After a few weeks of intensive writing and reflection, I return to New York City for a court date following my February “Foreclosure Auction Blockade” Occupy-related arrest. Nearly 40 of us pack the courtroom. Energy vibrates through the air. One of the officers in the room laughs and jokes with us as we wait for the presiding judge; he recognizes many of us because we are here so frequently. “So…” he reads our charges. “You willfully disrupted a court session by…singing and clapping, and you directly disobeyed a lawful order to desist.” We cheer. Other officers stare at us. When the cheering finally subsides, our lawyer clears his throat. “Uhh…that should not be taken as an admission of guilt.” The proceedings go quickly; we all walk out with ACDs that won’t be reopened, which basically means the disorderly conduct charges will all be dropped six months from now. We sing the “Listen Auctioneer” song as we walk out, and the cops shake their heads and suppress smiles. We all part ways outside the courthouse, and once again I am alone in the city.
Right now New York City is a strange and somewhat rough place for me to be.
It’s hard for me to talk or write about it. Or even think about it clearly. After three and a half months of this strange and intensive work, how do I begin to separate my feelings about New York from my feelings about Occupy Wall Street? I knew New York before Occupy, but never so intimately, and now the entire city is charged with the memories of that time and that lifestyle. The way I know this place is tinted by the peculiarities of this experience; the knowledge of a city gained living at street level as an activist, heading to churches lugging garbage bags of food salvaged from dumpsters, not knowing where I’d sleep next week or how I’d be able to keep sustaining myself. And how do I separate my feelings about OWS as a movement from my own personal experience there? Yes, I can still talk about the politics of the protests, where things might be headed, what impact the movement has already had on the world. But I’m left feeling a blend of things I can’t articulate—fond or brutal nostalgia for how beautiful and important the time was to me, as I hold on to the moments I have perhaps chosen to selectively remember—the General Assemblies when things actually worked and people listened to each other and collectively embraced revolutionary ideas; the goose bumps that rippled across my body when I heard the chants of thousands of people marching through the streets, all fearlessly standing up for something they believed in; climbing out onto the scaffolding outside the window of the office late at night while planning actions; the sense of purpose, albeit short-lived; the ephemeral community, the moments of camaraderie and selfless generosity that made me not just believe but know that changing the world might actually be possible. And I’m also left with a sad emptiness, knowing that my personal role in this thing is over, considering the relationships that didn’t pan out the way I’d hoped, thinking about the way things ended here for me, the way it felt like giving up when I walked away from it all. And then there are the horrible memories that will stick with me even if I’d rather they wouldn’t; the violence and police brutality and absolutely fucked moments of incomprehensible injustice, tears of anger, silenced voices, irreconcilable disagreements, the moments that, though rare, at their worst actually made me want to give up hope on humanity and the world.
Yet even all of these words mean nothing, this is too neat and clean and comprehensible, none of this has anything to do with what I’m really trying to say, what being in this city is actually doing to me. I walk past the old buildings, the Occupied Office, long shut down, the park, long emptied out, the McDonalds where we used to use the bathroom, and I sense the demons I left here, purposelessness and not-belonging, lurking in the shadows of forgotten hallways, crouching beneath cold marble tables that once held hopes and dreams and mounds of donated blankets and food, taking faceless form in the thick steam billowing up from tubes that plunge into the heart and memories of screeching trains. Dangerous fragments of memory remain snagged on the sharp corners of this city; the police barricades; the tables in coffee shops where I’d take refuge from the cold and the sensation of homelessness; the clearing in Penn Station where I waited for someone when she returned to New York and the stairs where we sat beside each other when I was leaving, when no words were left so I tried to explain with my kiss but failed to communicate the things I needed to; the subway stations through which I used to drag those bags of dumpstered food past metal turnstiles on my way to the church, whichever one I happened to be staying at that night. When I wander too near these places, when I just stand anywhere in the city of New York and feel its throbbing energy, utterly indifferent to my presence, I feel an incomprehensible mixture of sadness and wistful confusion and a strange urgent unsettling restless anxiety and I sense that I cannot stay here for long.