Revolutionary YOLO: Memories of #OCCUPY 10 Years On by Sam Le Dily

If I'm here, writing this post, it's only because Heather, who put this site together, has had a deep impact on me. Of course she doesn't know this yet. 

By Nina Montenegro

We don't correspond. We haven't seen each other in a decade, and even when we did, we didn't really know anything about each other. Yet, when I look back on the moments where I've felt most connected to a community, to humanity, the moments where I was most willing to "fight for someone I don't know," as our beloved St. Bernard preaches, Heather shows up in my memories. And one memory sticks out.

It was 2011. I had been living in Liberty City (AKA Zuccotti park) for a few days now, after stopping by really just to check things out. While I had been an active member of the student anti-war movement in high school, the twin opiates of the Obama administration and smoking actual opium while I halfheartedly pursued 3 semesters of a liberal arts education had left me out of the loop. As a result, I had actually found out about Occupy from the Bill Maher program. 

I had spent the first few days looking around, trying to pitch in here or there, before I finally worked up the nerve to start participating where I knew I wanted to be of the most use: the Kitchen. Like every kitchen, I started on dish the first few days. Securing water, both cold and hot, from the often scared- what-their-bosses-would-say employees of the local businesses was another task I took on. One day a particular place was good pickings and the next the well would have dried up : they'd been told not to give us water anymore. But as fundamental as water is to life and washing dishes is to revolution, what I really wanted to do was cook.

We took the train up to the other side of the city, to the headquarters of the socialist party that was letting us use their space to cook.  I remember Heather, who was already organizing these trips, explaining that we work with donations, so sometimes we have a lot of one particular vegetable and planning the menu feels like Iron Chef.

We got to the spot and unloaded the produce. Too scared in high school to actually join the party my math teacher had introduced me to, I was currently on the lookout for a group I could join long-term, just in case Occupy didn't achieve "full communism" for America, so I scoped out the headquarters a bit, read a pamphlet, and imagined how cool it would be to have a Leftist pillow fort to hang out in.

We got to work. Heather took out a sharpie and started writing down people's suggestions for what we could cook on a large pad of paper resting on an easel. Once we' exhausted all our ideas we started whittling them down to choose the menu. There was never an up or down vote, just an agreement among us. I was already excited to be there, but at that moment I became extatic in a way that I remember to this day. Here was a group of people from all walks of life, who didnt know each other from Adam, coming together and making decisions truely democratically, without need for representation or hierarchy and constraint. The beer you drink with your coworkers after a service is one of the greatest pleasures the restaurant life can bring you, but it pales in comparison to drinking that same beer with your comrades.

By Christy C Road
Like every junkie, I live my life chasing a mythical high from my past. I kept cooking, convinced that the nightly GA (General Assembly) meetings were hardly any more productive than the drum circle, but that by cooking and keeping people in the park I was doing the important work. You don't have to be a sociologist to understand that a movement like Occupy was fraught with divisions, which ran across any line you could imagine. Liberty City itself was more or less bisected, with the kitchen, of course, at its heart. "Uptown," on the side by the red statue, where the GA meetings were held, tended to be populated by the aspiring PMC types, the overeducated and underemployed who thought the Revolution was going to be set off by a tweet. "Downtown", on the other hand, tended to welcome a type who lived Occupy as a lifetyle: the crust punks, the Burners, the veterans of Bloombergville. Intellectual and drug addicted, employed yet technophobic, I never felt comfortable on either side, needless to say. I was sure that neither would take me seriously : I was either too much of a luddite or too much of a poseur. And probably too bridge and tunnel for either side.

Eventually these tensions made Liberty City a rather unpleasant place to be at times, and finding a place to sleep became harder and harder. I hadn't joined one of the many camps that had sprung up and erected tents. And I didn't want to--I knew they didn't have room anyway. I also wasn't tied into any of the networks that were surely being formed in the big tent uptown. I remember discussing this with a friend at the time, specifically the paradox of the timid revolutionary. Nevertheless, by the time Occupy was broken up, I hadn't made any attempt to forge more lasting bonds with anyone there, aside from person, a French tourist who found me cute, staring proudly at the line forming for the dinner I'd cooked. But our relationship, while made possible by Occupy, wasn't really built upon a political program.

Fast foward to 2020. I live in France now, where college and healthcare are (more or less) free, but where, even after 7 years, I feel like an outsider. Much like my entry into Occupy, I was able to participate in the Gilets Jaunes (France's Yellow Vest movement) simply because there was a specific time and place where I knew I could show up and blow off some steam and sexual frustration. But that moment had also passed by the time one of my role models form high school, an upper termer who got me into antiwar organizing and later wrote a book on Occupy, announced his departure from Facebook and asked his contacts for their email addresses. Desperate not to lose yet another contact in this world I headed over to the comments, where I saw a familiar name : Heather Squire.

She doesn't know it, but coming across her name has provoked a revisiting of that moment for me, and as such a reevaluation of what it means to build a worker's movement. I googled my name and cringed when I saw that at least one of the interviews I had done at the time is still available. I was young at the time, and most of all immature, but one thing I was right about is that Occupy was a generational movement. Participants came from all age groups, but the moment belonged to the millennials. 

This post is already too long for me to want to drag out a conclusion, but I will say that my own insecurities and self doubt - the very same imposter syndrome that has plagued me professionally - have kept me from living my best revolutionary life.

Sam Le Dily hasn't quite gotten it yet: he is a cook and doctoral candidate in international and European Union Law based in Toulouse, France.  He would happily be guillotined for the right cause.

Note from Heather: I did not commission this piece! It is with a great deal of my own imposter syndrome anxiety that I even post it, knowing there are bits of myself in it. I am grateful to Sam for holding me in his memories and am hopeful that his article is the beginning of him living his best revolutionary life in 2021.