Yesterday, I arrived in New York City - 2 hours later than planned due to a broken down bus - and made my way to Liberty Square at about 5pm. I'll jot down a few notes from my early observations and experiences here. I could probably write a novel, but I want to get back out there, so I'll keep this brief and will see if I can manage some check ins during the day.
Overall, it was rich experience of lovely people with an amazing dedication to creating a village in the square which models what they'd like to see our world be like: real democracy, shared responsibility and deep caring.
I'm staying at a distant family member's apartment. I'm very lucky to have such warm and gracious hosts and to be only a few blocks from the square. I lived in Manhattan in the 1980s and I've always loved it here, so I feel very much at home. My hostess even picked me up at the Port Authority, so that I didn't have to lug my bags all the way downtown. She then made sure I was fed before I headed out. I'm extremely grateful to be in the good care of loving people.
I had my sandwich and then headed out. Ahhhh, walking the streets of New York! It makes me happy. As I was walking, I called AoT and he met me at the entrance to the park. Aot has been there since Day 1. He quit his job in California and moved to Liberty Square where he is ensconced and is one of the pillars of the unfolding village.
He graciously walked me over to the medic center so that I could report in about the support I might need due to my health. I have a neurological condition where I am easily over stimulated. There are lots of harmless but challenging symptoms which I live with. There is one, however, where I would need help: partial complex seizures. They can be hard to detect if you don't know me and potentially dangerous, as I become completely incoherent and profoundly confused. It can lead to me wandering aimlessly. I usually need to sleep afterward, so I need an escort home.
The medic team decided that while they were all aware and AoT was aware and I would always be sure to make someone with me aware, that I should also put the number of a contact to take me home on my arm:
That taken care of, I let AoT do some things he needed to do and I spent some time walking around getting a feel for what was happening and the lay of the land. Here, I wish I had taken photos. I was too busy taking it all in to think of getting my phone out. I'll try to remember to take some today.
I was impressed by the organization and thoughtfulness. The protest community has established working groups on everything from sanitation to food to media to security. Frequently, I heard someone holler out "mic check!" and the people nearby would respond "mic check!" and an announcement would be made and via "the people's mic" where everyone in hearing range repeats the announcers words. Most often these were announcements about an upcoming meeting of one of the working groups. People are busy! It takes a lot of time and energy to coordinate feeding people, keeping things clean, attending to medical needs, managing a media center, determining land use (is it better to have the medic area here or there?), addressing community concerns, etc. The people here take these things seriously and with a fantastic sense of community responsibility.
Dinner was being served. An wonderful array of foods ranging from rice dishes, vegetable dishes, falafel wraps and, of course pizza served buffet style. I had just eaten and I was regretting that, as the food looked great! I hope to have a meal there today. One thing that really impressed me was that they fed over 500 people and it was cleaned up so quickly that by the time I made my way back to that area after a little stroll around the park, a new array of more snack-like food was out with apples and carrot sticks and such. If you're living in the park, the food working group will make sure that you do not go hungry!
One can't really feel connected to it all unless one volunteers to help out with something. As with anything, it's in the working together that you become a part of the community and get to know people and feel like a contributing member. I was prompted to solidify my commitment to come down because AoT had said that there was a need counseling service, as people are getting sleep deprived, living with the constant tension of the police presence and getting arrested, sometimes with a lot of physical aggression.
When I offered my services to counsel people about how to find mental health services, I was immediately put to work. For the rest of the evening, pretty much, I was attending to individuals and trying to provide them with some ways to take care of themselves, give them some loving healing energy and to help them assess how they were really doing and how to find professional help, if needed. I can't reveal those conversations, but I will say that I advised one person to go home for a while as this experience is actually triggering PTSD from earlier unresolved trauma and I spent a bit of time with one mentally ill person who was becoming worrisome. A quite tall male whose energy was getting aggressive. Though I had told people when they called me to help out with him that I would only do it if at least one man stayed on hand to ensure my safety, I actually was not afraid when dealing with him, though I suspect he is capable of harm given what I saw and experienced. Ultimately, after we consulted with police and kept talking to him, he left the park. He said he was going to seek a shelter, but I can't be certain that he's capable of maintaining an intention, if it was even truthful to begin with.
This leads me to my interactions with a few of the police. I felt that this man needed to be in a shelter or at a hospital. He clearly had some sort of diagnosed mental illness which he was not currently managing properly. I'm not from New York and I don't know the mechanisms for that here. So, I asked two policemen who were standing nearby what they could do to help. It was difficult to get to the real answer because I had to cut through these kind of statements: "That guy, he's crazy. Like 90% of the people here." and "If you all would go away, he wouldn't be here. You need to get all these people to leave." We went around a few times before I firmly stated, "I can't make all these people leave and this man would be on the streets of Manhattan regardless. So, either you help me figure out what to do with him or I'll manage it on my own." At which point they did tell me what they were capable of: arresting him if he did something to warrant it, or sending him to a hospital." I was disappointed at not just the hostility I felt from these men, but their determination to label everyone as mentally ill. That speaks volumes about how they are perceiving people and how they will treat them. It left me feeling concerned.
(One note to everybody on Bellevue: I know that this hospital has a reputation as a mental hospital. Please be aware that it is also an excellent city hospital which handles injuries quite well. It is affiliated with NYU and the same doctors work in both the NYU hospital and Bellevue. The buildings are even connected by a tunnel. So, don't insinuate too much from people being sent to Bellevue if they are injured during an arrest.)
I only got to participate in a General Assembly for a few minutes due to being occupied with counseling people about how to get mental health care if they felt the need. What I saw looked like an excellent process for community decision making. They've got good systems down, people are very engaged and it appears to be evolving as needed. For instance, new hand signals were added last night to make it easier to read and clarify attendee responses to what is being said.
I left at about 11pm. I realized at that point that I had not taken any photos. This is when I took the photo of my arm. I turned around and took a shot of my parting view:
I was sad to leave. The energy of the square is intense. There is a lot going on. There is perserverence, frustration, tension, and fear but there is also vision and joy and a lot of beauty. The area of the park where signs are being constantly made and laid out is powerful. People stand and read them for quite a while and you can see them start to get sense of why this is happening. You will certainly see scoffing faces, too, but not predominantly. The crowd had thinned by 11pm. It was probably down from 500 people to two hundred. There was a drumming and dancing session going on. A great way to let all the energy from all those emotions get expressed so you can rest. I had a warm smile on my face as I walked away.
This morning I was thoroughly exhausted and full of aches and pains and I'm resting before I head back out. I'm not sure I'll be here for comments.
May we all find ways to counter the abuse of power that is being perpetrated against us.