I walk to McPherson Square, one of the main arteries of Occupy DC. On a first pass, I am reluctant to walk through the park. A few earnest people are talking to some of the DC homeless who stay around the park. I recognize a certain “I have come to help Kibera” look. And feel ashamed for thinking this. A few cellphones are out, documenting occupation, documenting the homeless. DC is a tourist town. The Kibera-ness of it will not leave me. It is the first time I have felt so close to Kibera while in the States. A man is yelling about Jesus-later in the day, he will yell, “Mitt Romney will not save us, Rick Perry will not save us.” He never says Barack Obama will not save us.
I return to McPherson Square with a friend who is bold enough to walk through the park. My friend, who lives close to the park, tells me that the tents have mushroomed, grown from a few to more. McPherson is not particularly big, so each additional tent makes a difference. It is relatively quiet, reminds me a little of the people I would encounter as I jogged through Seattle’s Volunteer Park a thousand years ago. A few people cluster around a man who expounds on something in the vein of a street preacher, a man happy to have an audience. He is familiar, a blend of Hyde Park exhibitionism with Nairobi evangelism. What he says seems unimportant—too familiar, something already known—but the making too-familiar of others’ narratives is ideological and material violence at its most quotidian.
Listening matters. Seeing matters.
“I speak for the bush” flashes through my mind. Perhaps the quotidian violence it maps might become less quotidian, less a part of urban modernity.
Kibera-ness still nags.
I tell my friend I am feeling ungenerous. This is why I see Kibera-ness. But this might not be quite right. Still. I like to pay attention to these moments of unease.
We make our way to the Lincoln Memorial, from where a march will ensue to the newly constructed MLK memorial.
On our way there, we encounter several joggers—DC is a jogging city—almost all white, almost all male, with a certain busy-ness to them. We pass by two white men, one of whom says, “too many people, there are too many people.” His jogging has been rendered difficult, it seems.
DC always has “too many people” over the weekends. It is a tourist town. The crowds mass and swell and pulsate. Those who can visit monuments and museums during the week to avoid the crowds. Perhaps some of us like “too many people.” Like Helga Crane, we might enjoy being swallowed into crowds.
“Too many people” takes on greater significance as we approach the crowds massing around the Lincoln Memorial—mostly black, many with union t-shirts, others sporting t-shirts featuring MLK, Jr.
“Too many people.” Kibera-ness beckons.
There’s a sense of kinship in the air—groups cluster, families come out together, one seeks inter-generational cohorts. I have been reading Christina Sharpe on Corregidora, about the work of “making generations.” I am thinking, now, of the generation-making work taking place through a shared commitment to labor.
“Worker’s Rights are Human Rights.”
Kibera-ness recedes, as does the U.S., for a moment, and I think about the courageous Kenyans who occupied the Ministry of Education.
My frames kaleidoscope: Egypt, Wisconsin, Nairobi, Wangari Maathai.
Along the march trail, I hear “We Will Overcome,” briefly. I wonder about the kind of memory work taking place in this group of multi-generational marchers and activists, many of whom are training their children how to think about and practice belonging, how to occupy the spaces created by history and how to create history by occupying and extending spaces.
I wonder about the promise that sustains a note, extends it into a melody, sends the melody around the world—I first heard “We Will Overcome” in 1985, in my mother’s reedy voice as she attended the 1985 women’s conference in Nairobi—and returns the melody with newly visioned bodies.
Voice and space come together in complex ways in DC.
In a recent essay, Gayle Wald discusses Marian Anderson’s “historic 1939 concert on the National Mall,” to “think about sound as a tool in struggles over space, including spaces that symbolize the nation” (“Black Music, Black Freedom” 675). Going beyond a focus on the word-content of music, Wald directs us to consider “vibrations,” the palpable—if inchoate—feelings created by music in our “bodies.” Wald’s attention to “vibrations” enables her to consider Anderson’s performance as sounding together, that is, binding, a sonic structure of belonging.
Anderson’s singing voice filled space. Acoustically speaking, her vibrations spread infinitely outward, touching even people unable to hear them (680)
Wald’s argument strikes a chord as I think-feel “We Will Overcome” as a vibration through time, a sonic legacy that makes generations, perhaps especially in DC.
Much of the coverage around Occupy Everywhere has focused on rhetoric—what is being said, how it’s being said, what’s not being said, what should be said, who should be saying it. Even as there is “nothing new” about much or any of the rhetoric, simply, and powerfully, an aggregation of it and listening and hearing. Coverage has also paid attention to the seeing of occupation—photographs abound.
I find myself wondering about the sound of occupation—Migritude is still on my mind. What vibrations are being created? How are they resonating through bodies? What forms of collectivity emerge and are affirmed through such soundings? Not, in this instance, the meaning of words and songs, so much as their presence.
While the tone of “too many people” grated earlier today, a mark of a jogger’s impatience with inefficiency, it can vibrate differently: too many people are unemployed and underemployed, too many people are part of the 99% and the 53% (as one placard read today), too many people hold on to the sonic promise of “We Will Overcome.”
In resonating bodies, “too many” turns into “so many”: a syntax of action unfurls.