Even when the odds seem insurmountable, they can be surmounted. Even when the opposition seems tougher than you, it might not be. So much of communication is the stuff that isn’t being said. In Occupy we have chosen to stand up to the forces that have taken over our government. That requires a new mindset that we as a culture don’t have.
I have never had a knife pulled on me before. Not in earnest. That slowed-down moment of peril is still imprinted on my brain: him flipping the knife out and it coming toward my eye. There was a moment while he was flipping his knife into stabbing position; I considered whether I should flee, or at least defend myself.
Another part of me watched the guy as he lunged awkwardly and drove the knife toward my left eye. I’ve worked security, and in group homes with mentally challenged adults; plus, I’ve raised kids. In all of my experience, there is usually some negotiating before outright violence. I clung to that belief as the knife came to a stop two or three inches from my eyeball.
“Get the fuck out of here,” he told me, “or I’m going to shank you.” I know that I squinted my left eye a little bit, but other than that I didn’t give him any response.
It was all about communication. He wanted me to leave. I wanted something more. I’m not certain what I wanted, but it encompassed much more than that kid and his girlfriend. I spend a lot of time these days thinking about how to prevail in this fight with the corporations. What I keep seeing is: it’s not even a fight. It’s just communication.
Because his knife wasn’t sticking in my eye, I knew that he didn’t want to stick it in my eye. I stopped worrying about the knife and shifted my attention to the guy behind it. I looked into his eyes. “Are you really going to do that?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said as he quickly pulled the knife back. “I do it all the time.”
“You stab people all the time?” I asked him.
He slouched as he walked away. He was no master of the universe. He was just some dumb kid who didn’t know how to deal with his problems. I’m a middle-aged guy with plenty of uncertainty in my own life. We both live in a world where the odds are stacked against us, at levels we can’t even begin to comprehend.
In Occupy we are communicating. We don’t want our homes and financial security stolen from us. We want things that other countries have provided their population; things like health care and worker’s rights.
Forces that hope to make a profit from our financial insecurity get their hackles up when we point these things out. They get all threatening and scary-looking. It’s up to us to control our reaction. They are communicating fear and uncertainty. We need to communicate calm, certainty.
Knife guy went back to his girlfriend. She was still leaning against the wall, watching us. He ordered her back into his car.
She said, “No.”
He cursed us as he walked backward to his SUV. He told her she was going to have to find her own way home. She walked away from him, toward the front of the bar, like she was going to head up Sixth Avenue. Ultimately, though, I don’t think she wanted to walk home. She turned around and walked back to him.
In Occupy, we’ve discovered that when we march to close banks, we succeed. The banks will surround themselves with cops, but when we march up to their doors with signs and costumes, they lock their doors. There is a lot of bluster between Occupy, the cops and the corporations, just like there was between Knife guy and me. But once it was all done, he backed off.
Maybe that’s the lesson we as a nation need to learn: Sometimes all it takes is standing up.