The Voices of the Occupy Movement

Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world, according to English poet Percy Shelley. Alameda poet Mary Rudge created profiles in poetry of the Occupy movement’s dedicated young organizers, pepper-sprayed university students, tent dwellers, longtime 1960s-era activists, jobless artists, inconvenienced bus riders, homeless squatters, and passive TV news watchers.

“Outgrow the Status Quo.” Occupy poster art by Nina Montenegro.

 

Man in the Blue Tent

by Mary Rudge

I was never so peaceful as here

in my tent in Snow Park

demonstrating, nonviolent as

the smelt in the lake,

the moon on the water,

my body is speaking for me.

Present, occupying.

I occupy marking my place

on the lake shore

like a bookmark in text of history,

let there be help for the 99% — justice,

every cell of my body is saying: change.

I change the position my body lies in

and I can see the moon more clearly

it is pregnant with promise, and

beautiful, perpetual,

even when changing I know.

I have seen light fall on the leaves

and blossoms, the leaves sift down

in the California night to the lake,

and I wonder if bounty from the 1%

really will trickle downward.

I am sharing my small tent with the

person who told me he was homeless,

looking for work, had come from

a small town, no jobs there.

Said he was 20, wanted to work

to send money back

to his mother so his little brother

would stay in school, they were poor.

He said he’d never seen a lake like this,

one surrounded by so many buildings,

there must be jobs in all those

buildings. I hear his breath as if he

is breathing in hope in his dream.

 

There is no TV here. I do not think

of commercials of cars, clothes,

of WalMart floating a great ship

to our shores filled with goods made

in China.

I do not think of “The Biggest Loser,”

or of obese teens eating fast food,

or of the politicians fattened at the

pork barrel, their expense accounts

are at the country’s expense.

They are dividing the country like a pie,

the Pentagon devouring

more than half of the budget.

 

The moon is full, pristine

with promise, lighting the lake

in Oakland,

as if shining could show us the way.

 

The audacious activists of Occupy SF boldly carry out a nonviolent sit-in that shut down Wells Fargo bank.

Two Women in an Orange Tent

by Mary Rudge

FIRST WOMAN:

They were arrested, beaten, kicked,

stripped, put into jail clothes,

some with wrists chained to cell bars,

some with tubes forced down their

throats when they fasted to resist,

let lie in their own vomit, given no

water — for carrying signs asking

for the right to vote. It was 1920 when

women won the right so

women today might use it.

 

SECOND WOMAN:

It is that pain of the Suffragettes

that sustains and keeps me here —

in spite of my fear.

 

FIRST WOMAN:

The Freedom Riders were taken by

hundreds to the USA’s worst prison,

a place of violence, of cruel hard

labor, that generated hate.

 

SECOND WOMAN:

and they turned it all around —

nonviolence, compassion —

they won their cause. It is that vision

that keeps me here — in

spite of my fear.

 

FIRST WOMAN:

they brought out the riot squads,

police dogs, billy

clubs, tear gas, against the students

on Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley,

who rallied for Free Speech.

 

SECOND WOMAN:

They won and that passion sustains me.

It is that history that keeps

me here — in spite of my fear.

 

FIRST WOMAN:

The students were shot and killed at

Kent State — another demonstration

for peace.

 

SECOND WOMAN:

It is that wisdom, that urgency for

peace as a way that keeps me here

— in spite of my fear.

 

Said on the Sidewalk

by Mary Rudge

It would be equally essential

and valid and wise a cause to

sleep in the streets to protest

rape as a weapon of war, to protest

all violence against women,

violence against anyone, war-violence.

I would be equally as filled with

passion, and I would see it as an

equally important cause.

For how many years, how many years

Volunteers have plucked the grasses

between the crosses on the hillside

in Lafayette, California, where each

cross marks the death of an

American soliderwho died in Iraq.

It is valid to protest war anywhere.

Have you seen the diagram pie

showing the percent of the

national budget spent

on the Pentagon?

 

The Teach-In

by Mary Rudge

We know those who infiltrate —

those who love to hate —

those who agitate

with chaos for chaos sake —

a rock through a window,

a confrontation, anything to

disrupt the Occupy —

but be like Gandhi, Chavez, King —

project out your inner peace —

be like the Irish who taught under

trees and bushes when schools

were closed to their needs —

we teach, in streets and doorways,

on sidewalks and by the lake,

of peace ways we can take

for change.

We have the will and the skill

for arbitration, negotiation,

reconciliation, as we

overcome by

Occupy —

teaching-in.

 

The TV Watcher

by Mary Rudge

I am not at the Occupation

but it is my dedication to see the same

TV news broadcast many times.

I watch, what are they doing now?

Will do next?

But the same scenes replay

over and over — 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock,

10 o’clock, 11 o’clock news.

I watch. Will the president speak,

the mayor act? More people come?

Like me, you have not been to the

living graveyard, lying on the street

under a sheet.

Like me, you too have not held hands

around the lake

praying for peace,

stood with a lit candle at the

BART stations at specified times

handing out leaflets about war,

so people knew —

Afghanistan, Iraq, the people

starving in Sudan for years,

the people hungry and homeless

on American  streets,

more than ten years now,

less real to our eyes than the

reality game shows we see —

in this era of spectators

who watch and know

but do not act.

 

You too, like me, could not be there,

but are watching for change.

Everyone may not be able to occupy

in this protest.

Still, I think there may be

importance

that some see,

bear witness,

watch TV.

 

The Unemployed Artist

by Mary Rudge

The president of the art college said:

“In any given year there are

25,000 art majors in the Bay Area

and not all will get work

in design or even to teach —

some of you will wait tables and do

more menial jobs to support your art,

yet you will always be glad for

what you learned about art here.”

 

It is said creativity is the world’s

important resource —

I see how there can be beauty —

I am designing

in my mind this better

— more fair and just — society

even as I stand in

the unemployment line.

“Rise Up.” Occupy poster art by Imnop

 

The Man Watching the Sun on the Water

(One of the 99% speaks at

Lake Merritt, Oakland)

by Mary Rudge

I’ll be in debt the rest of my life

for expenses beyond what

the insurance would pay,

but I couldn’t let her die like that.

Cancer.

I love her. We are happy together.

Sometimes I bring the wheelchair

down to the lake.

I know there are people occupying at

the port — confronting big business

crossing the water; there are Occupy

signs reflected in the estuary.

If I came at night I could see light

from a cook fire from those who

Occupy on the other side of the lake.

 

They do this for people so deep in debt,

like me.

 

I could push to the Occupation

in Snow Park, or to the Occupation

a few blocks away at city hall.

But she is fragile,

her immune system cannot take crowds

and I am her caretaker.

Once we had two jobs and lived better.

Now I work nights while she sleeps.

Today, we are watching the sun

shine on the water,

the ducks swim — so ordinary,

but miraculous, too.

They say these ducks mate for life.

Some people aren’t like that, but I am.

Look. See the sun shine on the water?

 

We need light.

 

The light in the mind.

 

PEPPER SPRAY

by Mary Rudge

I was 19 when the pepper spray

filled my throat, when the police

turned the can to my face

and aimed at my eyes.

In the hospital they said: sometimes

the retina damage is permanent.

They said damage to lungs and sinuses,

to throat membranes or other organs

may return again far in the future.

I have returned to sit here again

linked arms with the sophomores

and freshmen,

the independents, the 4.0 girls,

off-beat fraternity boys,

some psych, and law,

and social studies majors

and other students who will have

professions and start

their businesses but always be

part of the 99%.

 

I understand about collateral damage.

 

I am here because I want an education.

Yet at times I wonder if I should leave.

I talked to some who graduated

some years past but still owe debt —

some haven’t found jobs. Yet

when I write home my dad says

“Stay. You must.”  Dad says he’ll find

a second job too and send money.

I don’t know if he should,

he looks so tired.

I don’t know if he can, but if a job

is there, he’ll find it.

He says “education is the key.”

 

I came here to study and learn, now

I sit on the sidewalk

and Occupy.

I cannot pay the college fees.

I am $600 in debt from student loans.

I know a graduate who still has

$20,000 debt from student loans.

Been paying back for eight years

and is 32 years old

and still in debt.

I am 19

I only wanted an education.

 

“Decolonize Wall Street.” Occupy poster art by Ernesto Yerena, Orlando Arenas, Sandra Castro, Ricardo Lopez

 

The Bus Rider

by Mary Rudge

The Occupation disrupts the

buses the poor ride to the food banks

and clinics, yet they must get there.

The working poor with low-paying

jobs, the workers and others, unable

to drive, they will be rerouted,

they will be late for their jobs, they

will be let out to walk far to the next

bus they must transfer to,

the bus won’t be able to

get through the crowds.

I will not arrive there at the time I

must pick up my

child from day care.

The buses have been rerouted,

the people with walkers and

wheelchairs must find

the bus they must transfer to.

The transfer now is

long away. They have no cars,

there are things

they must carry. Some cannot

walk so far in the rain, in the cold,

they are too ill, or too old.

 

It is hard enough to pay the bus fare.

Yes, I know you are trying to help me.

 

The Homeless Person

by Mary Rudge

It’s six a.m. and the homeless

up and down the street must

pick through trash. There’ll be

no breakfast if something’s not found.

 

There’ll be no lunch or any other meal

if something’s not found. Maybe a few

aluminum cans of trade value,

thrown away hamburger scraps,

half-eaten apple.

Soup kitchen lines extend for blocks

before 8 a.m., no more can be fed

there, even for compulsory prayers.

Old prayers that fed people have failed,

prayers that got people off the street

into homes — not under bridges or in

doorways or under cardboard.

 

And the God of jobs and neighbors,

the God of milk and plenty, rice,

potatoes, beans and coffee; the God

of cornfields and tomatoes, waits,

expectant, on the corners, as the

oil-slick cars go past, with others,

billfolds bulging, on their way to make

munitions, in the strongest, richest,

cleverest — they tell me —

country of the modern world.

 

A 1960s Demonstrator

by Mary Rudge

It was tie-dye on the peace march,

it was tie-dye in the park,

tie-dye of our T-shirts

shining through the dark.

It was we in love with earth

and sure that we could save her

in Berkeley where so many

were in academic labor

leading protests for change

Oh yes, there was a time

when all colors

synchronized

and together

rightfulness

was coming right before our eyes.

 

but government

with tear gas and riot guns and more

destroyed our work

so government could go on as before.

 

but NOW can be the time

when protests will right wrong

and a better world can be

created by a song.

 

The Traveler

by Mary Rudge

I am thinking of myself in Hong Kong

photographing the effigy on the

sidewalk, made in empathy of the

students dead in Tiananmen Square,

a student with eyeglasses beside him

with wire frames bent, crushed,

lenses broken, the book’s pages torn,

scattered, spattered with blood,

the stuffed body askew.

arms outflung, as beaten, shot down,

 

They wanted the democracy too

they thought this country had —

 

Now, the foreclosures, the homeless

on the street, the students who

cannot pay the university —

the unemployed in desperation.

 

 

An Occupant Speaks

You think this is the end —

watch us begin…

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A Life Consecrated to Compassion and Justice

On the bleak streets of the Tenderloin, a sister took a stand against inhumanity. Her solidarity was inspired by the beatitudes and consecrated to the poor.

The Invisible Natural Cathedral of People’s Park

Builders, please go away. Allow the beauty of an Invisible Natural Cathedral to remain, a living shrine of open space that gives refuge to all people.

Street Spirit Interview with Sister Bernie Galvin

This atrocity was happening in a very wealthy city. It was happening right under our noses. It was very visible. And there was not the united voice of the faith community speaking out. That was the spark of Religious Witness. From that moment, I knew what I had to do.

Interview with Sister Bernie Galvin, Part Two

“What’s forming in my mind is Jesus in the temple when he became angry at the unjust and very exclusive systems of society. That is the very reason that there are the poor and the marginalized. It is not enough just to provide food, clothing and housing.”

‘Such Is the Magic and Spirit of People’s Park’

The mayor has no understanding of the awful defeat the loss of People’s Park would be. No comprehension of the cost in lives and the sacrifices people have made for the Park’s ideals. So many still find it a refuge in a country needing a political and spiritual overhaul.

I Remember Who I Am

“And Now Where?” Lithograph by Rockwell Kent

By and by, I calm down. I meditate. I pray. It is a beautiful day. The sun is setting. I weave my way toward the spot where I sleep, where nobody knows where to find me. I look to the stars, and say my prayers to the God who believes in Me.