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Occupying DC: Quiet Tent Towns

Dear friends,

The spreading movement is manifesting itself at K & 15th (McPherson Sq), Pennsylvania & 13th (Metro Center Station).

In a nutshell, we saw two quiet tent towns.  Squares with park areas on which people were living in tents. at K and 15th there were pathetic homeless people at the edge; on Pennsylvania and 13th, there were also open tents with free food and drinks, tents for the media (which contained laptops and other amenities), a tent with medical supplies. I regret that I didn't think to donate some money to the tent people with food. I did have some cash on me; if I go again, I'll given them a $20.

Desperate signs set up at the center and around the tents: about loss of jobs, against foreclosures, against the disastrous wars in Afghanistan or Iraq.  We didn't see many people: they were sleeping in their tents or sitting quietly near them. People smiled at us and we smiled back.

Atmosphere: earnest, grave, sincere. I urge all to go and stay a while even if you are not going to abide in the fields with them..  Swell the crowds. I no longer believe the implications of Shelley's ringing refrain: we are many and they are few -- therefore we must win.  It seems to me the few have been winning for much of history and are having a big ugly win these past 4 decades now.  But we are here and we are not going away and - if you push us too hard -- you, the few, may have to pay for it, pay an ultimate price even.

For other accounts and continuing news: huffingtonpost.com or buzzflash.com or the more thoughtful responses on
commondreams.org . All of these will lead to other links.

The very best news program on American TV can be seen online at democracynow.org --  Monday through Friday. It has truly wonderful coverage. It's also on cable in many cities. In NY it's on CUNY TV (or it used to be: I don't know for sure that it still is) and on Pacifica radio (in NY at 8 a.m. on WBAI).

**********************
More at length:  The admiral and I finally made it down to our local Occupy Wall Street. We had been wanting to (at least I had) since last weekend, but it seemed either I was visiting my mother, or had to be teaching or preparing for teaching, or it was pouring rain. The sun shone this morning; it was a beautiful, a balmy yet coolly breezy, fall day, the leaves all on the trees and bushes and yet turning colors. We made it to the train station well before 10 and we returned via the yellow line (express) to our King Street Alexandria stop. Our plan was to take the Metro from Alexandria (King Street station) to McPherson Square and walk to K and 15th, and then walk on to Pennsylvania and 13th.

DC has many squares:  these are central areas where several avenues and/or streets intersect and the exigencies of so many cars have turned into (in effect) British style roundabouts.  In the streets cars circle round a central plaza: sometimes it's a green park with benches, very occasionally a small playground; sometimes a statue on a plinth on a island of stones and cement. It was two of these areas that were being occupied. It's around these people could harangue one another, sing to one another, pass the time.

What stood out in both was the atmosphere: earnest, grave, sincere.  Occupy Wall Street consists of a quiet tent city.  When I was young, in the 1960s, I went to demonstrations against the war in Vietnam. The atmosphere was often somewhat frivolous; people there to get a kick out of this transgressive community or join in on marching (walking down 5th Avenue).  Not here. These people were not playing games. They were camped out. In both, all around it, living there. When it's cold or rains, this is not fun.

Then we walked to Pennsylvana and 13th. I thought the tent people were much more numerous on Pennsylvania and 13th than K and 15th The Admiral thought K and 15th more crowded.  This one had a long open tent with a long table on which there was food: white bread, various kinds of spreads, hot water with which you could make tea, bottled water. Lots of that.   A sign urged you to remember this was free food and come and partake. 

The signs: all about extreme economic hardships; against the laws that protect corporations and banks and enable such entities to prey on the average citizen.  Nothing about race, gender, institutions in general though black people are disproportionately bad hit at layouts and there seemed to be as many black as white people there. Everyone dressed down and out or just in casual jeans and shirts..  There was no sense that racial difference matters. This was wonderful

They were people our age and holding patterns, now fearful for their coming years.  Stop up Social Security for a while and these numbers will mulitply fearfully. Also young adults, adults in their 20s. This is a very hard hit group economically. Nothing about multiculturalism. Vistors were like ourselves, walking through, stopping to talk, to look at the signs, sitting and watching an event at the center - when these happen.

On the corner of 13th and Pennsylvania a yoga session was going on. A long central piazza mostly of cement with areas of green grass embedded. In the center was a sort of fountain. Little graveyards stones for children lost to imposed poverty. No street fights or anything like that. No police.

I found these two places  to be sombre, sober. Not many people considering what they are up against. They did have a schedule of events. A woman I saw on TV was making a new large card board sign to put up.  Later in the day would be meetings and speeches -- the yoga session had nothing to do with them. It was a regular Sunday event.

I was impressed by their lack of connection to power.  Weaponless in the metaphoric sense too.  I asked myself, what good can they do? I was touched by the sign near a couple of the tents. Military families they called themselves. They wanted Obama to talk to them.  To stop the war.  13th and Pennysylvania had begun as an anti-war rally. As these wars are going on as fearfully as ever, I felt how small this was and how weak against the powerful. It may be that we are the 99% but I've learned that what matters is who calls the score, who is in power to make laws and make them obeyed. I was also touched. How serious all this was.  How desperate are the times. Since (as someone in the London Review of Books explained) the powerful have discovered they can get away with this, they are.  All over the US are laws which make it near impossible for peolpe to organize unions and give employers full power to proseletyze against them, find out who the leaders are and fire them.

I do urge others to go and next time will bring some money to give the food and drink people. The media is there, you may be filmed.  Perhaps that may do some good if some democratic politicians with decent hearts and minds see it.

********************************
For myself though, I asked myself what good can I do?  Standing and sitting there for a while is not much. In my area I could join the Democrats and work phones it's said to persuade people to vote Democratic.  But whenever I've gotten to the point where I'm supposed to persuade people, I usually offend them. I'm far too leftist or radical in my talk without realizing it. Years ago I went to a local party and found myself in what seemed a Republican Lady Bountiful's Luncheon Party.  More out of it I couldn't be.  Do I know anything about these Virginia democrats I would be asked to talk to people on behalf of. Call people on the phone?  I'm a person who hangs up immediately upon getting such a call. I distrust all strangers calling me. Twice now recently Kaiser representatives have called me trying to scare me into buying Medicare B: it would cost the Admiral and I $1200 a year and save Kaiser money and I'd still have my co-pay too. In fact a third phone call to them delayed my going to this Occupy DC by several days.

Do I do any good writing blogs?  I doubt it's anything effective at all. I assign decent books and movies and try to move students a little in the humane enlightened direction.  went home and back to reading and grading student papers. Do remember though gentle reader I am a depressed sort of person and it takes a lot to inspire me with hope or uplift in the real or fictional world.

For the record, we are hurting hard. Izzy has not been able to get any paying job for 4 years now; she had two volunteer ones, but when she came back from Queens college, they were taken up by others. The library one was so far away and she can't drive so we gave it up. We are now hoping for a gov't Schedule A opportunity.  Each term literally a couple of dozen adjuncts are fired where I teach; my hold is very tenuous and I get less sections in the spring. The admiral lost his adjunct position after retirement 2 years ago now.

Sylvia

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
misssylviadrake
Oct. 17th, 2011 11:56 am (UTC)
Thanks for this, Ellen. I think the diversity of the crowds is due to the last half-century's fight against racism, as well as Obama's election. Now, for the first time, all kinds of people are ready to work together -- and realize they must. --Bob
misssylviadrake
Oct. 20th, 2011 03:57 am (UTC)
Occupy Des Moines
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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