First light in New York City: against a clear cold blue rests a deep indigo skyline, touched with eastern vermilion. Winter is settling upon Occupy Wall Street. Occupy Wall Street is settling into a slower and more introspective pace. I’ve been here for a couple months now and I may have dived in too far too fast. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was a wandering traveler? I suddenly find myself a full-time NYC-based homeless activist. There seems to be a cycle among us here, falling in and then pulling back every so often to remember our identities apart from this existence. It’s dangerous sometimes, it feels so easy to get lost in all of this. All of us who came here, moved to a new city with nothing; most of us have nowhere to stay and hardly any money. College grads and hispanics and transgendered black men/women and street kids and angry trust funders and old women and we all look the same when we march in the streets together. We all came for different reasons but we all came for the same thing. I work in an office now, some days. I sit behind a desk and answer phones and send out mass text messages and help coordinate political actions. I have only one pair of jeans and both knees are ripped open.
One year ago I was fasting in the desert, near the beginning of a journey that would extend for thousands and thousands of miles. On this New Year’s Eve I was in the middle of a mass riot trying to unarrest people and dropping to my knees to shout between cops’ legs, trying to get the names of people whose faces were pressed into the ground so that I could pass the names along to our legal team. The night ended at eight in the morning in a subway station. I walked upstairs and around the cold sunlit streets for a minute and then took a subway up to Port Authority where I lay down on the floor for twenty minutes then was woken up by a cop. Upstairs on the chairs I slept for an hour more before the cop rattled the metal shutter behind my head and told me to get outside. I took the 7 to Grand Central and slept sitting up on a wooden bench. When I woke up a few hours later, there was a bum asleep next to me and another guy on my other side drinking a forty out of a paper bag. I left the station and walked to a coffee shop feeling very homeless and with my heavy coat and bag and dreads flying probably looking it to the people in this cafe on New Year’s Day. Then my phone, almost dead, rang, and I picked it up. “OWS Communications Hub, this is Dave. Yeah, I’ll be in the office in a couple hours. I could send out a text blast asking people to show up for jail support. How many were arrested last night? Ok yeah, I could just head over to the courthouse right now if you want.” When I hung up, the people were looking at me strangely.
Relationships form quickly here. Nothing builds a friendship quite like standing in front of a wall of riot police and linking arms to form a soft lock human barricade. There’s something pretty strong about the trauma bonding that occurs when you watch your friends being dragged away and slammed into the ground with police knees in the backs of their necks. In jail together, we forget about the fact that none of us really knows anything about each other or where we came from or why we came here or what lives were left behind.
In contrast with my life on the road, here I always feel busy. Answering phones and coordinating meetings, blasting out information over the mass text system, helping people connect with each other, filling new contact info into our spreadsheets, putting together events and teach-ins. The kitchen working group calls. Their usual driver isn’t picking up his phone; can I find them a driver who will transport dinner? Housing calls. They need to know how late the church is open and whether there is space for two more tonight, just in from Occupy Chicago. Someone on the ground calls. There is a heavy police presence at the park and arrests are imminent, can I get media down there and blast out a request for people to come and support? One night the General Assembly was harassed by cops and kicked out of a public space. I watched the video and it was crazy. The police were threatening to arrest people if they didn’t disperse, and in the background there was a sign that said ‘this space is open to the public.’ I called someone from facilitation and overnight we put together a plan. The GA would be held in the same space the following night. I contacted the National Lawyers Guild, our media team, press, city council members, and a human rights lawyer, and I blasted out over ComHub that we needed a massive turnout so that this GA could be a defense of our right to assemble in public spaces. Direct Action would be there to coordinate a mass sit-in if necessary and we were all prepared to be arrested if that’s what it came down to.
In the evenings I sleep in a church or on a kitchen floor or in the bus station. Sometimes when I’m closing my eyes on a wooden pew, rain is falling on the church roof. In the morning, through stained glass, the church is aflame with rain-streaked sunlight. Or sometimes I sleep on the subway or in the emergency room waiting area or at the ferry terminal or draped over the tables in the public atrium where working groups hold their meetings. I spent last night in a home with a friendly cat. Before curling up on the couch, I opened a book that I haven’t read. The pages were so thin. How can something so fragile hold so many ideas? Losing myself inside the world created by somebody else’s words is also something that’s important to me, and it helps me remember. I talked to somebody today who was telling me about people he loves who have died and he was talking normally but tears were falling out of his eyes. There are things here, so many things every day, that make me feel old, that remind me how real and serious this is. The office phone rang at 11:40PM the other night. It was a young girl with a fragile voice. Is this ComHub? Yes. Are you with Occupy Wall Street? Yes, this is the communications hub for Occupy Wall Street. Ok…I need your help. Can you help me? I can try. What’s up? My mom and I are getting evicted next week. She was quiet for a moment. Can you help?
It’s one in the morning and I am still at the office. Earlier tonight I opened the window and climbed out onto the scaffolding and smoked a cigarette with twelve stories of nothing beside me. And now I am listening to Sigur Ros and writing this and in the room next door people are making signs for an action tomorrow and it is almost certain that some of them will be in jail 24 hours from now and they all know it and they are still laughing and drinking coffee and making signs. It doesn’t really matter what happens to us anymore, if we have to get arrested in the course of standing up for what we believe in, so be it, what other choice do we have? Maybe that’s why they’re afraid of us, because we’re not afraid of them. I’m sleeping on the floor behind the desk in this office tonight, then waking up in a few hours and doing this all over again. None of us have any idea how long this all will last for. But most of us sense that if we were going to leave, we already would have by now. This is it. This movement is the most important thing that has happened in our lifetimes and nothing can make us stop. We distract ourselves sometimes by complaining about the food or arguing about MetroCards. But then we remember; there are those things that make this real. Spokes Council was interrupted tonight. “Excuse me,” someone called out. “But I have an emergency announcement.” The room turned to him. “Occupy protesters in Nigeria are currently being shot at with live ammunition and tear gas.” There was dead silence in the room.