But then I began to wonder if it wasn’t about that anyway. If he was holding this sign for a different reason, to deliver a more precise message. A message to a particular woman in the crowd. A young woman in, say, cinnamon leg warmers and a black tulle cocktail dress–one that with perfect irony underlines her abhorrence of all tulle-centric social occasions. Thick bangs lofted over her forehead, arms still tender from the noon class at Yoga to the People. A woman who has never really understood in all these years of their platonic friendship, ever since freshman anthro, what that man really feels for her. That he almost collapses weakly to his knees every time she gives him a hug goodnight. That it nearly kills him whenever she says to him “I love you.” When she says it in a way that is sincere, that is truly heartfelt, but is the kind of love she also might give her seven year-old brother, or her cocker spaniel.
And so here, in this moment, in the midst of the revolution, he is looking for her in the crowd, and holding up his sign. Finally she sees it. She spots it, and smiles and thinks that the sign is about everyone. Her friend from forever is saying that love can in some generalized way help us overturn corporate greed. Love can restore the goods of this earth to all the people. He is REMINDING us that it is really and ultimately all about love. What a great idea, a wonderful concept.
But then she notices that he has stopped moving the sign slowly around. Instead he is just looking at her. He is holding a sign that says I love you with all my heart, and staring right at her.
It dawns on her that this sign is not what she thought it was.
And so she is confronted with a decision. When someone tells you I love you, there is always a decision. For love as a beautiful weapon of political revolution, love as a way to enact deep-seated, spine-shaking change in the American social structure, that kind for her suddenly has changed. It has become a love that is much more costly, and dangerous. And frankly, for all her years of marching and protesting and occupying, fueled in some way by the first kind of love, the truth is, our girl really has never been in the second kind.
She stares back at him.
And the dancers dance, and the music plays, and the speeches go on. And the trapped but supportive drivers in the eighteen-wheelers sound their air horns and everyone cheers. A man seated on a stool plays guitar and sings protest songs while next to him a woman on a stationary bike pedals furiously to create the 12.5 volts of energy to power the amps that carry his voice out into the evening. And off in the distance the black port derricks push up into blue sky and the pink sunset it creates.
And a woman in white face paint stands placidly holding dollar bills in one hand and a green apple in another, holding them with a vague and deeply-felt mysticism that you do not understand but completely approve of.
And the girl wearing a t-shirt that says “Un-f**k the world” should perhaps meet, you think, the guy who doesn’t need sex.
And a cluster of people kneeling on the ground drawing things on index cards and the sign over them says, “What is real?” And the instructions: “Draw me a better $, get something real in return,” as a way to talk about the floating significance of money and the barter system, and the many revolutionary uses of white index cards.
And as night falls and the chants go up, “Egypt is Oakland, Oakland is Egypt!” “Tell me what democracy looks like!” “This is what democracy looks like,” Asian women play drums in a gyrating circle and the baby with the sign that tells us “I poo on the 1 percent,” while a guy goes up to the open mic and says “I am 24 years old and I have been waiting my whole life for a movement like this,” and another sign proclaims: “The Beginning is Near!” while hanging from a truck, a banner with the names Oscar Grant, Andrew Moppin, Gary King Jr, Casper Banjo, Anita Gay, all killed by Oakland police officers, and the fragile technology of the people’s mike, where you give instructions or a diatribe five words at a time at a group of occupiers seated before you who, with fierce liturgical elan, shout your exact words back at you: “At this time we would like…” “At this time we would like….!”
Meanwhile back home well-meaning folks ask about Occupy, Why do they have to camp out? We want our city plaza back. You can’t have a movement without leaders. What are their demands? Why all this chaos?
And the patient response of Letter from Birmingham Jail, or Micah, or the Magnificat.
And the fact that two weeks after this strike a few dozen undergrads from Cal Berkeley, struggling against enormous tuition hikes and quietly refusing to move their own Occupy tents, will be attacked with batons by campus police.
And the way that suffering confers power.
And how a week later five thousand students and supporters will gather in the middle of Berkeley’s campus and signal, not unquietly, that they refuse to give up.
And four days after that, three thousand people again march through Oakland, from corporate banks to public schools the city wants to shut down, and signal that there is a connection. That things could be different.
And the fact that in mid-December the Occupy movement is planning a wave of port blockades, from L.A. to Seattle, to dramatize and confront poor treatment of hired labor, immigrants and union members by multi-national parent companies.
Through all of this I imagine back at the Port this girl looking at this guy, and his sign. And racing through her mind are all the things love means, and all that it doesn’t mean, and is she willing to give herself over to any of it? Is she willing to handcuff herself to the administration building of this man’s soul? To shut down any outside traffic to the port of his romantic future? To pitch a hazy blue Marmot tent in the city plaza of his heart?
If she exists, that is. If his sign proclaims the second kind of love and such a girl is really out there. Will she accept his offer?
Will any of us? What are we willing to risk for a love general enough to put us in front of billy clubs and tear gas, court dates and jail time. No matter how many times our hearts have been broken by causes–by linked arms and clever signs and unrhymed movement poetry and our own hectoring ideals. Because we know, even still, there is just an outside chance things could be different.
Or a love specific enough to get you to stand in one place before a wild-haired prophet and let his silent, scrawled, one-sentence gospel wash over you, occupy you and ask you to be with him, to simply be with him.
Either way, love demands a decision. There is no neutral.