A few minutes before the October 5 labor march to Foley Square began, I ran into the 90-year-old war resister Dan Berrigan and some of his fellow Jesuits on Liberty Plaza, all in plainclothes. This was a wonderful surprise—the plaza was overflowing in new faces that day, and I was happy to see some familiar ones, and so unexpectedly. I felt like I could stand a little taller around them than I ever had before. Best of all, as daily life at the plaza showed, we were taking our stand in the form of a carnival—what Dan’s friend, the theologian William Stringfellow, might have called “a parable of the eschaton.” It’s a sideways glimpse of the world to come.
After I cajoled the Jesuits into posing for a picture with me, we were approached by a man who introduced himself as a TV reporter from Greece. He had a cameraman waiting a few paces behind him. (Liberty Plaza has become essentially a never-ending press conference.) I nodded a hello, but he went straight for Dan.
“Can I interview you?” he asked. “I’d like to show the world that it isn’t just a bunch of radicals here.”
What he was referring to, of course, was the perception in the media that the occupation was a mob of dirty young rebels without a clear idea of what they wanted. (Early on, this was mostly true. Who else would hold a space like that through rain, discomfort, and police intimidation?) Clearly, though, the reporter had no idea whom he was talking to, that this old man was possibly the most radical person on the whole plaza. Dan has spent a whole lifetime in peaceful resistance and he served years in prison—not just a few hours in a holding cell—for his trouble.
By then, Occupy Wall Street had taken fewer than a thousand arrests, plus a well-publicized use of pepper spray. (A few more arrests would come that evening, along with billy clubs and more pepper spray.) Sacrifices had only begun to be made, and the powers that be had only begun to feel the least bit threatened, if they did at all. The proto-movement still could have faded away with little harm done.
To me, and to most of the young people there who were doing this for more or less the first time, these had been among the longest, best, and most sleep-deprived two-and-a-half weeks of our lives. But seeing Dan there put those weeks in perspective. As people liked to chant in the early days of the occupation, when it seemed liable to be shut down at any moment, “This is just a practice”—this is just the beginning.