A writer supported Occupy Wall Street from afar -- until the police came for the books
Yesterday I took my beat-up old station wagon into Manhattan to help recover some of the Occupy Wall Street Library books confiscated by the police during Tuesday’s early-morning raid on Zuccotti Park. The skies were gloomy and gray when I left Brooklyn. It took me about 45 minutes to get there. There was traffic on the Williamsburg Bridge, and on Houston Street. Those are the best kinds of drives for contemplation.
I was thinking the whole time the city felt off-kilter to me. One day you think you know a place, that you live in the literary capital of the world, that all around you there are people who believe in books and art and culture and the importance of the freedom of speech. And then the next day you live in a place where 5,000 books can be seized without warning, many of them to be destroyed, and nothing can be done about it.
I have watched Occupy Wall Street mostly from the sidelines. I’ve visited twice in its two months, and recently participated in a group reading of Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener” nearby, but that has been the extent of my physical presence. I support what they are doing and feel that it is important (even if I do not entirely understand it sometimes), but it is just not my bag to spend time down there. But oh, the books! The books were my tipping point. Everybody has a tipping point.
I took the West Side Highway up to 56th Street to the Sanitation Garage, where supposedly all of the confiscated items from the park were being held. I had responded to a call for drivers on Twitter, and had emailed a woman named Mandy, a librarian who had written a post on the Occupy Wall Street Library’s website. I called her when I got there, and it turned out she was in Indiana, and coordinating some of the volunteer efforts from there. She helped me connect with one of the librarians at the Sanitation Garage, and just like that, I was a volunteer. I forget it works that way sometimes, working from home like I do, and living in my head so much as a fiction writer. But all you have to do is show up and then you are part of something.
Other volunteers had taken the bulk of the books before I got there, although there were not a lot to start with. I had read on the library’s website that morning that the librarians had only found 26 boxes total at the Sanitation Garage, which is definitely not 5,000 books’ worth of boxes. What happened to the rest of them? We will probably never know.
I took what remained: five boxes of books, a table, some folding chairs. Everything had a battered veneer. There were a couple of volunteers there, and a photographer who shot a photo of them loading up the car that ended up on the New York Times website (making me wish I had washed my car first, or at least cleaned out the trunk). I kept thinking about how if you didn’t know the back story, it could have looked like I was getting some junk to take to the Goodwill, or to set up for a yard sale, or like I was a college kid moving some stuff from the dorm to take home for the summer. There was so much struggle and anguish around these everyday things. When does an object become a symbol? All I know is you cannot force it.
The librarian, Michelle, told me that they were still trying to secure storage space. I offered to take them to Brooklyn with me, and either house them myself or in the bookstore where I work. It started raining as I left. Just in time. That new, extremely sad Adele song came on the radio. I felt elated and sad at the same time. Five boxes of books, a table and some folding chairs. It was nothing, not much at all. Still, I felt like I was transporting gold.
Later that night I read on Twitter that the librarians had set up shop again, and later after that, another tweet: “NYPD & Brookfield have taken the People’s Library again. and we love you all.” Now they’ve gone mobile. I have the books whenever they’re ready once more. I’ll bring them wherever they need to go.
Jami Attenberg's fourth book, "The Middlesteins," will be published in 2012. More Jami Attenberg.
More Related Stories
- Conservative group blames military sexual assault on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal
- Tornado survivor to Wolf Blitzer: Sorry, I'm an atheist. I don't have to thank the Lord
- Donald Rumsfeld worried that marriage equality will lead to polygamy
- Portland is dying
- San Francisco Giant Jeremy Affeldt apologizes for homophobic past
- Wall Street firm's "Golden Pitchbook" is totally sexist, full of lies
- Federal court strikes down Arizona abortion ban
- I'm not achieving my dreams!
- The most popular Tumblr porn
- Slave descendants seek equal rights from Cherokee Nation
- Snapchat is secretly storing your photos
- Peace Corps to allow gay couples to volunteer together
- Facebook's hate speech problem
- Rand Paul: Congress should apologize to Apple, not the other way around
- When my home was destroyed
- Okla. mother's tearful reunion with her 8-year-old son
- New campaign compares gun control to anti-LGBT discrimination
- Study: Salt Lake City is gay parenting capital of the U.S.
- You are less beautiful than you think
- "Ghetto" tour lets you gawk at New York's poor
- Teen activist to meet with Abercrombie CEO
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11