I tried to go on strike for May Day, following the Occupy movement’s calls for a general strike, and it was harder than I thought. My decision was made official—that is, public—by Malcolm Harris’ inclusion of me in his piece, “How Does a Writer Strike?” The trouble is, of course, that I’m self-employed, and my only steady income comes from Waging Nonviolence, which I both co-run and love. My work for the past seven months has almost exclusively been about, and generally regarded as being in support of, the Occupy movement itself. One Occupier even asked me not to strike on Twitter.
The best I could figure was that I’d tell an editor she’d have to wait until the next day for my report, and that I’d keep myself from tweeting. Rather than observing at my usual slight-but-noticeable remove, I would be in; I would be of. Correspondence with fellow Occupy writer Natasha Lennard was helpful in thinking this through, and I resonate a lot with what she wrote at Salon:
The May Day general strike is an experiment and one I look forward to taking part in wholeheartedly. I find the distinction between observer and participant a problematic one to uphold. A distinction I prefer, although equally imperfect, is one drawn by philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre in his 1938 novel “Nausea” — the distinction between “living” and “recounting.” The protagonist notes, “a man is always a teller of tales, he sees everything that happens to him through them; and he tries to live his own life as if he were telling a story.” Just imagine what Sartre would have made of Twitter and Facebook timelines.
But, as with most projects of upbuilding self-denial, I failed, again and again. In Union Square I sat and consulted with Ingrid Burrington, May Day’s one-woman Cartography Department, whom I’d profiled in a little piece on the Harper’s website the day before, and as we did, we were being filmed as b-roll of me “reporting” for the 99% Film. Before that, I broke ranks with my fellow Occupy Catholics (discussed in a recent polemic for n+1‘s Occupy! Gazette #4 and Killing the Buddha) in order to run ahead and catch sight of the march taking the street. A reporter’s duty! And, after that, as night fell, an Occupy organizer up and told me a bunch of neat secrets from the tactical end of the planning process, so I got out my notebook to jot some of them down. At that moment two fellow Occupy journos—who had witnessed my agonizing over striking in an email list—noticed me and started shouting, “Scab! Scab!” They had both opted to work that day.
As 10 p.m. approached, the temptation to report got harder and harder to fight. There was just so much. Like a tourist with 10 seconds in front of a world-famous landmark, I couldn’t resist taking a picture. The scenes were too powerful, and passing too quickly. I later wrote in my subsequent report for YES! Magazine (and Waging Nonviolence):
As dark came, Occupiers’ plans to hold an after-party in Battery Park were foiled by police blockades. Text-message alerts guided those who wished to stay to a Vietnam veterans’ memorial tucked along the East River waterfront between buildings that house Morgan Stanley and Standard & Poor’s. The memorial includes a space that served as a perfect amphitheater for a thousand-strong “people’s assembly”—so named because OWS’ General Assembly is currently defunct—and it became one of those moments of collective effervescence and speaking-in-one-voice that won so many discursively-inclined hearts to the movement in the fall. People of other inclinations danced to the familiar sound of the drum circle on the far side of the park.
The topic of the assembly was whether to stay, to try and occupy.
So, before the clock tolled midnight, I scribbled. I wrote. May the god of the strike have mercy on my soul.