Tag: San Francisco

Yet another story about a dog!

Keep them coming I say.

We had a break from the rain yesterday and I went for a bike ride in the morning and then in the afternoon it was a case of going to the recycling depot. All pretty humdrum stuff but nevertheless what our life, in the main, is made up of plus the many other things that we have to do, indeed enjoy doing, with our six dogs, two horses and thirteen acres in rural Southern Oregon.

So I got to my iMac pretty late on in the day and found a delightful article about a dog who has a fascination with a commercial laundromat.

Read it for yourself.

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Dog Who Works At Laundromat Can’t Stop Taking Naps On All The Machines

“He figured out a way to climb from the chair to the smaller washers and then to the bigger ones.”

By Lily Feinn, Published on the 11th October, 2021

If you walk into Larkin Street Laundry around closing time, you might get an extra-special greeting.

Every night, an 8-year-old golden retriever named Cody helps his dad close up the laundromat. Cody takes his job very seriously: While his dad cleans and puts everything away, Cody takes a nap on top of the washing machines.

INSTAGRAM/CODYTHERETRIEVER

Luckily, his dad doesn’t mind that Cody isn’t the best worker.

“My dad owns the laundromat and has always taken our dogs there with him when he closes up at the end of the day,” Stephanie, Cody’s sister who asked that her last name not be used, told The Dodo. “Our old dog loved to sit in the chairs to watch customers and people pass by, but Cody is more nimble than him.”

“After we tried to get him to just sit on the chairs, he figured out a way to climb from the chair to the smaller washers and then to the bigger ones,” she added. “He’s a little lazier than our old dog, so he’d rather lay down and wait for pets and treats.”

Instagram/Reichenyoo

Cody has become the main attraction at the laundromat, providing the perfect distraction for customers waiting for their clothes to finish drying.

This arrangement works out for the independent Cody, who loves attention but prefers people come to him. “His motto has always been: ‘I do what I want,’” Stephanie said.

INSTAGRAM/CODYTHERETRIEVER

And from his high-up vantage point, Cody can keep watch on everything going on at the laundromat.

“I think he likes how he can see everyone at eye level when he’s on top of the washers,” Stephanie said. “He’s also kinda snobby for a dog, so I have a theory he likes to feel like a king up there.”

INSTAGRAM/CODYTHERETRIEVER

After years of laundromat service, Cody has become a local celebrity — and even the subject of a few memes. But the good boy doesn’t let fame distract him. After all, he has a job to do, and those washers aren’t going to sit on themselves.

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That Larkin Street Laundromat is at Nob Hill in San Francisco. I looked it up by clicking on the link in the text.

It is just fascinating what dogs will do. They have a will of their own and yet they seem to be happiest when in the company of people.

Wonderful creatures!

It’s the dogs that are our connectors!

An unusual finding from a recent survey.

As Yves says: “Yves here. Wow, this is a finding I would never have expected. Shows what I know about dogs, or more accurately, dog owners.

She was commenting on a recent post published on Naked Capitalism.

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How Dogs Help Keep Multiracial Neighborhoods Socially Segregated

Posted on May 24, 2019
By Yves Smith
By Sarah Mayorga-Gallo, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Massachusetts Boston. Originally published at
The Conversation

Cities in the United States are getting less segregated and, according to a recent national survey, most Americans value the country’s racial diversity.

But the demographic integration of a neighborhood doesn’t necessarily mean that neighbors of different races are socializing together.

Diverse urban areas remain socially segregated in part because white gentrifiers and long-time residents have differing economic interests. And the racial hierarchies of the United States are simply not erased when black and white people share the same space.

White residents of multicultural areas tend to overlook inequality in their neighborhoods, studies show. That further reinforces racial barriers.

My sociological research in one such multicultural neighborhood identifies a more surprising vehicle of racial segregation: dogs.

‘A Very Doggie Neighborhood’

I spent 18 months studying Creekridge Park, a diverse and mixed-income area of Durham, North Carolina, to understand how black, white and Latino residents interacted with each other. Between 2009 and 2011, I interviewed 63 residents, attended neighborhood events and conducted a household survey.

I learned that white, black and Latino residents led rather separate social lives in Creekridge Park. Eighty-six percent of white people said their closest friends were white, and 70% of black residents surveyed reported that their best friends were black.

One black resident lamented that neighbors weren’t as “friendly as I had hoped and thought that they would be – or at least, this image I had in my head of what ‘friendly’ would be like.”

White, black and Latino people in Creekridge Park even had different experiences with something as seemingly innocuous as pet ownership.

Many white residents described friendships growing as a result of walking their dogs around the neighborhood, with chance encounters on the sidewalk turning into baseball games, dinners and even vacations together.

“It’s the dogs that are our connectors,” said Tammy, a white homeowner in her fifties. “That’s how a lot of us have gotten to know each other.”

Such positive interactions did not necessarily happen across racial boundaries. More often, I found, dogs reinforced boundaries.

When Jerry, a black homeowner in his sixties, stopped to chat with some dog-owning customers, who were white, in the outdoor seating area of a neighborhood bakery, the staff asked him to leave.

“I owned some dogs like that at one particular time. And I was just speaking to them. All of a sudden, I’m a panhandler,” Jerry said, incredulous and hurt.

Jerry is a black disabled veteran who was wearing his old army uniform that day. He figures they thought he was begging for money.

The dogs didn’t create the interracial boundaries at the bakery, which caters to a primarily white, middle-class clientele. In fact, the dogs presented an avenue to connect black and white neighbors. But they gave bakery staff a reason to intervene, to maintain interracial boundaries.

Neighborhood Watch

The treatment of dogs in Creekridge Park also divided neighbors of different races.

Tammy, the same resident who said dogs served as “connectors” in the neighborhood, disliked that her Latino neighbors wouldn’t let their dog into the house, leaving her tied up in the backyard.

Tethering dogs is a common practice in Durham, NC.

One day, when she heard her neighbor’s dog barking, she decided to monitor their backyard with binoculars, to make sure the dog was OK. When the father spotted her doing her surveillance, Tammy lied. She said she was looking at a different dog.

Tammy was not, however, embarrassed when recounting this story. She felt she was justified in considering the dog’s well-being. She offered the family a bigger dog house and began to take the dog on hour-long walks twice a day. Eventually, she adopted the dog as her own.

Tammy said that she always intervened whenever she saw dogs mistreated in the neighborhood. However, the only examples she shared during our interview involved Latino families.

Latino families are not the only Creekridge Park residents who tied up their dogs. The practice is common enough across Durham that a local group was formed in 2007 to build free dog fences.

Police Come ‘Almost Immediately’

Several white residents of Creekridge Park have even reported their neighbors to the police for suspected animal abuse.

Emma, a white homeowner in her thirties, called the police when she thought her neighbors were involved in dog fighting.

They “came almost immediately,” she said.

Generally, Emma told me, if she knows her neighbors, she will confront them directly about problems she perceives. Otherwise, she prefers to call the police.

Given how segregated friendship networks are in Creekridge Park, this seemingly non-racial distinction between “known” and “unknown” neighbors means that in practice Emma involved police in conflicts only with black and Latino neighbors.

Dogs can connect neighbors – but they can also divide them. Shutterstock

How White People Enforce Their Rules

This white willingness to report non-white neighbors for “unruly” behavior recalls numerous recent incidents nationwide in which white people have called the police on black people for perfectly legal activities.

In July 2018 a white woman in San Francisco threatened an 8-year-old black girl for “illegally selling water without a permit.” A few months before, a white woman dubbed by internet users as “BBQ Becky” called the cops on a black family barbecuing in an Oakland park for using an “unauthorized” charcoal grill.

Other examples of white people using police to enforce their unspoken social norms have occurred at Starbucks, a Yale University dorm and a Texas swimming pool.

In U.S. neighborhoods, middle- and upper-class white residents enjoy a privileged social position by virtue of their race and class. They understand that police, local businesses and government agencies exist to serve them – the same social institutions that often underserve or even target racial minorities.

By drawing arbitrary lines between right and wrong, insider and outsider – even good pet owner and bad – white people like Tammy and BBQ Becky use that power to try to shape diverse neighborhoods into their preferred mold.

As a result of white residents’ focus on their own comfort in diverse places, racial inequality can pervade everyday life – even, my research shows, when walking the dog.

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I have to say that it’s not entirely clear if dog ownership leads to social cohesion or the opposite.

I need to read the article again but what do readers offer.

Why, oh why?

The obscene effects of hunting.

Chris Snuggs, friend from my English days, linked to an item on his Facebook page about the appalling loss of elephants and rhinos. The item included this picture:

FB rhino

The reason I am writing about this today is to give readers notice that on Saturday, October 3 from 10:30am – 3:00pm there is a march, a global march, for Elephants and Rhinos. The item on Facebook details the location as Jefferson Square, 1101 Eddy St, San Francisco, California 94109.

If we lived closer to San Francisco we would most definitely attend.

So can you be there?

If not, can you share the message!

march

Back to Chris.  His blogsite Nemo Insula has a link to this wonderful photograph:

11

Back to Chris’ Facebook entry where he subsequently wrote:

I am flattered! I thought it was just my usual bilious rant! Actually, the killing of rhinos, tigers, elephants and so on is so surreally-pointless and evil as to be almost beyond belief. You might like this photo of a rhino I saw in Senegal from about 20 metres away! Magnificent and totally innocent creatures, unlike Homo Sapiens I fear.

Jean and I feel the same way about the hunting of any animals for any purpose other than feeding oneself.

Photographing wildlife

Today – nothing to do with politics or the state of the world!

Millions enjoy taking photographs of wildlife.

So it was with great pleasure to come across a guest article on the National Wildlife Federation‘s blogsite called: 7 Wildlife Photo Tips to Never Forget.

Here’s a flavour of the article:

I’ve always felt great wildlife photography mapped well to the Chinese proverb “the journey is the reward.” While I obviously enjoy seeing the end result of my wildlife photography outings I get a great deal of satisfaction in the crafting of those images. My best images often rise to the top because of one of the following maxims: –

1. Backgrounds are Equally Important as Your Subject

Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocapra americana) Portrait. Canon EOS 1Ds III, Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS USM + 2x teleconverter, 1/250 sec, f/8, ISO 400
Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocapra americana) Portrait. Canon EOS 1Ds III, Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS USM + 2x teleconverter, 1/250 sec, f/8, ISO 400

The article goes on to offer these tips:

  • Embrace Serendipity When Photo Editing
  • Challenge Viewers with Anthropomorphism
  • Employ Non-Standard Compositions
  • Capture Your Subjects at Their Eye Level
  • Factor in Form and Pose
  • Utilize Negative Space

It has loads of fabulous advice plus some pretty neat pictures.

Take a look at the last tip:

7. Utilize Negative Space

Alert Sea Otter and Pup. Canon EOS 1Ds III, Canon 600mm + 1.4x teleconverter, 1/1000 sec, f/8, ISO 400
Alert Sea Otter and Pup.
Canon EOS 1Ds III, Canon 600mm + 1.4x teleconverter, 1/1000 sec, f/8, ISO 400

Don’t have a long lens? Fear not as images taken with shorter focal length lenses can help capture areas of negative space. By employing negative space you can enhance your subject by highlighting its place/scale, its environment and/or leverage contrasting color and textures to make your subject stand out.

Finally, having ‘borrowed’ these couple of images, it seems only proper to close the post with the last two paragraphs of the article promoting both the NWF and the guest author, Jim Goldstein.  If you own a camera and enjoy the great outdoors then do read the article in full.

Enter the National Wildlife Photo Contest

Be sure to read Jim’s previous post about selecting the right gear for spectacular landscape photography. And, after you’ve rented your gear, planned your trip, and taken your wonderful nature photos, remember to enter the National Wildlife Photo Contest. You could win part of $6,000 in prizes, including a Grand Prize trip for two to Churchill, Canada where you can see and photograph polar bears. There are wildlife and landscape categories, but the deadline to enter is July 15, so enter soon!

About Jim Goldstein

Jim Goldstein is a San Francisco-based professional photographer and author who has been in numerous publications, including Outdoor PhotographerDigital Photo ProPopular Photography and has self-published a PDF eBook Photographing the 4th Dimension – Time covering numerous slow shutter techniques. Follow Jim Goldstein on Google+ | Twitter | Facebook | 500px

 

And let me close with a favourite of mine – a dog photograph, of course!

Sunset Dog.
Sunset Dog.

Wildlife Photo Tips

A response to the many who enjoy the regular Sunday photo parade.

Jean and I have recently joined the National Wildlife Federation partly because there are times when it really does seem ‘wild’!  Anyway, I was trawling the NWF website the other day and came across this very helpful advice: 7 Wildlife Photo Tips to Never Forget. In view of the popularity of Sunday’s regular Picture Parade on Learning from Dogs, it seemed appropriate to dip into that section for today’s post. [Note: you will have to go to the website to read the full article as it would be wrong to republish the entire item without permission.]

7 Wildlife Photo Tips to Never Forget

This guest post by Jim Goldstein is sponsored by BorrowLenses.com.

I’ve always felt great wildlife photography mapped well to the Chinese proverb “the journey is the reward.” While I obviously enjoy seeing the end result of my wildlife photography outings I get a great deal of satisfaction in the crafting of those images. My best images often rise to the top because of one of the following maxims:

1. Backgrounds are Equally Important as Your Subject

2. Embrace Serendipity When Photo Editing

3. Challenge Viewers with Anthropomorphism

4. Employ Non-Standard Compositions

5. Capture Your Subjects at Their Eye Level

6. Factor in Form and Pose

7. Utilize Negative Space

I am going to republish just one of these tips to give you an idea, because the advice is stunning, in my humble opinion.

2. Embrace Serendipity When Photo Editing

Arctic Hare. Canon 1D Mark II, Canon 500mm f/2.8 + 1.4x teleconverter, 1/640 sec, f/7.1, ISO 400
Arctic Hare. Canon 1D Mark II, Canon 500mm f/2.8 + 1.4x teleconverter, 1/640 sec, f/7.1, ISO 400

When behind the camera, focus carefully on your subject. But when photo editing look for unique and subtle differences that might enhance or transform the story within your image. Case in point: this example image of a mosquito biting the nose of an Arctic Hare. My attention was on obtaining a razor sharp image and composing carefully, but when photo editing I found a couple frames that captured the biting mosquito that had been invisible to me at the time I took the photo.

Arctic Hare Being Bitten By Mosquito on the Nose
Arctic Hare Being Bitten By Mosquito on the Nose

Jim Goldstein is a San Francisco-based professional photographer and author who has been in numerous publications, including Outdoor Photographer, Digital Photo Pro, Popular Photography and has self-published a PDF eBook Photographing the 4th Dimension – Time covering numerous slow shutter techniques. Follow Jim Goldstein on Google+ | Twitter | Facebook | 500px

Do take a few moments and go across to the website and read the full set of tips.  If you have any interest in photographing nature and wildlife this is unmissable good advice.  Want to know more about the National Wildlife Federation?  More information here.

The Changing Face of Society

A powerful and compelling essay from Tom Engelhardt

First, a preamble from me.

There have been a number of references to Tom Engelhardt’s writings on Learning from Dogs over the last 12 months; if you want to browse through them why not start with TomDispatch – The Great American Carbon Bomb.  Frequently, Tom writes an introductory piece to an essay from a guest author; Tom has generously given me written permission to republish any of his writings.

But his latest essay is 100% Tom and beautifully written.  My instinct is to agree with Tom’s conclusions entirely.  The reason you hear a slight hesitation in that last sentence is because I was not born an American, indeed only became a permanent USA resident this last April.  From the perspective of  a Londoner born in 1944, I suspect not too many years Tom’s senior, much of Tom’s essay really resonates with me.

OK, that’s enough from me.  Whoops, sorry, a few more words.  Tom’s essay is long, but so what!  Guess what I am saying is don’t be put off by the length, just make a mental note that if you haven’t got a quiet 15 minutes now, then wait until you have.  The essay will be compelling, I can guarantee it.  Especially if you are one of the many Learning from Dogs readers that is outside the USA – this provides very great insight into the Occupy Wall Street movement and the changes in society that are going to flow from that movement, flow around the globe.

Tomgram: Engelhardt, Wall Street by the Book Posted by Tom Engelhardt at 8:00pm, October 30, 2011.

OWS at Valley Forge
A (Self-)Graduation Speech for the Occupiers of Zuccotti Park 

By Tom Engelhardt

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.  I turned in my draft card, joined a group called the Resistance, took part in the radical politics of the moment, researched the war, became a draft counselor, helped organize an anti-war Asian scholars group — I was at the time preparing to be a China scholar, before being swept away — began writing about (and against) the war, worked as an “underground” printer (there was nothing underground about us, but it sounded wonderful), and finally became an editor and journalist at an antiwar news service in San Francisco.

In that time of turmoil, I doubt I spent a moment pondering this irony: despite all those years in college and graduate school, the most crucial part of my education — learning about the nature of American power and how it was wielded — was largely self-taught in my off-hours.  And I wasn’t alone.  In those days, most of us found ourselves in a frenzy of teaching (each other), reading, writing — and acting.  That was how I first became an editor (without even knowing what an editor was): simply by having friends shove their essays at me and ask for help.

Those were heady years, as heady, I have no doubt, as this moment is for you.  But that doesn’t mean our moments were the same.  Not by a long shot.  Here’s one major difference: like so many of the young of that distant era, I was surfing the crest of a wave of American wealth and wellbeing.  We never thought about, but also never doubted, that if this moment ended, there would be perfectly normal jobs — good ones — awaiting us, should we want them.  It never crossed our minds that we couldn’t land on our feet in America, if we cared to.

In that sense, while we certainly talked about putting everything on the line, we didn’t; in truth, economically speaking, we couldn’t. Although you, the occupiers of Zuccotti Park and other encampments around the country, are a heterogeneous crew, many of you, I know, graduated from college in recent years.

Most of you were ushered off those leafy campuses (or their urban equivalents) with due pomp and ceremony, and plenty of what passes for inspiration.  I’m ready to bet, though, that in those ceremonies no one bothered to mention that you (and your parents) had essentially been conned, snookered out of tens of thousands of dollars on the implicit promise that such an “education” would usher you into a profession or at least a world of decent jobs.

As you know better than I, you got soaked by the educational equivalent of a subprime mortgage.  As a result, many of you were sent out of those gates and directly — as they say of houses that are worth less than what’s owed on their mortgages — underwater.

You essentially mortgaged your lives for an education and left college weighed down with so much debt — a veritable trillion-dollar bubble of it — that you may never straighten up, not if the 1% have their way.  Worse yet, you were sent into a world just then being stripped of its finery, where decent jobs were going the way of TVs with antennas and rotary telephones.

Lost Worlds and Utopia

Here’s a weakness of mine: graduation speeches.  I like their form, if not their everyday reality, and so from time to time give them unasked at TomDispatch.com, speeches for those of us already out in the world and seldom credited for never stopping learning.

In this case, though, don’t think of me as your graduation speaker.  Think of this as a self-graduation.  And this time, it’s positives all the way to the horizon.  After all, you haven’t incurred a cent of debt, because you and those around you in Zuccotti Park are giving the classes you took.  First, you began educating yourself in the realities of post-meltdown America, and then, miraculously enough, you went and educated many of the rest of us as well.

You really did change the conversation in this country in a heartbeat from, as Joshua Holland wroteat Alternet.org, “a relentless focus on the deficit to a discussion of the real issues facing Main Street: the lack of jobs… spiraling inequality, cash-strapped American families’ debt-loads, and the pernicious influence of money in politics that led us to this point” — and more amazingly yet, at no charge.

In other words, I’m not here, like the typical graduation speaker, to inspire you.  I’m here to tell you how you’ve inspired me.   In the four decades between the moment when I imagined I put everything on the line and the moment when you actually did, wealth and income inequalitiesexploded in ways unimaginable in the 1960s.  For ordinary Americans, the numbers that translated into daily troubles began heading downhill in the 1990s, the Clinton years, and only a fraudulent bubble in home values kept the good times rolling until 2008.

Then, of course, it burst big time.  But you know all this.  Who knows better than you the story of the financial and political flim-flam artists who brought this country to its knees, made out like bandits, and left the 99% in the dust?  Three years of stunned silence followed, as if Americans simply couldn’t believe it, couldn’t take it in — if, that is, you leave aside the Tea Party movement.

But give those aging, angry whites credit.  They were the first to cry out for a lost world (while denouncing some of the same bank bailouts and financial shenanigans you have).  That was before, in a political nano-second, the phrase “Tea Party” was essentially trademarked, occupied, and made the property of long-time Republican operatives, corporate cronies, and various billionaires.

That won’t happen to you.  Among your many strengths, the lack of a list of demands that so many of your elders have complained about, your inclusiveness, and your utopian streak — the urge to create a tiny, thoroughly democratic new society near the beating financial heart of the old one — will make you far harder to co-opt.  Add in the fact that, while any movement taking on inequity and unfairness is political, you are also, in the usual sense of the term, a strikingly apolitical movement.  Again, this is, to my mind, part of your strength.  It ensures that neither the Democratic Party nor left sects will find it easy to get a toehold in your environs.  Yes, in the long run, if you last and grow (as I suspect you will), a more traditional kind of politics may form around you, but it’s unlikely to abscond with you as those Republican operatives did with the Tea Party.

Actuarially, the Tea Party is a movement of the past in mourning for a lost world and the good life that went with it.  All you have to do is look at the sudden, post-2008 burst of poverty in the suburbs, that golden beacon of the post-World War II American dream, to know that something unprecedented is underway.

Once upon a time, no one imagined that an American world of home ownership and good jobs, of cheap gas and cheaper steaks, would ever end.  Nonetheless, it was kneecapped over the last few decades and it’s not coming back.  Not for you or your children, no matter what happens economically.

So don’t kid yourself: whether you know it or not, young as you are, you’re in mourning, too, or Occupy Wall Street wouldn’t exist. Unlike the Tea Party, however, you are young, which means that you’re also a movement of the unknown future, which is your strength.

Self-Education U.

Let me fess up here to my fondness for libraries (even though I find their silence unnerving).  As a child, I lived in the golden age of your lost world, but as something of an outsider.  The 1950s weren’t a golden age for my family, and they weren’t particularly happy years for me.  I was an only child, and my escape was into books.  Less than a block from where I lived was a local branch of the New York City public library and, in those days before adult problems had morphed into TV fare, I repaired there, like Harriet the Spy, to get the scoop on the mysterious world of grown-ups.  (The only question then was whether the librarian would let you out of the children’s section; mine did.)

I remembering hauling home piles of books, including John Toland’s But Not in Shame, Isaac Asimov’s space operas, and Désirée (a racy pop novel about a woman Napoleon loved), often with little idea what they were and no one to guide me.  On the shelves in my small room were yet more books, including most of the Harvard Five Foot Shelf, a collection of 51 classic volumes.  My set had been rescued from somebody’s flooded basement, their spines slightly warped and signs of mildew on some of them.  But I can still remember taking them off my shelf with a certain wonder: Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast (thrilling!), Darwin’s The Origins of the Species(impenetrable), Homer’s The Odyssey (Cyclops!), and so on.

Books — Johannes Gutenberg’s more than 500-year-old “technology” — were my companions, my siblings, and also my building blocks.  To while away the hours, I would pile them up to create the landscape — valleys and mountains — within which my toy soldiers fought their battles.  So libraries and self-education, that’s a program in my comfort zone.

Though my route seemed happenstantial at the time, it’s probably no accident that, 35 years ago, I ended up as a book editor on the periphery of mainstream publishing and stayed there.  After all, it was a paid excuse to retreat to my room with books (to-be) and, if not turn them into mountains and valleys, then at least transform them into a kind of eternal play and self-education.

All of which is why, on arriving for the first time at your encampment in Zuccotti Park and taking that tiny set of steps down from Broadway, I was moved to find myself in, of all things, an informal open-air library.  The People’s Library no less, even if books sorted by category in plastic bins on tables isn’t exactly the way I once imagined The Library.

Still, it couldn’t be more appropriate for Occupy Wall Street, with its long, open-air meetings, its invited speakers and experts, its visiting authors, its constant debates and arguments, that feeling when you’re there that you can talk to anyone.

Like the best of library systems, it’s a Self-Education U., or perhaps a modern version of theChautauqua adult education movement.  Your goal, it seems, is to educate yourselves and then the rest of us in the realities and inequities of twenty-first century American life.

Still, for the advanced guard of your electronic generation to commit itself so publicly to actual books, ones you can pick up, leaf through, hand to someone else — that took me by surprise.  Those books, all donations, are flowing in from publishers (including Metropolitan Books, where I work, and Haymarket Books, which publishes me), private bookstores, authors, and well, just about anyone.  As I stood talking with some of you, the librarians of Zuccotti Park, I watched people arriving, unzipping backpacks, and handing over books.

Of the thousands of volumes you now have, some, as in any library, are indeed taken out and returned, but some not. As Bill Scott, a librarian sitting in front of a makeshift “reference table” in muffler and jacket told me, “The books are donated to us and we donate them to others.”

A youthful-looking 42, Scott, an associate professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, is spending his sabbatical semester camped out in the park.  His book, Troublemakers, is just about to be published and he’s bubbling with enthusiasm.  He’s ordered a couple of copies to donate himself.  “It’s my first book ever.  I’ve never even held it in my hands.  To shelve the first copy in the People’s Library, it’s like all the strands of my life coming together!”

Think of it: Yes, your peers in the park were texting and tweeting and streaming up a video storm.  They were social networking circles around the 1%, the mayor, the police, and whoever else got in their way.  Still, there you all were pushing a technology already relegated by many to the trash bin of cultural history.  You were betting your bottom dollar on the value to your movement of real books, the very things that kept me alive as a kid, that I’ve been editing, publishing, and even writingfor more than three decades.

“I Wanted Something Productive to Do”

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?

When asked how the library began, librarian “Scales” (aka Sam Smith), an unemployed, 20-year-old blond dancer still in shorts on a chilly fall day, responded, “Nobody knows exactly who started it. It was like an immaculate conception.  It was just here.”  If the movement itself were a book, that might stand as its epigraph.  Even if Occupy Wall Street indeed did start somewhere (as did its library), the way it has exploded globally in a historical nanosecond, does give it exactly the feeling Scales described.

When asked why he himself was here, he simply said, “I wanted something productive to do.”

In an economy where “production” is gone with the wind, that makes the deepest sense to me.  Who doesn’t want to be productive in life?  Why should a generation that Wall Street and Washington seem perfectly happy to sideline not want to produce something of their own, as they now have?

I was no less touched, while listening in on a long meeting of the Library Working Group one Saturday afternoon amid the chaos of Zuccotti Park — crowd noise all around us, a band playing nearby — when the woman standing next to me interrupted your meeting.  She identified herself as an elected legislator from an upstate New York county who had driven down to see Occupy Wall Street for herself.  She just wanted you, the librarians, to know that she supported what you were doing and that, while her county was still funding its libraries, it was getting ever harder to do so, given strapped state and local budgets.

In other words, as education is priced out of the reach of so many Americans and in many communities library hours are cut back or local libraries shut down, you’ve opened for business.

Here are just a few things that you, the librarians of Zuccotti Park, said to me:

Bill Scott: “Part of the reason we’re down here is because we live in a society which promotes the idea that education should be bought and sold on the open market.  We want to establish it as a human right.  What the People’s Library proves is that books belong to the people, as does education.  People with student-loan debt find their freedom and options limited.  It severely limited my options.  I’m still crawling out from under a ton of debt.”

Zachary Loeb, who in what passes for real life is an actual librarian: “I’m working part time, so I wake up every morning and spend two hours sending out resumes, but the work isn’t out there.  My training’s in archiving, but nobody’s hiring.  I got a degree in library science, not philosophy, which I wanted to go into, to be on a job track.  Obviously, I’m not.  Lots of people are here because the work situation is abysmal.

“I’ve been an activist for a long time.  I read [the magazine] Adbusters and saw the call to occupy Wall Street.  I was down here on the first day.  I think we’ve changed the conversation in this country.  We’ve given people permission to stand up, to talk to each other, test their ideas out against each other, and consider decisions that shouldn’t simply be made by the powerful in Washington.”

Frances Mercanti-Anthony, out-of-work actress (“my last play closed in August”) and comic writer: “Knowledge is the greatest weapon we have.  What we’re doing is offering knowledge to people who have been disenfranchised.  Our online database of books [in the People’s Library] stands as a great symbol of the movement, of democracy, of knowledge, and sharing.”

Lighting Up the Landscape

Here’s what you’ve done: your anger and your thoughtfulness — what you don’t know and don’t mind not knowing, as well as what you do know — has lit up a previously dismal landscape.  And every move made by those who want to get rid of you has only spurred your growth.

I’m a pretty levelheaded guy, but call me a little starry-eyed right now and I don’t mind at all.  It’s something to feel this way for the first time in I don’t know how long, and whatever happens from now on, I can thank you for that — and for the sudden sense of possibility that goes with it.

Only six weeks into your movement, with so little known about where you’re going or what will happen, it’s undoubtedly early for graduation ceremonies.  Still, let’s face it, you’ve been growing up fast and, for all we know, these could have been the six weeks that changed the world.  Anyway, there’s no limit out here, where you can make your own traditions, on how often you can graduate yourself.

So I say, go for it.  Mark your progress thus far.  Self-graduate.  You don’t need me.   I’ll stay here and borrow a book from your library — and later, when I’m done, just as you suggest, I’ll donate it to someone else.

Shoulder your handmade signs.  Lift them high.  Chant your chants.  Let the drummers play as you march.  Head out toward Wall Street, toward the future, looking back over your shoulder, remembering exactly what your elders squandered, the world they left you, the debts they piled on you.  And the next time they start telling you what you should do with your movement, take it with a grain of salt.  The future, after all, is yours, not theirs.  It may be the only thing you have, exactly because it’s so beautifully unknown, so deeply unpredictable.  It’s your advantage over them because it’s one thing that Washington and Wall Street have no more way of controlling than you do.

In a world of increasing misery, you carry not just your debts, but ours too.  It’s a burden no one should shoulder, especially with winter bearing down, and that 1% of adults waiting for the cold to make tempers short, hoping you’ll begin to fall out, grow discouraged, and find life too miserable to bear, hoping that a New York winter will freeze you out of your own movement.

I take heart that last weekend, on a beautiful fall day, you, the librarians, were already discussing the need to buy “Alaska-style” sleeping bags and a generator which would give you heat; that you, like the mayor, are looking ahead and planning for winter.  This, after all, could be your Valley Forge.  As actress-librarian Mercanti-Anthony told me:  “We have the whole world behind us at this point.  We want to stand our ground for the long haul.  If we can make it through the winter, this occupation is here to stay.”

And she just might be right.  So head out now, and whatever you do, don’t go home.  It’s underwater anyway, and we need you.  We really do.  The world’s in a hell of a mess, but what a time for you to take it in your own hands and do your damnedest.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, The United States of Fear(Haymarket Books), will be published in November. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Engelhardt discusses the Occupy Wall Street movement and what hope means in our time click here, or download it to your iPod here.

Copyright 2011 Tom Engelhardt