Writers in the World, Messages in the Street

By Ted Kerr, Managing Editor, 12th Street

“In the beginning, sometimes I left messages in the street,” starts David Markson’s Wigginstien’s Mistress, a novel about a woman wandering the globe thinking she may be the last person on earth. In hopes she is not, she writes in large white letters, “Someone is living in the Louvre.”

After the November 15th raid on Liberty Park, the ebb and flow of the holiday season, and the winter that never really came, I had a hard time remembering that mere months earlier revolution had hit the streets of New York. There was a time when, as the leaves fell, a roar of voices could change the direction of my day. The setting sun often followed me down to Wall Street where I would bathe in spirit fingers, shared frustrations, and hope.

These memories came back as I started to see the work of someone’s quick penmanship on lampposts, construction sites, and walls here at The New School. I was drawn in by the now familiar and inviting O; egged on by the forward moving Cs, the U—a reminder I am implicit regardless—and the functionary P, and finally the Y, both a question and a figure with arms open to the sky. OCCUPY: a rebellion, a rally cry, a plea for survival, and a reminder that there are others–other times, other ways of being, and other people who are working for change.  Like Emma Goldman’s pamphlets handed out on Union Square, and Gran Fury’s Silence = Death posters making noise during the early days of the AIDS crisis, Occupy and its manifestations have become messages in the street; someone is living.

As a writer interested in my place in the world, who believes that writers have an opportunity to bring people together, I follow Occupy almost apolitically at times, drawn in by a movement that can trace one of its founding moments to an email sent out by a magazine, that has spawned a renaissance in poster art, and for a brief moment in our digital age, elevated the pizza box to the most effective publishing tool around.

I am a part of 12th street because I believe in our mission of using literature to spark conversation around writing and democracy. I see us–through our website and annual print journal–as similar to the occupiers. We are Wiggenstien’s mistresses, leaving messages in the street, hoping we are not alone.

Note: Sections of this essay were excerpted from Kerr’s opening remarks for the March 5th 2012 Riggio event, OCCUPY THE PAGE: The Importance of Print in Creating Change.  Watch 12th Street online for a wrap-up of the event.