Wednesday, October 12, 2011

“There is no one-liner for this thing...”

While I’m still charged with The Feeling:

I just walked in the door from spending an hour-plus at the Occupy SF encampment in front of the Federal Reserve Building in downtown San Francisco. It’s raining here today, not hard, sometimes just a drizzle. Tarps were strung in the overhead trees, keeping some of the encampment dry. There were 50-75 people in attendance. I wore a sport coat and dress pants and dress shoes and a white shirt and blue tie, to try to give some varied texture to the scene.

I stood in the line of about 25 sign-holders along the curb and held as high as possible my sign (one side says, “We are the 99%,” the other side says, “Police, too, are part of the 99%.”) In the hour I was there, not thirty seconds passed without a car, bus, taxi, or streetcar blasting encouragement.

The three women nearest me introduced themselves as grandmothers from Berkeley, and said they’d been waiting for this movement for decades now.

A woman named Penny, somewhere in my age range, came over and worked her way in among us: “I thought I’d join my age group,” she laughed. Her story, which she said she’d shared with Channel 7 a few minutes earlier: “Fifteen years ago my husband and I bought a ranch up in Tehama County. He’s a heavy equipment operator. I’m a teacher with a Masters degree. We put three kids through college. Now neither of us has been able to find any work in three years. and we just. . . We just lost the ranch. I bought a bus ticket down here. I had to be here. I’m staying with one of my kids who lives here in town.”

The chatter around camp was about the media (Channel 2 was leaving just as I arrived) continually asking, What’s this about? What do you people want? One of the grandmothers said, “It’s so big. . . Everything is connected to everything else.” Penny said she told Channel 7, “There is no one-liner for this thing.” I told her I think that may wind up being this thing’s one-liner. While we were talking, Channel 7 was interviewing one of the long-haired campers. After he’d had a microphone in his face for ten solid minutes, a guy behind me muttered, “If they use anything he says, it’ll be the six seconds that makes him look the stupidest.”

I’m sure it was because I was dressed so fancy, that several people approached me and asked if I knew how this thing is organized? What’s going on? Is there a calendar? I said I have come here just about every day for the past ten days, but it’s the young people who sleep here each night who are the key, the heart and soul of this thing. And if you ask them, they’ll say they’re just taking it day to day, trying to hold the space, and waiting for the cavalry, the rest of the 99%, to do what’s in their hearts, and fill in behind.

[Last night, in my own Oakland neighborhood, a black woman who sells Street Sheet newspapers, told me, “I seen you with your sign the other day. That’s good. Even Obama’s talking about it now. Once you white people get angry, something’ll happen.”]

Before I left, I sat down in the drum and guitar circle, wearing my coat and tie, just as the group was starting up Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” which I first heard when I was 13. (“Once upon a time you dressed so fine, you threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you?”) Between lines the guy next to me -- he was 25-ish and had hair down to his shoulders -- and I had a conversation. He started it: “How you doin’, brother?” (“scrounging your next me-aaalll!”) I thanked him for spending the nights here for those of us who are too old or (“you’re gonna have to get USED to it!”) too bought off to do it ourselves. He said, “Thanks for coming, we need the wisdom.” I said, “I’m not sure I’ve got any of that (“took from you everything he could stee-aall!”) but I’ve still got a body, and I (“HOW does it feel?”) can still come down here and hold up a sign once a day.”

In fact, it’s the thing I most look forward to when I wake up each day now.


And now, let’s see if the counter has moved from 112, where it was when I left to go in to the city three hours ago. (First, a note about the counter. I don’t have as much control over this counter as I’ve had with the counters on previous events. A couple of you have sent me emails saying that you are coming, and you’re bringing one or two or three more people, or a carload, but the others haven’t signed up. If that is your situation, please send me an email, and tell me how many unregistered people are coming with you. Thanks.) And now, let’s see: 114. Well, it is what it is. Still waiting for the cavalry.

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