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“I Wanted Something Productive to Do": Creating Space for Books and Learning at Occupy Wall Street

Education is at the heart of the Occupy Wall Street movement, from the student loan bubble to the library and teach-ins at the center of the park.

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Only six weeks into your movement, with so little known about where you’re going or what will happen, it’s undoubtedly early for graduation ceremonies.  Still, let’s face it, you’ve been growing up fast and, for all we know, these could have been the six weeks that changed the world.  Anyway, there’s no limit out here, where you can make your own traditions, on how often you can graduate yourself. 

So I say, go for it.  Mark your progress thus far.  Self-graduate.  You don’t need me.   I’ll stay here and borrow a book from your library -- and later, when I’m done, just as you suggest, I’ll donate it to someone else.

Shoulder your handmade signs.  Lift them high.  Chant your chants.  Let the drummers play as you march.  Head out toward Wall Street, toward the future, looking back over your shoulder, remembering exactly what your elders squandered, the world they left you, the debts they piled on you.  And the next time they start telling you what you should do with your movement, take it with a grain of salt.  The future, after all, is yours, not theirs.  It may be the only thing you have, exactly because it’s so beautifully unknown, so deeply unpredictable.  It’s your advantage over them because it’s one thing that Washington and Wall Street have no more way of controlling than you do.

In a world of increasing misery, you carry not just your debts, but ours too.  It’s a burden no one should shoulder, especially with winter bearing down, and that 1% of adults waiting for the cold to make tempers short, hoping you’ll begin to fall out, grow discouraged, and find life too miserable to bear, hoping that a New York winter will freeze you out of your own movement.

I take heart that last weekend, on a beautiful fall day, you, the librarians, were already discussing the need to buy “Alaska-style” sleeping bags and a generator which would give you heat; that you, like the mayor, are looking ahead and planning for winter.  This, after all, could be your Valley Forge.  As actress-librarian Mercanti-Anthony told me:  “We have the whole world behind us at this point.  We want to stand our ground for the long haul.  If we can make it through the winter, this occupation is here to stay.”

And she just might be right.  So head out now, and whatever you do, don’t go home.  It’s underwater anyway, and we need you.  We really do.  The world's in a hell of a mess, but what a time for you to take it in your own hands and do your damnedest.

 Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s as well as The End of Victory Culture , runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book, The United States of Fear (Haymarket Books), will be published in November.

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