Orwell in popular imagination - Book Week


Photo from WikiCommons by David Shankbone

Orwell in popular imagination

I’m sitting in my living room in Greenpoint in Brooklyn right now, drunk, tired, and relieved. I thought I’d be spending this weekend in jail, thanks to Bloomberg’s near-decision to evict the Occupy Wall Street encampment at Zuccotti Park, now more correctly known as Liberty Plaza. As it is, I’ve spent that last hundred-some hours closer to police than I’m generally comfortable with, especially considering some of those police were on horseback.

Instead of moving in on the park like a new incarnation of Chicago’s Mayor Daley in 1968, Bloomberg wisely called off his repo men and gave the occupiers that rarest of things for a liberal activist – the taste of victory.  Friday morning at 6 AM the emergency general assembly made an announcement to the 3,000 supporters who had rallied to their side.

“We have an announcement.”

The People’s Mic functions as a literal loudspeaker – the demonstrators aren’t allowed to use any amplification, so the crowd echoes the initial speaker’s voice as a chorus.


The General Assembly (basically a giant, outdoor town hall meeting for the protesters) then relayed the news that Brookfield Properties, the organization that owns the deed to Zuccotti Park, had retracted their request that Mayor Bloomberg use police to enforce their scheduled cleaning.  The crowd erupted in cheers instantaneously; there was no waiting to echo any words.

I left the park after occupying it all night and most of the morning.  After biking to my friend’s house to grab my bag, which I had given him to take home in the case of arrest, I passed out on his roommate’s bed, dead to the world.

Saturday was an international day of rage. Actions were planned and coordinated worldwide to create the maximum impact, one that the media couldn’t ignore. The actions had their desired effect – dozens of print and broadcast media organs used both the word “Occupy” and “global” in their headline.  I participated in the Times Square occupation, and without even meaning to I found myself on the front lines, staring ahead at a line of mounted police officers in front of me, and a small fleet of moped cops behind me.

And here’s where George Orwell comes in.

As I stood there, entrenched  in with hundreds of other demonstrators, behind the row of mounties, rose an Aeropostale advertisement that dwarfed us all.  The maybe-18-year-old in the ad hadn’t eaten in days to get ready for this shoot, and she backlit the officers in a yellow, almost solar, light.  She pranced around on screen, assuring us with her smile that all was right with America.  The order as it stands is natural and good.  Huxley warned us that citizens would internalize the domination the state seeks to imprison them in, and above us was doing just that.  It was only when the cops started shouting, “Move back or you’ll be treated as violent,” that things got truly Orwellian.  See, we had nowhere to go.

Behind us was the police barricade, and on the other end of that, the goddamn mounties.  How could we move back? Were we meant to simply allow the horses to trample us to death like we were serfs? “Stop being violent” a cop told me, as I was trying to walk toward the public sidewalk. What, am I thinking violent thoughts? Did he suspect it? And if he did, might that serve as probable cause?

When I finally turned back to head home I didn’t get more than 40 feet before I witnessed a fresh new outrage.  Slightly in front of me, about 200 feet west of the intersection of 46th street and 6th Avenue, 15 cops surrounded a figure on the ground.  It didn’t take long before 5 of them emerged carrying a man who had gone limp into a paddy wagon. A police officer shoved me and told me to keep moving.

“I am,” I replied, slowing down but still putting one foot in front of the other.

“If you don’t start moving, you’re going to be arrested.”

I responded by telling him I was walking, and, also, asking him what laws I was breaking.

“I’ll give you two. Disobeying a lawful order, and failure to recognize extenuating circumstances.”

“But,” I responded, “I’m standing on the pubic sidewalk. Surely, that can’t be against the law.”  Another shove, another threat, and a dead phone in my pocket convinced me that this battle probably wasn’t winnable. So as I walked west on 46th Street towards 6th Ave to meet back up with my girlfriend, cops shouted “you may not assemble here,” and I saw the neon lights spill out over the mounted cops back in Times Square. They stood there, lined up, ready to arrest one of us for what we were thinking, because once one person says something, the ninety people around them repeat it, and amplify the message.

Written by: John Knefel