As I write this, the propaganda machine is cranking out stories about how Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is nothing but smelly hippies and all they’ll manage to do is guarantee the election of a GOP president and Congress as the silent majority returns in a nostalgic restoration of the 20th Century. But the truth is the silent majority today are the people occupying Wall Street. From the tech savvy kids who represent the first wave of a generation bigger than the dreaded boomers to the union guys and gals: teachers, steel workers, bus drivers, nurses, and veterans of every war including World War 2, almost everyone is represented.
What is probably most frightening to the owners of the status quo is not the intelligence of the General Assembly and their painstaking dedication to thoroughly discussing every issue with an eye to fairness and transparency. What may spook them more is the dawning realization that the media they control, the television news programs, the newspapers, and talk radio, are fading in importance, going the way of the music business. While pundits harrumph about bongo drums and spew frightened fantasies of mobs lynching rich people, the important exchange of information is happening through YouTube and Vimeo videos, by the creation of spontaneous documentaries, and by photos and eyewitness reports circulated on Facebook and Twitter. By the time their Pony Express arrives the revolution will be over. (White people afraid of lynching?)
I’d already been following OWS a few days when I saw Kelly Heresy on Current. I googled him and clicked over to his blog. The people of OWS have many reasons for being there: massive unemployment, enormous student debt, and Wall Street’s domination of politics. Some have lost their homes, even loved ones who could not afford medical care. But Kelly’s blog revealed his unique reason for being one of the first to occupy Wall Street. Kelly had made a conscious decision to walk the spiritual path of an Urban Nomad. He was planning to save ten thousand dollars in one year, which he would use to launch an organic farming community. Instead as he took that first step into the unknown he found that the universe seemed to spin around him and a new realm of possibilities was born, for him, and for all of us.
Kelly’s perspective on OWS is not only that of one of the first there, it’s also the result of an ongoing spiritual journey where sacred practices connect with civil actions. I’ve been working with my partner Ronnie on several projects about the history of American Metaphysical Religion, the first result of which you can read in his column for Newtopia about Tom Morton, the Pagan Pilgrim, who would have undoubtedly joined OWS. Again and again throughout the history of America we see this nexus of the spiritual and the political. Kelly reminds us that for many of the protestors there is a spiritual dimension to the occupation. They believe in a better world, they believe they can think and act and create their way to a new paradigm more civilized than the status quo, and that faith, drawn from all the religions of the world, and a few more or less made up domestic varieties, is the essence of what is worthy about the American experiment.
I am pleased to present my interview with Kelly Heresy below.
You were the first protestor pepper sprayed, as you photographed violence against the protestors by the NYPD. What was that violence you were documenting?
By now, everyone has seen the video in which NYPD Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna pepper sprayed three young female protesters who were penned in behind orange netting. Just moments before, I was on the opposite side of the street and I witnessed a blue shirt police officer violently slam a young African American male onto the street, step on the back of his neck, and lift his arms up behind him while binding his wrists with plastic ties. I had seen several violent arrests throughout the protests, but this seemed exceptionally brutal even by the NYPD’s standards. I pulled out my phone and attempted to document the abuse I was witnessing. Before I could get a clear picture, a cop wearing a jacket with the letters TARU (Technical Assistance Response Unit) stepped in front of camera. When he noticed I was attempting to take a picture, he pulled out a can of pepper spray and shot me directly in the eyes. I stumbled into a restaurant across the street and a waitress took me into the restroom and poured milk into my eyes. When I was finally able to open them, I went outside and two of our medics were treating the three girls who got pepper sprayed.
The Wall Street Journal, NY 1, ABC 7 and Democracy Now interviewed you, and you appeared on Fox News Freedom Watch and on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown. You let your hair down, literally, on Keith’s show but for Fox you tied it back, and otherwise chose to make a different impression. What motivated you to choose a different look for Fox?
The interview on Fox was two days after the interview with Keith Olbermann. By that time, my interview with Keith Olbermann was on YouTube and had been covered by a number of blogs like Raw Story and Huffington Post. I noticed that the comments on the YouTube video and on these blogs often centered on my look. It seemed that the way I look was more fiercely debated than the ideas in the interview. Some of the comments were funny; apparently a lot of people think I look like Dave Grohl. But then of course, the people less sympathetic to the movement see the long hair and it immediately discredits everything I am saying and I am automatically a “slacker hippie” that is just out protesting because I “can’t get a job.” Normally I wouldn’t let such shallow and close-minded opinions influence me, but I was well aware that in order to effectively get my message out to the demographic that watches Fox News, I would have to meet them some place comfortable and give them the best chance to accept me. My individuality and self-expression had to take a backseat to the message of the movement in that context.
You describe in your blog how you took the proverbial Bodhisattva step off the cliff, choosing to begin one year of life as an urban nomad in NYC as a spiritual path. Weeks later you found yourself at the center of the birth of a movement, which would seem to be a resounding yes from the universe about your choice. What have you learned spiritually from Liberty Plaza, how has it influenced your beliefs and practice?
Well, just as you said, it was a resounding yes from the universe. It was a total affirmation of everything I’ve believed and desired for a very long time. The urban nomad thing was not just a whim. It was something I deeply considered before making the decision, and the reason I believed so strongly about it was because I felt that it was a practical reflection of a new paradigm and a new way of being in the world. I was deeply questioning all of the basic assumptions of society, and I knew that I would have to put my ideas into practice in the real world if it was ever to be anything more than just an idea. Liberty Plaza is the perfect laboratory to put those ideas into practice, to teach, learn and refine new techniques for creating a whole new paradigm. But for more on that, I refer your readers to my blog, where I explain and describe my experiences in more detail.
Among right-wingers the protestors are dismissed as unintelligent, a point easily refuted by reference to the Declaration of the General Assembly. They say you are anti-capitalist and anti-American. What would you like to say to them about capitalism and America, not as a representative of the movement, but as an individual from the 99%?
A lot of people think in the terms you’ve described. I believe the most useful approach would be to help clarify the words and ideas that they use, because these words are often mindlessly repeated without much reflection. Both of the words “capitalism” and “America” have the quality of Orwellian doublespeak, because when you use either word a lot of ideas are automatically associated with them that are basically propaganda and far from the facts. In actuality, what we consider to be capitalism is really corporatism, or fascism as defined by Benito Mussolini. That is, when the state and corporations have indistinguishable pursuits, which is exactly the type of capitalism we have, not free market capitalism. And America has all kinds of connotations about being the greatest country on the planet and a land of opportunity, which only really serves as propaganda and hides the obvious facts that it is actually greatest purveyor of war and destruction the world has ever seen and was founded on the genocide of its native inhabitants. So I advocate looking at facts rather than propaganda, but usually those right-winger folks are just comfortable with the illusions and lies they’ve been sold. But a day will come when they finally have to face the truth. The truth can’t be suppressed forever.
You were one of the first waves of sleepovers holding the ground at Liberty Plaza. What were those first nights like? How has being there changed now that you’ve been there going on three weeks and so many others have joined?
The first nights were magical. It was very, very exciting. Everything was so new and we had no idea what the outcome would be. We just knew that we didn’t have much margin for error, and we had to work together very quickly and efficiently. We developed sort of a group mind. The hypnotic quality of the call and response repetition of the “people’s microphone” might be part of the explanation. But whatever the reason, a group of people very quickly came together, set aside personalities and worked toward a common cause, which was to secure and to hold the park. We literally did not know for sure we would hold the park that first night until after the 10pm curfew to close the park came and went without the police attempting to disperse us. The focus then shifted to how to best prepare for a long-term occupation. There were maybe 100-200 of us who lived and stayed in the park that first week. We all worked around the clock to transform it into a sustainable village. Now, it’s surreal to see how many people are there each day. Last night we had 600 people sleep in the park, which was the largest overnight group ever. It’s amazing and a huge success, but not very comfortable to navigate through. I am sleeping there fewer nights now, since there is no longer a shortage of people to occupy the space.
You were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge. What did you see? How did the police treat you? Notice anything interesting there? Did you know twenty thousand people (including yours truly) were watching the Livestream?
I can’t go into full details at this time as the incident is under investigation for a possible class action lawsuit. But what I will tell you is that I was originally going to take the pedestrian sidewalk. I had been pepper sprayed the weekend earlier and I didn’t really want to get arrested if I didn’t have to. But once the march took the road and began blocking traffic, it was too exciting of a moment not to be on the road. I got caught up in the moment and didn’t even think that the police might be waiting on the other side of the bridge, until we got to the halfway point and it was not possible to turn back. Then the police came in and it was a very tense situation for a while. It could have ended badly and people could have been trampled if cooler heads didn’t prevail. We realized it was a significant moment, and someone actually did announce that 20,000 people were watching the live stream and while we did all get arrested, the officers that took me into custody were actually the really nice. I was on a bus with 30 other guys, and the officers were professional, did their jobs and also laughed and joked around with us. They seemed to understand our point a view, so I am willing to give Officer Meems and Torres a shout out for being good people.
What have your interactions with the police, the media, the union protestors, and the tourists been like at Liberty Plaza? Any interaction with Wall Street types?
90% of the interactions I’ve had with people have been positive or supportive of the movement. Many of the cops, while they cannot publicly state they support us, have said so in other ways. They will say thing like they would rather be home with their families than out here babysitting us. They feel it is a waste of their time to be watching us. I’ve spoken with people who work on Wall Street, and some either support what we are doing or are willing to have an intelligent discussion about it. The only negative encounters have been people who live in the neighborhood who don’t like the noise or that they perceive the park is unsanitary with so many people their. A valid complaint but a situation we have taken steps to remedy.
What possible negative outcomes are you working to avoid both personally and or for the movement?
We are already beyond the negative outcome I wanted to avoid, which would be that this movement ends without having an impact. It already has and will continue to grow. A lot of people now talk about the movement being co-opted, and that would be the outcome I would most like to avoid. I am confident that we will not allow the movement to be influenced by outside sources like George Soros or the Democratic Party. We did not sleep outside for many nights, in cold and rainy weather to settle for reforms. We want fundamental change, we want to create a new system in which the peoples’ voices are heard, and that people and the planet are valued before profit.
What is your dream come true best outcome?
Revolution, or Evolution, whichever term you prefer. A whole new paradigm. The end of paper currency, the end of corporate oligarchy, end of the wars, and drug war included. A new system based on non-hierarchical open democratic process, open source technology, sustainability, cooperative and shared resources, and numerous innovations we haven’t imagined yet. Basically, fulfilling our potential as peaceful co-creators of the future we want to live in.
ARTICLE BY TAMRA SPIVEY
Newtopia staff writer TAMRA SPIVEY is a founding member and primary singer of Lucid Nation, executive producer of the documentaries Rap is War and Exile Nation, and associate producer of The Gits documentary. She was art editor and west coast editor of Newtopia Magazine in its former incarnation, collaborating on in depth interviews with whistle blower Michael Ruppert, ACLU and record business honcho Danny Goldberg, and grassroots political strategist Larry Tramutola. Follow her on twitter @MongrelPatriot.
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