Channeling the Lincoln Vets in Zucotti Park

October 17, 2011

A hundred-year-old man is helped up on to a plastic milk crate, and prepares to address the crowd at Occupy Wall Street.

“Mic check” shouts the facilitator, and her words are repeated by the crowd in a kind of reverse echo, moving in concentric circles from the milk crate out in all directions.

The old man on the milk crate begins to speak, and his words are broadcast outward by those same human waves.

You don’t know who I am, or what I’ve done in my life.  That’s OK.  You can call me Moe, or Abe, or Matti, or Manuel.  It doesn’t matter much.

I know who you are, though I don’t know any of your names.   I know you, and I knew waves of people just like you that came before.  I recognize you by your slogans, your youth, your rage.  I was you, you are me.

We are the people who know that a political and economic system founded on our worst impulses –selfishness, greed, the pursuit of profit—will, unchecked, produce injustice and inequality.

We are the people who know that another order is possible, a more just and stable order, founded on our most noble instincts:  solidarity, fairness, and generosity of spirit.

As I said, it’s OK that you don’t know who I am or what I’ve done, but, to be honest, it’s also a bit disheartening.  Almost eighty years ago, almost on this very spot, I was here fighting for a more just world; later, in Spain, and throughout my life, I carried on the same fight to the best of my abilities.  This unjust and unequal system that we protest today produces booms and busts, one after the other;  I’ve lived through five or six of these cycles just in my lifetime.  But somehow, the memory of the last bust always seems to fade with the stirrings and promise of the next boom.  And when the bust after that boom comes along, the latest victims of our system’s “collateral damage” try to pick up the pieces and organize and protest, as if their shipwreck were some kind of one-off anomaly, rather than a more or less charted and routine port of call for the fool’s ship of unsustainable development.

I’ve been around long enough to make my share of mistakes.  But I’ve also been around long enough  to know that some things will never be mistakes. Like tirelessly challenging those who claim that the pursuit of self-interest is the only reliable motor of progress and prosperity. Like putting your mouth and mind where your heart is, and, as you’re doing today, like putting your body where your mouth is.  Keep your mind, heart, mouth and body aligned, through boom and bust, and you –we—can’t go wrong.


One Response to “ Channeling the Lincoln Vets in Zucotti Park ”

  1. Marina Garde on April 12, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    As I’m writing to councilman Ydanis Rodriguez -who has been very active in the Occupy movement- to invite him to ALBA’s annual event, I am re-reading your old post from October and find it so moving, straightforward and inspiring…thank you!