Monday, January 09, 2012

First Winter's Snow On Freedom Plaza

As the first snows of D.C. winter swirled around the capless head of Chris Hedges and settled on the sweatered shoulders and hats of the well-bundled small gathering who came to Freedom Plaza in D.C. to hear him speak earlier today, a strange awareness enveloped me. Coming into Freedom Plaza, this little wedge of Park land where Occupy DC has been located for over three months right next to the State Department, I could not help but be moved to take in the odd yet beautifully dissonant juxtapositions of my surroundings... Right next to the busy 6 lane traffic Pennsylvania Ave., where cars and buses and police vans and government vehicles whizzed by just blocks from the White House stood this little village of pitched tents all multicolored in a loosely arranged yet ordered encampment with their flags and banners and tent flaps blowing in the wind in the shadow of the august buildings of empire with their staunch columns supporting pediments with boldly emblazoned friezes.

We’d come to hear Hedges profess about the great protest movements and civil actions of the past, of the late Vaclav Havel and the siege of Sarajevo, the falling of the Berlin Wall, and the cleansing tears that fell during the stirring refrains from the many hymns of freedom he witnessed and took part in these past 25 years - and how this one, this Occupy movement, needs to burden itself in full measure, and more, with all that was right and good about those movements because so much more is at stake now in the grand scale of things.

Here, near ground zero of the most powerful empire ever known to mankind, in the towering shadows of these massive edifices of government, as first winter’s flurries swirled around this seed cluster of a nascent movement, this huddled band of early civil actors in their tented little village listened to a man of average height, but of towering intellect, knowledge and most important, ethical grounding, tell us about the wellsprings of past democratic movements and why we should be encouraged to take heart and mind from these past acts of civil conscience. What were these movements of the late 19th and early 20th century and what were the forces that quelled those movements after WW1 and has anesthetized the thinking blood of this democracy for generations since. Why was this important to our undertaking now?

Was he, were we, huddled together in the cold there, with streamers flying from tent poles and posters all around this hoveled collection of fragile dwellings with a library, a cooking tent, a press tent, an information tent--a multi-colored reinforced nylon weave-tented village not 200 feet from where, behind the glass and Venetian-blinded cubicles, decisions of grave import to empire were being made at the Department of State….. were we serving any real purpose here?

Whose affairs of state have more import at this moment, I asked myself? Here we have these two disparate groups who are actively taking their respective parts in the affairs of state, one in heated rooms 40 feet above street level just across at the Department of State, with all its colonnaded Doric pillars topped by august pediments with their inscripted nostrums and friezes, the other outside on cold granite nearest bare earth, taking on the affairs of the governed as they talked about past songs of freedom and new heresies of the established churches, and how we must take up the old refrains and compose new ones for the work ahead while the whipping of tent flaps somehow graced the solemnity, or perhaps mocked the absurdity of it all? Can there be any more poignant dissonance than this apparent guiding of the affairs of men and women? Are we the dreamers? Is Hedges just the soft voice of a modern St Francis, or, like St Francis, does he remember the acute torpors of wars, jihads and terror and for this should we reserve our right to give him this small bully pulpit called, in silly script, “the soap box”, which he did not ascend, mind you—to speak from his crucibled experience?

Are we just a small huddled group (40 souls maybe) the fervent misguided, who hold evanescent dreams of a possible becoming by believing the human condition is perfectible from its present state, or at least if not perfectible in extremis, then perhaps improvable? In listening to Mr. Hedges’ inspiring narrative, are we just eluding ourselves listening to a well-informed and traveled troubadour/poet of a war correspondent, this modern apostle of the living gospel defrocked of all its cultural institutionalized religious gloss close to the bone- in this case hard on the granite panels of Freedom Plaza- affirming his seminal belief in the Gospel’s beatitudes and what they may hold for this occupation of conscience?

How noble is the plaintive spirit, mine, all of ours I chanced. Here and now wondering from this tented village pitched on the hard granite of empire whether or not our aspirations are more tempered with the reasoned hope that the good change is possible or are these aspirations just infused with the follies of groundless enthusiasms. I thought of those who know that any change worth its salt must be earned along the hard lines of seeming insurmountable obstacles in the face of almost impossible odds. At 57, this was the first time I would ever come to occupy my own conscious on such matters. I wondered about others in the little group. Hedges has earned the right to speak from his unmounted soap box. Yes. But do I have enough breadth to hear him and take guidance from his narrative?

Can the good germ, the People’s germ, hardy, yet still so few, eventually come to negotiate its fervent terms with the Colossus of empire? Is this even possible? Am I just part of a great dream that will remain just that or are these the daunting start up days that try men’s souls in the early offing where bonds are forged one to another and each to his/her own dictates of conscience, each occupying their own inner space before taking to the public commons. Am I, are we just such things dreams are made of that remain unrequited to reality? Will all these multi colored tents with their diverse signatures of freedom just fade away? Who will ever remember the name Chris Hedges in 30 years time, I ask myself? Will some troubadour or poet or historian yet unborn utter his name or other names like Zeese or Wolf or Scott Olsen, McKibben or Piven sometime whence when history finally embraces which affairs of state were of more import on this blustery, cold winter day: Will all these best laid plans just go away?

Somehow though, these question seemed to anoint in me the earning distance that would be necessary in order to gain the good and there, swirling in the flurries of first winter’s snow gathering on the shoulders of the tented villagers and on the scarf of Chris Hedges, I sensed an American Spring rising.


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