Economy · New York City · Occupy Wall Street

An E-mail Exchange

Dear Rachel,
I got your e-mail address from A——-. In conversation with A—–, I told her that your piece on occupywriters.com was the most spot-on expression of what Occupy felt like for me, for many of us, in those first months. A—– said, you have to write Rachel and tell her that! So I’m telling you that, and thanking you for it, and also wondering if it’s time to revisit some of what you expressed in that piece.
Mostly, I mean that many (or, many of the folks I know, myself included) have slipped back into the status quo of our lives, resigned to this distracted urban experience that just doesn’t make us feel the feelings the way Occupy did. One passage from your essay that so resonated with me was, “You don’t read on the subway because you are busy thinking about conversations you’ve had, and you look around at other people and wonder what they are thinking about. Are they thinking? Was I thinking before?” I, for one, am back to the old subway habits (and other habits too) — trying to tune strangers out, rather than wondering about all these different people and their vast inner worlds, crowded together into this subway car. Another example is that nowadays, the decision between dinner with friends and an Occupy meeting is no longer a no-brainer. A few months ago, I was drawn toward Occupy over other things because that’s where my heart and mind were. Now, I’m afraid Occupy has begun to feel like just another obligation/interest to balance with all the other junk in this busy life.
So I’m writing mainly to say thanks for your essay. It truly spoke to me. Also, if you’re so inclined, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on where we’re at (‘we’ very loosely defined, or take the ‘you’ from your essay) in terms of complacency, resignation, and the status quo. Hope this message finds you well !
**
Hi L——,

Thanks so much for writing, for your comments about my piece, and for sharing your thoughts.
I have drifted away from Occupy significantly these past months and I reflect on it quite a bit–because I am someone who is very committed to finding ways that society can change for the better, but Occupy has effectively ceased to engage me post-Zuccotti.
I think that the occupation provided a shock to the system that woke people up and drastically shifted public discourse. That impact will last for a long time–and it lasts within us, even if we notice ourselves going back to daily routines. We are still changed by the experience we had between September and November, no doubt. We learned a lot, about each other and this country and urban politics.
But maybe that’s all we’re going to get, or the most substantial thing we’ll get, from Occupy at this point. It’s hard for a diverse, loosely organized movement to accomplish anything at the level of policy, and direct action isn’t really intended to do that anyway, from what I know. I increasingly think that Occupy was, rather than the beginning of a social movement that will gather steam and become bigger over time, a jolt to our culture that has affected us in a way that’s difficult to quantify or even describe accurately.
Yes, people who lost their homes are still suffering; yes, unemployment is still high; yes, our government is still in collusion with Wall Street. The world is hierarchical and unfair. But I think Occupy reminded people that, despite all these things, people who care about social change can work together to accomplish things and ultimately, that will create community and empower people.
I think there are myriad approaches to addressing our society’s problems. Occupy is just one of them; it doesn’t need to be the only or principal catalyst. But it has been a very effective one.
What have you been doing with Occupy? I wonder if we’ve met in person.
best,
Rachel
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