'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Origins of Occupy? Mission District Murals, 12/31/2003 

UPDATE: Hat tip to bakononist for discovering that the person who composed the poem is Daisy Zamora. According to her wikipedia entry, she is one of the most prominent figures in contemporary Latin American poetry. Her work is known for its uncompromising voice and wide-ranging subject matter that dwells on the details of daily life while encompassing human rights, politics, revolution, feminist issues, art, history and culture. Given that she resides in Managua and San Francisco, I wonder if she actually participated in the painting of the mural.

INITIAL POST: Many years ago, I biked around the Mission District in San Francisco, and stopped to examine the murals in Clarion Alley, off Valencia. Many of them present highly politicized, socially radical themes, with an emphasis upon the the transformative harshness of the migration, the paradoxically collective nomadism inherent within it and the indigenous experience.

I remembered this today as I was looking through a stack of old business cards and papers with phone numbers of guests for my KDVS radio show (I remain primarily pre-virtual in this regard). As I did so, I came across a Modern Times Bookstore receipt from December 31, 2003. For those of you who are interested, I purchased the The Sorrows of Empire by the late Chalmers Johnson, A Civilian Occupation: The Politics of Israeli Architecture, edited by Eyal Weizman, Rafi Segal and David Tartakover, and Israel/Palestine: The Black Book by Reporters Without Borders. To this day, I haven't read the last one, it's sitting in a stack somewhere in my house.

Afterwards, on this same day, I stopped to ponder the nearby murals in Clarion Alley, as, back then, Modern Times was located on Valencia Street near Clarion instead of 24th Street as it is now. I was sufficiently struck by one of them that I wrote down what appeared to be a title or introductory statement to a poem and the poem itself. Upon reading it again today, I was quite surprised:

Occupy your streets and not other countries

And, then, there was the poem itself, a romantic expression of magical realism:

When we return to our ancient land which we never knew

And talk about all those things that never happened

We will walk holding the hands of children who have never existed

We will listen to their voices and we will live that life

Which we have spoken of so often and have never lived

Was this composed by the people who painted the mural? Is is the work of a famous poet that I do not know? While I have a fondness for literature and film, I admit my ignorance when it comes to poetry.

I wish that I had a picture of it, but I don't. I wonder if the people who painted it remembered it as Occupy captured the public imagination last fall. Did they actually participate in the occupations? Did they appear and urge the importance of decolonization as an essential principle to acknowledge the imperial conquest of their lands and their cultures? Did they go to the general assembly and insist upon the inclusion of the experiences of people of color? Or had they forgotten about the mural, painted so long ago? Possibly even moved to live in other countries?

All questions without answers. With the passage of time, we can only recognize that the author(s) gave voice, in their elliptical way, to their utopian aspirations, aspirations that collectively emerged years later within Occupy. Perhaps, some day, we will fulfill them, because, as I frequently tell people these days, capitalism was also a utopian vision for many centuries, albeit a perverse one.

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