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Quinoa Blessed
2017

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2012-03-19

We are the 100%

Arriving in the Sydney CBD and attempting to buy a new sim card so I can make calls to pick up some cheques and find a home for the night I found to be an overwhelming unpleasant experience in the heat, carrying my backpack and my guitar.  I respected myself enough to pause as often and for as long as necessary, to calm my emotions from reacting to circumstances beyond my control and of little significance.  Eventually I did these boring things and called Ashwyn, who had offered to accommodate me at his squat through Couchsurfing.org, and he gave me directions instead to Martin Place, in the centre of Sydney, between the twin towers of Westpac and Australian Reserve Bank.  I was surprised to find a cosy little camp set up on the pavement beside the fountains with carpet and cushions and many people talking and enjoying themselves.  I was invited to drop my bag in the pile and relax.  I also noticed armed Police standing around bored.
            The first person I met there was Alistair, a young man with a beautiful smile who was very excited to be there.  He had quit his second job to spend more time at the occupation, but he had to pay 50% tax on his second job anyway, so the loss was insignificant and the gain was immeasurable in his joy and enthusiasm.  I quickly developed a crush on this humble young man and spent as much time with him as possible.  I never once heard him espouse any political ideology, he seemed to me rather delighted to be a part of something real, not a demand for change but a symptom of change, not a display of discontent, but a moment of coming together in the heart of Australian Capitalism, the centre of modern alienation on this continent.
            I was surprised to find James there, a man who had spent a precious week living at my house in Jiggi a month earlier.  In the morning Alistair, James, others and I took signs down to the Channel 7 building to hold up outside the morning show studio.  Being personally apolitical I was delighted to find a sign saying “SMASH THE CLOCK” and I took this sign down to hold up for the television cameras and the capitalists rushing to work.
            For the backdrop of the Channel 7 morning show they film Martin Place, people rushing to work, people gaping in at the famous TV presenters through two layers of glass, and so we got a lot of stupid joy out of holding up our signs to the audience sitting at home, drinking coffee and eating toast.  They had monitors up in the window showing their own programme to the street and so we could see when we were live.  My greatest moment was when I could be seen, between the heads of the male and female presenters, dancing and holding up my sign.
            I got into the habit of skipping around the city and dancing with my sign.  I don’t know how many people understood “SMASH THE CLOCK” but it was mostly school children in uniform who asked me about it.  Some of them were on a day trip to the city, some of them were selling junk in support of breast cancer and some were simply on their way to school.  Children seemed to make up one percent of the population of Martin Place but perhaps 99% of the curiosity, humour and happiness of the population.
            Girls dressed by administrators in identical short skirts laughed at my silliness and asked me if I wanted to buy some crap in support of breast cancer.  “I’m against breast cancer,” I told them.  “Why?” they are shocked.  “It hurts people.”  “No!” they laugh, “this is to support research to stop breast cancer.”  “Ah!” I finally pretend to understand, “I still have no money.”  “How do you live if you have no money?”  “I don’t spend money.”  “Where do you live then?”  “I’m living up on Martin Place at the moment.”  A smile of recognition.  “We better get back, we’re not allowed to talk to you.”
            One boy seemed ready to give up his uniform and join us but was still just a child, not yet a full human being, and so of course remained under the instruction of his parents and educators.  He danced with me in the street like an idiot and encouraged his friends to do the same.  The following day they emerged from the underground train station with, “Hello Chris!”
            I made it my morning routine to hold up the “SMASH THE CLOCK” sign, dance and whistle for the busy Capitalists.  Very few of them seemed at all happy but when I went downstairs to the underground train station I noticed they seemed considerably less happy than the Capitalists rushing to work on the ground level in the sun.  One day during the morning show I was given a sign to hold up for the live TV cameras: “Television is that demon on your left shoulder, telling you what to think, who to believe and how to behave.”  Every time I attempted to perfectly line up my sign between the talking heads and move it closer and closer until finally it was perfectly legible.
            My position was apolitical and there were many with similar perspectives.  James claimed that his role was to maintain a positive energy in the camp.  Some people had political agendas.  The entire concept was borrowed from Occupy Wall Street.  Occupations had been happening in Egypt, Israel, Spain and Iceland but when it hit America it became a brand.  It is easy to be cynical about the manipulative power of such branding, especially in the hysterical media environment of USA, but the fact is the brand “Occupy” inspired 1600 occupations in 80 countries and this can only be seen as a means of celebration, that millions of people around the world are reclaiming their streets for the living, for the human beings, rather than for the non-existent, the corporations.  Corporations are not corporeal beings, but concepts, concepts which convince people to give up their time and energy to manipulate and exploit people and the planet so they can buy things and put those things in a room, their room, where they can sit alone and watch television, surrounded by their stuff.
            The gig is that “we are the 99%” who are being manipulated and controlled by “the one percent” in charge, the ultra-rich, the executives, the bankers who place profit above life.  The idea is that we stop them from doing that to us by holding up signs, living in the streets and telling as many people as possible that they too are “the 99%”, they too are victims of corporate greed and that there is something wrong when our sacred governments promote this behaviour and actually seem to be encouraging it with their policies and their law-making.
            The longer I sit in this bubble of open-minded debate and pro-human living in Australia’s anti-human pro-economic growth central hub, the more impatient I got with this idiotic ideology.  It became increasingly clear to me that here, more than anywhere else on the entire continent, we were the 0.1% who actually cared what was going on around us, who paused long enough to notice what was going on around us and who sought to change the momentum of the imminent collapse.  We had many people stopping to talk to us, desperate to sign something or give money before rushing back to their jobs, giving us more food than we could eat and give away, asking us if there was anything else we need that they could get for us.
            But then there were the hundreds who poured out of the train stations like bursting dams every five minutes, who rushed past without a glance and without a thought for what we were doing or what they were doing themselves.  They were going to work, they were doing their job, they were earning a living, like the people who paused to talk to us or donate to us, like the occupiers themselves, the self-proclaimed 99%, who left their temporary Martin Place home for nine hours, interrupted their life and their joy and their human connections to do what they are told for a while, to earn a little money so they can pay for the food they need to nourish their body, the food that every other species on this planet gets for free, so they can pay for their house, the place where they can feel secure, when every other life-form on this planet shares a home, Earth, the Kingdom of Heaven, and sleeps under the vast wonder of the starry night sky.
            I had many interesting and variable conversations, but three stand out as significant.  In these three cases I spoke to intelligent, patient, respectful individuals with whom I engaged on these matters with a purpose of mutual understanding and sharing.  In each case we agreed on many things but eventually reached a frustrating point-of-difference that we struggled to resolve or understand.  In each case I realised and voice my realisation that we had come to a point where our most basic assumptions are fundamentally opposed.  They believed that human beings are inherently violent, selfish, divisive people and therefore require government, law and law enforcement.  I believe that human beings are inherently loving, gentle, unified people and that we would resort to this behaviour given the opportunity.  I believe that we all need and deserve freedom, respect and love, that no authority is legitimate unless it is respected, and no respected authority requires violent force to implement its decisions.  I am not sure how this fundamental difference in understanding can be resolved, certainly not on a political level.  If I truly believed what these people assert, that humanity is inherently evil, I would simply commit suicide or retreat permanently from all social life.  This concept, however, does not correlate with my experience, my understanding or my intuition.  Thus I dedicate my life to my favourite species, despite our strange behaviour, despite our ignorance and our misguided violence.
            I must say that of the three men I shared these conversations with two were cynical old socialists with too much experience as activists and one was a young Polish Christian, born under the Soviet Union.  An Estonian friend of mine, also born under the Soviet Union, told me with emotions as old as his body, of the policy of removing babies from contact with their mother for the entire first week of their life, surely creating a deep-seated and largely unconscious trauma.
            The movement comprised many different people and perspectives and a dividing line between socialists and anarchists is arbitrary and simplistic.  I was told that there were three separate socialist organisations involved, each pushing their propaganda on day 8 of the occupation, the second Saturday and the second rally.  The socialists quickly normalised their structural dominance over the organisation of the occupation with their sacred Democracy.  They organised “general assemblies” where everyone could come together and make a statement and have a vote.  To facilitate the general assemblies there were meetings about them and to facilitate the facilitation meetings, more meetings.  Of the utmost importance is that all of these meetings are democratic, as opposed to anarchic, and therefore structured, like an essay rather than a conversation, formulaic so that what is relevant is narrowly defined and obsessed to the point of fetish with technicalities and alienating political language.  I suppose I have an apolitical bias and prefer my communication to be on a human level, but as a poet I am very sensitive to language and I avoided the general assemblies after my initial exposure because they bored me and offended my humanity.
            I felt compelled to speak at the rally with an audience of around 1000 people and an impenetrable democratic speaking list that when I asked to be added to was told that it was full.  Later, two people who just turned up that day and who just happened to be union leaders were added to the list.  My frustration grew as everybody who spoke, with possibly one exception talking about indigenous rights and exploitative mining, were union leaders complaining about what “they” were doing to “us” and speaking for the cheers and boos of the audience rather than any enlightenment or understanding.
            Because of the democratic process I was given an opportunity to speak and because my frustration and compulsion to fulfil my life’s purpose was so strong at that moment I did not think about the fact that I was only allowed to speak for two minutes about the current proposition, now forgotten, and when I began to recite a slow precise piece about human society and personal responsibility the microphone was snatched off me.  I was overcome with a public persona and began a manic rant against the inanity of the divide between “the 99%” and “the one percent”.  I claimed that none of us are being controlled and that we are in fact responsible for our own life, our own society and our own destiny.  The socialist facilitators tried to take the microphone off me while I shouted that already one regime has been replaced with another, that the system is more important than free speech, that I am being silenced in a democracy and that we’re all just creating systems of control, maintaining those systems and complaining that we’re being controlled.
            I was told that there would be an open mic later when unimportant people who don’t organise labour unions are allowed to speak.  Asking to speak so soon before the open mic I was the first on the list.  An hour or two later, when the open mic began, I slowly realised I wasn’t on the list at all and needed to ask again to be added.  When 1000 people had dwindled down to 200 I was allowed to speak uninterrupted and the audience were actually prepared for what I had to say, rather than just wanting to hurrah slogans.  I spoke my piece slowly and calmly (reference).  I know I spoke well because when I sat down, overwhelmed by the emotional intensity of my speech, many people came to hug and thank me.  I appreciated the hugs very much.
            It’s a strange experience to live under 24 hour Police surveillance, but it’s amazing how quickly I got used to it.  I was very confronted when I first arrived by their armed gaze but I soon learned to ignore it.  Under their vague supervision I enjoyed some of the most loving and generous human interactions I have ever experienced in the centre of a major city.  To enjoy this I made a point of not looking at them at all, thus rendering them insignificant.  Unlike most urban experiences, most of the people around me were very responsive to eye contact and overall the people were unusually beautiful.
            I don’t care where I’m sleeping, I sleep naked or I don’t sleep at all, so when I found myself sleeping cosily with 40 people on the Martin Place pavement I found a way of getting out of my jeans and into my sleeping bag without exposing my genitals or making a fuss.  I did not mind the people around me seeing my genitals and I’m sure they didn’t mind either but I did not want to give the non-people in uniforms who I was pretending to pretend did not exist any excuse to approach me.  I decided to wash my hands in the fountain on my first day, the only running water on site, but I was warned that Police almost arrested someone for the same.  Only the birds were allowed to utilise the water fountains, they were not designed for human utility.
            The closest toilet was beneath us, two floors down in the train station, on the other side of the ticket gate.  It was very hot every day and the sun radiated off the pavement and off the glass buildings on either side of us.  Because of this I drank a lot of water, mostly donated bottled spring water, and urinated frequently.  Multiple times per day I would skip down the steps, down the escalator, leap across the ticket gates and skip across to the toilet.  The ticket guards soon accepted that this would be the case.  I suppose it was against the rules, but they were not prepared to deny people a toilet.  After days of this I was warned on my way down that someone had just been fined for using the toilet.  There was a small group around one of the ticket gates, including some Police, and so I went through the other side, not pushing my luck by skipping this time, used the toilet, leaped back over the barriers and went back upstairs.  I guess he was the only one but a gentle friend of mine had $200 demanded of him for using the toilets without a train ticket and another $200 for taking the time to contest the so-called “fine”, actually a letter of extortion.
            I was told that before I arrived Police tore down our tents and stole all our gas bottles, so there was no shelter and no cooking facilities.  In this respect we were designated “homeless” and thus sufficient technicality so Police don’t have to violently move us.  Also before I arrived it started raining in the middle of the night and people took their stuff to seek shelter under the nearby buildings; Police physically prevented people from taking shelter, forcing them to remain in the rain.
            We found milk crates everywhere and used them a lot, to define our living space and store our bedding, food and books, they were extremely useful.  Despite us using over 100 milk crates for a whole week, two individuals were arrested and fined for stealing milk crates; in other words, they were arbitrarily single out, forcibly apprehended and handed a letter of extortion for being an active part of Occupy Sydney.  Because of this, when someone arrived with a delivery of milk crates they had to dump them around the corner and ask people to go carry them in by hand, which I did.
            One night I woke up in the middle of the night and got up to urinate.  Right around the corner from 40 peacefully sleeping bodies was a van marked “Riot Police” that drove down the road when I walked past and looked at them.  I had to go to the Emergency Room at the hospital to urinate.
            After the Saturday rally when we were all calming down and returning to our normal evening routine of coming together to relax and eventually sleep together one of our brothers was suddenly attacked by armed Police.  There were two of them standing on the balcony in front of the Westpac building and soon both of them were being brought down by numerous Police, beaten and restrained.  We all rushed towards our brothers in support, though realising that there is nothing we can do against Police.  More Police than I had thought were present calmly supported their own, forming a line of their uniformed bodies to prevent us from responding to our instinct of helping our brothers.  We watched while they were handcuffed and forced into a van.  At the front of the pack, restraining ourselves from the futile violence at the front of our minds, I stood, finally looking at these human beings in their Police uniforms with their weapons.  I tried to look them in the eyes, standing strongly in my emotional response to the situation, but they averted their gaze from us, trying to look anywhere else.  One man looked ashamed and confused.  As each face in the line was photographed close-up two young women bowed their heads low in shame.
            We sensibly restrained ourselves from a violent response, which we would have lost and which would be more unpleasant for us than for Police, but we uttered lots of violence with our mouths, thankfully ignored by Police.  The comments I appreciated were appreciated by everyone because they spread.  “Shame!” we yelled at the armed uniformed urban army.  “Let them go!” became the chant for a while.  I believe it was important to at least appeal to the humanity of Police, even if they chose to suspend their humanity for their job.  I believe it was important to demand what is right, for the restraints to loosened and removed by the people holding them.  Our brothers were not being restrained by Law or by Police Policy or by the One Percent; they were being restrained by the human beings standing in front of us.  This is the reality of the situation and although our brothers were not released they at least knew that we love them.
            Our brothers were “arrested”, a euphemism for being forcibly and against your will restrained, apprehended, removed and detained.  It is no longer acceptable to continue to use their euphemisms as if their behaviour is normal.  This type of violent behaviour is so abhorrent and antisocial that in our desperation to destroy it we have trained, armed and paid professionals to completely suspend their humanity and empathy, to walk the streets and to be sanctioned as allowed to behave this way, the only ones allowed to behave thus.
            That night as we all slept they gathered their troops and just before 05.00 they woke us to demand we remove ourselves and all our belongings immediately.  They did not demand this time, as before, with some idiotic illusion of authority that we can choose to ignore, they demanded with real threat of immediate violence.  We were approached by 200 people in uniforms for our 100, Police, Riot Police and a few large men in suits and gloves who enjoyed getting in on the action.
            I blessedly slept away from the general mass for the first night in five and so had plenty of time to wake up and put my clothes on, watching in amazement as they infiltrated our camp.  I was requested twice to leave and ignored both, not sure what to do until I saw James with his backpack on standing aside.  Many people decided to link arms and defy the demands of Police, they were violently separated and restrained, punched and dragged away screaming  with their arms twisted behind their backs.  James’s response was the only one I felt confident to emulate and so when I saw him I calmly rolled up my bed, packed my bag, gathered my stuff and stood aside to see what I could do.
            Somehow I didn’t see much of the violence that was taking place, only navy blue gloved arms raised and slammed down in punch.  Somehow I blocked out or simply forgot the incessant screams audible on all the videos.  What I saw clearly was a brother with curly hair who had exchanged many beautiful smiles with me being dragged away by Police with his arm bent up behind his back screaming with no way for me to help him.
            Before I left the camp I drank an entire bottle of water and refilled it to the top.  We stayed in a group as Police, twice as many as us, slowly pushed us away.  We passed lines of Police staunch amongst our brothers and sisters on their knees in handcuffs.  At the front was the beautiful curly-haired man looking pained and I offered him some water.  His arms were cuffed behind his back so I poured it for him, he drank and some spilled on his clothing.  He thanked me and I saw a skinny teenage boy, who I also had feelings for, and attempted to give water to him too, but I had exercised my humanity enough and they implored me to continue walking.
            They pushed our group around the corner and down the street until we got to Hyde Park and everyone seemed to stop.  The Police presence slowly fell away and the socialists began a general assembly like some sort of nervous tick.  I was invited to be an anarchist and we went off and sat under a tree on the other side of the park.  I didn’t want to leave James as I felt he was the only one I could trust and so I was pleased when he came to join us.
            One of the Anarchists said she doesn’t care what the general consensus is because she will do what she thinks is right regardless.  Throughout the week the general assembly had facilitated many proposals and offered one of three responses, or “votes”; agree, stand aside, or block.  A single person blocking prevents consensus and so must explain their position until everyone can agree.  I refused to participate at all and resented the idea that I have to block and justify my position.  I guess that makes me an anarchist but I don’t identify with the Anarchists any more than anyone else.
            As we sat there we looked across the road at the massive cathedral, mass to begin in mere hours, and discussed the exciting idea of occupying the cathedral.  I would have been keen to promote and fulfil this plan but an occupier turned up, a deeply unhappy man with a lot of misdirected anger, and accused James, who had been making phone calls with a hands-free kit, rather than exposing himself to unnecessary radiation, of being an undercover cop, pushed him, spat in his face and told him to fuck off.  James was merely shocked and upset by the sudden attack and prepared to leave.  I was the only one who defended him, first examining the possibility that he is an undercover cop and concluding in the negative.  “If anyone should fuck off it should be you,” I told the lunatic.  He persisted in his allegations, James defended his innocence and prepared to leave and no one else knew how to respond.  I looked the accuser in the eyes, shook his hand and said, “You’re an idiot, my friend.  You are wrong.”  He had no violence for me, only James.  I left with my friend and we caught a ride in the back of an unmarked white van, keeping low to avoid detection, feeling like we were in some movie and wondering what comes next.  I had no idea where I was going or what would become of my life.  James wept and then decided we should get out and walk to his friend’s place.
            It is no later than 06.00 when we begin the long walk to his friend’s house with our backpacks on.  We pass a couple on their balcony and they stop us and ask for help.  They are locked out of their apartment, trapped on the balcony and James calls their neighbour to alert him to the situation.  I must still be in shock because I have no idea what’s going on, thinking these are the friends we were going to visit and confused but accepting when we leave their neighbour to deal with the situation.
            James guides me through familiar streets, where he grew up, and tells me some of the histories of the area.  This suburb was populated by diverse immigrants, then hippies, then yuppies.  The original Australians living in Sydney were at first marched off cliffs and then later rounded up and driven into the ghetto of Redfern, a slum in the centre of Sydney that white people require a permit to enter.
            James’s friend doesn’t want us in the house because her flatmates are sleeping and so we wait in the park.  I practice the guitar, soak chia seeds and goji berries and offer James water and food.  Eamon goes out of his way to sit in the park with us for five minutes on his way home.  He has been charged with resisting arrest, though I don’t understand how that can stand as a single charge, considering the charge usually comes before the arrest.
            James and I continue our walk to the Sunday morning market in Newtown where relaxed happy people browse the stalls of fresh simple foods.  As we march through with our backpacks on I marvel at these people who woke up that morning safe and secure in their homes with their families, with no idea what was happening in Martin Place.
            We dump our bags behind a produce stall and sit in front of a speaker.  A man and a woman play beautiful loving acoustic music for the slowly moving crowd and I listen to the woman’s beautiful voice and watch the faces of the children passing, wide-eyed innocence, curiosity and acceptance.  These soft-cheeked gentle people are precious and their perfection brings tears to my eyes.  I fully realise that nothing is more precious, nothing more important than our children.
            James buys me some food and I am approached by a guy I met over a year ago who I barely remember.  He gives me a hug and asks me how I’m doing.  “Alright,” I reply, “considering I was woken up by Riot Police this morning and watched them drag my friends away screaming.”  He takes a few seconds to realise it’s not funny and therefore I’m not kidding.
            James is calling many people and repeating the story about the violent Riot Police and the angry Anarchist accusing him of being an undercover cop.  He blames all Anarchists for this angry individual’s accusation, seemingly Anarchism itself.  I am honoured when he explains to his friend, a kind and beautiful young woman working at the fruit and vegetable stall, that I am a true anarchist, without the self-conscious image, living a life of integrity.  She looks at me.  “What’s anarchy to you?” she asks me.  “No government.”
            We look around us at the market.  “This is how my children will experience capitalism,” I told James.  “I hope you’re right,” James replied.  Too many intuitions predict the collapse of Global Capitalism for them to be wrong now.  They all prophesy and explain their intuitions different, but everybody knows this insane anti-human system is on its way out.  I was thinking those thoughts or speaking them out loud and there I was, somewhere in Sydney, amongst those who were already practicing and enjoying the alternative to exploitative profit-centred Capitalism.  “This is much more of a statement than what we were doing,” James remarks.  We fall asleep on the soft grass, on the generous earth, under the shade of a wise tree.

I now have a t-shirt with "We are the 99%" on the back and I tell people that this slogan has a one percent margin of error.

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