“We Are Unstoppable; Another World Is Possible”
Each day at Occupy Philly brings new surprises, and sometimes those surprises come at just the right moment. The three-week anniversary of the occupation this past Thursday—yesterday—was rainy, gray, and chilly, and it seemed as if weariness was etched on everyone’s faces. There were more conflicts than usual, and a bunch of regular folks on various hardworking working groups decided they needed a break, including me. Rather than celebrating our staying power—and people power—on our anniversary day, it felt like our newborn do-it-ourselves community was experiencing a collective slump.
But tonight, a day later, Occupy Philly reached a height. After her keynote talk at UPenn as part of the Critical Refusals conference at UPenn, Angela Davis joined some thousand people, including many of us occupiers, to march the mile or so downtown so that she could address the occupation. People instantly took to the streets around UPenn, and various cheers and chants rose up through the crowd, including “This is what a flash mob looks like,” and we seemed to only grow in numbers as we reached our occupied plaza. People from the plaza converged with those arriving. Bikes, fists, and flags were raised into the air as we circled city hall plaza, and people loudly proclaimed, again and again, “We Are Unstoppable; Another World Is Possible,” then merged into the waiting throng already at the occupation.
Angela got up on our small stage where we hold general assemblies each night, and for perhaps the first time at our three-week-and-a-day-old occupation, there were so many people that even with the amplified microphone, she couldn’t be heard. The people’s mic repetition of her brief & spirited talk had to ripple back in two or three waves. She spoke about all the things people are struggling against, in line with movements that have struggled before us, but also all the things we are creating in the here and now, in the unity of our differences. She advocated prison abolition in general and gave a shout-out in particular to Decarcerate PA here in Philly. Angela linked occupations across this continent and world in solidarity, particularly Wall Street to Occupy Philly to Oakland, invoking the call from her hometown for a general strike on November 2. And she quoted Audre Lord as well as Herbert Marcuse, the focus of the conference at UPenn, only increasing the sense of the eros at the heart of this occupy everything movement sweeping the world into tonight’s buoyant gathering at our occupation.
So many times during her talk, we occupiers, and those new to our space of self-activity, broke into spontaneous applause and shouts of enthusiasm. Many of us occupiers who have been here together since the start, forging trust and building a partial new world–many of us who only met three weeks ago, strangers from all sorts of perspectives and genders and skin colors–hugged, high fived, and kissed each other during the march and Angela’s talk, as if we all suddenly felt a collective pride in a way we haven’t had time to notice, much less mark yet. We looked into each other eyes with a joy of creation. We haven’t been “demanding the impossible,” as they did in 1968, which so many academics mentioned at today’s Critical Refusals conference; instead, we have been doing something even better: “realizing the impossible.” The joy of our work here–our work of love and life, not compulsion and death–washed over us this Friday night in Philly.
As Angela wrapped up her talk, with a Marcuse quote ending with the word “dialectics”–expressing the incredible unfolding of this unexpected movement–many occupiers started chanting “General Strike! General Strike! General Strike!” punctuated by “This is what democracy looks like.” Some of our direct action working group jumped on the stage with another people’s mic after Angela’s talk, and we repeated together how beautiful we all are, how much we welcome the new people into our space tonight, and how we want them here tomorrow, every day, every hour, every minute, and to bring their friends. “Stay! Stay! Stay!” chanted a group of us occupiers. I also heard that a group of folks decided to march to South Philly after this, in solidarity with people impacted with the new citywide extension (just voted on this past Thursday by City Council) of the curfew law targeting youth–particularly poor youth and youth of color.
Suddenly tonight, the surprise again was the reminder that what has begun to seem like our own little insular world—with all its highs and lows and innovations—is opening up to a whole new world. And the whole world is, surprisingly, suddenly, opening up to our potential. And this evening I’m grateful to Angela and all the others who have struggled for freedom, including all of us who are doing so now, as we begin to test out freedom as embodied common practices in common spaces of our own making, across this city, across the continent, and reaching around the globe.