Outside the Circle

Cindy Milstein

Occupation in Philly, Day 41 (November 15)

We’re on the Side of History for a Change–for Change

Contrary to rumors–which should never be believed, especially about social movements, which are always targeted by those in power, precisely as a way to destroy those movements–Occupy Philly is not divided. We are diverse, and by and large we coexist in that diversity. It’s sometimes hard work, because we’re learning how to be better people who are also learning how to create a better society.

So if a handful of people within OP who are either police, manipulated by police, or just interested in always getting their own way, and if a handful of powerful politicians, police commanders, and wealthy elites try to foment division in order to control and destroy “occupy everything,” that shouldn’t be surprising. Those few want to maintain their power or the status quo of things like, say, patriarchy.

They are willing to do anything to win. We aren’t.

We want to create a new world by acting humanely, with care and dignity and love, and we want to do-it-ourselves together. That’s the divide: between those who want to control others and those of us who want to organize our lives together to create an egalitarian world.

We are beautiful. So is this movement, this moment, when contrary to the sleekly packaged “no-change” change of the Barack Obamas and Steven Jobs of this world, or the callous greed of those who have profited mightily from the economic “crisis,” or the police they send in to teargas, club, or pepperspray us, to trample our tents and trash our books, our “movement cannot be evicted,” as Occupy Wall Street asserted at 1:36 a.m. EST on November 15, as Zuccotti Park was being cleared by cops.

I’ve not been able to stop thinking about this brief communique, which I read in between jumping from the livestream images of OWS in the wee hours of this morning and Facebook, mainstream media, and Web sites. Somehow, when that first text came that OWS was being raided, I couldn’t believe it. As if OWS were so iconic that it was somehow, miraculously, beyond reach. Then I got this sinking feeling–that it was all over, because OWS was so symbolic–and that the next text would be from my friends still down at Occupy Philly, saying that our time had now come.

But no, in the midst of the OWS kitchen working group crouching on the ground while chemical spray wafted over them, it became clear that no matter what the mayor of New York City, in coordinated conversation with other mayors (and the FBI and Homeland Security) of other cities that just evicted occupations (Austin, Oakland, Chapel Hill, Tulsa, Denver, and Portland), “some politicians may physically remove us from public spaces — our spaces — and, physically, they may succeed. But we are engaged in a battle over ideas. Our idea is that our political structures should serve us, the people — all of us, not just those who have amassed great wealth and power,” the OWS communique continued. “You cannot evict an idea whose time has come.”

What emerged from the smoke and sticks and subway shutdowns meant to quell OWS was not the breaking of spirits, the loss of ideas and momentum, and most important, the evisceration about what’s perhaps most threatening about “occupy everything”: direct action, not to stop those things we don’t like from happening–yes, they can indeed use physical violence to retake our patches of concrete–but to directly participate as equals in the self-organization and self-governance of the entirety of our cooperatively occupy lives, from working groups to general assemblies to our libraries, whether of 5,000 or 50 books. What emerged was the affirmation that we’re already starting to do the world we want to see. That’s the idea of occupy–the idea they can’t evict, the idea that inspires us occupiers and so many millions more who are emboldened by it to change their lives in the places that they are, unwittingly, reoccupying in tiny yet extraordinary ways.

And what we saw from OWS on the immediate heels of its displacement–even while it was still unfolding–was how naturalized this new culture of collective self-direction has become. Those who weren’t being arrested quickly went to a nearby park and dived into a general assembly, to decide what to do together, and the next morning while trying to occupy a new location, an assembly sprang up again. People came up with all sorts of imaginative ideas, such as using shield-signs as both protection from police batons and messaging to the world, and engaged in all sorts of self-activity to reassert this movement’s aspirations–embodied, for one, in the communique that I and likely thousands or even millions of others found so beautiful, not because I agree with every word or sentence, but instead because the few who benefit from the current social order throw power and brutality and destruction at us, and we just pile on more and more empowerment and humanity and creativity.

As all eyes were on OWS last night and into today, hundreds of us here at Occupy Philly felt this tension, this anxiety: now it’s our turn. Rumors flew, yet again, about possible eviction times and where riot cops where hiding. Various mainstream media and various city officials laid the vilification of Occupy Philly on extra thick, whipping up fear of a raid and trying to turn the public against us with various lies–lies I trust that the public can see through, but who knows. Yet rather than anger or being scared or retreating, hundreds of us–with friends, working groups, caucuses, and in other configurations–went into a frenzy of self-organizing, all geared to showcase what’s best about what we’ve made, and to do it in the best new ways we’ve learned.

Who knows if they’ll evict us. Perhaps our city’s occupation wasn’t “good” enough to be on the list of coordinated assaults that the mayors discussed and evidently decided on, with their buddies in the FBI and Homeland Security. Who knows if they’ll wait it out until the snowflakes settle and we can’t bear the cold of occupying outside commons. Or who knows if the “happy coincidence” of Philly’s government finding useful “allies” in those handful here who haven’t gotten their way all the time, who haven’t gotten to control what millions around the world understand as a open and participatory movement, and now like spoiled kids, want to take their toys (such as lighting for the GA stage to the city permits to the Facebook page) with them will create a “partnership” that successfully discredits us, despite all their untruths.

Tonight, seeing all the good-hearted occupiers at our general assembly, and having so many of them rush up to me afterward to tell me about all the beautiful things they’ve created and want to create to both defend and enhance this idea–the living idea of a directly democratic world–I know too that we’re way beyond eviction now. It doesn’t matter. We’re not here to hang onto a bleak slab of concrete; we’re here to change the world, with various occupations as our testing grounds for so many other places and spaces. We’ve already housed ourselves, steadfastly, building a home of lofty literature, a moral economy, a caring community, empathetic selves, and so much more through all the forms of self-determination that we’re determining with each other, and these forms are also, at once, the tools we are using to build an even loftier world almost daily, in tiny and yet extraordinary ways.

I’m going to ignore the camp inhabited by those few who desire control over others, and remember–because OWS, and for that matter Occupy Austin, Occupy Oakland, Occupy Chapel Hill, Occupy Denver, Occupy Tulsa, and Occupy Portland reminded me yet again–and indeed embrace with newfound joy as well as appreciation the far, far more expansive camp that we’ve only just begun to assemble with ideas whose time has come, but that already are far, far more compelling than the present disaster of capitalism. Our ideas will only get better. Theirs will only bring more more misery.

As I unlocked my bicycle to head into the warm night air of fall to meet up with a friend, far on the other side of this city that still needs fixing, on this day 41 of our experiment, and then wheeled my bicycle toward the “entrance” to our occupation, I saw one of the dedicated Food Working Group folks (freely and gladly share meals with hundreds each day), Erika, broom in one hand and dustpan in the other. At our general assembly this evening, everyone had discussed and settled on a proposal to more regularly clean up our occupation, starting tomorrow. Erika leaned down, to sweep some leaves and litter into the dustpan, and when she stood up, I said, “You’re making me feel guilty! I should stay and help. But I’m oh so tired and need a break.” She smiled. “No, it’s OK, you should rest. I just decided to get a jump on tomorrow’s community cleanup. It’s fine. I want to do it. It feels nice.”

Even with all the messiness, figuratively and literally, of imagining a new society by trying to simultaneously invent it in practice, it does feel nice–so much nicer!–when we’re in it together; when we do things not because we’re forced or compelled to–whether by mayors or police or bosses–but because we’re excited to add to the beauty of our self-generated communities, which continue to remain dynamic because we continue to shape them. The simplest of what seem like thankless, joyless tasks become shiny pieces of our striving for a change that can truly clean up the social, ecological, economic, and political mess we’ve been forced and compelled to suffering under–since we’ll be the ones tidying up this beautiful new world we’re also in the process of decorating anew with shared dreams, shared visions, shared dialogues, and shared decision making.

Watch out, I’m back to being positive and prefigurative, and even the heavy rain outside the window on this turning-into-the-wee-hours of day 42 can’t wash away the ideals whose time has come. Whose time is here.

(Thanks to Joshua Stephens, holding it down with thousands and thousands of others at OWS, for keeping me constantly updated with tweets & status updates all day, including the photo used in this piece; to read the OWS statement from last night, head over to http://occupywallst.org/article/you-cant-evict-idea-whose-time-has-come/.)

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This entry was posted on November 16, 2011 by in Dispatches from Occupy Philly.
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