Stacy Lanyon has been interviewing occupiers for her At the Heart of an Occupation blog since 2011. Her work focuses on why it's important that we act and build the kind of world we would like to see. Read her most recent interview, with Hero Vincent, below.
I had seen some videos from the hacker group Anonymous. I was like, “Oh wow, this is what we need in our lives.” I later saw the post on Youtube of them promoting occupying Wall Street on September 17th. I figured it was just going to be that one day for maybe a couple of hours. I came up on September 17th from Charlotte, North Carolina. I was really excited. I had been educating myself for years about the system. I made the decision to go because I supported it. It was something that I wanted to be a part of. I got to Bowling Green early in the morning. I was one of the first people there. I started walking around and I saw five people holding signs. That was the first thirty minutes. Thirty minutes later, ten more people came. Thirty minutes after that, thirty people came. Five hours later, there was about two hundred people. I was like, “Wow, this is fantastic.”
I was very humbled by the situation. People were sharing and open-minded. It really had an impact on my life. I stayed for about six months. Then, I went back to North Carolina. When I got home, I was talking to a friend that was out there with me, and I said, “Man, I really want to go back." We were at home watching videos, and we saw ourselves in the news. We saw people that we had met up there getting arrested. About two days later, we came back. The following Saturday was the first time I got arrested. It wasn’t a good experience. The next day when I got out was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. When I got out of jail, I hopped in a cab heading back to the park with a friend who was also arrested. The numbers had been dwindling a little throughout the week. The cab was playing the news, and I immediately heard “Occupy Wall Street.” I looked at the screen and saw a video of me getting pulled down the street by two officers. When we got to the top of the steps at the park and look out, there were just so many people there. I was standing at the top of the steps just marveling at the moment and thinking, “Is this because of all of our arrests on Saturday?" Somebody turned around and saw me and my friend, and they started clapping. Everyone joined in. It was an amazing moment. It felt like we did something really important.
I was part of a lot of groups in the park. I was part of facilitation. I was a medic. I was clean-up. When we first started out, there weren’t that many of us, so I joined a lot of different working groups. I felt like I had a lot of skills to give back to our little community. I did that until there was enough people to go around. It was very beautiful seeing everyone working together for the common good. It was a real community. Everybody played a part in seeing it move, in seeing it breathe. That’s really what it was in the park. It was a breathing organism, and everybody who put something back into this organism gave it life, and you felt that life. It was pure. It was like being reborn. That’s one thing I miss the most—feeling like being reborn. It was a very, very beautiful experience.
When I left Occupy, I guess I was in a bad place because of everything I had seen. It started out beautiful, but it didn’t quite end that way for me. I went to a very, very dark place. I didn’t quite understand what was going on or know what or who I was fighting for. I knew why I had came out to do it, but what was I fighting was the question, and how deep did it go? There were a lot of divisive issues that seemed to come out of nowhere in the park. There was a lot of paranoia. There was a lot of pain. I became really malnourished. It brought me to a dark place toward the end. I didn’t know how to handle those negative emotions. I didn't know how to handle seeing people get beat and seeing that kind of resistance to something so positive
When I came back, it was very hard to transition back into real life. I tried to go incognito, so no one could find me in order to just try and recuperate. It took some time, but I got there. I’m still finding my way back. 2013 was a fantastic year of progress, and I look at 2014 as the year that I do come back and give back—come back more organized, come back smarter. When Occupy first started, I was twenty-one. I’m twenty-four now. I’m still a young man. I did my six months of battle, and I learned so much from that. I want to take what I learned from that first experience and all of the blessing I got from the time I was out there and try and apply it to something better, create something bigger. I want to make sure I'm getting to the people and working on the root of the problem.
It's important to do this for all of the people who are struggling. We're in this drought that continues to get worse due to the decisions that are being made by our politicians, major businesses and corporations. They are thriving on our struggle. They capitalize on our struggles. They profit off of war. They capitalizing on our education. They put us in debt. My sister is going to be at least 20,000 in debt when she gets out of school, with no job guaranteed to her. There are more empty buildings in New York City than there are homeless people. That makes absolutely no sense. They take away our rights. It’s a crime now to speak out against your government. It’s a crime to say something against your black president. It’s appalling.
We are so complacent when it comes to these things. I understand why we are so complacent. We are a product of years and years of fear mongering. If we don’t do what we’re told, we can lose our job, our family, our passion. We can lose everything. Some people have no choice but to be complacent. I think the people who went out for Occupy, those were courageous people. Those were leaders. Every single one of them was a leader. They put their livelihood on the line to say something really important. They decided that they were not going to be held down by fear, or they didn’t let the fear conquer them. I'm struggling with the question of how we teach people. In my mind, it’s about inspiration. We must inspire people to be bigger than fear. How do we inspire those people who are still at home just watching, appalled like we are but don’t stand up and say anything? How do I inspire my mother and father to do all that they can? Because at the end of the day, my life is not about me. My life is about the experiences I have with other people. We have to realize that we’re all connected and learn how to build that connection, strengthen that connection. How do we build that connection? When we find the answer to that, we can overcome our fears together.
I think one of the reasons I went into isolation was because I don’t know if I will ever get the chance to see the world we are working to build. So many people have done great things, and we’ve come a long way, but look how long it’s taken. I don’t think I’ll be able to see it, and that hurts. That saddens me, but I hope that one day we realize that it’s not just about one religion. It’s not just about one color. It’s not about one thing at all. It’s about everything. It’s very idealistic, and it’s very vague, but I hope that we all realize that we are all one. The only one thing is everything. It all matters, so we have to treat everything right, treat it with respect and treat it with love and with passion That needs to be our relationships with everything. I don’t know if I’ll get to see that, but I try and live that way. It’s hard on a daily basis, but anything worth having is not easily obtained, so I hope that we will struggle together. I hope we will look to the future together with hope instead of a dark, grim foresight. I feel like that’s all I can hope for right now, and I’ll just continue to do what I can on a daily basis to try and inspire people to do that, one person at a time. If I inspire one person, maybe they’ll inspire a group.
I have such an imagination around what I think is possible. You might think I'm crazy. I study a lot about spiritual aspects of humanity and our human potential, and there’s just so much that goes into it. There was a science fiction film where people were taken to another planet where they had erased all that pettiness and all that struggle. It was all learning and educating on the spiritual and all types of knowledge. At the end of the conversation, the students just got up, and they flew away. To me, that is the type of potential I think we’re capable of. I believe that if we were to erase and release all of the burdens and became truly free, we will be able to fly. I honestly believe that. I don’t believe I’ll be able to see that. There are things that have to be erased that can’t be erased so easily before we get to that point.
I think there are steps that we can take to demand that we practice now. We have to demand it as parents, as students, as children. We have to demand what we crave in our hearts, and that’s true happiness. Why aren’t they teaching us in our schools how to be happy? Why aren’t they teaching us good practices on how to have a healthy lifestyle? Those are things that we should demand in our society. We don’t. We send our kids off to school not realizing that we’re perpetuating that same cycle. I was in school. I wasn’t very popular at all, and so many of us know how cruel kids can be. It’s a cycle that goes on generation after generation, but we just keep on sending our kids off, hoping they’ll get a better education. But we aren’t teaching them some of the fundamentals of life. They need to be happy, healthy and passionate about what they do in their life. How can they find out about what they want to do and be passionate and love instead of just going after money? How can they turn their passion into something lucrative? That’s not something that we teach in schools. That’s not something that we promote. That’s something that we should demand. Those are steps that I believe can be taken to see that future where we have that kind of freedom.
I think that first, as a complete society, we have to acknowledge that we have a problem. This is a twelve step program. The first step to recovery is to acknowledge that we have a problem, and then we have to come together around fixing it. We need solidarity. Then, we need to demand that happiness and health be taught in our school. Everybody wants to be happy. As a society, we have to come together and find out what makes us happy, what steps we need to take to make us happy. When we do, it will be something major. It will be something so beautiful. I work at a night club. That’s the worse. I see people drinking their lives away. They’re so depressed. They lose themselves in that life. If we take these steps to a better life, then we would lose ourselves in each other.
Originally posted on At the Heart of an Occupation.
Hero Vincent appears in the Occupy Wall Street documentary While We Watch.