I haven’t watched television since 1971, when I took LSD for the first time. A few nights after my “trip,” I visited the park opposite my house, in Inwood (the northernmost section of Manhattan). On the path where I walked, I could see into the picture window of my own living room. In it, my parents watched a lit screen, which sent them daily messages. All at once, I saw the horror of Electronic Thought Control. “I will never watch television again,” I vowed. And, with certain added provisions, I have kept that vow. (For example, I’m allowed to watch TV in other countries. I saw one of the Roots installments in France.)
A “live feed” is not television, I have decided. (Just as YouTube is not television.) Nonetheless, I don’t usually watch live feeds, because I’m not that interested in what I’m being fed. But Liberty Square is essential to me. I was born in 1953, and attended my first peace demonstration in 1967 (radicalized by my anti-war rabbi). I began to read everything I could find about politics, and went to numerous rallies. (Martin Luther King spoke in Central Park, at one.) I watched, as a young teenager, the progress of the New Left—its progress and decline. Those were revolutionary times, but there was no actual revolution. Many of us wanted one, but the uprising never came. All the movements were either too organized—dogmatic Maoists, Marxist-Leninists, Stalinists—or too disorganized—hippies taking drugs, and taking more drugs. Another problem was sexism. All the groups were led by cocky, egoistic men. Women did much of the work: mimeographing, washing dishes, making phone calls. In return, they were ignored except while being fucked. Eventually, a number of them left and began their own movement, which was ultimately much more successful.
In Liberty Square is a revolution. The word that comes to mind is “disciplined.” The group feels disciplined, but joyous. Forty years after the ‘60s, drugs have lost much of their charm. And so has Communism. There is no word for the new system being invented at this encampment—and at all the other ones around the world. I am tempted to call it “cooperationism.” People are learning the pleasures of cooperating. It’s not a paradise; there are numerous difficulties. But what makes Liberty Square exist is the urge to help. Not exactly to share, but to help. Communism divides up all the goods of a society, and redistributes them (at least in theory). Cooperationism is voluntary, spontaneous.
One day, on my way to Liberty Square, my belt broke. It was an old belt, and had been weakening for a while. When I reached the encampment, I sat at the Sacred Tree in the northwest corner. This tree had become a shrine of candles, images of saints, statues of Ganesh, burning incense. I said to the man next to me: “My problem is I need a belt. Do you know if I can get one?”
“Go to Comfort,” he replied.
“Over there,” he gestured.
“Thanks,” I replied, heading in the direction he pointed.
Physical space at Liberty Square is mystifying. You may be 10 feet away from a crucial meeting-place and never see it. The closest parallel I can think of is an Arab market. Proceeding through the maze, you seem to be moving through time as well as space. Within the course of 30 seconds, you may travel from the year 1732 to 2061.
After a few more inquiries, I found Comfort (great name!), which was essentially a collection of donated clothing. Behind a counter, a man and a woman were dancing to rap music—agile, sinuous dancing. The song ended, and the woman looked up at me. “Yes?” she asked, cocking her head.
“I need a belt,” I replied.
“We don’t have belts,” she replied quickly. “Go to Sanitation. Maybe they can give you some rope.”
“Where’s Sanitation?” I wondered.
“Over there,” she gestured.
I followed the flip of her hand, and soon reached the north edge of the park. I saw three relaxed-looking hippies in front of a tent. “You know where Sanitation is?” I inquired.
“This is Sanitation!” a bearded man proudly answered.
“They told me at Comfort that you might have some rope. My belt broke,” I explained.
“Yes, we have twine,” he said, immediately reaching down and pulling out a spool. “Measure out how much you need. Take your time.”
I circled my waist with the line, then added some extra length. “This will be good,” I decided.
“Now if only I had something to cut it with...” my benefactor mused.
“I can do it,” a woman sitting in a chair said. She reached into her bag and produced a Swiss Army knife. With the tiny scissors, she cut my twine.
“Thanks so much!” I said, donning the new belt.
In much of America, a twine belt is a stigma. Of course, Liberty Square is not one of them. Now I was perfectly equipped for my next plan: to visit the Library (which doubles as a Bookstore Without Prices). You see what I mean about cooperationism.
At 1 AM Tuesday (as you probably know) police destroyed Liberty Square. They arrested the citizens who refused to move. They tore down tents. They threw 5000 books in the garbage.
Except you can’t destroy a revolution. A little after noon, I discovered the “live feed.” The revolution had become a moving video camera.
Throughout the day, I watched on and off. The cameraman, Tim Pool, was curious and restless. He constantly stayed in motion, circling the park. Within the barricades, uniformed police stood. At one point, one of Tim’s friends said: “It’s a cop-upation!” A second guy shouted at the cops: “Need any drums?”
“Hippies!” a third person shouted, to the impassive police. “Get a job!”
Another friend of Tim’s friends looked in the park and said, “Boy, that is a tedious place, with no one inside!” It was true. The brilliant organizers of this occupation had chosen one of the ugliest parks in the world.
Early in the morning, Lucy Billings, a sympathetic New York Supreme Court Judge, had issued a court order demanding that Liberty Square be reopened. Mayor Bloomberg was appealing that decision. All day, we awaited the results of the appeal. Tim continued pacing, often worrying about his camera’s battery. Meanwhile, hundreds of people were communicating to him through Twitter. At one point, someone suggested he interview a police officer. Tim obediently approached a cop and said, “I’d just like to chitchat...”
The cop shook his head.
Tim went up to another one. “Do you think we could chitchat?” he proposed.
The cop shook his head.
Tim tried two more police officers. Each time, he used the absurd word “chitchat.” I began to feel love for Tim.
At 11:59 PM, the police allowed the occupiers back in the park. Tim was one of the first inside. “We’re back in the park! For the first time since they threw us out!” Tim exulted. He raced around the Square. “Everyone’s smiling!”
In a revolution, you fight for territory. The territory is symbolic, but also real. French revolutionaries broke into the Bastille on July 14, 1789. They only liberated seven prisoners, but that day will be remembered forever.