Occupy Upper East Side!

Every day I meet Scott (our 9-year old) at his school and we walk home together. In that 15-to-20 minute walk, I hear about his day, what homework he has, marks from any tests, what he had for lunch…the usual all-in-a-day stuff. Thursday, when I picked him up though, Scott was bubbling over.

Thursday is swimming day at Scott’s school. All the grade four students pile onto the bus and head off to Asphalt Green, the community recreation centre, where they take swimming lessons as part of their gym program. No surprise that Thursday after school often begins with, “How was swimming today?” Expecting Scott to answer “good” or “fine,” it took me by surprise when it launched an all-the-way home discussion.

After telling me that swimming had been cancelled, Scott couldn’t talk fast enough to tell me why! He had happened to hear one of his teacher’s say that it was cancelled because of the protest at Asphalt Green. He assured me that it was a silent protest (he meant peaceful) and no one was yelling and getting hauled off into police cars.

Asphalt Green (and our apartment building) is located  next to the East River. The City of New York has proposed to set up a garbage depot near Asphalt Green. Trucks would bring garbage to the depot near Asphalt Green, where it wold be loaded onto the barges and then transported to a landfill. Tonnes of garbage would float up and down the East River, the sight of which would be admired by the many who enjoy Carl Shurz Park (the park outside our front door). The garbage trucks would be housed at the depot near the recreation complex. It would be “A FUTURE OF MISERY,” said Scott.

Scott was very worked up to tell me about the issues associated with such insanity (as opposed to Lin-sanity that is gripping New York)! Our neighbourhood would smell badly and the kids playing on the soccer field at Asphalt Green would have to worry about rats and flies. (Given New York’s rat problem, I nodded my head.) The garbage that would fall from the flat-bed barges would pollute the river. Big garbage trucks would be a constant feature in the neighbourhood.

When there was a moment to speak, I asked Scott how he knew about the garbage proposal. As it turns out, one of Scott’s teachers lives right across the street from Asphalt Green. (She was the teacher for whom Scott made a Valentine card in class while telling her he was making it for me). According to Scott, she had written a letter (the most powerful piece of persuasive writing he had ever read) describing the pitfalls of the garbage proposal.

As I was appreciating the link between an issue and Scott’s education, not to mention trying not to laugh all the way home, I realized that moments like this one had to be one of the ways people become protesters (activists as Vikas prefers to call them). In the fall, as we were learning about the city and what it had to offer, I often wondered about the world of protesters as I watched Occupy Wall Street unravel. It was widely reported that at its core, Occupy Wall Street was formed by a group of “professional” protesters.

Until now, it hadn’t occurred to me that learning about issues through the eyes of protesting would be a part of Scott’s unique New York experience, but there it was. I feel like his outrage for the idea of a floating garbage parade is partly because he is nine-years old, but also to do with being in a particular time and place at a time.

Funny enough, I was at Asphalt Green today as the protesters were gathering. Contrary to the unruly protesting crowd that Scott pictured, the protesters were mostly seniors, community people, it seemed, who had probably lived in the neighbourhood for years. They came with their friends, their husbands and wives and most of them brought their umbrellas (instead of the bats Scott imagined). No one was yelling or standing on a podium talking into a microphone. There were no banners and the television camera that was there, was filming from across the street. It was a peaceful gathering with a purpose.

The “Sharmed Life” part is the reminder that even though Scott proudly teaches his friends and teachers about Canada and Ottawa and what it means to be from there, the New York seeds have been planted and they are germinating!

P.S., Scott checks online for any updates to the protest every morning. Fingers crossed that the garbage project will not happen.

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2 thoughts on “Occupy Upper East Side!

  1. We are empowered by life’s lessons – a good start to shape a future voice. I remember being nine and watching crosses burning on the television – couldn’t understand at that point but the learning never went away.

  2. We come also the life lesson that this is our garbage. We created it and it has to go somewhere. Not in our backyard/river. We need to create less of it.

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