First I got caught in thinking about these twenty years since 9/11. Then I realized that September 17th was fast approaching. How many years had it been? ten? It had been ten. Sometimes the calendar conspires against your mental ruts, your unwillingness to see your own time fly.
As much as September 11th has that sense of death, September 17th has the inklings of resurrection. Ten years apart like two distant siblings who share one parent and some holidays, these are the awkward connections of experience and place.
September 11th the first and maybe only time in my life when I saw people throw themselves off of buildings. The only day I ever saw with my own eyes the weight of a human turn itself towards the river and let itself go. Human beings turning themselves into their own inevitable deaths.
Woulda, shoulda, coulda — what were their thoughts? Their windows for decision were growing ever so small. In the distance I could see them, and maybe they could see me, but we were seeing across worlds. This building where I was, it was not burning. It was actually, still under construction.
I know what I saw and I know how I moved in and out of the city after 9/11, sometimes deeper into my beloved New York and other times much farther away. Like a child trying to free itself of its mother, my steps over the years had landed me back into New York after stints in Texas, Colorado, other places along the way. I landed back again and again, this time working for a film company in Tribeca.
First I saw the spray paint, as I made my way from Brooklyn to Manhattan one morning. I saw it and wondered if it was really an ad. I saw and I wondered who would bother to show up? New York had become this darling of the global elite who were buying up all the apartments. Normal tourists came all the time now to gawk at the ghosts. They were told it was right to do this, and so they wrapped their morbid curiosity into this veil of patriotism and crowded the streets as they bought trinkets from vendors and gift shops.
I remember finally walking down broadway after a couple of weeks. The Occupation was going on like some party. I knew it was like cheese on a trap both in its appeal and its potential consequences. I knew the act of going by there and lingering would land your number into a data net collected by the police in their mobile claw towers. Nothing to fear if you’re doing nothing wrong? Sure, said my curious inner voice.
If New York before September 11th was the thing of dreams then this New York, was the compost, the one where the lost dreams and the old nightmares came to be cleared. Feet away from Trinity church, feet away from a plaque for the slaves and natives buried here many years ago, feet away from the daily bell that ruled the markets, I was offered cake and meditation.
The Mushroom Intelligentsia
Occupy was messy and competitive, as much as it was cooperative. It was full of everything including invisible hierarchy and visible passions amongst its leaders. It was full of wit and talent and rightful indignation, and there was a constant churn between selfless devotion to greater ideals and a jockeying for position. It was a circus and it was deathly serious with arrests that media teams somehow always missed capturing with their cameras. Lights, camera, news bite was how it felt from inside as the perfectly manicured news people wrapped and ran after their segments.
It is ten years later and on September 17th I am walking past the Berlin wall. I am on my way to an art show, literally crossing the old barriers and checkpoints. How do governments form and shape in such a way as to tear local people apart? How did it happen here? I wonder as I walk past a section marked with huge letters spelling “Save Our Planet.”
The thing the bulk of the media failed to understand is that Occupy Wall Street was much more hackathon than political rally. There were teach-ins and skill shares. There were so many teaching elements in place, including a library. It wasn’t so much that Occupy was telling people how to think, but encouraging them to have thoughts. Occupy was more like an api than it was a single program. It was a new kind of network, one that we needed, and if nothing else proved that, then it would come later when Occupy Sandy came along. Occupy Sandy handled hurricane relief so much better than government did that later on the Department of Homeland Security studied its efficiency, its agility.
I remember giving talks about this very relationship between failing power structures and the foreshadowing that Occupy was. For a few years I was intent on gently explaining that as climate instability ramped up, Occupy Sandy was a good example of Occupy as an operating system, one that was suitable for organizing during a crisis. It wasn’t easy and typical of me, I gave up, staking a claim in regenerative agriculture circles and leaving the art world alone to its beautiful, maddening ways.
If the fungus among us are the heroes of the new soil based movement. If the critical cooperation and sometimes subtle invasions of the micro world were to be believed as instructional, then again, I could see that Occupy wasn’t a single time or event, but it was evidence of evolution, of biomimicry, of an uncomfortable societal truth. Our systems for governing the world are outdated.
I walk along a bridge held together by metal, some of it shaped like angels. I walk along the edge of the museums, stepping on the ruins of Rome. Everything changes, even Rome did fall, even though it lives on in some ways to this very day. Everything has a legacy.
I get home late, with a loved one. We talk about New York, while we observe Berlin. We talk and let our minds run into the realm of science fiction. Where is the horizon? I say, “You don’t want to ask me…” implying I could write a book about this, or maybe implying that in fact I already did. Then I sit myself down to some emails. I scroll to a comic book page depicting this event, its past and its relationship to the now. I see the faces of the news, of the murdered youth. I see the representation of pain that only seems to tighten around the kids of today.
Occupy is as alive as any network, as an interface or set of instructions. Occupy is alive even when dead. I knew this when I watched it unfolding live, and I know it now after studying the process of Earth, and learning how life is shaped by communication and exchange. I know now in my mind that cooperation is the foundation of survival. Cooperation is a hallmark of the fittest, to put it in Darwinian terms.
Maybe someday Occupy will come back again, but mostly you have to look for its ghost, its children, its legacy. Nothing with a purpose ever really dies, at least not until its purpose does. Passing the borders of yesterday I know that tomorrow’s systems and lines are yet to be decided. Inequality is another way of saying pressure. Instability is another way of saying pendulum. Someday the borders we thought were useful, maybe even sacred, well, they might dissolve piece by piece until they too, are the thing museums are made of. Revolution is a word, but more than anything, it is a backdrop for the past and the future, a line you can draw like a box on paper, like a heart on a wall.
If you want to know more about this, you can pull from archives. This is a presentation I gave on media and Occupy at UNT Denton. This is a talk I gave years later in Boulder, Colorado. And for a history of the movement and its leaders, go visit the Occupy site, which is still alive.