New smells, old smells

May 4, 2012 5:12 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

In the 60’s I assigned myself the meditation of walking extremely slowly down 14th Street, Greenwich Village’s northern border, to Union Square, allowing my senses to notice acrid smells, loud sounds, crowded store windows – but not letting my mind grab for any of it. I wrote a play, “Interview,” part of “America Hurrah,” that takes place on 14th Street. These days I buy fresh produce on the Square at the farmers market, take a “power yoga” class north of the Square on Broadway at 17th.

Tuesday, May Day, 2012, on the Square to participate in Occupy Wall Street, I’m struck by the Square’s apt name. At 2:00 PM, few Occupiers are here yet, though police have erected aluminum barricades. On the ground an enthusiastic muscular male skillfully squirts fistfuls of powdered chalk to elaborate his brightly colored drawing circled with protest words. Like a Tibetan Buddhist sand mandala, his art is a microcosm of the world – instructional, inspirational, impermanent as a sand castle by the sea, leaving an imprint in the mind, hopefully to return another day in another form.

On the south end of the square, by 14th Street, immigrant and union groups speak stridently over loudspeakers. I prefer “mike-check” – one voice rhythmically multiplied by many, like the chorus in ancient Greek amphitheaters.

With my friend Josh, a film-maker, and his friend Alex, a clown, both thirty, I stroll north past the silvery statue of Andy Warhol. I knew Andy. Weird that he’s a statue now, a monument to financial success in the arts. Hopefully the era of glorifying an individual’s amassment of wealth is passing, the era of wearing fashionable corporate logos.

At 23rd Street, where this morning professors held open classes, groups of students stream out of Madison Square Park, heading south to Union Square and Wall Street. The first group rushes across the street waving black flags, like pirates. Slow down, I want to tell them.

Another group is led by an elegant gray puppet, torso of the Statue of Liberty. People hold succinct hand-made signs protesting corporate takeover, Citizens United, Bank of America…

Several establishment-looking types clad in baseball whites skip by singing, “Take me out to the tax game…,” carrying nets with holes symbolizing tax loopholes. Their song is catchy. If a picture is worth a thousand words, so is a song.

Veterans Against War command the street, carefully hemmed in by police. The slowly walking veterans also command respect. But no-one really “marches” in a military sense. This is a pensive peaceful purposeful walk on a beautiful May afternoon, a common sense stroll with neighbors. Joining the procession alone, walking back to Union Square without my friends, I’m buoyed by the good cheer of people around me freely talking to strangers (unusual on New York streets). We are a large community bound by the desire to non-violently replace the political structure, however long that may take.

People walking today seem in a different place than when protesting last fall. Is it fair to say that expectations are lower in terms of time? People are now in OWS for the long haul, speaking out not as a desperate one-time shot but as a disciplined practice, to be repeated and repeated. Eventually the path becomes the goal.

So Occupy Wall Street is not disappearing as the oligarchs had hoped. Billionaire Mayor Bloomberg’s taking away the people’s right to tents and sleeping bags in Zucotti Park merely advanced OWS’s evolution into a long-term growing alternative way of thinking, being.

Corporations run the American government, promote the rich, buy the election of their candidates, wage perpetual costly war, maintain a thousand sprawling military bases around the globe, reduce social services, eliminate privacy, emasculate civil rights, keep universal health care off the table, protect banks, endanger earth itself by polluting for profit, stifle media by owning it, fill privately-owned jails with young black males, deny the rights of immigrants, prosecute whistle blowers…

Alternatively, non-hierarchical, hydra-headed Occupy Wall Street appears here and there unexpectedly, like a good fairy, to save homes from foreclosure, challenge opportunism, promote human rights.

As far as I can see, OWS in general remains non-violent, truth-telling, above partisan politics. Yes, there’s violence in Oakland, but Oakland is extremely poor with raw bleeding wounds, a history of violence, and a formerly liberal mayor ineptly repressive.

In New York, the center of empire, on Broadway I notice a couple of police laughing with walkers. When most police laugh with us, then the corporate walls will come crumbling down. On December 22, 2012 – the end of the Mayan calendar, the predicted “end of history” and start of a new paradigm – we may just notice “it” has already begun. Occupy Wall Street and the burgeoning, altruistic, playful, persistent, subtle awareness engendering it, is born. May it change the world.


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This post was written by Jean Claude van Itallie

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