Why I Can't Hit the Wander Path Just Yet
I find myself moving farther down the calendar with regards to my "blog libations." The truth is I’ve been “occupied” and haven’t left town.
One of my tasks in this project has been to establish a relational consciousness between today and the time of John Muir, particularly the rationales to flee a failing system and seek "that which is wild." To drop off the clock. To leave the dizzying experience of dislocation endemic to modern existence. Muir is said to have struggled with the very physics of urban space. I've been having similar feelings, and like Muir, I’m exploring the notion of exiting an unjust social system.
When I first considered it, the idea felt isolated. I was aware of the movements in Tunisia and Egypt, but didn’t connect them to the here and now. Then Occupy Wall Street happened. People were leaving their lives and setting up camp where they chose. They claimed an open relation to time and process. They absolved the clock and its impact on personal behavior—a gesture John Muir often wrote in support of.
Then it happened here. It became a shared understanding. I first picked up a flyer at Mama Buzz Café that stated "hella OCCUPY OAKLAND" with the date and location. My son Ulysses and I spent Indigenous People's Day in front of Oakland’s City Hall in Frank Ogawa Plaza, renamed in the course of our visit Oscar Grant Plaza. I returned to the encampment every day. My initial intent was to listen and be a body. To form human proof that it was a vital moment. It was important to physically represent, to encourage passing motorists to honk their toots of support! Even if I wasn't sure why.
And then it was about taking that consciousness home—occupy the mind! I saw the camp grow and self-organize. Within days the entire plaza was full of tents. A free food tent, an information tent, a bicycle-powered media tent! Around the same time I completed my John Muir shack-sculpture in the Oakland Museum garden, built on a rectangle of hard dirt that once framed a picnic table. The same idea of impromptu structure was evident throughout the camp. Shipping pallet roadways and cardboard signage emerged. Then the tents organized into neighborhoods! Organic community!
I observed with interest how such an autonomous space works. I took comfort in learning, for instance, how to wash dishes without plumbing! Then came an art center, a children's area, and a medical tent. In all its teetering and blossoming ways, the camp came together in a matter of weeks to demonstrate what people could create through consensus. Muir chose isolation. But at this moment people have chosen to not move away and escape (barely an option anymore) but to move in and occupy.
The problems we were able to "spend" away in thirty years have been staring at us for the last two. The isolations we purchased are falling away. John Muir chose a life free of the tangle of obligation and information. Now the air glows with information. We live within its magnetic field. I came home from a demonstration to look it up on YouTube, as if Muir would have Google-earthed his day’s hike! Even the non-digitized atmosphere is soaked in our shared realities… war and revolution are charging it. All you have to do is "feel it." Would John Muir have found Occupy Oakland more compelling than the urban challenges he left behind in 1862 Oakland? My guess is he would have stayed!