If you haven’t yet heard of Occupy Wall Street, I’d be genuinely surprised. Even though I don’t have television channels and don’t watch the evening news, the movement is everywhere I look online and the subject of many conversations I hear and overhear around town. In my own circles, the consensus has been that none of us really understand what they are trying to accomplish, and how they plan to go about it. I’ve done a couple of half-hearted google searches on the subject and glanced over a lot of articles about police and fights over tents and things, but still wasn’t able to get a clear picture. I’m not a big fan of news stations anyhow.
Media makes me uneasy. I think it’s very hard to find unbiased journalism out there, though many networks and media outlets claim otherwise. Everybody has an agenda. That said, I am part of the 99% that Occupy Wall Street claims to represent, and I thought it important to ask them directly how they were going about that representation rather than getting my information second or third-hand from other sources, so this morning I headed down to the Civic Center Plaza to see what Occupy San Diego had to say for themselves.
Walking up to Civic Center Plaza is a little intimidating. There are tents and homemade poster board signs and scraggly looking folks in clothes they probably haven’t had a chance to wash in awhile. I found out later that so early in the day, these are just the folks that don’t have to be anywhere else or were able to take time away from work, and that a larger group come to join them once work days are over. And anyhow, after five minutes of conversation and being able to put at least one name with a friendly face, I felt far more nervous about the ring of police officers surrounding the camp than anything going on within it.
One thing that struck me was the sense of camaraderie amongst the protestors. Essentially, they are modeling the society in which they’d like to live. Everyone has a role or job, a voice, and access to healthcare via a volunteer nursing station. Those who have more knowledge about political and economic issues are creating opportunities to educate one another, and they make decisions based on voting and consensus. There are people from all walks of life, but you can tell they’ve taken time to get to know one another and have a respect for and awareness of each other’s unique skills and contributions. In spite of all this, they’ve had a few setbacks, and sometimes get a little irritated with one another. Sometimes it’s messy and imperfect, but so is life.
From the news, I got the impression that people thought sitting around in front of financial institutions and important government buildings was going to change something. There may be a few uneducated folks there who do think that, but from the conversations I had today, I have an entirely different picture of what’s going on.
Not everybody is there for the same reason. But they’re there because they see things that are not working, and know that you have to change something to get different results. They’re not entirely sure what that will look like, but they’re there to figure it out. What they seem to be doing really well is listening to one another. Their concerns vary widely; healthcare, homelessness, job availability, the cost of higher education, the failure of public education, debt, predatory banks, taxes, corporations, government, corporations influencing government… my impression of their big-picture goal is bringing together people from widely different perspectives, leveling the playing field for conversation, and building a plan, together. I spoke mostly to one man, who explained that he doesn’t intend to camp out in from of the Civic Center forever, but hopes that this is just the beginning of building an ongoing dialogue that will lead to action and change.
I don’t think anyone is there to fight for a hand-out. I don’t think that they’d like to force socialism and communism on the unwitting masses. Those with jobs have nicer phones and coats and sleeping bags than those who don’t, and nobody is fighting for redistribution of goods.
I do think that I still don’t have the clearest picture of what my own response and subsequent actions should be, if any. I also think that more of us ought to go downtown and hear them out. One thing they’ve organized that I think is particularly interesting are a series of educational opportunities about things like civic engagement, democracy, and constitutional rights that we would all do well to learn more about. If you’re curious to get a better idea of what’s going on there and aren’t really up for a protest march, I think these would be great to check out.
You can find information on them here: https://occupysdedcom.wiki.zoho.com/HomePage.html
And a twitter account here: @OCCUPYSD
I’m not quite ready for an inner-city camping trip, but I do think that a lot of people there have concerns that I also share, and I intend to spend more time hearing them out.