Surprises at Lincoln Center

I've got a great story to tell you, full of wonderful surprises. On Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011 was another great Occupy Wall St. event, this one at Lincoln Center. A few weeks before, there had been a rally there and the cops and Lincoln Center kicked them out, even though absolutely nothing illegal was going on in this public space that was originally paid for by New York City tax dollars. The Dec. 1 rally was about that rally, but the date chosen was the last performance of the opera Satyagraha (Sanskrit for Truth Force), an opera Philip Glass wrote about the life of Gandhi, especially about the need and philosophy of nonviolent civil disobedience. During the opera, a Martin Luther King Jr. c.d. video was shown.

Mercy Van Vlack and I had just seen a play that a friend of ours was in ("Fairy Tale" at the 45th St. Theatre, one of the best updating of fairy tales I've yet seen) then I walked over to Lincoln Center. Things were to begin at 10:30 PM and Philip Glass himself was going to be joining us at some point.

I got there right about 10:30 and there were already over 150 people there (I counted). The cops had set up barricades along the sidewalk to keep us out of the public space of Lincoln Plaza. By 11:00 there were around 500 people and then the opera started letting out. We started shouting things like "In the spirit of Satyagraha, join us!" or "In the spirit of Gandhi, join us!" or simply "Join us! Join us!" A lot of people made a beeline across Broadway to cabs, but a lot of folks did indeed join us. In minutes, there were at least 100 opera goers in the plaza. I don't know how many people joined us on our side of the barricade; it was too crowded to tell, and I was facing the plaza. The cops were keeping several feet between the crowd on the plaza and us, for some reason.

Meanwhile, the General Assembly continued, with various people speaking and the people's microphone repeating their comments. I spoke a little about what the neighborhood was like before Lincoln Center was built (most of which I learned during a comic book convention, from the priest of the Roman Catholic Church a few blocks to the south; the homes destroyed to clear room for Lincoln Center housed his parishioners). And then Philip Glass arrived and went up to the barricade in the middle of the crowd. In seconds, the whole crowd on the plaza moved forward. The barricade was now meaningless, with people gathered around both sides of it, cops or no cops.

Glass read a poem that was in Satyagraha, taken from the Bhagavad Gita (I'll add it to the end of this page). Copies of the poem were passed around the crowd so people could join in. He read it three times then people applauded, he left, and the General Assembly continued.

The way General Assemblies are done is that everyone gets a chance to talk if they want to. No permits for sound systems were given, hence the use and need for a "people's mic." One person keeps a list, called a stack, and reads the names. So she's reading names and then at one point, "Next on stack < next on stack > Laurie < Laurie >" Pause. "Laurie Anderson! < Laurie Anderson! >" She spoke about support for the arts in the current political climate and the inspiration of Occupy Wall St. Then a few people later, "Lou Reed! " He spoke of how ashamed he was of Lincoln Center's decision to have barricades to the public space. (If you're not familiar with Laurie Anderson or Lou Reed, they're musicians; do a search on their names.)

Also on stack were people who had just performed in the opera, other musicians, Juliard students in music and dance, someone who'd been singing opera for 35 years (and had been fired the day before because they wanted to cut his salary from $35,000 to $3,200. Yes, an entire 0 less), and people from Occupy Asheville, NC and Occupy Edinburgh, Scotland.

All in all it was another fabulous OWS experience, with wonderful spirit. I didn't leave until around 1 AM, but I had no idea it was that late!

Of course there is a video of it. That's me standing a little behind Philip Glass, reading along with him.

The poem Philip Glass read:
"When Righteousness
Withers Away
And Evil
Rules the Land
We come into being
Age after age
And take visible shape
And move
A man among men
For the protection
Of good
Thrusting back evil
And setting virtue
On her seat again"

Thank you.

Ken Gale, NYC, December 3, 2011

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