“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 firstname.lastname@example.org.