November 1, 2011

Halloween last night: Costumed children, polite children ringing the doorbell or knocking, parents at a distance, bags full of candy. The best costume – a small 5 or 6-year-old girl, delicate painted-blue face with features intricately outlined in patterns of contrasting color. Her dress, layers of bright, glittery silken fabric. I wished I had photographed her. Collecting for UNICEF she would take no candy. She was, I was told by her companions, none other than the god Shiva. And so the Celt holiday becomes an Indian one.

The influence of India upon California and all of the United States ran deep in the hippie era. Based on what I saw today at Occupy Wall Street – Oakland, the Indian influence still runs deep. Colors, costumes and spaces dense with people. The smell, not just pot, but also sweat mixed with compounds excreted by the body, somewhat sweet and a little nauseating — reminiscent of parts of India today, though in India the smells come with the millennia of culture.

At the center of the encampment, where intersecting boardwalks are marked by signs announcing “we’re back,” a rather clean-cut bearded man about my age and a young bearded unkempt, even wild looking, man were deep in conversation when I stopped to photograph. The young man said he was exhausted, was taking a time out after having intervened in potential fisticuffs. Keeping the peace was not easy and he was gathering strength for tomorrow’s events.

When the Occupy is over, the young man wants to live with others in forests, occupying them, thereby preventing logging. I envisioned a kind of Robin Hood, living with his merry band in the wood: “China wants our timber, but Occupiers will keep our trees here. I want to live in nature, raising my own food. I’m no vegetarian. I’ll raise animals, kill them myself, use their skins for clothing and bones for tools.” I thought of my mother who left the farm for the city. She was no stranger to work, but found grueling farm life less appealing than companionship found in urban living. This young man hankered after what my mother had “escaped.” And if the young man knew of the difficulty of growing, harvesting and processing his own food, would he be dreaming of it?

The older man talked fondly of his youth when he lived in a commune in a forest. He lived wild. His only baths back then – the rivers and creeks he encountered on his walks. It was a good life, a life remembered with joy. “I still only bathe with water, no soap!” he said. They both agreed, “No soap.” Soap leaves the skin dry and the young man expanded on that: “Chemicals in soap cause me to stink after several days without a bath. If I use only water to bathe, I have no body odor even after days without washing. Corporations want us to use their soaps.” Was he referring to Oakland’s one corporation —- Clorox? If so, bleach, not soap, is the local corporate product of choice!

At the edge of the encampment, on the paved plaza, another overheard conversation, a conversation between an older woman and an older man. The woman: “Last night, did you see the man dressed as a woman?” “Yes,” her friend replied. “Do you know who that was?” She asked.

“No.”

“Well, I do. It was my ex-husband, here to spy on me.”

And he fell silent.

One feels a certain unease when listening to conversations between people who are even so slightly ‘off-center,’ but those conversations are ever more interesting than between conformist types. Normal seems to equal boring.

I photographed an even older bearded man. Mark from Eureka handed me his “business card,” a slip of Xerox paper for his “Highly Skilled … Mobile Welding Service… $20 / HR, free estimates.” He would be the working poor if he could but find work. “When you look at my business card, you’ll see that I’ve indicated that my phone has no caller I.D. (Does he believe I think him an undercover agent?) Is there any work I can do for you?” I have no work for him. Even if I had, I’m more likely to walk among strangers than to invite one into my home.

Everywhere colorful costumes, tents, signs, flowers, memorials / shrines to the injured protester and humanity’s huddled masses. Individuals in the plaza, a mixture of ages, of income, of sobriety level, of education level, of sanity, of cleanliness. One tent entrance sign requested shoe removal before entering. Over this gathering of the unlikely, there is a sort of organization, people making and distributing food, a group doing tai chi in unison, homeless hustling for their next meal or place to sleep, young men selling their CD’s, financially well off individuals sitting on benches to show solidarity, group organizers at their computers communicating via the internet with the rest of the world and still others sweeping, sweeping, sweeping the unending litter and people of every ilk talking on cell phones. The gathering of this diverse humanity, greater now, more fervent now than before the eviction. Expulsion put a face on the oppressor, the one percent. The masses galvanized by opposition await tomorrow’s great walk (s).

And so I spend this one glorious summer’s day before the unexpected evening wind blew in, observing people-kind and thinking of Whitman. Is it “all flashes and specks?”

I walked away from City Hall plaza and its great spreading oak, down14th Street. On my cell phone I called Michael to suggest we meet for drinks at a restaurant at the edge of our beautiful Lake Merritt. He showed up to a waiting Manhattan, a particularly good one. We ate a late lunch watching the smooth water grow choppy. And so, we the blessed, but not the 1%, left the plaza for the Chalet, doing what the restaurant’s add suggested: “Occupy Lake Chalet.”

Will the Occupy movement hurt its cause? (Its cause remains somewhat unspecified.) I remember the protests of the 60’s and 70’s and the conservative backlash —- still in effect. I had hoped for protests in the past: When the insider Supreme Court gave Bush the W the presidency; when this horrible economic financial meltdown started; when laws to curtail the power of the financial institutions were not enacted; when conservative Republicans took over the House; and when media became dominated by the likes of Fox news with its spewing of right-wing propaganda. We have plenty to be upset about and, therefore, plenty to protest. But I wonder if we the people are too little educated, too unsophisticated to understand nuance of this system, of any system. Still, I am hopeful. I suppose I hope because I fear too much the power of the Right. We as a nation are living in the Right and I fear a deeper move into the Right. I fear what our nation is now and I fear for the future of our country. How could we have been so complicit, so supportive of those that have taken from “we the people” for themselves alone? As the evening windstorm blows ever more strongly, I am grateful for our warm house, for lights, for good food and wine, and wonder why so few of us concern ourselves with our common good. Why we are not eager to pay taxes so that our communities, our schools, our people might live better? Hillary Clinton wrote that, “It takes a community to raise a child.” How is it that we as a nation seem to think that we ourselves made it on our own? How is it that we do not see that our lives are based on what others have given us; the institutions other created for our benefits; the roads upon which we drive; the parks in which we hike; the things that we did as a people collectively all paid for by taxes? How is it that we do not see the need to give back to our communities, to our state, to our country? What have we become? Have we become a society of egocentric individuals? Can we once again work together for our common good, muster enough unity to limit corporate power and provide well for our people, all our people? Is it too late?

And I will sleep tonight on 1,000 threads psi sheets, under a cashmere blanket, my head on a feather pillow as mere blocks from me individuals huddle in cold tents as the winds blows in wildly from the vast ocean. Thankfully for them, no rain is predicted.