My name is Ethan Murphy and I’d like to share some of the things the OWS People's Kitchen accomplished last week, largely thanks to your support. I also wanted to tell the story of how I got here and what we're planning next, I share this on my own birthday, just three days after feeding 6,000 people for the S17 anniversary weekend.
I assisted in the coordination of feeding our visitors from around the country (and the world) who joined us for the weekend leading up to our birthday march on Wall Street. Your donations allowed us to serve homemade sandwiches, wraps, granola bars, quiche and fresh fruit every day, and also a hearty family-style buffet dinner each night that included fresh produce from our allied farms. Our service culminated in three types of birthday cake (with candles) for more than a thousand people. So, thank you very much for helping make this all possible! Though we are unable at this time to physically serve our community every day, we will continue to provide nourishment for activists and protesters whenever we can.
What follows is the story of how I ended up here:
For the past few years the need to reform our way of life has increasingly become apparent to more and more of us. For me, events such as the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, rampant wildfires throughout the U.S. and fracking that causes earthquakes and flammable water have generated feelings of fear, despair, rage, sorrow, misery and hopelessness. Not to mention anger at a government that shields corporate wrongdoers from any repercussions, even waging wars without our consent in order to protect the interests of a destructive system. It’s been clear to me from a very early age that our dependence on non-renewable energy would have to change one day, and I had passively “supported” reform, basically giving lip-service to a progressive idea of change and liberal progress for decades. Obviously, that attitude does not serve a greater good.
This realization resulted in a drastic personal transformation of my worldview and compelled me to action. I realize there have been others screaming this exact sentiment for longer than I’ve even been alive, but like many Americans, I’d allowed myself to be hypnotized by the industrial infotainment complex.
But last year, when I witnessed innocent young people, right here in New York City, brutalized and arrested for publicly stating that they believed our world was in peril, it triggered in me an uncontrollable desire to help. This is something I hadn’t ever felt before and didn’t know how to start, so I went to investigate what these kids were doing in Zuccotti Park - rather, the newly-anointed Liberty Plaza - and found at least a sliver of hope in the bravery of these young’uns.
I also found out it wasn’t just kids. The people I met in the Financial District included all ages, races, religions (and, like me, non-religious types), every kind of political philosophy and gender identity you could imagine, the homeless and hungry, union workers, veterans, a retired police captain, the middle class and the poor, even some sympathetic 1%ers (though many in the movement were not ready to accept the inclusion of the bourgeois). Each of these people independently came to realize that, as the slogan goes, “Shit’s fucked up and bullshit.”
OCCUPY, THEN AND NOW: An Occupy mainstay waits on the meal line, right, on September 17, 2012.
Thousands upon thousands of people kept showing up. Occupy spread first nationally and then globally, and a network has since formed that isn’t going anywhere.
I kept trying to find a way to utilize my (admittedly very narrow) skill set to actually benefit this growing movement. I learned some of the techniques of Outreach and Facilitation that the activists preached so much about, and I continued to seek ways to plug in that I felt would be a substantive contribution.
This is when I began to volunteer for the Kitchen Working Group of Occupy Wall Street. My professional experience, after all, has been in the food and beverage industry. For six months I helped organize volunteers in a donated professional kitchen Monday through Wednesday, then I worked my “real” job tending bar Thursday through Sunday. Over time, my day job became secondary and I found myself yearning to be back in the kitchen cooking for OWS all the time because that’s where I felt the most useful. I was recently asked why I don’t cook professionally here in New York, to which I replied without even thinking, “Cooks don’t get paid enough in this town.” After a pause I added defiantly, “And since they can’t pay me enough to cook professionally I’ll just give my skills away for free!” It was a joke, but it resonated with me because I increasingly found that my happiest place was cooking for scores of strangers who were each, in their own way, trying to build a brighter future.
We prepared food for hundreds of activists and protesters in the park every day, and then, after the eviction, wherever the Occupation ended up each day. We even fed two thousand people on Thanksgiving Day, just days after being violently forced from our peaceful encampment, and it was so moving! Over the winter we moved our operation indoors, serving our buffet on Wall Street proper. It felt like we were giving The Man the stiff middle finger every time we delivered our donated bounty to the atrium at 60 Wall Street, or on the steps of the Federal building. This was real to me; every day there were tangible results, and I worked myself to exhaustion before I discovered this was not sustainable for me or for the movement.
I took a break after May Day - an enormous action feeding thousands all over Manhattan - as did many of the volunteers responsible for the daily feedings. Since then I have been working on ways to sustainably support not just the movement, but the world. Last week we reunited to serve the needs of the Occupation for our anniversary. We assembled a dedicated team and even recruited some additional service industry professionals, but we still pushed ourselves to our absolute limit, cooking for nearly 100 hours in five days. We will continue to serve actions on an as-needed basis.
I have also been working on Occupalooza/Occupicnic, a free concert and information expo for the 99%, with one of our primary kitchen delivery drivers and a few others for months now, the idea gaining steam during those long drives to Zuccotti. We were admittedly wide-eyed when we began planning the event, and expected much more support from our fellow Occupiers, but since then we have learned a great deal and will continue pursuing this event by building up to it with a series of small fundraisers and festivals. Here is a link to our website, <www.occupalooza.info> / <www.occupicnic.info>, and what follows is an overview of our upcoming Occupalooza / Occupicnic.
The purpose of Occupalooza / Occupicnic is to demystify the OWS movement, to broaden our outreach and to demonstrate the importance of standing together in unity. We aim to create better opportunities for people who have suffered the injustices of greed and poverty.
We will represent the Vision and Goals and the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City under the Occupy umbrella with the following themes: Occupy Peace, Food, Health, Knowledge, Environment, Ethics, and Liberty
The second project I want to mention, and the one most most directly related to my kitchen work with Occupy and my professional life experience (and the one closest to my heart), is a nonprofit community center /restaurant/event space. We call it Public Domain. This is a long-term project that will be occupying my time for possibly years to come. It is also something that I believe will be of long-lasting benefit to all people, not just activist and organizers, but whole communities.
Our mission is to nourish body and mind by establishing a venue, open to all, where people can safely and comfortably gather, dine and work together, while sharing knowledge and incubating community based projects.
We serve this mission by pursuing the following goals:
To establish member owned and operated multi-use facilities focused on community building, conversation and education, where delicious and healthful food is served on a donation basis. The food we serve emphasizes organic, locally grown, unprocessed ingredients supporting local farmers and promoting a healthy well informed population.
To nurture a more equitable society by establishing a solidarity economy based on principles of mutual aid, sustainability and environmental justice. All decisions will be made in accordance with a non-hierarchical cooperative model outlined in the bylaws of the organization.
To reform patterns of food production, distribution and consumption in New York City and beyond. We will feed people in need, reduces waste in the food industry, create volunteer and employment opportunities, as well as provide a venue for skill-sharing workshops and education about food and food industry related issues.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Your support means a great deal to me.