On Saturday I joined the Occupy Movement in the comfort of my own town park in Brattleboro, Vermont. “What are we doing here?” my eleven-year old asked, “This isn’t Wall Street.”
I explained that this was our way of showing our support for what started in NYC. My son looked around the small park and noticed his school nurse, some younger classmates, and our neighbors from up the road. I introduced him to the midwife who assisted us with his older brother’s birth. “Helena came from across the state to be here,” I said, as she and I shared a sweet embrace.
Some of our South Pond friends were gathered too. Sparrow was there with her new baby, and Ted and his wife were there with their colleague from Nicaragua. Charlie and Kate told us that both of their sons, in different parts of the country, were gathering today. Students and teaching colleagues of my husband were also well represented.
“There are Occupy Movements in Rome and London this weekend as well,” he added.
“They’re happening over the world,” Kate echoed.
While we talked, young people led chants, while others of all ages stood by the road with signs. The thumbs up and solidarity honking was non-stop. People rolled down their windows to cheer. A local lawyer. Truck drivers. Teenagers. Old guys. BMW’s. Beaters. Delivery vans. NY plates, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts.
After an hour, my son walked into town to spend his pocket change, while my husband and I occupied a blanket apart from the crowd. A man from New Hampshire dropped down beside us, saying that he needed to soak up my “peace” vibe. I chuckled to myself, imagining an entire movement of people lying in the grass under the sun.
This guy had been in Boston for the rallies there, where it was much more intense, and he said that he preferred the energy here. After a few moments of silence, he was up again, off to talk with Health Care activists and 350-ers and some young men shouting about Ron Paul.
“If Ron Paul were running this country, those kids would never have gotten to this rally,” my husband said. “Our roads would still be missing.”
After 3 hours, I was ready to go. I wanted to get a bite to eat before the literary event with Ken Burns and David Blistein at the museum. There was no specific mention of Occupy Brattleboro at this large gathering, not even by the local organizer, but she did reference the fire and the floods and the murders. I appreciated that.
I also appreciated Ken’s message that we have to see ourselves in each other, that it’s our arrogance that makes us think that our views are uniquely right or that our times are special or that we are living our lives more fully than the generations before us. We each have our individual stories, he said; we each contain generosity and greed, sincerity and hypocrisy.
His friend David Blistein echoed these thoughts, saying that our righteousness prevented us from truly “feeling” our history, or seeing the other side. It doesn’t allow something new to happen, he said.
I couldn’t wait to get into the discussion during the Q& A, but there was more. David read from his new book, Real Time, with the voice of Harriet Tubman who had this to say to our self-absorbed generation:
At least those people knew they were slaves… (unlike the)people in the so-called ‘free’
world today. Because they plainly are not aware of their chains…
Getting up at dawn to travel in a little metal box just so you can spend the whole day in another little box? That’s slavery. Having to look at the words on your computer before even saying hello to your children? That’s slavery. Sitting in front of your TV for hours at a time? That’s slavery. Thinking that the wealth in your bank account is more important than the wealth in your heart. That’s slavery. Living with a husband or wife whom you’ve forgotten how to love. That’s slavery.
It occurred to me that although “our times” seem so divided and alternately so “enlightened,” there is an arrogance in distinguishing ourselves from the past. It’s what Ken Burn’s calls, “the tyranny of the present.” But I didn’t whole-heartedly agree with either man’s view, and so when it was time, I shot my hand into the air.
“As a memoirist,” I said, “I do see the same history repeat itself in my family with the most uncanny details; But I’ve also seen it evolve. Each generation may pick up the same story, but they also make it a little better. I see the same evolution with Occupy Wall Street. They’ve created the space for something new to emerge–from the people.”
I could have wrestled these thoughts into the wee hours of the night with these two, but hundreds of people were ready to descend upon them, and I had a husband waiting across town with a glass of chardonnay and a late night burger.
It had been a good day in Brattleboro, made up of everything I love and admired about her. She had survived the fire, the murders, the floods and was still doing what she does best–engaging people in what matters to them.
It wasn’t just the Literary Festival, or the Occupation at Wells Fountain Park. It was the general hum of the town–among the staff behind the Co-op’s deli line or Amy’s bakery; in the arm chairs of the library; on the lawn of Brattleboro Savings and Loan with Fish from WKVT; at the newly restored Latchis with the broken marquee, still offering up opera and jazz; and down the street at the youth theater (NEYT) exploring homophobia with their latest play.
Past, present and future, the people in Brattleboro examine the chains, on all of us, and creatively endeavor to sing and read and gather to set us free.
(p.s. sometimes I think a little arrogance is in order to claim the change we want to see, especially if when its balanced by compassion and humility in the face of so much pain.)
Kelly Salasin, October 2011
The previous post on the Occupy Movement was: Occupy WHAT?