Laurie Penny’s “Dear Occupy Wall Street”

by J.A. Myerson

Laurie, I hope you don’t mind that I’ve reproduced your epistle here in full. It is too beautiful for an excerpt and a hyperlink. -JAM

Mic check? Mic check! Ok…

Right now, I know that things are tense. I know that you’re waiting for the word on whether or not you will be evicted from Liberty Plaza tomorrow, from the beautiful occupation you’ve built right in the the belly of the beast of global corporate power. I know that you are worried that there will be police violence, or another mass arrest. I know this because right now, I’m reading news reports about what you’re doing from across the globe, and talking to people sitting in the square, even though I’m thousands of miles away. You see? The whole world is watching. You did that. Whatever happens tomorrow, the whole world will be watching the New York authorities try to clean the people of America off the sidewalks of Wall Street.

You knew this was coming. After realising that pepper spraying a few peaceful protesters wouldn’t make you go away, they’ve been trying to evict you for weeks, and the pretext that Bloomberg and the NYPD have finally found is that Occupy Wall Street is ‘unsanitary’ – full of rubbish, attracting rodents. Anyone who has been to the Plaza and seen the water filtration system you’ve built and watched volunteers from across the city sweeping the sidewalks and handing round the antiseptic gel knows what nonsense that is.
We know what they really mean when they say ‘Liberty Plaza is full of rubbish.’ The trash they want to sweep out of their nice clean financial districts are the ordinary people of your country – the 99%. They are tired of seeing you on their way to work in the mornings, cluttering up the pavements with your uncomfortable little placards about grinding unemployment, a broken healthcare system and a feral business sector holding the party system to ransom. They are tired of seeing old women asking for medical attention, little children asking for education, young adults asking for work. They want those people tidied away. The question is: are you going to let them tidy you away?
You knew, deep down, that this was coming. If the occupation of Wall Street was ever going to succeed as it was meant to, there were always going to be crackdowns. And of course it’s scary. It’s always scary when you take a stand in the face of power, because power tends to fight back when it is threatened, and you have certainly become a threat. You are a threat because you are clever, and angry, and peaceful, and you refuse to stop asking difficult questions, and you refuse to go away. Hundreds of you have already been arrested.
There is every chance that more of you will be arrested tomorrow, simply for daring to dream of a different future, simply for demanding the individual and collective human dignities that most Americans consider theirs by right. When the NYPD refused to let you march through Wall Street a week ago, you chanted, hundreds of you with one voice: “who are you protecting?” It is a question you must keep asking until you receive an answer you can bear to accept.
Your efforts at cleaning today prove that they aren’t coming to scrub away actual dirt, but to sterilise the energy that this protest has inspired across America and around the world. Whether or not you let them is up to you. Whether or not you stand firm and resist, whether or not you come back to Liberty Plaza and to Wall Street, whether or not you take the fight through the winter and built a movement too big to kettle, is entirely up to you. It’s up to you to stand firm or falter, and there are certainly good reasons for doing both. Being arrested in the United States is no joke.
But know this: what you decide to do tomorrow will touch the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
You could go home right now, and tell your kids in twenty years’ time how wonderful it was when you were young and idealistic and you slept under tarpaulins in Liberty Plaza. Or you could take a risk, and see what happens next. Choose wisely, please, for all of us. With love, and greatest respect, but most importantly,
With solidarity,