It’s O’dark thirty in the burrow and I have that all dressed up with no place to go feeling. I’ve found a group that has a sponsor for a bus from the Northwest to hit the big shindig and meet some of New York’s finest, not the cops in their ninja-turtle military assault gear but the great people that have kept the movement alive. The Broken Carpenter is a lot more broken than one year ago, but my mind will write checks that my body WILL cover. I’m no shirker, but after a move from the Portland area to Yakima my body needed some time to get the metaphorical bread together to payoff for the months from the October establishment of Occupy Portland to the present.
We met that day on the bank of the Willamette river, the levy let loose and there was a flood of people representing the resentments of the forgotten 99%: Labor, Cascadians, Street Kids, Socialists, Blocs of all colors, Libertarians, Veterans, Seniors, Babies, and me. I had spent years reading and watching news and politics. I had spent two years fighting pain and the labyrinth of the Social Security Disability system. A cruel multi-step war of attrition on the disabled. And then Occupy Wall St. was there streaming on my computer. Real people that decided enough is enough to the point of having their own media to make sure that every moment was documented. Sometime during this period I heard that a planning meeting for Occupy Portland was going to meet at Powell’s Books, a landmark that seemed right in that weird Portland way that made me love and adopt PDX as my grown-up adopted place. Everybody wandered around for a bit, looking for others but with a slight apprehension that not only was the person next to you not a potential Occupier, but that you might be the only person there. I solved that ahead of time by bringing my Daughter with me, a simple task when the destination is Powells. Our little family’s love of books is a source of pride for my Wife and I. I tried to get an edge on sticking out by wearing my Firebagger t-shirt I had just recently acquired after donating because of the awesome reporting on OWS helped to fill in the blanks that the livestream might have missed. Eventually I spotted a women my age with an older olive drab military style hat with a peace sign on it. I took a chance and as we chain smoked cigarettes preparing for a long meeting inside a no smoking building, we met others.
We were small in numbers but we were not short of ideas and opinions. Our group was large enough that we decided it wouldn’t be fair to fill up Powell’s coffee shop. I was soon to discover that a large contingent were like me running on nicotine, caffeine, and adrenaline after nights without sleep due to being glued to our computers for what seemed like months waiting for our turn. I guess we were the people we were waiting for, and as a group we sat on the island between the lines of traffic. Signs were quickly made with ballpoints on notebook paper. Passing people stared trying to figure out what we were up to. Miraculously this group of people managed to put aside their individual politics in favor of the larger battle with the 1% and we got down to talking ideas through in a civilized and polite way. The feelings of empowerment in that group was in everyone’s eyes. Because of the unpredictability of chronic pain, all I could really reliably do is add ideas and make a few calls that were actually redundant as I wasn’t the only person that had touched base with the same possible allies. After a ton of work done with haste by a bunch of people sending emails, riding the streets handbilling all of Portland, including a guy with severe pain from something torn badly in one of his legs. An amazing guy that I gladly call friend that I would learn had an amazing mind for this activist stuff, his best was being handcuffed inside a concrete barrel in the Federal park even though he was really sick and eventually had to let others takeover, The woman in the hat was an unemployed single mother and Marine vet spending her small amount of money for transportation back and forth. Talented media people produced videos and put together the infrastructure of cables and cameras they would need. Artists produced posters and everybody did what they could.
I went and took the quickie Peace and Safety training from a true man of peace, and he even fed us dinner. I did become very uncomfortable at one point when during an exercise we paired up facing each other and my side was to mimic aggressive heckling. Well I know from aggressive, after twenty years in the Darwinian world of concrete construction. Much like Jekyll and Hyde, there is the carpenter guy and the one that had to come home and not teach his children the colorful vernacular that their Father had perfected, if I have to say so myself. My carpenter side is not one that works in polite company and after hearing the bloviations of the right-wing for years I did a fairly good acting job. The only problem was that the Broken Carpenter was face to face with a woman that was truly a beautiful person and I ended up feeling like I had just stepped on a baby duck. She was built of firmer stuff than I, and could take it, but I still felt like garbage.
I felt like everything else during this period flew by in a blur of preparations, meetings, and scouring thrift stores for equipment for myself and the camp. The big morning found me frantically packing all the things I missed before my two hour night’s rest. I secured a large dry-bag of gear onto a modified golf bag cart that I had picked up during one of my thrift store runs. I had decided to have my wife drop me and all my gear off near the rally point. I still at this time did not know where our final destination was to end up being and the smaller pack was already uncomfortable after the three block walk to the rally. I found the Carpenter’s Union banner and ducked under it into a less busy area, where I proceeded to sit down and rework my cart set up prior to the march. Everyone was smiling and generous including the woman that reached into a shopping bag and handed me two bungee cords that really helped complete my work. I then went on the hunt for the safety group. All I can figure was at this stage the rest of them must have been working undercover as I couldn’t find any of them. Of course having been frantic and late, it wasn’t like I set myself up for success in that little mystery until later.
Speeches were made, people made signs with the cardboard and sharpies that were to be found everywhere. Then the march started and thousands of us filled the streets. The people that did know our destination and marching distance were probably able to feel the quiet swearing I was doing about what now felt like a line of freight cars connected to the handle of my cart, but through it all I had a smile you couldn’t wipe off with a sledgehammer. I did finally find a partner from the safety committee, small worlds being what they are it was the woman I had just been screaming at the night or two before. It felt good to be on the same side and I can say we did an incredible job for two people that pretty much had nothing to really do because everyone was already peaceful and the cops were staying cool even waving and giving us thumbs-up. At some point we were stopped and the speeches, hard to hear over the crowd, were going on and a sudden rain shower broke out. Of course as the first raindrops fell on our heads a cheer broke out as if we all decided at that second that this was a good sign from the Gods or something, and everybody cheered at once. As the march went on I bent under the weight of pulling my burden and walking my body that wasn’t real crazy about this marching idea anyway. We arrived at the two parks that were to serve as home to enough Occupiers to cover just about every square foot of ground to be had there.
The Marine and I picked spots on the high-ground on the edge of one of the parks. Before we could get the tents set up we had news people asking questions and even with my voice that on a good day sounds like I gargle with razor-blades every morning, the effects of breathing methyl ethyl badshit on one of my jobs and smoking like a chimney, I still managed to pull it off. The police were low-key at this point and so were we as each side kind of felt things out. Food was served by the good people of Food Not Bombs and volunteer kitchen staff. Music was being played in multiple groups throughout the camp. i walked the park as part of the whole safety gig and I was amazed at the diversity of people there. Eventually I had to lie down for a while to rest my body because I was too excited and in pain to fall asleep so I just lie there. About two-thirty in the morning I heard a ladies voice saying “Does anyone want some pie and coffee?” I poked my head out just in time to get warm apple pie and coffee delivered to my door by a nice lady that had seen the march on TV and wanted to help. It was a sweet gesture from a woman I didn’t know, in the middle of the night. We would learn of the generosity of our neighbors by the constant stream of people with goodies and food goods for the group. Barristas from some of the local coffee places delivered coffee, there was even some sneaking it to us, because their boss wasn’t a big fan. Doughnut holes were delivered by people walking the camp with three gallon bucket fulls. One guy walked the camp with tobacco in a plastic Folgers can draped over his neck, rolling cigarettes crying out “Need a cigarette? I got a cigarette. Got a cigarette? I need a cigarette. I roll’em good so you don’t have to.”
But the part of that first day that really sticks with me didn’t happen to me until three AM as I lie quietly in my tent my phone went off saying I had voicemail even though I hadn’t heard the ring that supposedly would have happened just moments before. I’m actually glad I missed the original call because I needed some time to wipe away tears and blow my nose before I spoke with anyone. A Laborer Foreman friend of mine was up early to go to work pouring concrete and had seen me on the news, he had called me just to tell me he was proud of me. I cry now thinking about it. My friend was not ultra-political and not the kind of guy to throw around those kind feelings willy-nilly. And the biggest thing is that he’s a guy I respect. He called me later from the work shack with everybody screaming in the background. I stand up for him and the rest of my friends that are either working or looking for work, because they’re busy and because we can all sleep when were dead.
I went on to sleep there for two more nights before my body couldn’t take it any longer. I spent the rest of my time commuting back and forth when I could for marches and demonstrations. I’ve learned a few things. One of the biggest is I have no fear of what the goons can do to me physically anymore, because I honestly don;t think they are going to put me in anymore pain than I endure regularly.
My cloister period in Yakima has made me yearn to get back into the fray and then into my lap falls a chance to go to the Big Show. So like Cortez I’ll burn my ships the second I get on that bus because I won’t turn around until I got that big freakin’ golden bull by the balls and a couple nervous Wall St. guys wondering if they are next. I’ll admit it’s frustrating that it seems so hard to get more people to commit their time for this, but I understand that it is a big commitment to make. Anyhow I hope to see you all in the streets because it’s gonna take boots on the ground to force the politicians to at least give some urgency to the issues we little people are urgent about.
In Solidarity, The Broken Carpenter(formerly carpenterpoetzz)