This last six weeks has been an era, crammed into a collection of moments and meetings, distilled into a concentrate of apprehension, exhaustion, with a few traces of hope floating aimlessly at its hazy edges. I am emotionally and physically spent. I am accidentally impatient and dismissive of people I have been close to for years. I’ve completely lost touch with my previous life and although that’s not a bad thing, I’ve lost a reference point from where I can draw stability and support.
Six weeks into this tunnel, this microcosm of everyday life in America. My sole focus has been on feeding the movement and figuring out how to do it more efficiently, more sustainably. People need to eat. Farmers need cold storage to house their donations until they are cooked. Chefs’ egos need to be managed. Enough volunteers need to get to the off-site kitchen by 2pm. SIS (Storage-Inventory-Shipping; our makeshift warehouse) is overflowing with canned soup donations that need to be picked up immediately. Missing meetings; missing decisions. The off-site kitchen needs to be cleaned and vacated by 5:30pm. The New York Post is fucking us again; some other news outlet wants to come video tape during cooking time. The cooks want more hotel pans, herbs, and hot boxes. Meetings happen with parties that might have a lead on a commercial kitchen space that better meets our needs. “OWS has $500,000. I want my piece.” A farmer dropped a bunch of root vegetables off at camp and they are threatening to rot. Occupiers spread the rumor that the kitchen is not going to feed them and they are threatening to riot. “Heather is hoarding produce in East New York.” A driver needs to pick up the food by 5pm. A text message says that police in riot gear are massing at the north end. NYC has 40,000 homeless people. Friends, lovers, and allies in the struggle withdraw into security culture and sexier projects. The on-site kitchen in Zuccotti park wants to know why the food is late. “Heather is hoarding tasks and is going to burn out.” 3 home kitchens need produce and staples delivered by 1pm, hopefully resulting in a collective 600 plates for dinner, but probably not. 8 cases of “gift horse” parsley are rotting in the cold box. The text messages continue; the line is long but the food has not yet arrived; they are just going to order 20 pizzas. “Mic check! We need 5 volunteers to help carry dinner!” Plates are piled 6 inches high, garnished with a slice of that now-famous pizza, balancing a cup of ice cream on two fingertips. Another riot is averted and I go down the block to have a beer on an empty stomach and avoid witnessing the inevitable disposal of cooked food that will happen if tonight’s dinner time is strictly adhered to.
I nearly forgot why I came here in the first place, what all of this felt like in the earlier days. I have instead become an indignant housewife for the revolution, internalizing the responsibility of keeping so many people fed while incubating resentment and alienation in my heart. I am not carrying that burden alone; I think most people came to this working group from a place of wanting to materially nourish the most important social movement of our lives. The OWS kitchen was tasked with a nearly impossible and exhausting job from the very beginning. We’ve fucked up along the way, but in spite of that we still manage to feed thousands of people every day, which is pretty remarkable. Staring down that responsibility from deep within the tunnel, weighted with so many competing demands that seem to pull us apart, bleeding from our aching feet and hearts, from now into the near and likely distant future, is enough to make anyone jump ship, myself included.
I wish I could have done my job better before I burnt out. I wish I was a better arguer, forcefully demanding that our donated soup kitchen space needed to be supported by the entire working group, instead of asking nicely and just telling people what I needed. I wish I could have rammed through that agenda with inspirational words and manipulative finesse. I wish I was less humble. I wish I had the sense of entitlement coupled with a management-track education that the private university kids seem to have, because maybe then it would be easier for me to delegate the thirty time-consuming shit jobs I end up doing on a given day.
I reserved all this energy to “fight the revolution” and spent it in a few short weeks on inter-personal conflict and picking up the slack of logistical disinvestment from within my own working group. I am actively trying to make peace with all of the bullshit swirling around, but I can’t escape the feeling of regret that I joined this working group to begin with. I feel lost and alienated and a bit disillusioned. If I can just separate out the emotion and get over my pathetic wounded self, I might be able to see where I stand in relation to the bigger movement, where I can make a contribution that will actually help the movement grow beyond any centralized geographic space. I think I just convinced myself to find a new working group home.