Currently I’m sitting on the 3rd floor of a space generously donated to Occupy Detroit by LAX, a super hip tri-level nightclub in Detroit. The DJs are setting up at a DJ booth surrounded by blindingly bright LEDs that combined with the deep subwoofers here could easily put you into a trance if you stare at them for too long. The owner, Omar, is dressed in a sharp black suit with a yellow tie and is making his rounds upstairs, making sure everything is meticulously prepared for a party that supposedly started 20 minutes ago. Omar is a businessman and a Detroiter who has provided the backbone for operations here at Occupy Detroit, giving us space for our working group meetings, a place to warm up as the cold Detroit winter prepares to set in, and most importantly, a place for us to piss! The party is a fundraiser to help open the doors of his business back up to the public and a chance to relax and have some fun for all who are living across the street in Grand Circus Park.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, I need to start at Day 0. This is post one on day 24 of my dedication to the #Occupy movements, on day 40 of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and day 13 for Occupy Detroit which stands in solidarity with those on Wall Street so let’s rewind for a second! *cue sound effect*
I Thought Young People Sucked
My political awakening has been one of an entire lifetime. One of my very earliest memories is of my mother reading a poll in a newspaper in the living room I grew up in, explaining to me who the President was (Reagan, at the time), and why it was such an important job. Fast forward a few years and my father is in the same living room with me in front of the TV trying to explain to five-year-old me why we were bombing the fuck out of Iraq and Kuwait. I believe that may have been the first time I attempted to comprehend the great injustices in the world, a topic I still grapple with each day. The next two decades -most notably the past decade, as we’ve watched our civil liberties wither in front of our faces and as America enacts great feats of oppression across the world- filled me with a sense of frustration and helplessness as I learned more about how our government works, how it’s supposed to work, and how that fits into a global system of bullshit. Most alarming of all was how few people in my generation seemed to understand what was really happening, at least in the larger scope of things. After all, we’re the internet generation. We’re the generation engrossed and self-absorbed in Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, our iPods/iPhones, video games, and reality TV shows. I felt we were a generation lost, too complacent, distracted, and ill-equipped to truly create any sort of political change. All our lives, we as “young people” had been told that “we’re the future”, but if that were true, then why the balls weren’t young people attempting to shape the future?
But yes, there I was, over three weeks ago now, in front of the same computer I’m typing this on and watching videos of hundreds of young people being arrested for standing on a bridge. This new and confusing movement I had just become aware of a matter of days beforehand was under attack, and suddenly, everything about Occupy Wall Street made sense to me; young people were attempting to shape the future! At the time, there hadn’t been a lot of press coverage. I hesitate to call it a “media blackout”, but there was limited information in comparison to now. The message was clear though; a group of twenty-somethings had gathered to protest Wall St’s unchecked political influence wielded through crony capitalism and ownership of political institutions, and really, who can’t get behind that message? But now they had just called attention to the Orwellian Police State’s existence and how our first amendment rights were truly under attack right in front of our faces (although I suppose this wasn’t really a question beforehand). I can’t quite describe the feeling I got as it all came into focus, it was pretty much something like “Fuck. Yes.” It was like an explosion inside of me. I was on board; I was compelled as if I had no choice. Occupy Wall Street had gotten serious attention and I was ready to help spread their message. Less than 24 hours later, I found myself on my way to the Manhattan financial district with a resignation letter sent to my boss, waiting for him to find that morning when he checked his email.
First Impressions/Holy Fuck, It’s the Police State!
Being one of those internet-generation types, I of course saw the Tony Bologna video (above) almost as soon as it happened. “Fucking pigs.”, I thought to myself. Not that I have any disrespect for those fine individuals who aspire to help protect and serve the public, in addition to having multiple family members who are “[insert city]’s finest”, I do truly believe the majority of people who become police officers are doing so because they are good people who want to do good in the world. But nevertheless, they are the face of an institution that has turned on it’s subordinates, illegitimately existing to support the two-tiered justice system, to protect and serve the power elite, while (what many internet memes detailing police brutality jokingly refer to as) protecting and serving the shit out of the
powerless. rest of us. But in light of all the unnecessary use of force exercised by the various police forces, it’s important to remember that they’re the 99% too. Any time you get large groups of people together in a political-protest setting, you’re going to get protestors who just want to instigate with police, and also police who just want to instigate with protestors (I condemn both groups). That’s why it’s so important for Occupiers to remember that this is a non-violent, peaceful protest. The best part is that we have.
One of the reasons I was so concerned about the Brooklyn Bridge incident was because my good friend Nathanael was on it! I called him the day after to see if he had been arrested and make sure he was okay, and also as a sanity-check for myself. After describing this whirlwind of feelings I had experienced in the past 24 hours to him and how I was thinking of quitting my job to come support the cause and the message, “Should I come out there?” I asked. “Yes. I think you’ll really like it here.” was his reply. That was pretty much all I needed to hear. “Call Byron, he wants to come too!” Next thing I knew, I was in a car with two companions on our way to become Occupiers.
We arrived in Manhattan in the middle of the afternoon and parked at a lot with one of those crazy car elevator things about nine blocks away from Liberty Plaza which we hadn’t seen yet. The attendant noticed we had an unusually large amount of shit including camping gear and asked if we were on our way to Occupy Wall Street. We told him we were, and he expressed his support to us. On our way out, I attempted to tip him and he declined it, reiterating his support for what we were doing. As we walked down the street, a young woman passed by us and let out an exuberant “Yaaaayyyy!” after asking us if we were camping at the park. She gave us directions and we were on our way and I was already grinning from the rush of being in New York City along with the good tidings from the first two New Yorkers we encountered (because everyone knows New Yorkers are a buncha jerks! ha ha). My grin got even wider as we grew closer, the sounds of the drum circle (which I would later grow to despise) echoing along the canyons of buildings that make up the financial district.
That grin disappeared the second we turned the corner as Liberty Plaza came into view. A row of police cars and vans, capped off with an NYPD surveillance tower bordered one side of the park, and a perimeter of blue-shirts surrounded the plaza, with 2-3 stationed every 20-30 feet. It was a startling contrast to the festivities happening inside the park, and we pushed our way through the crowd to meet up with Nathanael. After the initial shock of seeing so many police officers in one place wore off, I took a look around me and realized that in front of me was everything I had hoped to find and so much more; not only was this a peaceful gathering of politically-minded people, which I almost immediately found was a completely accurate cross-section of America’s ideological beliefs, it was a bustling community with it’s own infrastructure! People stood in front of bins of books under a sign marked “Library” and a station handing out clothes and blankets had been set up next to a group of people bearing red crosses ready to assist with medical emergencies. Others patiently waited to be served food from a well-stocked kitchen area and in front of them, groups of people sat hunched around laptops, getting OWS’ message out across the internet. While taking all of this in, someone pushed a broom across the concrete past me with a nametag marked “Sanitation”, it was then that I realized there were three others wandering the park, sweeping up cigarette butts and other trash dropped by visitors to the park.
Nathanael found us soon after, and showed us to where he had set up camp. And for the first time in a very long time, I felt home.
(That’s all for now. I’m gonna go see if this party is kickin’ downstairs!)
*some names have been changed for privacy and shit