Photo: Andrew F. Kazmierski/Shutterstock

The Ghost of Zucotti Park

New York City Travel
by Robert Hirschfield Oct 26, 2011
Emma Goldman enters the scene at the protests in New York. Robert Hirschfield is there to see it with his own eyes.

OCCUPY WALL STREET, the block long city curled inside the canyon of money, has its own library, barber shop, newspaper (The Occupy Wall Street Journal). It even has its own ghost. I saw her with my own eyes. I never thought I’d see Emma Goldman in this lifetime. She was a staple of the leftist storybooks of my youth: a Jewish immigrant from Russia early in the last century, an anarchist, her spectacled face pressed with rage against the faces of greed, like those who occupied Zuccotti Park.

The youths regarded her and her immigrant outfit with open arms.

She appeared one afternoon in her frameless specs and her bone-colored brooch, her mouth open wide enough to a swallow a corporate executive, and I must have been the only one in Zuccotti Park to recognize her. “I am Emma Goldman!” she announced. The youths regarded her and her immigrant outfit with open arms. They had seen movie stars and Teamsters, even Hasidim passing through to show their support, why not a woman from antiquity?

“Emma,” said a curly-haired protester as sensitively as he could, “you are blocking the walkway. You have to move back.”

I glided along beside her, stepping over a sign that said: WALL STREET GOT BAILED OUT THE PEOPLE GOT SOLD OUT. I could see she felt slighted. Ghosts, after all, are special messengers. I wanted to throw my arms around her, but I didn’t want her to get the wrong idea.

“I have traveled through time to be with you because I love what you are doing here.”

The occupiers repeated her words, as it is the custom here, with no mics allowed, for the words of speakers to be repeated by the crowd and communally shared. Emma suggested that they dispense with the “people’s mic” and let her speak as people did when she was alive. “The New York Times said this Saturday that any attempt by the police to clear this plaza would result in the resurrection of Emma Goldman. Too late!”

She said she wanted to read an essay she wrote in July of 1909. Two years previously, my mother, age seven, arrived in America. I was happy to be back where I belonged, in my city overrun with Jewish socialists who questioned everything. Emma announced to everyone that this was her first time back in New York since being exiled early in the last century for her anarchist beliefs. She was happy with the revolutionary sprucing up she was seeing.

“When in the course of human development,” she began, “existing institutions prove inadequate to the needs of man, when they serve merely to enslave, rob and oppress mankind, the people have the eternal right to rebel against and overthrow, these institutions.”

Too shrill, I thought. But all around me young people were applauding, applauding the woman with the cool glasses and the ground-scraping skirt. They were connecting to a spirit, to the purity of revolutionary ferocity, the way I connected to her when I was young and she was still dead.

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