25 October 2011

Albany Occupied, in Pictures

It rained last night in Albany and I wondered how the occupiers would hold out. With a borrowed camera I arrived at Academy Park -- the city side of the space, opposite the unoccupied state-run Lafayette Park -- and took in a busy scene. If anything, the weather had energized the occupiers, as had the arrival of a couple of TV news crews who probably had the same thoughts I did. The park flanks Washington Avenue, which connects the main business strip of Central Avenue with the downhill downtown area, so traffic was still brisk and cars still honked their horns to support the occupiers waving signs just off the curb. A few people beat their drums and one played a guitar. I saw the "mic check" gimmick in action. A guy yelled, "Mic check!" and people gathered around him to repeat and thus amplify whatever he said regarding the informational sheets he was handing out. Two troopers showed up for an amicable encounter; I don't know what they told the occupiers, but one of the park people asked if they could bring back some coffee on their next visit. One discordant note was sounded by a passing heckler who yelled with emphatic redundancy that the occupiers were "Anti-semitic Nazis." How he'd made that deduction was a brief topic of confused chat. But the mood overall was upbeat. I suppose they felt that if Gov. Cuomo couldn't stop them, the rain didn't stand a chance.

It was somewhat less lively approximately eleven hours later when I stopped to take some morning pictures before going to work. It may have been a late night for a lot of them, and then again a good percentage of occupiers may be part-timers who show up in the evening after work or classes. A sort of soup kitchen was up and running giving out breakfast. I saw a group of kids playing in a tent and wondered why they weren't in school. Exploring the park more thoroughly in daylight, I found a "People's Library," which was a tent stocked with various books, magazines and pamphlets, as well as, for the moment, sleeping bags and blankets. Only a couple of people were working the curb, but the drive-bys were still honking hello. Across the street, someone had taped "1%" signs to the benches just outside the Capitol.

There was a schedule of events posted amid the signage and folk sculpture, and a big cardboard space for people to write "Why We Are Here." The reasons vary, but discontent rather than advocacy remains the prevailing tone. It's easier to agree that things are bad than to propose actual solutions, and so long as occupations welcome general discontent they may well keep growing. The occupiers see these events as occasions for people to hear each other out and recognize how many people agree about how bad things are. Where they go from here remains a mystery, but we can hope for the beginning of a new deliberation about society and politics, about what we want from and owe to each other, and what makes people a community. No one should dismiss them as hippies or losers or "Marxist socialists" and refuse to listen to them, nor should they refuse to listen to anyone who comes to them (albeit sober) with something relevant and critical to say. This may not be exactly what democracy looks like, but it could be democracy in the making.

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