After spending a somewhat dreary week in academic salons, being told that there was no song and dance at Occupy or that there was no point to the General Strike, I chose to skip another round of conferences and head downtown for OWS Spring Training. These weekly Friday sessions have been happening since March but, for one reason or another, this was the first one I could attend.
It was an energizing relief after all the talk to be doing something. I was at once impressed with how much things have moved along in the street organizing. Following the influence of the excellent +Brigades, there’s a good deal of co-ordination, tactics and wit back in the actions. Extra energy came from last night’s successful Sleep to Protest, in which about a hundred people managed to sleep overnight on Wall St itself, despite the sudden desire of the city to clean sections of the street for hours on end. There were also lots of “new people,” by which I mean faces I didn’t recognize, and a noticeably wider age range.
After some tactical training by the +Brigades, we set off for a set of Bank of America branches where supporters were planning to close their accounts. Along the way, despite my academic colleagues, a nice range of old and new songs and chants kept the mood light. Protestors have identified the short-tempered white-shirt police officer assigned to OWS marches and when he appears, they set up a drawn-out mocking chant of his name. He didn’t seem to like it. OWS organizers were making sure that the marchers took up no more than half the sidewalk to deny police the pretext for arrests. The obvious good humor of the event and the interest of many downtown passers-by mitigated the chance for mass arrests.
When we arrived at the banks, those who closed their accounts were hoisted shoulder-high and spoke via people’s mic about how hard BoA made it to do so. After properly denouncing the vampire squid, they then ceremonially cut their debit cards in half to loud cheers. One closer was a Democratic official of some kind.
Then we dispersed in order to make our own way to the Stock Exchange. Just as well, because the police had placed a checkpoint at the Broadway entrance to Wall Street, permitting only those with workplace IDs to enter. Luckily downtown has many byways and it was a simple matter for those who wanted to do so to congregate on the steps of the Federal Hall National Memorial. At a signal, we congregated into a large cluster and sounded the People’s Gong, closing the Stock Exchange for violations against the people. Proceedings were closed with an exuberant chant of A-Anti-AntiCapitalista, with a new twist: after a couple of choruses, we went quieter and quieter, lower and lower, jumping up at the end in full voice.
All quite silly in some ways but it prevented Mr White Shirt from the mass arrest he was clearly itching to orchestrate by catching a lot of public attention and not being demonstrably an offense, as no signs were displayed. There were just a lot of people there at the same time doing the same things. Needless to say, perhaps half-a-dozen were arrested for no apparent reason.This exercise has been going on for a few weeks now. It’s creating new energy, new songs, new ways of being in space. So much for academia.