On Wednesday evening I met Jesse and Josh at a diner a few blocks away from Zuccotti Park. Their hands were marked with the telling sign of a day’s printing―ink stains. Less visible, but equally if not more palpable, was their excitement about printing at the occupation.
I listened to their stories from the day and eagerly jumped in to their conversation about setting up a permanent print shop. I began busying my mind searching for solutions to printing problems that Jesse and Josh, having just successfully printed, knew were not problems at all.
‘What could we do about clamps?’ I said.
‘They’re really unnecessary. And you’re a lot more flexible in that kind of environment without them,’ they replied.
‘What about using one of those camping showers as a water hose for cleanup. We could hang it on a tree and get a little gravity pressure?’ I said.
‘Spray bottle and rags work just fine, keeps it simple,’ they said.
I was listening but at the same time engineering in my head a fully collapsible printing table, complete with clamps, wash basin, and running water. The concoction was sweet…in my head. I was listening, but I wasn’t understanding.
In the early afternoon on Thursday Jesse and I set up pretty much the same process that he and Josh had set up the day before. I collected a bunch of pillow cases and sheets from the comfort station and a scissors from the arts station and we just started printing. Within a few moments those hastily cut pieces of fabric became an afterthought as people figured out any number of solutions to our lack of shirts – rummaging through the clothes over at the comfort station, taking off what they had on, or popping into the nearest store for some cheap tees.
As the afternoon passed I noticed a couple things. There were two kinds of people who came by. There were the people who understood right away (or relatively quickly) this was not a producer/consumer kind of print shop. These folks jumped right in: asking what could they do to help; scrounging up a donation bin; taking over the printing when someone needed a break; pulling and prepping shirts; rustling up several pieces of clothing, not just the one they wanted; cleaning up; making food and water runs for the group. There were several individuals who contributed in this way but two in particular who did it so thoroughly and so seamlessly that onlookers could not tell that they had just met us and were newbies.
Then there were the folks who stood around and waited for their shirt to be printed. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing and in general there were plenty of extra hands. For me, though, the dichotomy was instructive. We were running the print shop on principles that not everyone is familiar with, that not everyone is comfortable with, that not everyone agrees with.
I haven’t been following the media coverage or scrolling through comments sections very much. Are people talking about the generative potential that can happen when people who have never self-organized interact with those who have? I assume that there’s too much fixation on finding the ‘leaders’ than on having serious discussions about how to continually and effectively break down the barrier between those who produce the occupation and those who consume it.
And I consider that a practical dilemma for the print shop moving forward. What is the best way to demonstrate to people that they should jump in? To demonstrate that the person printing in front of them actually just jumped in an hour ago – they were where you are and now they’re printing! Who needs what kinds of push and when? It’s simple and complicated at the same time. I needed Jesse and Josh in the diner telling me to chill out. That it’s fine to start printing with an incomplete process, because the simplest solutions will get you out there faster and because other people will help you when you hit a wall. And for that I owe them, and all the other relentless self-organizers out there, immensely.
Towards the end of the afternoon, three young women from the west coast came up to get their jackets printed on. They told me that they had a small printshop in their home town, and that they were hoping to do the same thing at the occupation nearby. Then they asked about the need for clamps or some kind of running water…