Freedom Plaza–The First Day

“I hate young people!” I’m grumbling as I puff along in the wake of the march led by the Occupy DC folks who have established their base in McPherson Square.  They’ve asked for drummers and music on their march, but they are travelling at such a fast pace it’s all I can do to try and keep up with them, let alone drumming at the same time.  Simon helps by carrying my bag—he’s a young person but I forgive him for it.  Finally we reach our destination:  The Newseum where the American Ideas Forum is happening and where Dick Cheney is speaking.  We hold a short, spirited rally and head back to the Square at breakneck speed for the general assembly.

I don’t really hate them, however—just their tendency to compete for the Olympic Speed-Marching record.  Really I’ve had an amazing day, mostly spent in the company of predominantly young people who have set up this occupation, separate but linked to the events in Freedom Plaza.  The Occupy DC group are mostly locals, and they intend to stay in the square indefinitely.  They’re a mix of students and a good sprinkling of older people of varied backgrounds.  “I quit my job at Morgan Stanley,” says a well-dressed, gray-haired man.  An older woman with a rugged face talks about the protests of the sixties.  A slow-talking older man says that he wasn’t an activist in the sixties, he knew that stuff was happening but ignored it.  He’s not an activist now—he’s an analyst for a global corporation.  But if we don’t bring some reason into our tax system we will be destroying the base of labor upon which an economy rests.

The folks at Freedom Plaza, like us, mostly come from out of town.  Judging from the nonviolence training we did last night, more than half of them have never done anything like this before and many of them have come to the action alone, without knowing anyone else.  I admire their courage—I doubt that I would hop on a plane from Iowa or Texas to come demonstrate in Washington DC all by myself, with no support.  What if the other kids don’t like me, and I don’t make any friends?

I spent a lot of the day in meetings.  It was a bit like a relationship I once had where we spent far more time in couples counseling than we ever did having sex—I spent far more of the day in meetings than in the actions the meetings were meeting about.  But in a sense, maybe the meetings were actions—interposing this exercise in direct democracy at the feet of the lobbyists and the Congress and all the systems that are captives of money and corrupt power.  “Demoncracy” I wrote by accident—democracy made servant of the demons of greed.

Occupy DC has two General Assemblies a day.  Freedom Plaza has its own General Assembly.  With so many people new to consensus process, the meetings are sometimes ponderous—and yet there’s an archetypal quality to it all, people sitting under a tree debating and discussing and coming to decisions together in a process designed to assure that everyone has a voice.  I think we crave that experience, somewhere deep in the soul.  It is exactly what democracy looks like, and right now it seems that all over the world people are hearing the call.

I did sit in on their facilitators’ working group, and some of us from the Pagan Cluster gently offered some of our tips.  (All of which you can read in the free download on my website: “The Five-Fold Path of Productive Meetings”.  Three young men were down from the Occupy Wall Street group in New York and the DC folks were appreciative, thrilled, and admiring.  These young folks who learned their activist skills a month ago and now the seasoned veterans and the experts.

The evening assembly went much more smoothly, we were told, than yesterdays.  Simon—bless him—raised the issue of marching a bit more slowly, being aware of the tail of the march as well as the head.  His comments elicited a long discussion and a plethora of suggestions.  A tall,very dark man with a big smile from the Communications Workers of America explained how they always had marshalls in orange vests at all their marches.  Some people liked the idea of marshalls, others were wary of establishing a role that gave people power they might abuse.  I hear comments of staggering maturity and common sense:  “I’m as anti-authoritarian as anyone, but I’m against illegitimate authority and this would be giving people legitimate authority.”  “We’re asking people to take on responsibility and that’s a good thing, to use it in service of the groups—like these facilitators are doing, to make the process more democratic and easier for everyone to participate in.”  We don’t really come to a resolution, but do make a plan for the next day, a march to the IMF and World Bank.  Many people don’t know what the connection is to the economic interests at the heart of this action—others explain that the “austerity” measures we’re having forced on us have already been shoved down the throats of the global south by the IMF, and the poverty they’ve created abroad is now coming home to us as well.

The Freedom Plaza folks will be supporting the tar sands protests tomorrow.  Hearings are scheduled about the proposed pipeline that would carry the world’s dirtiest oil over the country’s key aquifer, running from Canada to Texas.  I want to do it all and I want to do some trainings and I want to lie in the sun and sleep.

At the very end of the night, we wait until the last performer on the Freedom Plaza stage is done, then we strike up the drums and lead people in a spiral dance.  “We are the rising sun, we are the change, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for and we are dawning”—we used Raven’s beautiful chant and wove in and out under the stars, finishing with a cone of power.  Then a young woman standing next to me asked for one more song.  We sang song after song, from John Lennon’s “Imagine” to a rousing chorus of “What Can We Do with the Drunken Sailor” with the words changed.  It was very sweet, standing in a circle in the night, singing together.  Imagine!  This is what democracy looks like.  Imagine a world where we sing together, and together make the decisions that affect our lives.  It isn’t hard to do.  Then make that world together.  It’s easy if you try.  The old, corrupt world falls away and a new world is born.

4 comments to Freedom Plaza–The First Day

  • i thought it is significant that people are speaking of illegitmate and legitimate authority, as if it were like playing chess, which maybe it is. i could not help but reach for some other way to communicate what authority needs to really mean.
    because authority needs to have some genuine basis for asserting itself and not just by virtue of being adept at obeying rules. and it looks like we do
    need a clearer idea of leadership, what it means, and how that meaning can be communicated. however, within each group putting their faith in a leader
    there should be collaboration and i suppose, rewards. sigh. at the very least the gifts that each individual has to offer need to be supported.
    but i digress. it occurred to me simply that leadership should eclipse authority and authority be required to demonstrate leadership. leading toward the greater good. knowing what it is. doing it.
    thank you so much for writing this wonderful article/story. i felt like i was there, and it was a whole new world thanx

  • Thanks for this post, Starhawk – can’t help but think of A-16 and the big, unwieldy, amazing spokescouncil meetings, and being the oldest person, in my mid-20s at the action trainings I went to. New energy flowing in is good! Glad you’re there to ground it out. Love and appreciation!

  • I googled to see where you were at with all this. Starhawk/Occupy. Would help if people remember that they are dreaming the dream.

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