Thursday, December 8, 2011

NYC needs the creativity of O.W.S.: The Villager

December 1, 2011 | Filed under: Notebook | Posted by: admin
BY K WEBSTER | You can tell that it’s time for a society to rethink itself when it justifies trashing books.

The destruction of the Occupy Wall Street encampment and its 5,000-book library raises many questions.

Like how exactly do you get free speech in a country where the ownership of the means to communicate is so grotesquely concentrated in the hands of the wealthy? Where corporations buy unlimited speech while people have to resort to cardboard signs?

And sorry, but whenever I hear too much moral outrage about private property rights in relation to Zuccotti Park I can’t help but think about whose backs those “rights” were historically and literally built on.

But I want to stick with the idea of books, the arts and ideas ­­­— this is, after all, New York City.

Where is New York’s gritty art scene? Where is its edgy, daring, life-loving, risk-taking self? Where are this generation’s Beat poets? It’s Harlem Renaissance? It’s Nuyorican Cafes? Where are the Abstract Expressionists? Where is this generation’s punk scene, jazz scene? Any arts scene?

Despite stereotypes to the contrary, artists and other thinkers flourish when they have peers nearby. That’s why we see so much tepid artwork these days — no one can afford to live here and build arts communities. No one can think flexibly, give voice to life’s complexity or gather courage to challenge what is known, in the face of isolation.

Mayor Bloomberg prides himself on his support of the arts. Yet probably the most stunning, provocative, intelligent, edgy work of human creativity to hit this town in a very long time was the Occupy Wall Street movement. Signage that is pure poetry, a library, puppeteers, photography, performance art, sculptural inventiveness (those bikes!), dance and language (those hand signals!). Messy, yes. Needing to work at being better neighbors, yes. But nothing worth creating is ever tidy. Artists have always struggled to fit in. It goes with the territory.

The removal of the O.W.S. encampment with its astonishing spark of life will haunt us. And while you can’t destroy an idea whose time has come, you can destroy communities. (Back to our history again.) And what is lost is incalculable. This community was earnestly trying to find solutions, to practice democracy and sustainability, and dusting off art forms to find their relevance. Ideas were being generated and tried out. Young people were trying to get a handle on their future.

Some of us passionately support O.W.S. because at least it is trying to grapple honestly, with humor and ingenuity, with the enormous mess created by the 1 percent in this country. It is an irony, a bitter irony, that in hollow and dishonest words, one of the wealthiest men in America claimed to be “protecting” us. From what exactly? Thinking?

It is a bitter irony that people who were trying to find our future were ordered evicted and arrested, while the people who literally stole our future were ordered guarded by our police force. An irony that a park, whose new rules must be obeyed, is cleared out in record time. But the stinking mass of corruption and theft that lies not two blocks from O.W.S. sits rotting for decades.

We are in serious trouble. We need ideas. But this mayor just evicted one of the most hopeful think tanks in generations.

O.W.S. pros outweigh cons: Downtown Express

To the Editor:
Last Thursday night I went down to an off-site sustainability meeting for Occupy Wall Street. Our community garden needs compost and they have it. It’s a win-win. As I walked to the bus I passed young adults in my neighborhood partying in a bar and at a well-heeled gallery opening. When I got to the meeting area there was an atrium full of young adults — and people of other ages — gathered in clusters strategizing about media, sustainability, sanitation, facilitation, education, etc. on behalf of O.W.S.

Did you know that after their generators were taken they hooked up bikes to batteries to power their electricity? Did you know they are looking into solar power and building a model wind generator? They are creating power-generation models that we might all need to know how to build someday. They are figuring out recycling. (City parks are not required to recycle.) They are composting, they have a gray water reclamation model. They are building possibilities for sustainability that as community gardeners we’ve been working toward for more than 30 years now.

On the Lower East Side, we still have a vibrant neighborhood: diverse, interesting and rich in culture and uniqueness. I wouldn’t trade it for anywhere else.

But in my neighborhood another teenager was murdered a few weeks ago, despite the courageous attempts by his parents to organize against youth violence. One of the few remaining low-income senior homes was sold for luxury condos. Those longtime residents were scattered away from friends and families. More unemployed workers and fewer housing options for this community’s elderly resulted. I wish we had thought to “Occupy Bialystoker.”

As a parent, I know it’s hard to live next to noise and crowds. We’ve been subjected to an unending barrage of luxury construction on the Lower East Side and a high-end bar scene that has generated noise, murders and not a few wasted evenings spent trying to rein this scene in. We have seen a burgeoning of mindless wealth accumulation and the required mind-numbing activity that accompanies it. We have seen the despair in our low- and middle-income youth over the realization that they will never be a part of the American Dream while witnessing the relentless economic decline of their parents. Over-the-top wealth inequity is not news here.

If I had a choice between living with the (loud) sounds and inconveniences of youth organizing for a better world, trying to take charge of their futures, as well as the future of all of us, or living with the status quo — I know what my choice would be.

They are welcome next door to me. Bring it all. Drums too. Because I think it may be past time to end our silent consent to the travesties going on around us.
K Webster