I sit at the altar at Occupy Wall Street, drumming nearby, but not the usual bongo deal but instead a combination of several drum sets with some Afro-Cuban drumming. A young woman in a furry tan hood lies close by, talking into her phone. A young man sits on the marble bench in half-lotus, deep in meditation. Around the circle, one man smokes a hand-rolled cigarette while another sleeps, his head dropped on his crossed arms on top of his backpack. Meanwhile, a beautiful old man in dreadlocks bends to pet a pug dog.
Around the perimeter, visitors and regulars stand at the gate and film what’s happening. Tourists walk through, giving out money or bringing in clothes or food. Double-decker tour buses pause to look down into the occupation where a man in a suit holds a Tibetan flag as large as him.
I eat a pear I plucked out of a food bin in the center where a crew continually serves whoever is hungry. When I donated some books to the library, I found the books organized according to genre and subject, the whole library burgeoning with words. Then I saw more of the occupation’s infrastructure: a think tank (a box people can put paper into), a notary public, a sanitation station, a health center.
I want to say to the occupiers both “Thank you” and “Please stay.” They are living in a ceremonial village, holding the light high enough to show us how difficult making change is, how most societal issues and causes are interwoven, and how all they’re protesting comes from a core of tangled motives and lost values at the center of our economy. They show us that this is not a movement about a single demand or list of demands, but one about how and why we need to live differently. And they call for us as a culture to look at how, in the last 30 years, wealth has been drastically redistributed at the expense of the human and other-than-human communities of this earth.
So while they’re sleeping on the ground, getting arrested, trying to catch a nap in the middle of lines of tourists snapping their photos or washing dishes in the rain, I hope they know that, just like the young man I saw today holding up the sign that said, “I love you,” I love them too as well as many of us. And we’re infinitely grateful for their vision and courage.