Matt C.

I bounced around the state of Virginia but Harrisonburg is my home, definitely, emotionally and logistically (all my stuff is in Harrisonburg), and my heart and soul are there also. I was feeling the need to travel and see some things, move my feet a little bit. I’d been hearing about this community in northeast Missouri and was really inspired by some of the work they are doing; I decided to pay them a visit. I left Virginia in September and went to a farm there: off the grid, no electricity, no petroleum, sleeping in a barn loft, just working on the farm.

I’ve been here for a month just trying to take it in and digest, and really get a feel for fundamentally what’s going on in the undercurrents and what’s driving these people, because there is 1,000 different reasons why people are here, and they are all valid and they are all true.

So I spent a month with them and then came directly to New York City from there. The shift from going to bed at 9 o’clock at night because you don’t have lights (you’ve got candles, so the sun goes down and you can do a little reading or writing or something by candle light, but your body is telling you that it’s time to go to bed, the sun is down and it’s getting a little bit chilly), just having that natural landed rhythm, and then the super abrupt juxtaposition from there to here, sort of crash landing, in a way, on Broadway and Wall Street. The first night I was here I just kind of wandered around in this overwhelmed, over-stimulated state. It was this really, really abrupt change of pace and lifestyle. I still feel this strange rhythm where it is 2 o’clock in the morning and I feel fine, I am not sleepy, and I know I should be in bed, but I don’t know, I feel this city is messing with me. I’ve been out here for just about one month. The days kind of blur together a little bit, for sure.

I came here to meet with some friends from a seminary, kind of mentoring program that I’m taking part in. We had a mid-year retreat upstate and I decided to come down here following that, just to see what was going on, because a lot of the things that we deal with, our reading and things in the seminary, are geared towards social justice informed by scriptural studies. If you’re going to be talking about social justice then I need to be seeing what’s going on in a large prominent social justice movement.

There are 17 of us, and 7 mentors. The mentees are all in their early 20s, early 30s, just looking at radical re-visioning of the church at the intersection of the seminary, the sanctuary, and the street. What is the church’s call today? What do early scriptural examples have to show us about where we should be, who we should be, serving who we should be? It’s sort of liberating our own personal theologies from the mainstream church, which is has been largely co-opted by Wall Street. It’s liberating our theologies and supporting our own individual courses of community work and justice work, as well as scriptural studies.

The seminary is not in New York City; it’s actually not based anywhere. The mentees are scattered about the country, as are the mentors, and we correspond monthly via phone calls and emails, discussing our readings and things. We have three retreats where we get together in person for fellowship and support and all of that.

I’m intentionally open ended right now; I’m going to be here for as long as it feels right. I’ve been here for a month just trying to take it in and digest, and really get a feel for fundamentally what’s going on in the undercurrents and what’s driving these people, because there is 1,000 different reasons why people are here, and they are all valid and they are all true. Some people are talking about political reforms and financial reforms and transparency, and Glass-Steagull, and all that, and some people are talking about ending capitalism and overthrowing the state; all of these grievances are coming about from the same kind of systemic problems and corruption. Part of what I have been doing is trying to digest that, not for any other purpose other than my own understanding.

I was chatting with my official arresting officer, whose name is on all my paperwork, and he told me: “you guys are on to something, I’m not going to join you, and I don’t think it’s going to work.” And I was struck. Of course it’s not going to work, as long as the people who think we’re on to something, who admit that we are on to something, also say that they are not going to come out.

There are so many levels of injustice and corruption; under that there is this whole dehumanizing aspect of it. These guys are people. It’s overwhelming just to see the dehumanized state of people. Perhaps the clearest illustration of that are the police officers. I got arrested the morning that they raided the park, so around 4am last Tuesday. The riot police, who arrested us, were not people. They were riot police. It was very systematic; they dismantled us, kicked us around, and threw us in a bus. For me, I have questions of “what makes men and women do that?” What breaks the connection between these four guys, who are kicking my ass, and me? Because, generally speaking, that doesn’t happen walking down the street. I don’t just pass a group of four guys and they beat the shit out of me; it’s never happened to me at least, I know it does happen. But that is a fundamentally dehumanized interaction.

There was a moment in my arrest that was pretty profound for me. I felt the relationship between my actual, literal arresting officer and me; the relationship between he and I got more human. I was on the ground and my left arm was wrenched up behind my neck; my right arm is under my body and I realized I don’t stand anything to gain by fighting anymore. So I yielded just that much compliance, like “ok, you got me. I’ll get up and walk. I’m not going to make you drag me through the street.” And that moment where we stopped fighting so hard, there was this tiny little shred of humanity that crept back into that really strange relationship that we had for how ever long it was, a half hour, forty-five minutes.

And later on, that same day as I was being processed, I had plenty of time to chat with the cops and my arresting officer, who strangely enough was not the officer that physically removed me from the park and put the handcuffs on me. He was not my arresting officer on paper, and in the pictures of me, and my signature; the guy whose signature is on my paperwork was not even in the park, I believe.

I was chatting with my official arresting officer, whose name is on all my paperwork, and he told me: “you guys are on to something, I’m not going to join you, and I don’t think it’s going to work.” And I was struck. Of course it’s not going to work, as long as the people who think we’re on to something, who admit that we are on to something, also say that they are not going to come out. He has his own reasons for that; he has a kid, a house, a pension, and all that stuff, and I understand that. He’s looking out for his own. There is this strange defensive otherness that comes out of this systematic treatment of people. He’s looking out for his kid and his house; I’m somebody’s kid, my folks have a house, but somewhere in there, greed or need or scarcity, or something, puts us at odds.  That’s really, really overwhelming.

There are so many different kinds of rhetoric going on here, some people are like “kill the cops, fucking pigs,” and all that stuff; but that’s not true. It’s hard right now, in this space subjectively, for me to really acknowledge that we’ve both been victimized, being pitted against each other. Objectively I understand that, the whole need driven, maybe desperation, that’s driving the police officers to shut off themselves and come beat the shit out of people who aren’t harming them at all. They’re dehumanized also. Yea I got kicked around, and I’m still sore and bruised up and stuff, but the guys who did that to me are also victims of this dehumanization. I know that in some ways but it’s hard for me to feel that right now. It’s hard to feel pity for your oppressors but there are plenty of theological, social, and philosophical ideas about how the guys at the top and the agents of the system are victimized by it as well. I’m trying to synthesize them into my own practice. I know it, but I don’t feel it yet. It’s hard to feel it while you’re getting your ass beat.

I just noticed today how shifty the police officers eyes are. They were kicking out a guy right over here, he was making some stenciled t-shirts saying “I Occupy Wall Street,” playing off of the “I Love New York” graphics. He was getting kicked out for some reason or another; he didn’t have a vendor’s license, or whatever. The police officers wouldn’t make eye contact with anyone. There were three of them and they were just standing there, looking dumb, not unintelligent, but just looking dumb, not engaging, not interacting. And it’s not them. That was a clearer illustration of that dehumanization and that victimization that they are part of also.

There is so much talk about building a new world and how we can build the world that we want, and that’s true, but in order for that to happen we have to undo so much of our framework.

So as I’m kind of coming down from Tuesday’s raid and Thursday’s action, where having just come out of jail I was feeling kind of neutered an not really able to jump to the street and pull my friends back out, or whatever that case may be, that moment of jumping in and engaging, I said to myself “I can’t do that. If I go to jail again, I’m screwed.” As I am coming down from that, I’m able to think and breathe and see things clearly. I’m staying with a friend in Brooklyn and I kind of have a domestic space where I can drink a cup of coffee in the morning and read or write or something, and that’s sort of helping this whole digestion process.

This is definitely one more step in my own personal, “radicalizing” journey. As I’m confronting, acknowledging, and thinking through these vague notions I’ve had for a few years now, as I’m putting myself in this space, looking at them, and forcing my self to think through and digest them, it’s really putting a specificity on what used to be just vague notions.

As a personal preference, I don’t like using slogans or jargon but this whole 99% notion, needs to include police officers, it needs to include the sanitation workers who threw all of our shit in the dumpster, it needs to include all of these folks who are just cogs because its no one person’s fault. I was up at the sanitation place and it was a shitshow, it was traumatizing to be there. The impersonal interactions with people who were saying, “we can’t do that, we can’t help you. I’m sorry but I’m just doing my job. It’s not my decision.” There too, they were avoiding eye contact and just kind of shrugging their shoulders, not talking about right or wrong. They were just talking about “I’m just doing my job man.” You can’t blame somebody for that; I want the movement to recognize that. I think some folks do, but there’s the “kill pigs” rhetoric that I think is detrimental to a nonviolent movement. I mean you can’t kill people in a nonviolent movement.  I think that kind of rhetoric doesn’t examine deep enough down to the problems of systemic dehumanization. I feel like I keep saying dehumanization but, as activists and occupiers, if we allow ourselves to accept the dialogue that the cops are the other, and they are against us, we are still towing the party line of Wall Street, power, and whoever “they” are. We are towing their party lines still if we accept this false dichotomy, this notion of oppositional otherness. There is so much talk about building a new world and how we can build the world that we want, and that’s true, but in order for that to happen we have to undo so much of our framework. Wherever we stand now, we all came up through this system that creates that otherness and that opposition. We are on two different sides of it. I came out on this side, and the officer came out on this side. I think, until we undo those sides, we are not building the world that we want. We cannot build the world that we want and then exclude the police officers because they came up through a broken system on a different path than we did. We have to really get down and undo that deep, deep, deep stuff. Some folks are doing that, and some folks aren’t. Some people are content to stay in that angry space of pushing and pushing and pushing and fighting. Persistence and fighting is critically important but so is acknowledging this notion of humanity, of commonality. 

I don’t know specifically how to address it; I don’t think I am in that part of the process yet. But I think the presence of that otherness and that oppositional character, between two individuals, is still a sign that we haven’t gone deep enough. That gets into “inner work,” me sorting my stuff out and you sorting your stuff out. I don’t know if there is a prescription for getting to the root of that, or if there is, I don’t know it yet. Maybe it’s not the core, maybe it’s as deep as I’ve gotten right now, and there’s something else under that that’s going to turn my brain over again. But we’ll see.

It’s really overwhelming. It’s traumatizing. Wednesday evening when I got out of jail, it was raining and I came down here and I just kind of stood in the spot where my tent was right over there, I just sort of looked around. Then I went and stood in the spot where I was locked down with my good friends. Other folks that I’ve talked to have also spoken to this, that this space is still full of that imagery for us, so it’s overwhelming. I don’t know if they’re flashbacks or not, but it’s definitely very fresh in all of our minds. There is an overwhelming kind of bitterness that’s present in a lot of us.

My name is Matt.

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