|“What we call real estate—the solid ground to build a house on—is the broad foundation on which nearly all the guilt of this world rests.” —The House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne|
By now everyone knows that the Rapid Deployment Unit of the St. Louis Police Department occupied themselves by busting some heads Thursday night, their occupation leading them to crack the skulls of a few Occupy the Midwest participants caught in the act of “taking space.” The assaulted squatters were daring to attempt to sleep in a city park on a stormy night in the hopes of creating a new encampment on what was Day One of the Occupy the Midwest conference, a four-day meeting of Occupiers from states to the north, east and west of Missouri. Someone else, presumably not the police, would be called upon to occupy themselves with mopping up the hemoglobin spilled on the sidewalks; head wounds, notoriously, are gushers. Doctors and nurses too occupied themselves dispensing sutures and sympathy, administering salves and analgesics; perhaps even a few prayers were offered up for the dazed and damaged head trauma victims, that they not be permanently brain damaged.
I had been among the hundred or so who attended the General Assembly earlier that evening under the St. Louis arch. But I was not at the mêlée primarily because I sensed there would be one, and my head...I have a dread fear of being clubbed...for better or worse, my head, it's the best of me. In graduate school I had known Kimberly Flynn, a great friend of Tony Kushner's, an absolutely brilliant woman, who after a head banging taxi cab accident felt herself to be never quite the same. Some of the scenes in Angels in America about illness and incapacity are near transcriptions of conversations that she and Tony had about her own sense of diminishment after she was clobbered in the backseat of that cab. Litbloggers Jacob Russell and Stephen Mitchelmore have both written about their head injuries from bicycle accidents, the long recoveries, terrible vulnerability and helplessness, for Stephen the continuing fatigue, loss of productivity. So I keep my distance from police and their penchant to bludgeon with truncheons, and worse.
|And His Handiwork|
Lightning crackled dramatically and the humidity surpassed the unseasonably high temperature as we talked about the rules under which we would proceed. Roles of the volunteer organizers were defined—timekeeper, note taker, stacker, etc.—and the concept of “progressive stacking” was explained, a principle intended to give priority to voices of those traditionally not heard under present hierarchies. We reviewed the hand signals agreed upon for non-verbal communication, embodied strokes and flutters of consensual meaning—warning, questioning, reminding—prescribed movements to bind our intentions with our acts.
If poetry was to be found under that monument to gateway (and I was attentive to poetry's presence), it was inscribed in those hand signals: index finger up for point of clarification; fist in the air for speaking in one voice; arms crossed over the chest for blocking, to be used rarely and only if something seemed in opposition to core principles of the Occupy movement; and the wiggling of all five fingers on both hands to indicate enthusiastic approbation of whatever proposition was on the ethereal table, something akin to the sprinkling hand motion that usually accompanies the rain washing the itsy-bitsy spider down the spout.
I had told friends that I was going because I wanted to see this second iteration of Occupy with my own unmediated eyes, glean whatever insight might be available, inspiration too if it were there to be garnered. Also, I wanted to support the idea of regionalism, vote with my feet, so to speak—after all, my father Marvin L. Madeson had run for St. Louis County Supervisor almost 40 years ago on the ingenious reform platform of practical regionalism—and I was especially on the lookout for Wisconsin activists in the hopes of acquiring some sense of their momentum as they struggle in mass protests in Madison against their own Kevin Englers who wish to dispossess first state workers then, once that door is open, all workers of promised pensions, salaries, benefits, rights (all except their own, that is; never their own!).
|Missouri State Senator Kevin Engler|
|And His Legislative Output|
I had participated in Occupy St. Louis last fall, had been there in the courtyard at the Fed on Day One. Six months ago much was made of the fact, especially on Fox news, of how tolerant the city had been of the protest, how reasonably the police had acted, informing the Occupiers of their intentions to enforce the curfew and evict them from Kiener Plaza, issuing warning, multiple warnings, giving every chance for the protesters to clear out before they (just as the Christmas decorations were scheduled to go up) shut the encampment down. It was a party line that seems to have been integrated by many of the Occupiers as well, this idealization of the cops as fangless vampires who hustle you off the premises if not respectfully, at least unbloodied.
The cops were also under the arch on bicycles, stationed maybe twenty yards away from where we congregated, boyishly costumed in short pants rather than riot gear. But still I cringed when St. Louis Occupiers told our guests that our cops weren't that bad, assuring them that it wasn't Oakland, that they shouldn't be afraid. My forearms instinctively crossed over my chest, and I roundly kicked myself for not having brought a placard with the bolded language of the SEC-sanctioned caveat placed in every securities prospectus next to the 1, 3, 5, and 10-year graphs: Past results are no guarantee of future performance.
“Can you not see the blood on my head?” —Arthur Miller, The Crucible
Someone pointed out that as the weather conditions were worsening and the lightning storm was rolling our way, we would be wise to move away from the stainless steel arch and adjourn to Kiener Plaza under the protection of the balustraded concrete terrace. Back at Kiener, a minstrel show was enacted adjacent to the amphitheater. After a brief discussion about the overwhelming police presence—for now they crowded among us, no remove at all—someone invited a representative of the police to address the Occupiers and explain why they were there impinging on our right to assemble and speak freely amongst ourselves.
“There is, at least, no flattery in my humble line of art.” —The House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne
An officer in a white shirt, higher ranking than the blue-shirts on the bikes, came forward to address us. But he would not speak up, a pretense at once undermining and making a mockery of the just moments ago articulated principle of progressive stacking, he would not permit his own voice (the voice of unabashed state Power) to be heard. He stated his concerns about public safety, blah, blah, blah, in a near whisper, and one of the Occupiers, a naif (and a goddamn fool!), repeated his words, calling them out for the small crowd gathered round. It would prove to be a canny exercise in preemptive capitulation and co-optation, a symbological violence foreshadowing the material violence soon to be so disgracefully and—God help us—lawfully (depend on it) manifested.