This was what I found when I stepped into Zuccotti Park, ground zero of the occupy movement (located right next to the original ground zero of 9/11 in downtown NY): prayer and meditation. On the west side of the park, there were dozens of people, probably well over 100, sitting or standing in silent meditation. The air was charged with an electricity, but it was the electricity of
love and peace, not the people’s mic and many discussions and meetings I had figured I would encounter. I sunk to the ground and sat less than a foot away from the altar people continually added gifts to, and joined in the prayer and meditation. Sitting there with the others, I was so happy at how the occupiers cultivate non-violence in themselves first.
Eventually, pigeons landed and walked close to those of us on the ground. Eventually, a man rang a bell, and we looked up, bowed to each other, and stood. Eventually, a young woman called out that all of us wanting to look at gender issues should go to the steps at the other end of the park because Eve Ensler was going to speak with us.
I headed toward the gender discussion, but first I walked along the kitchen, library, food service, clothing area (anyone could take whatever they needed), sleeping areas, huddles and circles of people meeting, sleeping, visiting, singing. When I got to the other end, I found myself in a crowd echoing the words of a gospel singer and rap performer, both of whom sang with such soul about the power of music to lift us up. I wandered around the southern edge of the park and found Tibetan monks playing music and chanting, a class warrior (complete with Viking gear), and then some of my people, fellow Jews.
They had a Lulav (a strange fruit, looks like a giant lemon) and Etrog (palm-like leaves), so I walked up to them. “Hey, what are you guys doing?” I asked. They lit up and answered me with a question (it’s a Jewish thing): “Are you Jewish?” I told them I was, and in no time, I was saying some Sukkot prayers with them and shaking the Etrog and Lulav. Then we spent ample time taking pictures of each other and ourselves.
I crossed back through the park and found women and men tight together on some steps, and one woman in the center, dressed in black of course (New York city color of choice) and looking like Eve Ensler. It was Eve Ensler, and she held up transcripts of stories she collected from women and girls at the occupation. She was here to get more stories, and I stayed long enough to participate as part of the people’s mic and learn a lot of the hand signals the occupiers are using. I also heard about two childcare centers in the occupation, one of which knew nothing of the other, and how Friday was a family fun night sleep-over party.
Everywhere I looked, people made eye contact, said hello, sometimes even smiled. I shook hands with a man from North Dakota and told him I was from Kansas. A long line formed with t-shirts in hand to have a team of silk-screeners put “We are the 99%” on them. Grandmothers knitted for peace. Young couples held each other, and many circles of people met in between the occasional people napping in the middle of the chaos and creativity.
After I left, I saw an old man pulling an old woman down the street, yelling at her, “Shut up already.” Someone cut in front of me. No one smiled or repeated what someone else was saying. The rest of the world, just as I had left it, wasn’t configured the way of the occupation, so no wonder that the main criticism everyone has about this movement has to do with how little of it translates into clear soundbites. But then, that’s why there is an occupation in the first place: to be the change so many of us seek.