palestinian students attending schools and universities in the U.S. (funded by Project Hope) held a Teach-In on Freedom Plaza. The level of knowledge and understanding among the occupiers ranged from none to vast. While one young woman described her dismay at how many Americans don’t seem to even know of the existence of Palestine, in fact, often mistake it for Pakistan, these remarkable young people were not there to criticize the overall lack of knowledge by Americans; they were there to educate and enlighten by sharing their personal stories. Some of the occupiers questions were based on years of study, while others betrayed total ignorance. They responded to them all with equal respect and attention, welcoming the fact that we were there to learn.
The Palestinians told stories of their experience coming from Gaza and the West Bank, and as refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. One young man described coming out of his school on December 27th, 2008 to look up to a sky almost obliterated by the sea of bombs. He said, “We are used to the shelling. It is a part of our daily life. But this was different. The entire sky was black.” He told the story of how his cousin who had just received his Masters Degree and was working as a medic, trying to save lives, was killed in that initial surprise bombing that marked the beginning of the three week Gaza War, known in the Arab world as the Gaza Massacre. Only a few of the occupiers were aware that this war had even happened, let alone that the surprise attack resulted in approximately 1,400 Palestinian deaths. 13 Israelis were killed as well, 4 from friendly fire.
The students described the over-crowded and unsanitary conditions of life in Gaza; they talked about how there is no place to escape to; they described how any of us had the right to own a home in their country, but they did not; and, they talked about how traveling from one point to another requires going through dozens of security checkpoints, metal detectors and invasive questioning. At one point, I looked around the circle at the occupiers assembled. Their expressions were tearful, angry, confused… and attentive. They asked about Israel, and co-existence… about solutions, two countries or one? We were young and old, Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Atheist, vets and hippies, homeless and income secure. We talked openly, without fear of reprisal or being chastised for what we did not know, or thought we knew. This is who and how we are. This is what we’ve come to expect in our lives as occupiers.
Lately, I've been missing my grandchildren and the comfy condo I left in Massachusetts. But, every time I start thinking of leaving, something like this happens to remind me to keep my eyes on the prize. As I sat there, watching the fully engaged occupiers, one more time, I marveled. This is the way it is supposed to be. We’ve got a long way to go, but every so often I get to feel the chill running up and down my spine telling me that this is what hope looks like.
Next week, an Egyptian is coming to enlighten us about the situation in Egypt. Our reading group is about to start discussing Gene Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy. We have actions planned into the spring. Celebrity visits and concerts are being scheduled. Plans are being made to occupy foreclosed homes, and we’re talking with a local cable access studio to get an Occupy TV show going. Meanwhile, the kitchen is cooking turkey and ham for our holiday dinner – without an oven. Someone left their cigarette butt on the Plaza, and someone else is cleaning it up. G.A. was thankfully brief this morning. It’s supposed to rain again tonight. And, we are still here.
Happy Holidays to all. We ARE the 99%, and so are you.