Jerusalem Tent Protest 311.
(photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
It was past midnight and I’d pretty much had my fill of democracy. I came to
experience the general session of the Jerusalem tent protest, a nightly event
that draws hundreds of people and has even created its own sign language to
express support, opposition, or to encourage speakers to stop digging and get to
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Democracy in action is a beautiful thing. But giving the
people an equal share of power, well, it just takes a really, really long time.
Approaching 1:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning, I was so stuffed with love and
patience for my fellow man that for a moment I could see the allure of an
I’d been sitting in the small amphitheater in Gan
Hasus (Horse Park) for more than three hours: first, to hear secular and haredi
interpretations of social justice and Tisha Be’av (“Do you see what we did? We
closed Jaffa Road on Shabbat without riots!” cracked the haredi rabbi). The
lectures were followed by “open mike” time, when anyone in the community could
get up and speak for three minutes about their thoughts on “free love,” sharing
intimate personal stories or rambling ruminations.
The evening’s theme of
free love was chosen as a reaction to the biblical idea of baseless hatred, the
cause of the destruction of the Temple.
The open mike was continually
being interrupted by a drunken 51-year-old woman who shouted “Organizers of the
Nation! No more politicians!” and an emcee who kept chastising the audience for
loudly applauding instead of using the specific hand motions that expressed
Finally, after activists had shared everything from embarrassing
moments captured on YouTube to admonishments to appreciate the small acts of
love in life, leader Itai Gutler read the movement’s new mission statement, a
two-page document putting forth the visions of the movement as it goes
We broke into groups to voice our reactions to the document,
which will eventually be presented to the media and the government.
group discussion was hijacked by two vocal students in their 20s who traded
barbs over whether the document should be specific or general, as others tried
to interject their opinions on whether education should be higher on the list
than housing, whether Arabs needed a separate request for social services or
should be grouped with weaker populations, or if the protesters, like the
politicians, had a responsibility to continue their activity after the tent city
I was relieved when our discussion leader, clad in a Mickey
Mouse shirt and a Bedoin-style scarf draped across his shoulders, deemed our list
of suggestions sufficient and broke up the meeting, so I could go set up my tent
for the evening. I chose a bad day to sleep over in Jerusalem’s tent city:
Because of Tisha Be’av, or so the organizers claimed, the place was
Only 10 percent of the 40 or so tents in Gan Hasus were
inhabited, though the early risers on breakfast duty insisted that between 40-50
activists still sleep there each night.
After the general session, the
park emptied out and there was nothing to do but go to bed to the sounds of a
lone oud/darbouka duo jamming on the side. Sleep was interrupted frequently by a
group of haredi teenage boys, who arrived at 4 a.m.
from the Western Wall
in search of drugs, and having found none, instead decided to stay for a
philosophical discussion with the female darbouka player.
session, now one of the central events in the daily schedule of the tent cities
around the country, was one of the most colorful meetings I’ve ever attended.
The plus side of experiencing this type of grassroots democracy is the plethora
of eccentric people concentrated in one place, who are given free rein to
express themselves in front of an audience of hundreds of people.
we lost the Temple, we lost the living room of the Jewish people,” said one
speaker, comparing the sacrifices to communal barbeques and the incense to other
materials that produce fragrant smoke. “There are two things you never want to
see how they’re made: hot dogs, and laws,” said another speaker.
It was a
dizzying feeling to think that points brought up in our discussion would be
raised at a regional meeting, then a national meeting, and the very words
drafted by our group could end up on a final document placed on Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu’s desk. That equality and proximity to power doesn’t happen
every day. Except in the alternate universe of Jerusalem’s tent city, where it
happens every night.