06 October 2011

Occupy St. Louis at Keiner Plaza

Long-time, faithful reader and ever-insightful Commenter here @ WoW, Frances Madeson, has graced us with a first-hand account of her experience @ Occupy St. Louis. I reprint it below in its entirety:

"Imagine you're on the set of Night of the Living Dead just as Romero yells Cut and Wrap!

Our original intent (on Day One Saturday, October 1) was to occupy the Federal Reserve Bank. 300 or so strong for several hours we lined the sidewalk on Locust Street holding signs that read: Yo Momma is Part of the 99%, Capitalism is a Sucker's Game, How Did the Cat Get So Very Fat?—chanting: The people have finally found their voice! and being honked at (presumably in solidarity) by cars taxis buses trucks streaming past.

As an icebreaker, I handed out a few hundred homemade tearsheets (the medium very much being the message) with the excerpts from Henry IV, Part II and Romeo and Juliet where the word Occupy can be found. The lone policewoman I attempted to give one to politely declined with a nod, but otherwise eyes lit up, smiles formed, and the response was vocal: Cool, Right On! To groups of friends I distributed a single copy and before long lips were moving and Shakespeare's fierce words were being read aloud:
Captain! Thou abominable damned cheater, art thou not ashamed to be called captain? An captains were of my mind, they would truncheon you out, for taking their names upon you before you have earned them...You a captain! you slave, for what? for tearing a poor whore's ruff in a bawdy-house...He a captain! hang him, rogue! He lives upon moulded stewed prunes and dried cakes...A captain! God's light, these villains will make the word as odious as the word 'occupy', which was an excellent word before it was ill-sorted: therefore captains had need look to't.
Doll Tearsheet, Henry IV Part 2, Act 2, Scene 4
O, thou art deceived! I would have made it short, for I was come to the whole depth of my tale, and meant indeed to occupy the argument no longer.
Mercutio, Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 4
Do I have to explain to WoWers that I had hoped to spark if not an immediate conversation at least a meditation on the possibilities of the meaning and resonances of the word Occupy, central as it is to the embryonic movement? And in the form of a note, like an alternative currency, to connect the group with a potent and always available renewable energy source—our collective unabashed creativity.

Many were already of a similar mindset. Occupiers arrived in fully extended peacock feathers, one wearing a cape of a modified American flag—stars replaced by corporate logos. This young Superhero, who stood for hours with a one-dollar Federal Reserve Note taped over his mouth, was unrecognizable to me when we next met. It was a few afternoons later when most of the others had gone to the Renaissance Center to confront Obama, in town for a $25,000-a-plate event with one of the Carnahans. But my fellow Occupier joined me in holding signs on Market Street: me, sporting an I Am An Illegal Immigrant button: him, far more daringly, wearing his U.S. Army Class A’s.

While occupying, we spent the time discoursing like characters in Boccacchio's Il Decameron, the occasional roar of the crowd at the nearby Cardinals/Phillies playoff game punctuating our elaborate conversation. Mostly talking about his many brushes with death in Iraq: as he tells it, he was once saved because a commanding officer had suffered a bout of diarrhea and his squad couldn't go out on patrol as scheduled. Or about his buddy who survived the war only to come home and blow away his disloyal wife with a firearm and fatally dispatch their two children to join her—hanging them like collaborators. On a somewhat lighter note, my fellow Occupier told me how he's in his first polyamorous relationship, confronting his own notions of possession, and riding the emotional waves of jealousy and abandonment. And I told him how I had recently taken a lover, the first after a long marriage, and we compared and contrasted the thrills of occupying St. Louis by day and being occupied in St. Louis by night—Que rico!

This being Missouri, many Occupiers are either military themselves in some capacity—active duty, reservists, veterans—or are the children of military families. Nomenclature seeps in: we go on Excursions to various Targets, and we Debrief after our Campaigns. Plus, we have plenty of practical military know-how among our ranks—men and women adept at hooking up generators; feeding masses of people while keeping things sanitary; constructing tents and other temporary shelters. Erecting a tent at the Fed was in fact the act that had subjected us to the specter of Federal arrest, precipitating our relocation on that first day to the more spacious, sunny and felicitous Keiner Plaza.

Exercising one's rights without access to showers is…well…smelly. Incredibly ripe body odor emanates from many of our young Occupying families—yes, we have infants and toddlers here—, some for whom this is their first act of public protest (“so my daughter doesn’t have to go through the same shit I’ve had to”). As the days go by we do have fascinating encounters with visitors, such as the 80+-year-old retired Wash U. economics professor who dropped by, volunteering to answer questions about the Fed, offering up his “expertise”. Though I doubt he was aware, the session came to feel like an apologia for his own brainwashing (“Bernanke’s not a bad guy. Quantative Easement’s a valid strategy.”). But to his credit, he listened to another lost soul waxing about the days when Abraham Lincoln led the Revolutionary War as if he were tuning in to language poetry, delightful to the ear. Yesterday, Mountaintop Removal Coal activists unfurled their magnificent banner for us—a Diego Rivera mural crossed with a Faith Ringgold quilt—that depicts the struggle in Appalachia in a composition of metaphors transformed into cartoons.

Ominously, also yesterday, Keiner Plaza’s public fountain was turned off. As Chaka Khan says, Ya never miss the water till it’s gone. Did the cops fear a splashing as they arrested the Occupiers? When I left last evening to come home to write this for WoW, it was clear that the 10 p.m. curfew would be selectively enforced. Today I see on our Facebook page that arrests were in fact made, the prisoners are already being released, and Occupiers are going to meet them to cheer them as they get out of incarceration.

There’s a feeling brewing—that this weekend could be a turning point for Occupy St. Louis, that we could get a surge of participants from the hinterlands and locals who’ve been following the action while at work during the week. I doubt the core St. Louis Occupiers are, how many have literally faced hardship, deprivation and even death, I doubt they’ll be deterred by the threat of lock-up, or worse. Many of them are trained to be courageous and valiant, some of them just naturally are, and their bravery is palpable, contagious, and priceless. As the sign says: Austerity Is An Illusion!"

Thank you, Frances, and good luck!

This reportage will stay up on the front page at least until I return from a brief weekend in the N.C. mountains Monday.


Randal Graves said...

If any apocalypse happens, it'll be Ragnarok, the asses of the good kicked by the boot of the bad, but hey, bonne chance, folks.

Jim H. said...

Götterdämmerung it, RG, why must the glass always be half empty?