Friday, October 28, 2011

Up Twinkles for Trash Pickup

When Noam Chomsky comes to address a crowd in Boston, as part of the Occupy thing in that city, people expect the media to show up. The MIT professor  is pretty famous. "According to the Chicago Tribune, Professor Chomsky is “the most cited living author” and ranks just below Plato and Sigmund Freud among the most cited authors of all time". And when the media comes, the organizers will like to put forth a good image. And so it is on Saturday, October 22 in Boston. I am in town anyway for the Head of the Charles Regatta, so I decide to spend the morning roaming around the occupy thing in Bean Town. It's time for a huge clean-up and I am just in time to observe how the idea of a large scale community clean-up effort goes down.

The place is pretty well packed with tents. There may be close to a hundred tents here at Dewey Square Plaza in the Shadow of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.  Jammed together, as close as can be, some tents are dedicated to special purposes such as the Library Tent, the Logistics Tent, the Sign Making Tent, a tent for food service. There's a tent for generating electricity and there are tents for religion also (one a "spiritual tent" and one a special tent for Shabbat). But most of the tents serve as sleeping quarters. A main street runs down the middle of the occupation, starting at a makeshift stage/screening area where someone is strumming on the guitar, and continuing all the way to the other end, near where you can pick up the T at South Station. The place does not seem overly crowded wtih bodies, but there are plenty of people there, and if you look inside the tents, you see there are many groups of people inside, sitting and talking. Other tents are closed up, perhaps with people sleeping inside.

This shanty town is pretty scruffy. The organizers need for it to look presentable before the media arrives tonight. It's not clear what everyone's doing, but there are plenty of people moving about when the guitar strumming comes to a stop. Someone steps to the microphone to announce that it's time to clean up. They have seen media before, but not as many as they will see tonight, because Chomsky is coming to speak in the evening. It's important to have the place looking good, he says, so we need for everyone to grab a trash bag and pick up all the trash. A man in front of me stops what he's doing, and puts his latex gloves into the air and wiggles his fingers at the speaker. UP TWINKLES! A total of two people in the crowd give the up twinkles hand sign; they're agreeing it's important to clean up; they get right to work with those trash bags. Others do not. Most ignore the call to join in. Can you believe it? Most people are lounging in tents and there does not seem to be any mass exodus to pop out and jump to.  Some continue to amble down the path next to the community garden (a feature of the park since well before the protesters arrived), others are stopping for a bagel, plenty of people are standing around chatting. Some are smoking.

So it's really just a few who are helping with the important job of cleaning up the shanty town to put the best face possible on the movement so that the media will take away a good impression of the Occupy Movement.  After a little while the man comes back on the microphone and asks again for clean up help. It's a beautiful day. It's not snowing. There is no wind, no rain. It's not even all that cold. And no special skill is required. Helping with the cleanup would not be difficult for most of the people on site.  Yet,  I see no rush to pick up bags. I continue to roam and to take pictures. The entire time I'm  there, I see only about five people engaged in the clean up. Yet there are hundreds of OWS people on site. Yes, some are busy with serving food, or with making signs, or with manning the logistics tent, but a large number of able bodies are simply not choosing to join in to help further the effort of putting the site into a  litter-free state. 

And now comes the irony. The man gets back on the microphone and admonishes those who ARE working to clean up. Clearly, the job may never get done, since not everyone is helping. You could say that the 99 percent have decided they are not really "into" joining the clean up effort. So instead, he speaks quite loudly to the one percent who are already helping: YOU'RE NOT HELPING IF YOU DON'T BRING ME A FULL BAG!

"The one percent needs to do more to clean this place up!"
If there is anything overarching about the movement, it's this: many of the people attracted to OWS, imagine a world full of evolved beings who naturally act selflessly and do whatever it takes to further the community. They will thus follow a moral and loving course in life which will end up providing  for all  needs of all living beings. (That's what social justice is all about).  But if the OWS people themselves are not willing to answer the call for something as simple and easy as a clean-up effort on a sunny day, you have to wonder if maybe the idea of the idyllic, cooperative world is an unrealistic dream.

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1 comment:

Just a conservative girl said...

Of course they don't want to clean. That is someone else's job. They don't follow their thought process to the logical conclusion. They don't want shared responsibility, they want to be given something that they didn't earn, just because.