Hands Across Riverdale: Barricades–The Forward-Facing Body of the Occupation

In some sense, the entire story of Occupy Riverdale–now on day eight if you count the vigil–can be captured via an understanding of the barricades erected to prevent Aqua America/PVR construction crews from moving in to build the water withdrawal station rubber-stamped by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC). ¬†A construction for which the residents of the park–families, old people, kids, their homes and lives–are just in the way. This story includes many elements and actors, and the barricades themselves have been erected and deconstructed, rebuilt, and dismantled–and today mowed down by the disgruntled previous land owner, Skip Leonard. But that is not quite the story I want to tell. A barricade, I have learned, is not merely a barrier to keep out an unwanted guest. It is, and particularly in the case of Riverdale, a representation of an idea, an instantiation of a purpose.

And as I sit at the “command center,” looking out onto Route 220 and its ubiquitous parade of water haulers, waste trucks, frack rig trucks–and the occasional car–I ¬†realize that over this past week, I have come to understand that purpose in a way I never had. I’m on the 12-3 AM security shift, and what that means is that the barricades–now brightly painted with the words “We are part of your community”–are a responsibility. Indeed, though I expect no one and nothing into the wee hours of the morning, every day that passes feels like a greater responsibility. Why? Because the clock is ticking towards a Monday meeting that may change the very course of this occupation. “Meeting,” in fact, seems a bit underwhelming in light of the possibility that the residents of the park may accept an offer of some dollar amount that will move them out of the park–and move we of Occupy Well Street into a decision. And this decision is all about the barricades.

Our original purpose here was to protect the park’s residents from unjust expulsion at the profit-driven Aqua America/PVR, and to make folks as painfully aware as a non-violent protest can the egregious injustice of these evictions. There is much much more to be said about the vulnerability of the park residents–older folks, economically vulnerable folks, children. And I hope that the passel of pictures I have been taking each day (posted as Hands Across Riverdale, Occupation Day on my Facebook page) will help to tell this story. Indeed, my hope in the photo albums is three-fold: first, to demonstrate the resolve of the occupation to protect the human rights of the residents–every day as some incredibly enterprising and creative occupiers build outdoor ovens, cook really great vegan food, and attend to one another’s needs and requests. Second, I want each of us involved in the occupation to see our faces–I want us to SEE what we have accomplished here, to see our laughter, our concern, our work, our collective will. Third, I want Aqua America to see all the same things–and I want them to be shitting their pants.

But when Monday comes–or whatever day it is that either Aqua America turns the park back over to the residents or offers them something that doesn’t require folks to liquify their retirement accounts in order to move–the meaning of the barricades changes. On that day, we decide to defend the Susquehanna. To defend the 3% of the water on Earth that counts as fresh water. And then the barricades take on a different character because on that day, we are no longer guests of the residents, but a serious problem for Aqua America. No doubt, Aqua thinks that once the park issues are resolved (at least if they’re resolved in their favor) we’ll see that our mission is concluded and will head back to the pre-Riverdale lives of the “dirty hippies” we all are. But, of course, because the Susquehanna River is still slated for 3 million gallons a day of water withdrawal for fracking, and because fracking remains an environmental catastrophe, well, those barricades become our first line of defense against the construction crews that will surely follow the pulling out of the last car full of working people and their stuff. After that, it’s our bodies that become the barricades. Our bodies.

So, what the barricades really represent is not merely our resolve, our purpose in defending first the Riverdale residents, and second the river–the barricades are the forward-facing bodies of the occupation. I don’t know that this will happen–we will make this decision in the way we have made all of them so far–through the slow but effective democratic process of discussion, debate, and one hell of a lot of thinking. But one thing I know for sure is that it will be our conscience–both individual and collective–that will govern the actions of that day. What I know for sure is that the voice of this blog is some moment of THAT voice, of that collective body and not merely my own.


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8 Comments on Hands Across Riverdale: Barricades–The Forward-Facing Body of the Occupation

  1. Wendy first let me thank you. Second let me say how proud I am. I grew up in the 60’s and this group of individuals(mostly kids) brought me back in time. When we brought supplies up to Riverdale I was struck by how young these kids were..by how compassionate they were..how organized and how determined. I don’t know who their parents or mentors are but they should be proud. They were articulate, intelligent and forward thinking. They did not dwell on individual profit. They thought about their future and their children’s future and the future of the earth.
    So some have resorted to name calling, personal attacks, and EID full page assaults. So be it. Some suppose that money and land ownership trump any card. Well yes we admit in some courts they do. But life is not so cut and dry, life is not black and white. Life is in the gray areas…people live in the gray areas. Riverdale is a gray area, the native American indian story was a gray area, Israel, Palestine all gray areas. Think how whole nations of people have stood up through history for these grey areas that law has ruled as black and white.
    So EID writers and cynics, open your eyes ,look around don’t live in just a black and white world. Life is gray and those who live in the gray areas don’t back down easily…why because they have nothing to lose after everything is taken from them. They stand up for thier idealistic views, they have compassion, they stand in solidarity. Most of all they endure…generation after generation..

    • Well said Mary! I agree with you 100%. I also want to add a “thank you” to you for all of your efforts on the part of the people of Riverdale Mobile Home Park as well as all of your efforts in regard to protecting our water and our air from the horrible fracking nightmare that is sweeping our state. God Bless the people of Riverdale and all those who have joined in the effort to help them & raise awareness on their behalf.

  2. Hi Mary and Scott,

    Thank you so much for the kind words, and for the observations. I am more and more committed to trying to get the feeling, the electricity and the magic of this place and time into words–and I very much appreciate anything you might have to help me so it.


  3. Thank you all for doing so much to help and support these folks in so many ways….from documenting in videos, pics, and writings….taking supplies, giving compassion and support and helping to create this experience to be one in which also contains happy memories and personal growth. I hope and pray we can all smile when the final ending is also documented.

  4. My mother, Margaret Human, is at the park taking part in the occupation. She was also a young adult in the sixties but feels the urgent need for environmental activism today. For all the people at the park, there are thousands more at home who are with you in spirit!

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  1. Links 6/8/12 « naked capitalism
  2. Aqua America evicting poor and elderly so they can sell fracking water.


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