On Tuesday, only hours before the infamous police raid, I was at Occupy Boston, in Dewey Square in our city’s bustling, towering financial district. There were tents and speakers and music and posters; I even caught sight of an activist–that’s not the term, I know– wearing a Palestinian kaffiyeh. There were projects-in-the-making, like the two people sketching out a huge design on some sort of tarp material, which they said they were then going to paint. They said that it represented an ancient rendition of the harmony of the universe.
There was a man on a clunky bicycle, going round the square-within-Dewey-Square; there was a first aid station; there was a stand for answering legal questions; there were children and grandparents and college students and business persons just getting out of work.
It was, surprisingly, a relatively quiet space, sandwiched as Dewey Square is among the intersections of our downtown, South Station on one side, the financial section on the other, and half a dozen cross walks. It was quiet in the way in which steadfastness–yes, that word!– is quiet, in the way in which those who know they are in it for the long haul are, in the way in which space can be claimed, remade, made new.
Two days later, on Thursday, I was at Paramount Theatre, not far from Dewey Square, where seven acting students from the Freedom Theatre of the Palestinian Refugee Camp of Jenin showcased their work to an animated and crowded auditorium.
The students spoke freely, often eloquently though English is not their mother tongue, about the ways in which The Freedom Theatre had changed their lives; about the late Juliano Mer-Khamis, the co-founded of Freedom and its artistic director and guide who was gunned down by an assasin’s bullet this past April. They spoke about the taste of resistance, about the breath of freedom, about the uplift of “poor,” “refugee” theatre; they spoke about the long and bloody history of Freedom, about it enemies and its friends who span across the continents. (Last night, The Freedom Theatre performed “While Waiting” (based on Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”) in New York City, at Columbia.
Rami, who asked for a translator, was the most eloquent though his language was simple. “Juliano brought me in from the street,” he said. “I was a troublemaker, no school, no reading and writing. The theatre taught me to read and write, it took me back to when I was three years old. It gave me a new life.” They spoke with the confidence and joy; they spoke with hope though they know that their theatre space in Jenin is vulnerable to annihilation at any moment; they spoke as if everything mattered and mattered deeply. They spoke because everything does matter.
Of course, The Freedom Theatre is not Dewey Square. The tents of Dewey Square are designer-spawned mostly, whereas those of Jenin are patched together from the debris of displacement and hunger and war. Huge differences of class, history, and race separate the temporary inhabitants of Dewey Square and the young men and women who perform at Jenin’s Freedom Theatre. But, to borrow an idea from Yasser Munif, who teaches at Emerson and who gave a short contextual introduction before the actors of Freedom spoke, these two sites–Freedom and Dewey–are places of resistance where something new, a different configuration of forces, an alternative process of cohabitation can and has emerged. Of course, there will be co-option, and pacification and seduction, and if all these things don’t work, there’s always sheer force and brutality.
But for the duration of resistance (which is the term of preference since occupation has horrific references for its victims throughout the world), a new reality has come into being, has fueled its own process, has spoken in its own language, has re-arranged the world. And though the counter-occupation is lurking in the shadows, is conniving and planning, something significant has changed in the public square, in the streets, in the camp.
One of the actors of Freedom was asked what was the first exercise that the students had to do as they started their acting courses. “Juliano told us to stand in the middle of the stage and look straight ahead,” was the answer. No words, no speeches, no gestures: a human being, in a space, standing straight and looking ahead. For the student actors of Freedom, that is the first step to resistance. So, too, for the millions the world over who are out on the streets this weekend, for the people camped out in scores of cities in the US.