Saturday, November 19, 2011

Occupied


I've been following the Occupy movement a little bit. I had been having all sorts of trouble figuring it out, deciding where I stand, and just wading through the odd coverage of the thing. News organizations seem to be having a very difficult time following this and, like me, figuring out a way to understand and then cover it. But a lot has changed in the past week and Occupy is a bigger presence in my mind than it was before. The reason is that the police have been ordered in and each time an Occupy movement is attacked by the police, something bad seems to happen and I end up feeling for the protesters much more than for those who have ordered them broken up.

That, and it has given me one more reason to not like President Obama.

Throughout the Arab uprisings this past Spring, the President was trumpeting the rights of peaceful protest. The Egyptians in Tahrir Square were exercising their rights to free speech and to a participatory government. But now that Tahrir Square is on American soil, the President has been absent and his administration may be working with local authorities to put down the Occupy movement. It is one thing to praise a movement that stands up for the people when it is in a country half a world away, but it seems to be more than this president can do to support it when the protesters are his own people.

I like the idea of the 99% because I'm one of them, and maybe therein lies both my motivation and the motivation of our president. He is firmly in the 1% and that's the thing that we all neglected to notice last time we cast votes. We thought he was a 99%-er, but then he pledged allegiance to everyone with a whole lot of money in their pockets. We thought we were getting change but instead got more of the same. So it goes with elections right now.

As for me, I'm a working man, have been working as a teacher for 17 years. I have a wife and two young daughters and, after all this time, I have just enough to get by. I work a second teaching job in the summer. My wife works. We live a modest lifestyle in a three-bedroom house. I am happy to pay taxes. I follow the rule of law. Yet I'm dissatisfied with the simple fact that I struggle to pay bills while banks are bailed out of their criminal behavior. I want my bailout. Or better yet, I want the government to look out first for me, second for the big guys making billions of dollars.

But you've heard all this before. It's likely the story of your life too. So I guess what I'm wondering is this: what are we going to do about it? People say that Occupy has no goals. Maybe the goal right now is to simply stop for a moment and be aware of the situation. Maybe the goal is to be present and aware. The people occupying Wall Street, Oakland, Portland, and so on have all taken time out of their lives to stop and think about what is happening. In doing so they have tumbled to this thought: "Hey, something ain't right about the way we're doing things."

Is this why the protests are being broken up so harshly? Are we not supposed to notice? It sounds like that scene in the Wizard of Oz: pay no attention to those men behind the curtain. Just keep believing in the mythology they are selling. Oh, and keep buying.

The protests are being attacked violently. Unlike in the late sixties, the movement doesn't need to be televised. It brought its own cameras (and backpacks filled with modems sending the images to the web in real time). The images are striking. The 84-year-old woman having been pepper sprayed. The Iraq veteran critically injured by the police. And this morning, a UC-Davis officer crop-dusting kids with pepper spray while they sat on the ground in the archetypal pose of the non-violent protester. The protests are being attacked violently and, each time they are, I become more supportive of the Occupy cause.

That and I'm a teacher. Education is being sold to the same 1% corporations and moguls as everything else in our culture. President Obama is not only letting this happen, his administration facilitates it. I hope that Occupy brings someone down, and I would be okay if it is Obama that falls. I hope that Occupy remains. I hope that Occupy shifts the balance by even 1%. Then we can really go to work.