Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

Something Like a Dream

Filed By Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore | October 28, 2011 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement
Tags: Canyon Road, direct action group, occupy Santa Fe, the 99%, tourism

As soon as I send out an announcement for the Occupy Canyon Road meeting, I start getting responses from people with various concerns.

Someone is worried about interrupting business on Canyon Road, a lot of artists depend on those galleries - this person doesn't think the gallery owners are part of the 1%, maybe the 10%. Someone else wants to occupy Whole Foods, santa-fe.jpgwhich sounds like a fine idea, but kind of irrelevant to this particular idea. Someone else says that, other than Gerald Peters, she doesn't think there are many plutocrats who art gallery owners.

No one actually responds to say that they plan on coming to the meeting, or at least not for the first few days after my email, and then people start worrying that because this meeting is at the same time as the general assembly that seems to happen every day, they're worried about "splitting the group." But wait - this is a working group, it was announced at the general assembly meeting twice - it's a brainstorming meeting, and afterwards we will go to the general assembly with our ideas. That's what a working group does, right? I can't change the meeting with one-day notice - what if someone shows up at my door?

But, back to the We Are the 99% rhetoric, which does seem to be a bit limiting if people are only wanting to target the 1%. Should we ask gallery owners on Canyon Road for their tax statements? The point of targeting Canyon Road is that Santa Fe is run by the art market and the tourist industries. This is a town of 70,000 people with an art market neck in neck with LA, a city more than 50 times larger. Do you understand the significance of all that money? The commodification of creativity; the way everyone is wrapped up in it.

And, all the wealth that clusters around and above Canyon Road - streets of mansions where no one really lives, just vacation homes for the international jet set. On the phone, someone is saying you're new to the group. But, wait - I thought everyone was new to this group! Didn't the whole thing start here three weeks ago?

There's something about living in Santa Fe that allows me to suspend disbelief about this whole thing.

I try to follow what's going on in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, and other occupations that pop up in the news, and of course there's a lot more going on there - larger and more confrontational action. But the truth is that if I was living in San Francisco, I'm pretty certain that I would hate the whole thing, or at least most of it - I would see all the limitations; it would be hard to see anything else.

I talked to the two people in San Francisco with whom I've done the most organizing, and I was kind of stunned that neither of them had even visited the occupation, or gone to any of the protests. "It's easier to support it without going there," one of them said, and I knew that feeling exactly - that's why I left San Francisco. The trendiness, the groupthink, the way a subculture becomes an identity and a worldview.

Of course, I'm sure it's just as corrupt here, but I don't know the people who are involved. I don't know anything about their motivations really, or where they came from before their involvement in Occupy Santa Fe. I see the limitations immediately - the hierarchies that are emerging, the ways the process doesn't exactly make sense, the trust in law and order and government, the lack of a radical analysis. But I also see that people are trying to engage politically in a city where political engagement barely exists, and sometimes that inspires me.

It's the fourth Saturday of the protests, and I wake up feeling so awful that there's no way I can possibly go. But I also feel awful about not going, not because I think I'm missing something amazing, but because I want to stay in touch. Jessica doesn't want to go either - she read something on the website about a multiracial awareness group that decided against "white allies" in favor of "tribal awareness." But where are their minutes, I've never seen minutes. Apparently on the Facebook page - everything is on the Facebook page. I take a look - it's hard to tell what this group means exactly. Jessica says she's been thinking about the people who she wants to work with, and how we all struggle with our health, our limitations, and maybe that's an opening for thinking about how to engage.

But where is the opening? Today I feel so horrible that I can't even write about how horrible I feel, I mean that's actually why I decide not go to the protest, because if I go then I'll be too tired to write, and I have a lot of writing to catch up on, but then I write a paragraph and a half, and my whole mind goes blank. The rest of the day I'm just struggling not to get back in bed, because it always makes me feel worse, right? But then I feel worse anyway. I cruise the internet; that's always a bad sign, a sign that I'm trying to feel something other than what I'm feeling now, anything. I don't even leave the house, except to sit outside in the sun a few times.

I'm on the Occupy Santa Fe Facebook page again - that's where I learn that now there's an encampment in the Railyard, it began last night. The mayor has given his approval. People voted at the meeting to call themselves occupiers, not campers - this is the kind of thing that gets to me: it's consensus, right? We don't vote. And: just when Occupy Albuquerque changed its name to (Un)Occupy Albuquerque, we're going in the opposite direction. But this is just a sentence in the minutes - it's so easy to get upset about something online; and yet, so much of how everyone finds out about all these Occupy action and engagements happens online. It's such a limited way of communicating.

The campsite is only a few blocks away, and it's almost time for me to get ready for bed but I need to go on some kind of walk, so I head over to see what it's all about. I'm surprised to see almost 20 tents, four large ones in the middle that I guess are community tents, for anyone who wants to stay there. All arranged in a circle around a grassy area - I thought maybe they would have set the tents up in the grassy area, but someone says we thought of that, but then we didn't want to kill the grass.

There's a fire in the area where grills are set up, the ending of a circle to bless the site is what someone says. I'm not sure about circles like that - I mean, I like circles, but I don't like blessings. Although I do like this story someone tells about it - the guy giving the blessing asked who was the youngest person, two 18-year-olds it turned out. He said you are our future, or something like that, and then it was the turn of one of the 18-year-olds to speak. I didn't cause the problems of this world, she said - I don't know how to fix them; I need advice from my elders; I need some guidance!

People are talking about iPhones and where to get the cheapest sleeping mats, Target or Kmart, so no - not the most politicized conversation. Someone who I've never met comes up to me and says you look fabulous, opens his arms and gives me a hug, that's pretty sweet. Do straight guys use the word fabulous? Maybe he said amazing.

Three little dogs are humping each other, and the guy next to me who often helps facilitate is camping it up, talking about making Occupy Santa Fe porn. Maybe this is a queer moment. One woman wonders if there should be a sign saying that no drugs or alcohol are permitted at the campsite, and some guy who kind of acts like he's in charge says no, no signs. The reason I ask, says the woman, is because there was a sign at the other campsite.

The guy who gave me a hug asks about sleeping bags for people who want to sleep in the community tents -- he's helping build the new homeless shelter; I didn't know there was a new homeless shelter. Right by the existing one, I guess, by the direction in which he points. He'll be here for a week, he says; he likes to help out. And, that's the feeling here - people are sharing, talking to one another, creating something communally, something like a dream, and that's what gets me excited again.

(Img src: Crossposted from Nobody Passes, Darling)


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I like what you've reported on here, Mattilda. I'm interested in the interplay between the commodification of creativity and an artist's need to put food on the table and keep a roof overhead. You're pointing toward the relationship between "arts market" and systems of economic injustice. I think you're right though, it isn't just the top 1%. It is going to take a pretty brutal personal inventory to see how we're each complicit in what's going on.

Thanks for your eloquence, Greg – I couldn't agree with you more!

Lots to analyze here, of course, but I love that you notice random stuff like why aren't the tents on the grass. :)