What if all your heart ever did was break? What if it broke open so wide the whole world fell in?
When I studied Art History as an undergrad, I took a class on aesthetic theory and contemporary art criticism called “Looking Between the Lines.” On the first day of class, we made a list of words that we'd frequently heard in reviews of art shows. Our professor wrote them on the chalk board, and then instructed us that we were never to use any of these words in anything we wrote or said in that class. How could I write an essay about a painting I'd seen without using the word “juxtapose?” This project forced me to actually investigate my relationship to the painting instead of relying on words that had essentially lost their meaning and become crutches through too frequent use.
I was thinking about attempting to write about my experience with the Occupy Wall Street movement, but wanted to make sure I didn't fall into this same trap. Could I write about these past few months without relying on soundbites I'd picked up along the way? Could I express my thoughts on the entire thing without having to rely on the oft-used terms “process,” “inequality,” “nonviolence” or “justice?” To do so I might explore my personal relationship to the occupation.
Taking My Seat
Walking Meditation from Foley Square to Liberty Plaza GA Dec 3, 2011 (photo by Michael Coniaris)
When Occupy Wall Street started back in September, I was employed at an e-Book publisher doing design work. My co-workers snickered at the futility of protesting and openly mocked what was starting to take place at Liberty Plaza. As someone who'd been politically active at a young age but had eventually burned out on the previous model of protesting, I also wondered about the futility of a protest. But I also wondered something else. “I hope this movement becomes like something of a radical zombie movie,” I said to my best friend. “I hope slowly, more and more people descend on that park. I hope it grows slowly and eventually reaches a critical mass.”
And isn't that what happened? I was let go from my e-Book job, as I'd been let go from so many jobs since the economic collapse. But within a few weeks I began working at IDP, which had at that point been where I practiced meditation and took Buddhist studies classes for almost two years. I was brought on board for full time work at IDP right around the same time as the one-month anniversary of the occupation of Liberty Plaza. It was exciting to me to be able to work for an organization that I felt had given me so much already. When I found IDP two years prior, it had felt like a homecoming. And now, being able to sustain myself financially by helping our group thrive felt like refuge from an increasingly hostile economic situation. As Occupy Wall Street gained footing, I found myself thinking that absolutely everyone should be able to experience what I was experiencing. Everyone should be able to sustain themselves and their families financially doing something they love. People should not be punished for seeking to thrive, punished through predatory lending practices, through having their homes forcefully taken from them, punished by the ever-encroaching fantasy of infinite growth at the expense of the lower and now the middle classes.