ARIAS: Razed and unfazed

“Shame! Shame! Shame!”

The words that woke me up Wednesday morning were unforgiving and loud. They were carried over a megaphone blaring from what was, for the last six months, the grounds of Occupy New Haven.

I opened my bedroom window in Bingham and heard the sounds of demolition. The grinding of the bulldozers made it clear what was happening: The home of Occupy was being leveled to the ground. Soon, there would be nothing left of the encampment that had resisted rain, snow and cold weather to become one of the last holdouts of a national movement.

I am by no means an Occupier; although I share the protestors’ frustration towards the fiscal irresponsibility of Wall Street and the pass it got from our politicians, and I earnestly wish for reforms, I do not support the anarchistic rhetoric that seems to have become associated with Occupy in the final months of its campaign. Nor am I against the decision of the city to evict the protesters, as long as the law has been followed and due process has been respected.

However, in spite of all this, I am deeply troubled by the destruction of the Occupy camp. I watched as the workers labored to pick the ground clean and remove all traces of the movement. Gradually, the wooden planks and plastic tarps passed from sight, eaten up by the bulldozers and garbage heaps. The white banner of Occupy, the impromptu flag that had flown above the encampment like a sign of resistance, was strewn over the lip of a truck full of debris.

The disturbance I felt that morning, though, cannot be ascribed to these sights and sounds of destruction. The sensation of dissonance I felt came not in seeing Occupy being removed, but in seeing the apparent indifference of those passing by; students went on along their way to class, couples chatted pleasantly and traffic continued to flow up and down College Street (albeit disrupted by the demolition process).

Even city officials seemed indifferent. I passed five police officers who were standing, chatting, next to boxes of Dunkin Donuts coffee. The coffee had been placed on top of the trunk of a police car, which had become a temporary water cooler where officers sipped java and traded stories. Behind them sounded the cacophony of wooden planks shattering and metal scraping against the ground.

The contrast was hard to take in. As the minutes passed, I stood watching the bulldozers go to work while people hurried off to their jobs and their seminars, no one stopping to preserve even a moment’s memory of the forcible eviction and decline of a modern social movement.

I have learned since coming to Yale that the history we leave behind is preserved not in events themselves, but in the individual and collective memories of contemporary observers, in the memories that linger far after the events have passed. These memories are both physical and intangible — the memory of Occupy, for example, is held in those dumpsters just as it is held in the minds of those who witnessed Occupy’s birth, development and decline. Between the rubble en route to the landfills and the indifference of the pedestrians, however, there are few places this memory has left to dwell in.

It worries me how easily this day will fade out of memory. The few who bore witness to the removal of Occupy are among the last sources that hold onto the day’s events — the city’s efficiency in clearing the Green has left only the bare earth as a testament to its occupation. Even this token is transitory; soon the ground will be tilled, grass will grow back, the memories of each passerby will fade away and there will be nothing left of Occupy.

Whether opposed, supportive or neutral to the movement, we cannot be indifferent to the history that is going on around us. Whether you hated the drum circles that kept you awake at night or joined in and raised your voice in protest, I urge you not to let this memory fade into oblivion.

We all have a profound desire to leave a legacy; just as Occupy may vanish from recollection, everything, even our very existence as individuals, can one day be forgotten, too. If you do not stop to remember the stories of others, who will stop to remember yours?

Daniel Arias is a freshman in Calhoun College. Contact him at daniel.arias@yale.edu.

Comments

  • A_non_mouse

    …And? What would have you liked to see instead? Should the police officers have stood erect, at attention? Perhaps pedestrians should’ve donned black armbands? Maybe a hearse would’ve been appropriate commemoration? You can’t foist meaning and significance onto events; people will decide what’s important and worthy of eulogizing and what isn’t.

    I think New Haven will take it measure of Occupy without your sermonizing, sanctimonious screed. (Did it ever occur to you that fellow passers-by might be registering the demolition just as you, but without the same awed, self-important sobriety?) In a way, the bill for Occupy New Haven’s tenure—which, appraised at $145000, will certainly linger in the city’s coffers for a long time to come—is the ultimate memento of the encampment.

    • spiro_spero

      Thank you for the post A_non_mouse and for taking a stand! I’ll try to address each of your points as best I can.

      In regards to your question towards the police, the answer is yes, I do think that their conduct could have been more professional (side note: I’m very glad that the eviction passed without violence or confrontation and for that I thank everyone involved).

      Armbands and hearses? That seems a bit excessive.

      As for New Haven taking measure of Occupy (admired the alliteration, by the way!) I would hesitate to join you in your confidence that we are being mindful historians. The claim that the financial burden of Occupy is the ultimate artifact to preserve the memory of the encampment parallels the claim that your education at Yale, for instance, is best preserved in a tuition bill; both are superficial aftermaths to far more meaningful events.

      I am sorry you read this article as sermonizing. To be fair, it doesn’t seem that terribly directing in comparison to other pieces (ZELINSKY: “So let’s place New Haven’s Occupiers in the rubbish bin, along with the cranks and kooks of history.”) or even that protective of Occupy (RODRIGUEZ-TORRENT: “…I am drawn to one inescapable conclusion: Evict Yale University.”) Though I find myself more sympathetic to the later of the two authors, I don’t really see this piece as partisan, one way or the other.

      To your final comment on price, it is certainly a large sum (for people like me who understand by comparison, it is almost 80% of the budget allocated for Spring Fling) that the taxpayers will have to cover. To counter, though, it is important to consider that Occupy New Haven began the 15th of October, but that it was not until the 8th of February that city officials began to meet with Occupy to mobilize them off of the Green. If the city was so concerned with cost, perhaps it should have made efforts to evict the movement sooner;. If we ascribe to the “stitch in time” frame of view, I can hardly see how the City can bemoan an undesirable financial situation that it itself invited to continue for nearly four months.

      Please feel welcomed to correct me about any of the points I have raised. I would be happy to reply to any of your additional concerns.

      Cheers!

      • A_non_mouse

        I appreciate the response. My apologies about the tone of my post; it struck a more vituperative note than your piece merited.

        Has the demolition been overlooked? The proof of the pudding’s in the eating. The deluge of op-eds in these pages, and the ubiquity of Occupy as a topic of conversation on campus, constitutes a veritable requiem for the encampment.

        The frustrating blitheness you perceived might be ascribed to personal dramas—can you really fault people for being wrapped up in their own lives? I don’t mean to endorse wanton self-absorption, nor solipsism, but it’s only healthy to take a primary interest in own’s one affairs, and a secondary one in the tribulations of others. Given the tragic death of a Yale student on the selfsame day, I can see how the Occupy spectacle might easily have been eclipsed.

        A final comment apropos the fiscal concern: I do subscribe to the “stitch in time” doctrine, and I agree New Haven is at least partially culpable and hence precluded from whining. But that shouldn’t stop /me/ from rebuking New Haven for allowing an arid demonstration—a parasite—to maintain its stranglehold for so long. I breathe easy once again as I hope that the memory of Occupy will not fade into oblivion but linger as a reminder of public appropriation gone wrong.

        • spiro_spero

          I agree; the response that the demolition has generated is a testament to the impact the event had on the community. In the words of Alan Barth, though, “news is only the first rough draft of history;”I am interested (along with others, I’m sure) to see how the history of the tale of Occupy and the Green will be revised over time.

          To your second point, I would also share your opinion that the problems of an individual can eclipse the problems affecting others. It is very natural to rank our trials highest in a hierarchy of priorities. I actually think that this is something people at Yale (myself included!) allow to happen very often, but that it can be more problematic than beneficial in the long run. That, however, is a post/comment/op-ed for another time!

          I definitely see how the tragic news of a fellow students’ death and our feelings of loss and grief may have easily risen above feelings towards the eviction of Occupy in the days following both events. Since the demolition occurred Wednesday morning and the news of the tragedy was not sent out until later that evening, I wouldn’t ascribe it as the cause of the aforementioned perceived indifference of the passersby that morning but I would agree with you that the effect of the news may have caused a similar and potentially misleading perception from Wednesday evening onward.

          Thank you for the reply and for the apologies – your passion for your point of view is evident in both your comments and I appreciate the time you took to write them. Cheers!