Sunday, November 6, 2011

Resting with the Occupiers

Walking out of my evening meeting at 10.15pm last night, the London air was fresh and a bit on the chilly side – and I was more than ready for a warm comfortable bed. Instead I headed across town to St Paul’s, trying to trust that my desire to substantiate my ‘clickivism’ by spending the night on the streets of London before an early morning start to Wales was actually a good one. Last week I had given a Sermon. This week I did not go to preach but to listen. As the Occupation entered it’s 3rd week with the careful support of Bishop Williams, what was it actually like?

The tents that had seemed so hopeful and bright in the day seemed flimsy and cold at 11pm on a Thursday night in November. My predictament: no tent, no connections, no sleeping bag (I was going to a conference the next day!) was solved quite quickly: a few sofa-cushions lined up next to one another in the communal ‘lecture’ tent behind the library and a spare mostly-dry blanket. Much better than the thin soaked tent city nearby. A hot cup of tea and plenty of smiling faces (most of whom were not drunk) and I was ‘settled’. The kitchen was closed but there were still chunks of bread, fruit, peanut butter and jam.

It was the music that surprised me. Almost every corner had a guitar or a flute or a violin or a drum with various degrees of expertise. And in the supply tent, sitting on top of a pile of blankets, was a collection of twenty-something male musicians/producers/rappers/song-writers, free-stylin’. I had arrived at the first night of live streaming of their ‘occupy our future’ jam session – so I joined in. I was struck by the pure quality of the rhymes they were spitting in a tent that was burdgeoning on dripping and a violinist who turned his heart-breaking music to accompany a professional producer-musician. It was, in short, beautiful. We had a regular audience of about 100 people, and at one point we were put on the global feed to an audience of 1000. This online audience asked for suggestions and, we were told, quite a number of them were free-styling along with us. The songs were recorded, and the producer amongst us is keen to do some remixing, a bit of fine-tuning and put them out ‘there’. And, really, that ‘there’ might end up being anywhere.

For those participating, creating and listening, it was this creative global play, where a bunch of guys sitting in a tent in front of St Paul’s on a wet and cold night can sing about the need to change the face of capitalism and get resonance from Egypt and Greece and Oakland, California, that was so important. They talked about continuing the trend of occupation, and what I heard they really wanted was to continue the sense of creative togetherness. Here the play was the protest.

Eventually the reality of that early morning train got to me and I headed back to ‘my’ set of cushions (ownership is so temporary in life, anyways) only to find them, well, occupied. I recognized one of the men – he had been wandering around earlier, following a very drunk lady out of a pub and trying to help her find her way home. His noble good deed to a (I learned) total stranger cost him his train home, and he looked on the verge of a break down. The tent was warm, and after a few jokes, he told me his story – a young nurse-in-training, he was working 80 hour-weeks on wards where he wasn’t sure if anyone was getting better. He was listening to some horrible stories of illness and individual collapse, and confronting on a daily basis his own limitations in making a difference. I listened. He kept saying what a ‘dick’ he was for sharing all these stories with me. I wasn’t so sure that was the most helpful narration and tried reframing it for him – which he resisted.

Eventually, he thanked me, brought me tea, and went on his way, still embarrassed for having spilled his guts to a stranger. I cuddled into my blanket. Before long the stones around me were filled with a few homeless men – men so used to sleeping rough they didn’t seem perturbed for not having a blanket. I realized that I had never slept next to a homeless man before. When the rain began to pour down, I was grateful that we were both dry.

So there, in a protest site, under a church, in the middle of london, I found music, play, warm tea, lost souls, friendship, and the knowledge that for that night - which is really as much as we can hope for - we could all rest - dry, safe, and together.

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