It’s tempting to say I was already there. My body on the streets of Seattle in 1999, moving with 40,000 other bodies, flush with the power of pedestrians en masse. I was surrounded by Turtles. Engulfed by Teamsters. We sang together to Sweet Honey in the Rock and screamed out, “Whose streets?! Our streets!!” as we moved past the low brick buildings of Belltown into the commerciality of Pike Street. We’d banished the cars, made room for hope. I looked up and saw a police officer standing on a rooftop, his fingers extended in a peace sign above his head, raised into the slate Seattle sky. There were people, citizens (that other c-word our countrymen were before they became consumers), as far as the eye could see. Our numbers blocked the World Trade Organization (WTO) delegates from entering the doors of their closed-door meetings.
That night, the news showed repetitive footage of the balaclavae’d Black Bloc in a standoff with the police and failed to show a single image from our massive peaceful march. I sighed. The world knew nothing. I slept in the back of my pickup truck while helicopters flew overhead, sounding like a war zone though I knew we risked only burning eyes from pepper spray or maybe an arrest. There were no firing squads.
But we made a mistake in Seattle.
We went home.
Six hundred people had been arrested, and the WTO held their next meeting in Qatar, a remote Middle Eastern monarchy with no constitution or political parties.
But something radiated out from the hotspot. We’d fought the Free Trade Area of the Americas, an expansion of NAFTA, and in the years that followed, it faltered. Buy local began to mean something, even if just a slightly trendy antidote to globalization. People started talking about the distance their food traveled to get to them, about working conditions in places where brown people lived. Sustainability became a part of the thought process. The Internet gave voice to at least some of the voiceless who inhabited the other hemisphere of our planet. Years later, a federal jury declared that the Fourth Amendment constitutional right of many of those arrested in Seattle had been violated. And then there was a Persian Awakening. An Arab Spring. Los Indignados in Spain. Then Occupy Wall Street.
I have been ocupada, the other meaning, busy. Shifting a home from the heart of American commerce to a place where I dig clams. The pace is different, welcome. A fire beside me licks oxygen from the room and returns heat. I wrestle with guilt for not doing more.
But I have visited. There, outside the tents of Occupy Boston, under the glow of halogen streetlights, was the Beehive Design Collective poster against the FTAA I’d first seen twelve years ago, pinned to a table. A massive swirl of stoner art ink, the Americas caught in a spider’s sticky web, birds and buffalo bound in chains as mechanical arachnids spin the world with bombers. At Occupy San Francisco, lights illuminated tents as freezing rain poured down.
They have stayed.
There are accusations that they have no demands, but I find them unfounded. They are asking for bread. And roses.
The fire needs fuel. I break a twig easily between two fingers, but if I bundle them—five sticks or 40,000—they’re unbreakable.