From TOM ENGELARDT
A (Self-)Graduation Speech for the Occupiers of Zuccotti Park
That library — in fact, those libraries at Occupy Boston, Occupy Washington, Occupy San Francisco, and other encampments — may be the least commented upon part of your movement. And yet, you set your library up not as an afterthought or a sideline, but almost as soon as you began imagining a society worth living in, a little world of your own. You didn’t forget the books, which means you didn’t forget about education. I mean, a real education. This was both generous of you and, quite simply, inspiring. Who would have expected that the old-fashioned, retro book would be at the heart of this country’s great protest movement of a tarnished new century?
Once the Arab Spring broke loose, people began asking me why this country was still so quiet. I would always point out that no one ever expects or predicts such events. Nothing like this, I would say, happens until it happens, and only then do you try to make sense of it retrospectively.
Sounds smart enough, but here’s the truth of it: whatever I said, I wasn’t expecting you. After this endless grim decade of war and debacle in America, I had no idea you were coming, not even after Madison.
You took me by surprise. For all I know, you took yourself by surprise, the first of you who arrived at Zuccotti Park and, inspired by a bunch of Egyptian students, didn’t go home again. And when the news of you penetrated my world, I didn’t pay much attention. So I wasn’t among the best and brightest when it came to you. But one thing’s for sure: you’ve had my attention these last weeks. I already feel years younger thanks to you (even if my legs don’t).
Decades ago in the Neolithic age we now call “the Sixties,” I was, like you: outraged. I was out in the streets (and in the library). I was part of the anti-Vietnam War movement.