Occupy Tomorrow

Nicholas Powers Dec 19, 2011


"You​ were conceived at Occupy Wall Street,” her mother bit her thumb and giggled, “Under a tarp.” Sol stared at her mom, waiting for an answer. Was she going to the 30th anniversary of the Occupy Movement at Liberty Park or not? But her mother was busy reading the slogan on Sol’s shirt: “Privatize. Because the Masses are Asses.” 

Her eyes flinched; Sol saw the hurt but said nothing. They argued for weeks about the city’s plan to privatize the recycling centers and energy grid. At a General Assembly, New York’s mayor showed the city’s budget in red and said selling state infrastructure could raise money to fund food rations. In the past decade, climate change dried nations to deserts. Farmers in the Midwest broke hard earth. Supermarket shelves were half-stocked. Most cities ate from the land around them. But large ones like New York imported some food. A debate raged over raising taxes or selling state property. But recent government corruption scandals boosted a conservative party called the Right to Own Movement who demanded privatization. They asked Sol to argue for them on a popular talk show. And she did, saying the Occupy-backed government was inept. Afterwards, with her face a mask of make-up and microphone tape half-peeled on her jacket; she visited her mother who shouted stories of the battles waged to “green” New York that created those jobs. Neither pushed words into the cold patch of silence where the memory of Sol’s father was hidden. 

“Did you have to wear that shirt,” her mother asked but didn’t wait for an answer. “When you were born I wore a shirt that read, ‘Resistance is Fertile’. It’s an old sci-fi reference. Star Trek. The Borg.” But Sol put her face into her hands and said slowly, “Mom. Focus. Please.” 

Her mother picked up a guitar and strummed, “You know I was pregnant with you when we closed down the ports. I could hardly see your father through the tear gas.” 

“He’s been dead for years,” Sol’s eyes tightened into slits “And so have you. Smoking pot. Singing nothing to no one. You’re a ghost.” 

Mother’s eyes simmered then she looked down and strummed a chord. Sol studied her graying afro, her loose dress a splash of red and orange. Towers of books and dishes teetered on the table. Sol hated her messiness, hated her aimless music and fought it by thinking straight and clear about everything. She dressed in a black I-Suit every day, corn-rowed her hair and walked like a knife through friendships, jobs, love as if to cut the invisible strings always tugging her back into The Mess. 

“Mom are you going or not?”

Instead of answering she placed a tiny gift box on the table and kept playing her guitar. Sol stood up, “You know why I’m against the Occupy Movement? It was always larger than us. We could never just be a family. It’s why dad left. We weren’t big enough for him.”

“Did you figure all that out with your therapist,” her mom chuckled. Sol snatched her bag, “I don’t even know why you loved him.” Her hard footsteps stomped down the stairs and Sol was outside the building when her name was shouted. She and the neighbors on the stoop looked up. Her mom threw down the gift box and yelled, “And take off that stupid fucking shirt!”


Sol gave her two middle fingers as the neighbors booed. Picking up the box she dashed off. Breathe, she told herself. Just go to the protest and say your speech. She had been invited by the Right to Own Movement to talk at the 30th anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. As the daughter of a movement martyr she had cache, reporters called for interviews and her name was rising in the newsfeed. 

Sol walked down from 96th street and Second Avenue, opening the gift box with numb fingers. Inside was a flash-drive, she plugged it into her I-Suit. It was a black mesh fabric that made her look like a shadow walking free in broad daylight. Most people had personalized suits with images of themselves or a favorite album cover or bright flowers or their name in throbbing light. I-Suits generated energy from body movement which fed into phones or recorders or any one of the digital equipment that could be plugged into it. When she inserted the flash drive into her chest plug a video feed hit her view-glasses and earplugs. Her mother’s laughter filled her ears and on the lens of her glasses she saw a half-transparent film of her parents, young and frisky chasing each other through a park. At the bottom she saw the date meter read 2011, Sept. 20. “I’m going to occupy your bed tonight,” her dad laughed and hoisted her mom up, she kicked him playfully “You’re going to occupy a hospital.”

Date Meter – 2011, Sept. 30. The video cut to her parents under a crinkly blue tarp, sitting on a soggy mattress. She was in his lap, the back of her head on his chest as he stroked circles around her navel. Her arms entwined his neck, hands kneading his hair. They swayed like a bell, chanting “om.” He looked like a hairy outdoorsman with thick black glasses. She was wiry with a multi-colored afro like a psychedelic dancer. Loud rambling drums cascaded through the tent’s open flap. Sol smiled, she had read about the incessant drumming. 

Date Meter – 2011, Nov. 15. The video cut to the camera whipping around blurred faces. Screams rose in the back. The blue tarp was torn off as if by a tornado and a red-faced cop lunged for the camera. Her parents jumped away and filmed tents being crushed by police who were black beetles in riot gear. Shirtless Occupiers emerged some dazed, some fighting, some being folded like pretzels by cops and cuffed. 

In the video, mom’s scream stretched her face like a rubber mask. Sol took her view glasses off and sat on a bench at Fifth Avenue on Central Park. Trees swayed above her and light shimmered like army camouflage on her body. Her chest was heavy as a memory surged into her eyes. Dad was in the morgue, half his head blown off and mom screamed so hard her face stretched exactly the same way. Sol remembered carrying her to a chair where they wrapped arms. Her mother was a figurine of cracked glass about to shatter but Sol felt calm. No more Movement. No more wondering if he was coming or going. No more lectures on history. No more whispery excuses. Sol remembered his broken skull, how it looked like a cracked egg and how relieved she was to feel numb. 

Sol shook her head as the memory drained back into her. Capitalism. Her parents and most of humanity had fought it the past three decades with frenzied desperation. Why couldn’t mom understand she wasn’t trying to resurrect that zombie system? But how much corruption must we read about before limited privatization was allowed? Sol got up, dizzy with memory. The raging debate between her and her mother wasn’t about headlines and corruption. It was a tug of war over her father’s legacy. Growing up they fought over who was more loyal to his vision. It was what he left them as he traveled to another General Assembly, another protest, another march, another jail, another international conference, another family.


Capitalism. No one took it seriously. Not after the Global Depression of 2014, when the eurozone collapsed and millions of jobless, starving people filled the city squares. Dirty, ragged, desperate. They shouted from empty bellies in one great voice that echoed in the halls of power. Sol smiled at the memory of the teach-ins at Central Park and the audience whose eyes radiated wild energy. The mic-checks boomed and the General Assemblies lasted for weeks. It was a carnival and a Senate meeting and a rock concert and love-in and protest march and a dance-a-thon all at the same time. 

She got up, dusted herself off and walked to 59th Street at Earth Circle. The old Columbus statue was torn down while she was in middle school and replaced by a genetically modified huge mountain pine tree. It towered over every building. It had a giant base that took four people, arms spread wide to wrap around it. Thick branches zigzagged like lightning and a musky odor of pine circled it even in dead winter. Sol still had on her view glasses and on it played a scene of her parents under the old Christopher Columbus statue, necking and reading Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet to each other. Sol took off her view-glasses and held them in front of her. It startled her to see 2011, Gray New York on the lens while 2041 Green New York was all around her. Gray New York was ugly rough stone buildings, ugly cement streets and ugly gas cars honking. Torn plastic bags whipped from the trees. Plastic water bottles tumbled on the sidewalk. Ads for shiny expensive watches or cars or jewelry glittered from the walls. Ugly, Sol thought and looked away from the past to the present surrounding her. 

Green New York had whole avenues of flowery gardens, buildings had trees on the rooftops that swayed and ducts that channeled rainwater into basement purifiers, instead of brick or stone the buildings had solar walls that converted sunlight to electricity. Off-duty cops sat in pot cafes with steamed up windows. Everyone had carry-bags that they used to shop for food instead of the old throw-away plastic. And neon-colored groups of bicyclists flashed up and down the lanes like schools of fish around whale-like city buses. The few cars that did roll by were quiet electric models that hummed in and out of recharger anchors that looked like old parking meters but with a nozzle to plug into for a quick jump. 

And of course there was the Grid. She looked at the sidewalk. It transformed every footstep into a volt that sparkled through conduits. The city streets were torn up and New York rebuilt on top of a miles vast microchip. It took the kinetic energy of its people; the walking, running, door opening, wheel turning and made it into light. 

Sol remembered its construction; the haze of dust had seemed endless. But the joy of the Occupy Movement was contagious. It weathered the worst of the state crackdowns and pushed the White House to begin The Green Deal. She was too young to know what or who or why but once saw her dad stumbling home with bloody lips. He yelled into his phone, “Of course we protest the convention. That asshole is nickel and diming us. We need a Global Green Age. He needs Occupy’s support but we hold out unless he pushes for the $20 trillion over the next 20 years to end poverty and cool the planet.” 

Sol put her view-glasses back on and punched up a video. On her lens she saw herself age eight held up by her parents in a sea of rejoicing people. It was 2020, Van Jones had been elected president and former Occupy organizers had swept the House and Senate. Protestors from the Arab Spring and the African Renaissance Movement had seized their capitals. Everyone knew the famous U.N. address when Jones mic-checked the General Assembly. 

“We the People,” he called and they responded “Are coming home. We are occupying not one election or one capital. We must occupy tomorrow.” Corporations lost their personhood. How strange, Sol thought that a business could ever be a “legal” person. Newsreels from the time showed billions of people, once homeless or poor swarming like ants over dead neighborhoods and leaving shiny new green buildings in their wake. Cities rebuilt on Grids were networked with other cities. The drug war was stopped, pot cafes and worker-run red-light districts filled with eager tourists. Roads were paved and solar panels flashed in far-flung villages. 

New schools, homes and hospitals rose from the rubble of slums. Women’s centers provided abortions, free contraception and taught reproductive rights. A free global healthcare system was created; anyone could travel anywhere and show their Health- Pass. 2024 peaked with the U.N. Without Borders legislation that led to an interconnected free global transit system. Sol remembered the photos of stupefied wonder as people stepped out of magnet trains and saw no guards, no checkpoints. 

New music, new art, new questions seemed to arrive every day. In Sol’s teenage years ideas came and went like the tide but left behind was a fervent loyalty to the Movement. Life before the Occupy Movement was jokingly called “The Old World” and it became a source of contempt and laughter. In New York, you could still rent nostalgic gas cars and for high-school graduation Sol and her friends went on an “old fashioned” road trip. It ended with them yelling slurs at the sad men in small towns that still ran on oil. She remembered her friend, drunk, vomit crusting her chin hollering, “Get off the planet ghost! You belong in the past.” 


“Ghost” was a slur for anyone who ate meat or used oil or gas or was careless with trash. Occupiers made it up of course. It marked those who lived in Old World capitalism from those who lived in the New World. Most people now said, “The G-word.” But father happily used the slur. Sol recalled as a child they were in a packed elevator when a man reeking of hamburger came in. Father said, “I believe were being haunted.” Others joined in, “Yeah, a ghost just passed through. I feel cold.” Another said, “Let’s do an exorcism.” Sol was scared but yelled it too and the word felt sweet and hot in her mouth. 

“Ghost! Get out Ghost!” they shouted at the red-faced man who dashed off. Years later, Sol was taught at school that it wasn’t polite to use the slur. Some people don’t have a choice on where they were born. “That’s bullshit,” her father said, “The minute they force us to stop using ghost then they start bringing capitalism back.” At night, he’d poke his head in her room while she studied and said, “Boo!” 

The sky was becoming rose-colored with dusk. It was getting late; Sol caught the M20 bus downtown to Liberty Park. Wedging through the throng of passengers, she found a spot. The sun needled her eyes and she put the view-glasses on. Her mother’s flash-drive was still playing and it was too late to look away. She had seen this scene a thousand times. 

Date Meter – 2031, March 4. The infamous March for Tomorrow, a churning river of people with banners that read “Dismantle the Bomb” waving over faces painted white. In the prior decade, militaries around the world refused to fire on protestors as long as they didn’t storm the homes of the rich. But their bloated budgets seemed absurd in the absence of war. So the Occupy Movement mobilized. 

In the video, Sol saw her parents run into each other after being separated for years. A raw ache oozed between them. Mom had her glittery guitar and was a rising music star. She had a new lover in tow and a new album. Dad was haggard, lonely and obsessed. In the video their faces convulsed with longing and pride and shame. 

Sol winced at the next scene. Riot police lowered shields and fired a sound canon as people covered their ears. A blurry silhouette of a man ran at the police then a flash and he fell. Two men hauled his limp body and for an instant between their legs she saw his smashed head, soggy hair dripping red. At the morgue, her mother screamed and Sol buried the image inside where it fell to a depth she only glimpsed in nightmares. 

The bus steamed to a halt and she saw Liberty Park and jumped out. A crowd of thousands milled. The Right to Own Movement people saw her and led her to a mike stand and video projector. “Do you have the recording,” Gilliam asked. He was nervous. The crowd was mostly Occupiers, young and old staring daggers at them. Sol reached in her other pocket and gave him the flash-drive. It had a video history of private property to be shown before her speech. 

But Sol didn’t want to speak anymore. The memory of her father swelled her throat. “I don’t know,” she murmured when someone threw a sizzling canister on stage. Sol felt weightless with terror as white tear gas enveloped her. Gunshots rang. Hazy shapes leapt in and out of the fog. As she stumbled through the shouting and pushing, someone knocked over the projector and it turned on. Its beam lit the smoke. She had given Gilliam the wrong flash-drive and images of her parents flickered on the white clouds. It was from the original Occupy Wall Street, thirty years ago and they swayed to drums as dad rubbed circles around mom’s navel. Choking and delirious, Sol didn’t know where she was. Or what year it was. Or who she was. But she walked toward the couple dancing in tear gas because they seemed to know the answer. 

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