Thursday, October 13, 2011

I Live Mostly in a Tent and It's Great

I write from the apartment affectionately known as The Bedroom in MacArthur Park, downtown Los Angeles, where I'm on a break from Occupying LA to be online, eat food, clean my body, replenish supplies, and get ready for a weekend in the Bay Area doing readings for the new awesome anthology Men Undressed: Women Writers and the Male Sexual Experience (OV Books! Get it!)

My new friend Jonas took this photo last weekend on the one-week marker for the LA Occupy group. Last night's General Assembly meeting was the first time I saw LA occupiers really lose their focus, yell at each other unnecessarily, break the consensus process, and generally break down before they rallied again in solidarity with each other. Because the movement is getting big, there were a lot of occupiers who never even saw the meeting. Democracy, and its incarnations here, fascinates. Someone very insightfully noticed that we were all getting scared--scared of the process breaking down, scared of the implications of warnings that came in from police, scared of what happened to our comrades in Boston, scared that we may get nowhere and all end up dispirited and jobless, scared and scared and scared. Try doing this out of love instead, he said. Cliche? Who cares? It was wise. People calmed down. I wonder if he has kids. I hope he has some soon. 

I'm going to a few links below to those who want to read more about the Occupy movement, as many participants and sympathizers are offering incredible analysis even as we speak. What I want to say here is what I have been saying to many in my life who are reluctant to come down to the Tent City. 

One does not have to know exactly what the Occupy movement is demanding to know that we are doing something this country hasn't seen for years, if ever. That fact alone should excite anyone who is upset by the American status quo. My friends who are not occupying have many objections to the movement. I actually don't care to refute them. What I care about is that everyone who wants to have issue with us, must come meet us. You must know your candidates to vote responsibly. Just come down and visit, I say. We'll eat a sandwich on the lawn and talk to people. You don't have to pitch a tent in your first hour here. And who wouldn't want to see the spectacle? Well, the friends come. The people I can't be close to don't. Sometimes life offers you a litmus test of incredible predictability, and you have to feel some pain of loss to get to the truth. I'm relieved to know who I can trust now.

At Occupy, we often use the rhetoric of consciousness-raising groups from the radical left of the 60s and 70s, and one phrase in particular that I love is :we've "woken up." It doesn't mean that we all agree on what exactly the "dream" was, but there is a sense of real exodus towards a new civic reality, and because we are downtown in the city where we live, it isn't like the high-on-the-mountain peak experience of Burning Man. It's a sustainable more transparent reality that is actually attempting to dig in its heels. We've got drum circle people, iPhone people, hardcore organizers, teenagers who stop by for dinner, lawyers, preachers, and full-time students who are suddenly discovering that living in tents with each other for weeks on end is not only politically radical, it is REALLY FUN. We want justice, and we also want to be able to eat some beans and rice in a circle and talk about justice for hours on end.

This is something I'm not seeing in the media that much: how enjoyable it is to be frustrated by community, as opposed to frustrated by isolation. I would much prefer to witness a degenerated consensus meeting where 200 people are struggling to hear each other than retreat to the silent box of this apartment every day. And this is a lovely apartment. And of course I am grateful in this moment to have its amenities and its temporary quiet--but it is becoming more and more clear to me that in some truly deep-seated Foucault-ean sense, the rest of my daily life is designed to keep me from being in gatherings of large people. (BTW, fellow occupiers, contact me if you want to come over and shower or meditate or whatnot. We are easily accessible by Metro.)

My Teds in Montreal say that there are tons of activists and demonstrations there, and that the crowd of people moving in on an issue is not a rare or anxious sight. I think the U.S. has trouble dealing with anything that isn't sound-byte or logo-ready, and so the Occupy movement offers a terrifying reality: we may be speaking truth to power simply by figuring out how to speak to each OTHER, and we're really not that interested, many of us, in coming up with a bumper sticker for KTLA to put on the nightly news. Some people are, sure. That's because everyone is here! But the lack of quick slogan is directly tied to the fact of community building--a large group of people talking does not a bullet point make. I'm not against the list of demands, I'm not against the pithy signs (oh, I really love a lot of the pithy signs!) but I think that the cacophony is truly delightful, and it is actually a sign of unity, not a sign of dissolution.

I've been waiting for this. And I still am not even sure what it is.

Check out the OccupyLA website and get involved!
Read Steve Almond's piece about OWS at The Rumpus


  1. A nice reflective piece, editorial, narrative, blog or whatever you wanna call it, Vanessa. Honest is what it is. I thought you might find some God's honest truth in this excerpt I pulled from another piece I read ...

    "We are not the 99%. We are the 19%. The majority, 80%, live in varying degrees of starvation, malnourishment, and extreme poverty, while 1% keep the 19% drunk on material wealth and gorged on stuff, stuff, and more stuff. The 80% are out of sight and out of mind. Industrialized agriculture has stolen their food and killed their soil. Manufacturers in search of cheap labor have polluted their air and water. Corrupt governments have raped their land of natural resources. ALL OF THIS is done so you and I can have more stuff. WE, the consumers, are the problem. WE, the consumers, have ALL THE POWER. If tomorrow, everyone in support of occupy Wall Street spent NO MONEY, and demanded that somebody, somewhere get those mothers and their babies in Somalia some food and water before we will spend another penny, we would see change happen fast."

    Cheers >> GWR

  2. That's a great comment Greg. Thanks for reading! I do think there are vast misunderstandings about the class strata in the US. Some occupiers are having their "schemas boinked"--to use an old camp term. Consumerism is a dis-ease. Join us in a year of buying no clothes!

  3. Frustrated by community! Yes. Delight. Man it feels good compared to the dead end of isolation, shouting at a television or computer screen. Noticing that bullet point demands are the logic and language of a corporate state, of the rule of efficiency. Who said society got better, really, when it got more efficient, faster? Democracy is a slow thing. That is ok. We all know it's not supposed to be done in screaming matches on talk shows. We all know, or should, that it can be done in the street. Talking is what power doesn't want us to do. Really talk. Really listen to each other. Really learn that in fact we are not crazily polarized into different demands and ideologies, that we are in fact all being equally fucked and are pretty upset about that. From there everything begins, and is, and I'm glad you are there, telling us about it.