The futility and hypocrisy of the Occupy stragglers
Across her neck, the contradiction of a permanent tattoo shackle that reads: “Freedom.” Across one forearm, a tattoo that reads, “Liberate All Beings.” On the other arm, “Inside Job,” a reference to her belief that 9/11 was carried out by the US Government.
Kanaska Carter is 26. She is a former hairdresser from Canada who came to the US to protest on the 10th anniversary of September 11 but got caught up in Occupy Wall Street, six days later. And now there’s the Google wars, another natural fit for a conditioned young protestor.
Kanaska has lived homeless on the streets of New York for five months. She makes some money busking and inking tattoos and knows various places about the city where she and her friends can get free dinners each night.
She has been sleeping in a church in Manhattan’s upper west side. The church lets around 100 people in at 8.30pm and kicks them out at 8am. Most of them lost their tents when their Occupy campsite at Zuccotti Park, near Wall St, was cleared out in November.
The church has toilets, but no showers. “You wash your hair in the sink and use baby wipes. It’s pretty brutal,” says Kanaska.
Kanaska and her friends are sitting on the steps of the church on a freezing morning, having been sent out to face the day. They’re wrapped in blankets against the incoming North American winter. There’s a hash oil pipe going around and the hard smoke causes wracking fits of coughing.
After four months living the protest life, none of the group sees an end of the line. Or, if they do, they’re not willing to admit it yet.
Today they are leaving New York for Washington. A friend is picking them up in a van and driving them down.
The Washington mission seems confused. Red, one of Kanaska’s friends, says they’re going to hang out at the White House, raise hell and show solidarity for Obama. Kanaska says: “Fuck Obama.”
“Do you know he only became a senator four years before he became president?” Red says, trying to argue that Obama is not a longtime entrenched political insider, like the ones they’re supposed to despise.
“Yeah, that was about the same time he became an American citizen,” says Kanaska, only half joking.
That’s the thing about the protestors. They take bits of Leftist rhetoric, they take bits of the Right. And they don’t like either.
Kanaska wears a badge that says: “If voting changed anything it would be illegal.” She has never voted. She doesn’t see the point.
They don’t seek media attention. They don’t have a discernable message. They don’t want a leader. They don’t even agree with each other. But they’re going to the White House anyway.
Commentators have struggled to understand how the Occupy protestors have been able to unite without a clearly stated quest or shared goal. But, as Kanaska says: “I felt I’ve been waiting my whole life for this kind of activism.”
Something dawned on me speaking to this group. Political protest is merely the thread that holds them together. It’s about lifestyle.
They missed the chance to turn on, tune in and drop out in the 1960s. They missed the 1970s antiwar movement and, in the 80s and 90s, they didn’t miss much at all.
The turnouts at the various Occupy sites gave them an instant society, an on-the-spot family who would look out for each other. It gave them a chance to become homeless, en masse, without the loneliness or the begging on the streets or the fear of being attacked or having to ride the freight trains south.
“My street family is here with me and they’ve got my back,” says Kanaska. She met this particularly group of three or four blokes about a week ago and they’ve been hanging out since.
They claim they’re liberating America but, really, it’s about liberating themselves.
“I’ve been homeless for a while,” Kanaska says, “on and off for two or three years. It’s a choice. I find it humbles you. I used to have my own apartment and I slowly lost my mind. I was in there with my two cats and I was just like going crazy.
“When I’m homeless I’m always surrounded by friends. There’s freedom without having to pay rent all the time to a system that’s broken, without having to work a nine to five job and being able to do what you’re actually passionate about. I’d rather live playing music, doing artwork and tattooing people.”
On this day, her entire cash reserve is one dollar. “Some days it’s hard to find food but I just put out the guitar case,” she says.
Kanaska says her parents back in Canada are divided on what she’s doing. “My mum supports me fully,” she says. “My dad, he wants me to go to school, but if I go to school I’m going to have tons of debts so I don’t see the point.”
This life cannot last and she knows it. Her US visa runs out in March and that will be her time of reckoning. She’ll have to make some choices.
They all will. Otherwise their chosen homelessness will not be enjoyable. It will be real.
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