Occupy Your Mind

A civil rights attorney in New York working on issues of police misconduct and wrongful incarceration, Cockburn has been e-mailing updates to friends from the Occupy Wall Street encampment in lower Manhattan since shortly after the protests began. What follows are excerpts from those e-mails.

11/2 I visited Liberty Park (which, I have to be honest, I do call Zuccotti … it has a ring to it) twice over the weekend. The first time was at 2 a.m. on Saturday night/Sunday morning, when I arrived in my Subaru mom-car to a convenient parking spot, and pulled out my two big recycling bags full of three old winter coats, some sweatpants, vests, and sweaters, and a big plastic bin full of $127 worth of new socks. Saturday was the day of giant wet slushy snow pouring out of the sky for hours.… By the time I arrived it was cold and mostly dry. I had on many layers, including my snow jacket, which was enough at first but soon the cold started to work its way in. The park was totally packed with tents, with barely room to walk between them. Most people seemed to be asleep, but there were a few small clumps of conversation going on. I hauled the gear over to the comfort station, which is housed under a series of tarps strung up between trees.

At the doorway I was met by a heavyset bouncer-looking dude who said we needed to take the stuff to medical (comfort is a bit of a mess, due to lacking a giant tent to shelter everything), who have been prepping themselves to deal with hypothermia and other cold-related problems. As I was stepping away I caught a glimpse of Duncan, who I wrote about in an earlier report. I gave the supplies to a grateful medical person who was in the midst of trying to organize the clutter and stepped back to find Duncan and hear some of his stories. Finding him cold, I equipped him with one of the coats I’d brought (fit amazingly well!).… Here are some things he told me:

• The day before, he had tea with MC Hammer who he noticed buying 100 teas for people in the park. Hammer wasn’t being loud about it but he had some bodyguards who gave him away. Earlier that week, he’d been hanging out with Q-Tip and talking about building OccupyHipHop. I don’t even know what that would look like but I love the idea of musicians coming down to the park to find out about how they can engage this and amplify this movement with songs. That also reminds me of what I love so much about Z Park in general — it’s so accessible. Just show up and you will find someone to talk to about the thing you want to do.

• The police have been following Duncan around. He caught one of them taking a photo of him as he came out of a cafe the other day. They have arrested him 7 times since OWS started; the last time, they just reached into the crowd and grabbed him. The charge was disorderly conduct. He is laying off the marches for a little while since he’s worried about being grabbed again and having bail set (so far he’s been given ROR). Everyone in the camp knows who he is; last time they arrested him people made signs saying Free Duncan!

• The police have told people found drinking and doing drugs in public to head on down to Zuccotti and do whatever they like (this has been reported elsewhere). The west end of the park (downhill side) is occupied by these people. The police stay away from that end and don’t stop them from doing what they’re doing. The goal seems to be to harass the other occupiers, discredit the movement, and get some laughs. I think it’s totally outrageous and something that the local community board should complain about. Why are the police so pointlessly adversarial in this?…

This week should be an interesting one for the Occupy movement nationally, as the cold tests the Occupies, the Oakland strike tests its muscle, and new Occupies form around the country. My current feeling is that momentum is building rather than falling, which wasn’t what I thought a week ago. Could it be that the long-moribund left in this country is waking up and rubbing its eyes? A Time magazine poll conducted on October 9–10 indicated that 54% of Americans view the OWS protests very or somewhat favorably, 79% agree that the gap between rich and poor in the United States has grown too large, 86% agree that Wall Street and its lobbyists have too much influence in Washington, 71% agree that executives of financial institutions responsible for the financial meltdown in 2008 should be prosecuted, and 68% agree that the rich should pay more taxes.

As Salon pointed out, it’s an incredible achievement of OWS that the national conversation now favors wealth redistribution for the first time since the Great Depression. No idea how sticky these numbers are but I find them pretty exciting. Though of course, election years change everything.…

10/16 Duncan’s friend “Celine” is a well-spoken put-together girl from the Bronx.… She said she is down at OWS learning everything she can so that she can get Occupy the Bronx started. She said it’s hard getting people’s interest up there because everyone is so focused on day-to-day survival, and also because Wall Street seems very far away and disconnected to them. She said in response to those who complain about a lack of demands that this movement is building consciousness from the ground up, and it takes time. “First you have to occupy your mind.”