David Graeber’s Life Celebrated in Zuccotti Park

Roman Broszkowski Oct 14, 2020

Anarchists, admirers, and loved ones gathered in Zuccotti Park Sunday afternoon to honor leftist luminary David Graeber who passed away last month at the age of 59.

At times strange and boisterous, the memorial took on the air of an outdoor carnival and theater production, with participants donning costumes and singing anti-capitalist songs. The event was one of more than 220 simultaneous gatherings staged around the world and organized by those who knew Graeber.

From Northern Syria to New York, these events aimed to celebrate Graeber’s impish spirit, his theoretical approaches to organizing, and his contributions to anarchism, organizers said 

“David never liked long sad processions,” said Marisa Holmes, one of the event’s organizers. “He liked the carnival and the interactions between people.”

Eric Laursen, a long-time friend and writing collaborator of Graeber’s, agreed.

“David loved the idea of carnival and turning action into joy,” Laursen said. “He wanted to find joyful solutions [to capitalism].”

That philosophy of fun was on full display during the two-hour memorial. In addition to costumes, there were several musical performances — often with anarchist inspired lyrics. A couple sang Pete Seeger covers while the “comic preacher” Rev. Billy (decked out in a neon pink suit) and the Church of Stop Shopping Choir led a group sing-a-long. Another ensemble attempted to perform a short play promoting vaccine related conspiracy theories, but were booed and cut off. However, even that moment of tension felt inline with Graeber’s larger legacy, said some who knew him.

“What’s an anarchist meeting without some opposition,” said Alice Volfson whose family knew Graeber.

Graeber was born and raised in New York City and lived for much of his life in a union-built housing cooperative in Chelsea. He was active in the New York City Direct Action Network in the early 2000s before he was purged from his tenure track position at Yale for his radical politics and took an academic post in England about a decade ago. 

His 2011 best-seller Debt: The First 5,000 Years made him an intellectual superstar. Undergirding all the day’s festivities were the memories of Graeber himself and Occupy Wall Street’s days in Zuccotti Park. For many in attendance, Graeber was a founding organizer of the Occupy movement which set up an encampment in Zuccotti Park in September 2011. It was his connection to that history that brought them out on an overcast fall afternoon.

“My earliest memories of going to a protest are visiting Occupy Wall Street with my mother,” Volfson said. “[He] will be an influential part of any future revolution [and] will radicalize people for long after.”

While the event was organized by people who were close with Graeber, the crowd was an eclectic mix of fans, former comrades, and fellow Occupiers. Eulogies and tributes were just as varied as the attendees.

Some like Reverend Billy reflected on how Graeber had inspired their own actions

“David was a Saint in the Church of Stop Shopping,” the reverend said while noting Graeber’s contributions to The Church of Stop Shopping’s philosophy. “We canonized him last year.”

Others described Graeber in terms of his work with Occupy Wall Street.

“[David’s academic work] took the shame out of student debt,” said Harrison ‘Tesoura’ Shultz. “It was an honor to know him and to fight alongside him [at Occupy].”

But for those who knew Graeber best, their eulogies were deeply personal.

Lisa Fithian, a long time friend of Graeber, put it simply.

“I was a street girl and David was a street guy,” she said. “He always kept one foot out in the streets.”

For more about David Graeber’s life and work, click here. To read what attendees of his memorial had to say, click here. For his 2011 interview with The Indypendent,click here.

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