Scene4 Magazine: Michael Bettencourt
Michael Bettencourt
Zuccotti Park or Bust
Scene4 Magazine-inView

November 2011

I have the blessing/curse of working in a building diagonally across from the New York Federal Reserve and few blocks from Wall Street.  Constantly being in the dominion of money, near its cathedrals and Praetorian guards and talismans (i.e., the bull statue), gives me a figurative rash.  Here is where destruction (my destruction) was planned; from here corruption flooded the land.

Most lunchtimes, and many after-work times, I head to Zuccotti Park (now named Liberty Plaza, since Liberty Street runs along one side) for a detox and a refreshment from Occupy Wall Street.  What has been happening there for almost a month, and what it has prompted throughout the city and the world, is about the only good news in town.  It is with gratitude that I help make sandwiches, hand out newspapers, clean up the encampment, hold a sign, stuff $10 into the donation jar.  I'm under no illusion that this collective action will topple the Chase building a block away or make the gold 80 feet under the Federal Reserve float to the top where we could sell it and do some good with the proceeds.

But in the end-times of American democracy, it's better to do this on my lunch-hour than wait passively for the tide of shit to turn the 99% to zero.

The punditocracy and chattering classes (a marvelous phrase) whine about the weirdness of the crowd and a lack of a demands-list and the fluid agenda, but of course they miss the point, either willfully/cynically or through their hard-acquired ignorance.  The message is three-part, and it is clear: 1) the 99% have been shafted and don't want to be shafted anymore; 2) either we have corporatocracy or democracy, but we can't have both; and the most important 3) it's time that the power structure fears its citizens rather than the other way around.

If there is a single demand, it's this: Come protest with us.  Don't worry about having a white paper in your back pocket or a fully coherent critique in the back of your mind.  Just put your body out here.

And the "here" doesn't have to be the park.  It can be in every email you send your mother, in every conversation with a colleague, in a few dollars in the donation can or some clothes you no longer need handed off.  My boss, who describes himself as a conservative but who is very sympathetic to what is going on (and has visited the park), now introduces this question into every conversation: "So, what do you think about what's going on?" Just to keep it at a simmer, just to keep the topic in the air.

If this effort can hold on long enough, that's how it will succeed best — that its concerns will leak into everybody's every-day life, so that someone who would never think of going to the park will still have the park come to him or her in the guise of a question or a wondering or an image or even a salutary anger.

There is no question that at some point, whether it's with these people or someone else, "We are the 99%" will have to take on a form, take an institutional risk — but not a form that has failed — hierarchical, compartmentalized, etc.  The people there, through the groups they've set up, the general assemblies they run twice a day, their effort to equalize all the voices, are looking to build something along mutual aid/anarchist or syndicalist lines, something very much untried and unknown in our country but which has been well spelled-out by Kropotkin, Berkman, and others.

This, as much as any specific prescriptions they come up with, should be supported, because we need something else in this country that has not been commodified and controlled by people who do not have our best interests in mind.

So, if you live in New York, come to the park, just to see for yourselves what there is to see.  If you don't live in New York, send in a monetary donation — many organizations have been set up to collect money.  If you agree, in part or in whole, with what "We are the 99%" is trying to get across, there are a lot of Occupy protests going on around the country — join one or start one if there isn't one happening.  (Even in Jersey City, near where I live, one of the more economically depressed cities in New Jersey, someone had set up a table at the farmers' market with literature and buttons and signs.  If it can happen in Jersey City, then...)

The point is, make this protest — its focus, its anger and sadness — seep into ordinary, tint every conversation, shade every action.  The end-times are here, but they aren't finished yet.  As Thoreau said in "Civil Disobedience": "[If the machine of government] requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine."

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©2011 Michael Bettencourt
©2011 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Michael Bettencourt is a produced and published playwright and a Senior Writer and Columnist for Scene4.
Continued thanks to his "prime mate" and wife, Maria-Beatriz

Read his theatre reviews in Scene4's Qreviews
For more of his Scene4 columns and articles, check the Archives


Scene4 Magazine - Arts and Media

November 2011

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