Occupy History

Occupy History: Life and Politics in the Years Before Occupy with “Truth Now” (Part One)

(An Occupy protestor and supporter, who asks to be identified as “Truth Now” in this series, had just turned 26 and was living in New York City when the Occupy Movement erupted in Zuccotti Park on September 17, 2011. He discusses the movement with HTR in July of 2021, months before Occupy’s 10th anniversary. In Part One, we discuss his own political background, how that background informed his interest in the Occupy movement, and his thoughts on the political climate from which Occupy arose.)

How did you first hear about and get involved in Occupy?

Occupy started literally a week after the 10 year anniversary of 9/11. A friend of mine had come down from Canada and I think had heard that Occupy was gonna be happening and wanted to be involved, and she lived there every single day once it started.

So, that’s when I first gained awareness that there was gonna be this thing of occupying Wall Street, and to me, it was deeply connected, not just to the financial crisis of 2008 but, really, to the crisis of capitalism, the crisis of being controlled by interests that were financially much more advanced than us, and have been since the invention of money, or since the beginning of time.

I’d heard there was going to be this sort of peaceful rebellion, squatting downtown, squatting the financial district, and that would be something that, at the very least, I would be interested in seeing and lending my voice to in some capacity.

I think the first time I visited Occupy was probably a week or two after its scheduled beginning. I wanted to see this thing grow, succeed, and figure out what its goals were and everything like that. That included being there early on and then I heard about it being shut down and went out that night too. So, I never occupied in the sense of setting up camp in Zuccotti Park, and I was also never far away, because we were only, like, four or five stops away on the J Train from, like, City Hall and that whole area.

I participated probably once a week. I would either go down and meet up with a friend or two or try to make some friends. I was not involved as much in terms of working groups and stuff. I marched on the biggest day, the one in October, after they were starting to threaten to remove Occupy from Zuccotti. There were tens of thousands of people that day.

So, I wasn’t someone who was dedicated in the sense that it was “my park” or “my home” or anything, but I tended to agree with most of the general dissatisfaction with the political and economic system, the talking points of the posters and things like that.

I also sometimes started to notice a sort of childishness of missing the point, a lot of people maybe weren’t doing their homework in terms of what I thought some of the bigger issues were.

So, sometimes I had a general dissatisfaction with where the movement seemed to be heading, certainly with the way there didn’t seem to be any transparency with the money. I think, like, half a million dollars was raised, and I don’t really know what that went to aside from, like, legal fees for people who were arrested.

I wasn’t arrested, by the way. Because of legal troubles I was dealing with from prior to Occupy, it was high on my priority list to not get arrested, to follow (to some extent) the demands of authority when they were in our face or when we were getting penned up, anything like that. I was elusive to the extent that I needed to maintain my liberty.

At the time, I didn’t have any money for – you know – any more problems than I already had.

What was the rest of your life like around the time Occupy started?

I was very dedicated to community organizing and I was a nighttime manager at a fledgling wellness center called City Life Wellness in Williamsburg that was sort of, like, one of the last pay-when-you-can yoga spots. We were hosting sobriety and sobriety adjacent wellness weekends. I was also still in union labor at that time. I was a Journeyman with one of the general labor union halls in Manhattan.

So, I was starting to phase out of my older life, of just trying to dig up general labor work and do household, handyman, moving company kind of stuff, toward what would become fulltime music festival production, entertainment as a fulltime career, and Occupy was really right at the nexus of that transition for me. Because of when Occupy was, which was my last year in New York City and my last year as a general laborer, it was at a time when I was very unsure of what the future would hold, but I knew what direction I was headed.

I was living with six MCs, good people, in a nice little loft in Brooklyn, all living together trying to pay, like, under 500 bucks a month.

So, that’s what my life was like when Occupy arose. Occupy was really my last times in New York. A year or two later, I was out of New York and on the road fulltime.

When it happened, I just looked at Occupy as the future of our political associations. I was thinking Occupy would be, to some extent, the future of the Democratic Party, in so far as there will be a Democratic Party, and I also noticed that Occupy addressed the concerns of movements that I was already involved with, like constitutional rights and civil liberties. I was not new to politics, organizing, marching, protesting and demonstrating for the things that I cared about.

So, very quickly, I was a bit disillusioned with whatever “leaderless” meant, or what direction I thought it was going. I was like, “Well, this is sort of an everybody get-in-where-you-fit-in kind of arrangement,” and some of the right conversations were happening in Zuccotti Park and I wanted to be involved with them, so sometimes we did silent meditation circles, things of that nature. That was how I would say I was most involved: through my wellness center, showing up when we were all gonna be there, and we would chant or do a silent meditation or a pop-up dance party, things like that.

Before Occupy started, before you even knew it was going to happen or had heard of it, what was your own feeling of where the country was at that time?

Yeah, kinda dog shit.

I was looking at things like the Obama administration’s expansion of the drone and targeted assassination program, Obama’s lack of a commitment to peace, all the things that, to me, made him sort of a mask, a convenient pawn, all the ways he had nothing to do with Martin Luther King’s legacy even though that was the sort of comparison a lot of people were making.

People were very excited, because having a Black President showed progress. Yes, it is progress. I was in Jamaica living on an eco-farm when Obama got elected. I had a lot of interest in there being reparations, in there being a normalization of what would become Black Lives Matter, an understanding of how the police are basically still runaway slave patrols. I was very anti-police, from my own experiences in New York and Canada, from being arrested for victimless crimes, and therefore, in my opinion, not crimes at all.

So, I was just thinking like, “Oh, it’s all downhill from here,” and to some extent, I was right. You know? Not enough has changed. Some things have gotten worse.

I look at it like: Presidents are more selected than elected, and even though maybe Obama was a surprise to some people and Trump was a surprise to some people, neither one of them were really a surprise to me, based on the way Americans have this sort of reactionary backlash illusion of change, and at the end of the day, not that much really changes.

You know: “Are we gonna go to war with Iran?” “Are we gonna go to war with China?” Obama put us into war with Lybia and Syria.

There is a clear understanding, among a lot of people, that we are not going to stop being at war, because the most successful lobbying network is the military industrial complex. Eisenhower warned us about it and he was a Republican.

There isn’t really much changing the direction of the country, or changing the future of civil rights, even allowed in American politics. We just keep returning to normal or to a new normal, but again, it’s not really a change of anything. It’s just: The rich get richer and the poor get poorer, the middleclass gets gutted, we get a continuation of policies that lead to climate change, or the sixth extinction, whatever you want to call it.

We don’t really have a Nuremberg Trial for people who are really committing war crimes today. If you kill 200,000 or more Iraqis, what do you do? Go hang out with Ellen DeGeneres on Superbowl Sunday. There is no culpability for our war criminals, because America is still posing as a world leader, so who is gonna hold our feet to the fire?

Categories: Occupy History, oral history

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