We’d spent all night trying to agree on civil disobedience tactics. Should we all sit in the middle of the park, elbows locked with elbows? Should we form standing, roving columns? And what about hard lockdowns: fastening your neck to the park’s metal railings with a bike U-lock, your waist to a tree with a metal chain? Was that too extreme? No, it was a good example—remember, the whole world was watching. The plans were confusing, so we finally decided as a group to stockpile as much water as possible, sit down in the kitchen, and stay there until they carted us off or agreed to dissolve the WTO and IMF, end the wars and tax the rich. Oh, and Stop and Frisk—they had to stop the NYPD’s Stop and Frisk. But even then we knew we probably wouldn’t leave, so we compiled a list of our names and birthdates to report our arrests to the National Lawyers Guild and headed to the bar.
Now, with the entire park packed with people nearly shoulder to shoulder, I was less worried about roving columns and chained necks and more concerned with what to do with these people, these bodies who had traveled hundreds of miles to stand here with us at 4 a.m. in the drizzling cold, waiting for the NYPD or the city sanitation workers to show up, waiting for … well, no one really knew what. In Spain, after la policia raided the square, hundreds ringed the cops for four days, penning the police in so that at least somebody was still there.
“We made jokes that the cops were occupying the square,” said a Spaniard.
I put my head down and started chopping bread, spreading jam, scooping hummus, and before I knew it a rising cheer was spreading throughout the space, tiny particles of air squeezed through vibrating vocal chords until it became an overwhelming din of color and light and sound. The cleaning had been postponed. A celebration was in order. A celebration of sandwiches.
There was one day, I think it was in May, when I went to work un-medicated. I was so proud. Hours later, a panic attack sent me home in the middle of the afternoon, and by the next week I was on three more medications: one to sleep, one to wake up, one to manufacture desire.
Outside, the park was a metaphor: for freedom, for the alternative, for creating space to invent a new reality. But inside—inside this half-acre of concrete that sparked a media spectacle, then a movement, then a brand, then a subculture—inside, the park was real.
This is what I remember:
The plastic drawers in the kitchen under the info table crammed with nametags, sharpies, rubber bands, twine, duct tape, and a stash of expensive dark chocolate bars. You could never find the duct tape, so it wasn’t worth trying.
The gray-water system that didn’t work, even after Jim the Chemical Man from Pennsylvania tinkered with it for four days, driving everyone crazy, until he gave up and doused the whole area in toxic chemicals as his finale.
The back table where I slept during rainy nights next to a boy with tiny pockmarks in his cheeks, him staying up all night to readjust the tarp to keep me dry. (This kindness I learned of later, the night after an NYPD horse fell and kicked wildly at our feet in the middle of a packed crowd in Times Square, and the police hooked his ankle and dragged him off for “conspiracy to incite a riot.”)
My best friend Tom, who slept in a furniture factory and dreamed of writing a children’s novel about a staircase that never ends. His pitch: “Imagine a girl climbing all the way until she reaches the seam between the world and outer space, and the book ends with her taking that first step beyond.”
The night it hailed in October, and Tom took everyone to his friend’s apartment, where they drank forties and climbed up to the roof to howl bare-chested at the moon.
The donation buckets collected each evening by the finance team: Mercury John and Bobby Bailout and Pete, the drug dealer from Boston whom I punched one night in the face. “Well aren’t you a little firecracker?” he asked condescendingly.
The plucky mandolin perched atop the pile of backpacks, rain jackets, and everything else we owned.
The moonshine Jello shots that an old woman delivered to us one night. We slurped them down quickly even though there was no drinking in the park.
Kenny folding and stacking the never-ending supply of cardboard boxes in a marijuana daze. He had the same job at home in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, where he sorted the garbage for his whole building without appreciation, where one day we went to bum cigarettes and give out free food and he’d pointed at small figures on the rooftops and told me “the block was hot.”
The hours that stretched like loose taffy until we shook ourselves, disoriented, and asked whether anyone knew what day it was. Anyone? Our phones were dead; there was only one charging station in the park and all the outlets were taken. “Clocks begat capitalism,” someone joked. We laughed, but he had a point: Without the invention of the reliable pendulum clock, there would never have been the Industrial Revolution.
The donations! The armfuls and FedEx boxes stuffed with non-perishables that, for some inexplicable feeling, people suddenly wanted others to eat. The five hundred corned beef sandwiches from Russ and Daughters; the leftover wedding cake delivered at 2 a.m. by drunken guests. The child who came, parents in tow, to donate a half-eaten hot dog.