SILENCE HAS A NAME - Poetry Chapbook and CD, with Music by Mark Hanley

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Revolution On Its Way

Zuccotti Park: A young girl reads alongside a painting. People gather in twos and threes to talk about politics, the priorities of the day. A group begins to drum. It isn't the kind of drumming you dance to. It's the kind that announces something important, demands that you listen, reminds everyone, near and far -- we are here, we are not going, it is time for a change.

Young, old and middle aged from all walks of life and places around the country have converged on Wall Street to speak their mind, turn the page on greed and corruption, make a mark, be heard. A musician stamps t-shirts. An articulate Vermonter who has come all the way here for the day, stamps dollar bills with "99%," 99-percent being the number of Americans who "have not," at least according to the American ethos, which is like no other -- for, where else in the world, would protestors be bestowed 400-plus boxes of food and supplies daily, and upwards of $300,000 in donations? A middle-aged woman who lost her pension tells her story. Some people have been there a day; others, a month.

Andre, 19, from New Jersey, said he arrived four days ago. He is tired of things being the way they are. What things? "Everything. Greedy people are taking too much away." How long will he stay? "As long as this lasts."

Catherine, a retired airforce officer, now a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, the mother of two teenagers, has a pension, a good retirement fund, but wonders how her children will go to college and how they will be able to afford retirement. She said the movement in the park is "organic. One night, when it was time to close down, I watched how people settled, the tarps lifting and falling, one by one, it was like an undulating wave, a sea of flowing movement. That's how it is here."

Those in Zuccotti Park have a sense of purpose and jobs to do. There is a huge chalkboard with "Work Schedule" written on it. Everyone, even those who have never held a job, takes on tasks, contributes. Some serve food. Others take donations. Some work on laptops. Many stand at the periphery of the park with signs that explain why they are here.

Plenty of food has been donated, and money is pouring in. What will be done with the donations? What next?

At five o'clock, a march begins. Some young women start a chant. I ask an elderly bearded marcher, "where are we going?" He doesn't know.

Does it matter?

Just now, the heart of the movement burns strong, and we march undeterred.

(To see a visual journal of Zuccotti Park, see the "Occupy Wall Street" album under the name, Arya-Francesca Jenkins on Facebook).

Sunday, October 2, 2011

True Acts of Revolution

I am a revolutionary at heart and I come from a line of activists on my mother's side, so I am with the protestors on Wall Street. I support their trying to wake up the financial district and those running our lives, or, I should say, bullying the poor around America and the globe. Like many of my closest friends, I've carried signs for peace and social action in many states for many years and spoken out for peace and social justice causes whenever it felt right to do so. I'm glad youth has finally gotten wind of the fact that riches and opportunity of the sort most people cherish are not waiting for them down the pike, and that it's time for a change. It's high time everybody realized this. It's time to wake up and acknowledge the damage of greed and ignorance at home and abroad. But how are we going to do that effectively?

We can plot out new strategies with which to approach the moneyed, as New York Times Op-Ed columnist Nicholas D. Kristof has. His video may illuminate and help some. But essentially, we are all going to have to start looking at our half empty glasses in a different way if we expect to distinguish ourselves from our oppressors or find any peace and resolution in the midst of this madness.

I think it's important to be happy, but we have to change our ideas about what success and happiness are, since for most people these are synonymous with having a lot of money and a lot of things. I can't imagine anyone protesting on Wall Street handed a $1 million bucks right now not running to the nearest bank and starting to invest and build a life, much in the same way that most of the rich people in this country have and do. I am not sure that while anger drives the protests about what has happened in this economy and society, there is much of a difference between those protesting who have not and the fat cats on Wall Street -- as both groups are placing ultimate value on the almighty dollar.

A true revolution will involve devaluing what the fat cats value most. It will mean not caring so much about going to universities that charge $40,000 to $60,000 a year; or about having jobs that will allow you and your partner a 10-day cruise on the islands once a year. Basically, it means altering the order of the echelon by which most of us have lived most of our lives, maybe eradicating it altogether in order to embrace just being, instead of doing. Being with ourselves, nature, one another. After all, given the direction in which we are headed, these are the prizes we stand to lose most. At the very least, we are going to have to slow down, become more caring and less competitive, focusing more on people and less on acquisitions.

Those of us who are so sure we are on the right side, the progressives, the democrats, the radicals are also going to have to rethink what it means to be a revolutionary and really change things.

One of the things I detest more than anything is watching how our habit of doing things in a rush for the sake of making money faster tramples over the needs of the most vulnerable among us. I hate watching cashiers rush the elderly because they can't wait to get to the next guy and take his money. If I'm lucky enough to stand behind an elderly person just trying to make a payment with dignity and being ushered away rudely, I'll stand up for my elderly friend. I'll make sure the cashier knows I'm on that person's side who is trying to engage in a little bit of conversation, perhaps the only conversation of the day, while clumsily trying to put away credit cards or money with arthritic fingers. Guess what, that person will be you in a few years -- if you are lucky.

Why not view acquiring patience and tolerance as an act of revolution. Refuse to honk back if somebody honks at you. Support the little, constant injustices in your immediate world that affect the way everybody thinks and acts. Get rid of your own oppressive habits, cultivating virtue instead of avarice, impatience and intolerance, which, after all, grow rampant among those we would call our enemies.

Being a true revolutionary means supporting a quieter, kinder world with every gesture.

Maybe the poorest among us, the homeless, those who don't care whether they obtain a house are the people we should think about emulating. I know the mother of a very famous singer who has gotten rid of all her money and credit cards and is on a three-year mission to survive without any money at all. Now that is brave, truly an act of revolution.

Instead of beating up on the rich, and hollering down institutions whose walls will always stare back at us blankly, we should try a different tack, approaching with kindness and humility those who have nothing at all and ask them how they survive and if they are ever happy. We might be surprised by their lessons and answers.