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BY K WEBSTER | You can tell that it’s time for a society to rethink itself when it justifies trashing books.
The destruction of the Occupy Wall Street encampment and its 5,000-book library raises many questions.
Like how exactly do you get free speech in a country where the ownership of the means to communicate is so grotesquely concentrated in the hands of the wealthy? Where corporations buy unlimited speech while people have to resort to cardboard signs?
And sorry, but whenever I hear too much moral outrage about private property rights in relation to Zuccotti Park I can’t help but think about whose backs those “rights” were historically and literally built on.
But I want to stick with the idea of books, the arts and ideas — this is, after all, New York City.
Where is New York’s gritty art scene? Where is its edgy, daring, life-loving, risk-taking self? Where are this generation’s Beat poets? It’s Harlem Renaissance? It’s Nuyorican Cafes? Where are the Abstract Expressionists? Where is this generation’s punk scene, jazz scene? Any arts scene?
Despite stereotypes to the contrary, artists and other thinkers flourish when they have peers nearby. That’s why we see so much tepid artwork these days — no one can afford to live here and build arts communities. No one can think flexibly, give voice to life’s complexity or gather courage to challenge what is known, in the face of isolation.
Mayor Bloomberg prides himself on his support of the arts. Yet probably the most stunning, provocative, intelligent, edgy work of human creativity to hit this town in a very long time was the Occupy Wall Street movement. Signage that is pure poetry, a library, puppeteers, photography, performance art, sculptural inventiveness (those bikes!), dance and language (those hand signals!). Messy, yes. Needing to work at being better neighbors, yes. But nothing worth creating is ever tidy. Artists have always struggled to fit in. It goes with the territory.
The removal of the O.W.S. encampment with its astonishing spark of life will haunt us. And while you can’t destroy an idea whose time has come, you can destroy communities. (Back to our history again.) And what is lost is incalculable. This community was earnestly trying to find solutions, to practice democracy and sustainability, and dusting off art forms to find their relevance. Ideas were being generated and tried out. Young people were trying to get a handle on their future.
Some of us passionately support O.W.S. because at least it is trying to grapple honestly, with humor and ingenuity, with the enormous mess created by the 1 percent in this country. It is an irony, a bitter irony, that in hollow and dishonest words, one of the wealthiest men in America claimed to be “protecting” us. From what exactly? Thinking?
It is a bitter irony that people who were trying to find our future were ordered evicted and arrested, while the people who literally stole our future were ordered guarded by our police force. An irony that a park, whose new rules must be obeyed, is cleared out in record time. But the stinking mass of corruption and theft that lies not two blocks from O.W.S. sits rotting for decades.
We are in serious trouble. We need ideas. But this mayor just evicted one of the most hopeful think tanks in generations.