Occupy Writing Workshop
It's not the tents that the 1 percent should worry about
It was drizzling when I arrived at Occupy LA to teach a writing workshop at the People’s Collective University. Freezing cold on the Angeleno scale, the mercury couldn’t have topped sixty degrees that day.
We rolled out a waterproof tarp under an open white tent that would have looked at home in a wedding or a movie shoot. Six of us sat down together. We started by introducing ourselves and telling what book we’d most recently read.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. That was A, a soft-spoken young journalist who was recently laid off from his job managing social media for a nonprofit.
Tales from the Arabian Nights, the Readers Digest Condensed version. O lives in transitional housing, and she takes the bus across the city several days a week to volunteer at Occupy LA, bringing clothes and other necessities when she can. Whenever “tourists” walked by, Olivia would look up from her writing and call out to them, asking with a smile if they needed help. Each time, she invited them to join the workshop.
Monster by Kody Scott. Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire’s great classic. “Some spy novel that was so bad I can’t remember the name of it.” Our readership was as diverse as the Occupy movement.
The Jiri Chronicles by Debra Di Blasi. That was me, and I ranted a bit about the importance of supporting independent publishing houses. The rain and the wind were picking up. It was time to start writing.
I kicked things off with a “writing faster than you can think” free write exercise, then we discussed it. R said, “It felt like taking off a mask, like you can show what’s really inside you.”
“That was hard,” said M, a professor. “I’m trained to follow a very specific structure in my writing.”
The second time we did the exercise, I had them all turn their papers sideways and write perpendicular to the printed lines.
“I feel like I’m breaking the rules,” said O.
What most people see of Occupy – tents, drum circles, human microphones – are just the ears of the hippopotamus. Underneath that, Occupy is creating classes where people gain new skills and learn alternative views on economics and history. Bringing people together as equals who might never otherwise meet each other, and engaging them in direct democracy. Breaking the spell of rules they’ve followed all their lives, but suddenly seem arbitrary and unnecessary.
Rain water dripped down the slope of our classroom tarp. By the end of the hour, we were all shivering. R closed out the workshop by reading aloud from one of his free writes. It began, “I am the lantern. We are the lantern.”
It’s not the tents that the one percent should worry about.