McPherson Square —"Let us sleep so we can dream!"
On Monday at noon, Occupy D.C.ers at McPherson Square dreamed big. At the center of the square, the statue of General McPherson was dressed in a giant blue tarpaulin skirt labeled “Tent of Dreams.” It was a carnival atmosphere. Beastie Boys blasted. They even had signs.
"I’m dreaming of... no institutional genocide."
"I'm dreaming of... taxing banks and corporations."
"I'm dreaming of… universal healthcare."
"I'm dreaming of... a world without sexism."
"I'm dreaming of... gift economies."
Like most of my dreams, the dream tent itself was full of men in beards shouting slogans about money in politics. It is the sort of dream that you have if you eat too many anchovies before going to bed.
"We are the 99 percent! Evict us and we multiply! Occupy will never die!"
The Dream Bonanza that unfolded Monday epitomized both the movement’s inability to launch itself as a coherent political force and the factors that have enabled it to retain some public sympathy.
“We are unstoppable! Another world is possible!”
Possible, maybe. Feasible? Desirable? Different questions.
“Show me what democracy looks like!” someone yells. “This is what democracy looks like!”
Well, then democracy could use a shave.
The trouble with Occupy D.C.’s human microphone system is that you can be halfway into a sentence before you notice that it has gone terribly wrong. "We've been told,” the crowd yells dutifully, “that we can only exercise First Amendment rights in certain places in certain limited ways! I'm pretty sure the entire United States is supposed to apply to the Constitution. I want my First Amendment rights back!"
Some dreams are more lucid than others.
"I have a master's degree!" yelled another. "Student debt is a form of indentured servitude! I am here to end that slavery!"
"I am here because I think it is wrong that speech is considered to be money… I think it is wrong that corporations are considered to be people. People are people. This is speech."
'I am here because we have a broken food system! A food system that prepares you to be sick by the time you are fifty or even younger! So you are a slave... to pharmaceutical companies!"
"I'm here because before we were here there were homeless people sleeping in this park and whether or not we continue to occupy, they have nowhere to go!"
The awakening is coming. Move the dreamers, and they wake right up.
Occupy D.C., like many brave experiments, is mostly precipitate at this point. Four months ago, in October, the movement was not condensed, but that was to be expected. Give it time, and it might go places. "No one person speaks for the movement," Occupy proudly declared. "We are the 99 percent!"
It hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s entrenched. And it remains as multifarious as ever. It’s a big dream tent. And there’s room for everyone inside.
“Occupy D.C.," the group yelled, from the preamble to the group's declaration, "is an open community of diverse individuals, facing different forms of oppression and impacted by economic exploitation to differing degrees, but united by a shared vision of equality for the common good.”
A man who had come up last night from Baltimore after hearing that the police were expected to crack down is handing out poems. "Surprise Attack A Lie False US war pretexts and 9/11 in verse (sung to Bob Dylan tunes)." It resembles the Wasteland, but only in that it includes footnotes and, at best, only sort of rhymes. "Google and see April Glaspie,/The US ambassador,/Who told Saddam there was no problem: With Kuwait to settle a score./They made it happen, or let it happen on purpose."
Robert Stephens, a GW second-year law student who majored in anthropology, began trying to supply context. As a journalist, I’m missing out. "You can't be objective. You're a person," he explains.
He starts telling me that there is no reason everyone needs a lawn mower. It's "wasteful and isolating. Sharing a lawn mower fosters community."
Stephens describes how gift economies work – you get into a circle and everyone goes around saying what he or she wants. Then you go around again saying what you have to give. Then you go around again and say thanks. "What if I want a house?" I asked.
"That's not sustainable," Stephens said. "Everybody can't have a house." This from someone who had just been arrested for protesting his parents’ foreclosure.
He expresses distrust with the media and the system that prevents us from showing up to these things like normal people. “If you were a normal person,” Stephens adds, “we would exchange information.”
But what did Occupy D.C. all mean? When the police finally remove the tents, what will remain?
If you stand for something, you can’t stand for everything. Right now, it’s not a movement, it’s a village. It can’t get up and go. It’s defined as the People In The Park, not the Ninety-Nine Percent.
On Monday, the deadline for Occupy D.C. to stop sleeping came and went with minimal police fuss, so far. A park police officer emerged from his car. Press crowded around. He gave almost inaudible remarks for a few minutes. By 2:30 the police had driven away. Occupy slumbered on.
But just wait until night falls. Then it may be time to wake up.