Condoms were available almost from the start of the occupation of Zuccotti Park. Like rain ponchos—or water, food, cardboard (quickly upgraded to ground mats), blankets, tarps, directions to the most compliant businesses with lavatories—they were part of the basic survival kit. Books came later. Talent shows and political workshops came later. The cellphone charging unit came later. Nick at Night, the cigarette rolling station, was probably established at the same time. “Oh, there is movement in the movement,” a young man told me with a twinkle, but it was a bit like saying, There is food in the movement. He had had his eye on another young man, but someone else moved on him first. No matter; there would be other chances for something delicious to eat. In the meantime… what’s that you were saying about a transaction tax?
This is not a sexual revolution, at least from my impressions of two quite different places, New York and Tennessee. At Occupy Nashville a man stood up at the general assembly to say, “There should not be any sex going on here! Really.” No one offered a riposte, and the women camping out on Legislative Plaza have been equipped with plastic whistles to hang from their necks as they sleep. This is, however, a profoundly corporeal movement. Notwithstanding its facility with technology, in a society organized for alienation it has made human contact its sword and its shield.
1. We just talked and talked. “You know, if you count it up,” said a beautiful boy at Zuccotti Park, “the average college senior has spent two years of his life playing video games.” David was his name and he had read a study, but the evidence was under his own dark-coffee skin. He was 21. It seemed entirely plausible to him that he had expended 10 percent of life-so-far in solitary electronic combat. He had merged into the mass at the renamed Liberty Square with a camera, but put it aside and sat talking with my friend Prerna and me for two hours. What had so much video gaming wrought? I asked. An abstraction from reality, he reckoned. An abstraction deepened, Prerna thought, by almost never having known a time when “reality” was not also coupled with “TV.”
Now there was elation just to feel, talk, press against another shoulder, hear one’s own voice with others echoing, “We are… we are… we are…” Maybe that is why the cold, the rain, the relative privation, have not mattered so much to the relatively privileged protesters. They have hungered for their moment of true feeling. A skinny blond boy rolling cigarettes had not slept in days but anchored Nick at Night—“more popular than the food table,” he said—where others came for a loosey and talked the night away. In a far corner of the park, drums beat and girls whirled in thin silk shifts. They had done it for hours. They could do it all day if rules hadn’t placed limits on noise. Check your cynicism, I told myself on my second visit to the park. These are people drunk with love, and feeling thus, are loving in return.
2. To the comfort station. Not since ACT UP has the body been so central to a US resistance movement. The body in motion and in need. The body whose labor is contingent, whose life precarious. Surplus man, woman, trans, rejecting surplus status simply by putting their bodies in the way of the ordinary course of things. Critics itching for “demands” need only pay attention, because like the women’s health movement in the 1970s and the AIDS solidarity network that evolved from it in the ’80s, Occupy Wall Street and its spinoffs embody their demands. “It’s going to rain, people; like, right now!” a young man announced at a GA in New York. “Anyone who wants a poncho, raise your hand. Comfort is handing out ponchos.” A man wearing tights and a gold lamé cape with shiny silver tinsel around the neck leapt into the crowd with a great carton of hooded rain gear. Within seconds, everyone was covered as the rains poured down.