It has been nearly a month since my last post, written while I was still energized from the NATO protest in Chicago. As I re-read that post I remember feeling so hopeful that Occupy was heading in a positive direction. I believed that we were beginning to see beyond our own territories and boundaries into the lives of people who live thousands of miles away; people whose daily struggle is so much more difficult than our own. I was hoping that we in america were beginning to understand that, for those people, the consequences of corporate greed and corrupt politics are much more devastating than those we feel here at home.
Of course everything is relative and our losses, although seemingly benign in comparison, are still devastating.
Only 3 days after my last post we held a rally and street march here in Milwaukee on the heels of a recall attempt that failed leaving the infamous Scott Walker still in office, only now bolstered with and even more smug self assurance than before. All that aside, the rally was one of the most powerful I have attended. We refused to be set back by the electoral process (in which many of us have little faith to begin with)
We did not obtain a permit for this march and as we took to the streets we were immediately challenged by the police. On horseback, in cars, on foot and with motorcycles they attempted again and again to drive us back onto the sidewalk. And each time we resisted, ducking, dodging, running and back into the street. I and a few others carried a banner as we led the march. The banner became a symbol of the struggle for power and control of the street. As the police tried time and time again to wrestle it from our hands we pulled back in an ongoing game of tug o war that carried on throughout the march. I'm happy to say we arrived at our destination with the banner in hand, a little ripped and ragged from the battle but ours nevertheless.
The energy that day was electric, the sense of rebellion and determination as we marched was exhilarating and empowering. There were some who shouted obscenities at the police but for the most part we held no grudge, we were simply determined to do our job, just as they were to do theirs. It wasn't about the police, it was about our voices being heard. It was about visibility and making the statement that we are not going away, and it was about Civil Disobedience.
Unfortunately, there were some people present who either don't understand the definition of civil disobedience or they don't expect consequences for their actions. It was clear from the beginning of the march that those who chose not to be "disobedient" or risk arrest, could remain on the sidewalk where they were free to march without risk of arrest. The rest of us agreed we were willing to take that risk.
There were 5 arrests that day, not bad considering the number of people who chose to take the street. Those who were arrested, with one exception, were released the following day with municipal tickets for disorderly conduct. Par for the course, right?
I was astonished the following day to see demands for legal assistance for those who were thought to be "wrongfully arrested". And the complaints made by many that they were pushed, shoved or had a horse step on their foot; while the one person who was actually unjustly injured (by taking a baton to the eye for photographing an arrest) maintained quiet dignity.
Heated discussion ensued for the next several days, until finally some of the complainers began to see (I hope) some perspective and reason. But it was a long trying several days and I have struggled to understand how to react. Did we as a group drop the ball somewhere while organizing? Or were people not paying attention? Or did some people take for granted that our police department would remain standoffish as they have been for much of the past year. We chose to escalate and they matched our move, tit for tat. Although I was a bit surprised to see the increased numbers and intensity delivered by the police, I wouldn't say I was shocked. They know what we are up to even before we set out. They follow us on facebook, they probably even have "moles". This is how the game works.
Since that event and the numerous discussions that followed, it feels as if there has been a veil of silence cast over our group. Some people have clearly chosen "sides" in the arguments, some have moved on putting their energies into productive, but safer, projects. Our meetings have dwindled and there has been little or no talk of getting back into the streets.
I have asked around and it seems like I am the only one puzzled by this sudden downturn on momentum. We have always had our ebb and flow of energy and commitment, and I suppose we will regroup again; but I have to ask what does it take? We need to be proactive rather than waiting for the next hot issue to present itself so we can jump on the bandwagon. We did this on June 6th, determined that no matter the outcome of the recall election, we would be in the streets reinforcing our statements. It was this active and unconditional spirit that infused that day with energy and passion. The issues haven't changed, the problems haven't gone away, so why do we fail to remain vigilant in our assertion that we know what is wrong with this country and that we will not be silenced until real change is made.
As I predicted the upcoming election has diverted the attention of some Occupy affiliates. Whether they are applying their efforts to the electoral process, advocating for or against a candidate (or party) or by focusing on specific issues within the political context. I have no issue with individuals personal choice to participate in the electoral process, but
from it's inception Occupy clearly stated it's unwillingness to align itself with any party or candidate. This was one of the key elements that first drew me (and many others) to Occupy. We saw an opportunity to speak out as Human Beings, as the 99% as disconnected as we truly are from the Corporate plutocracy that our government has become. We have been more of a Social/cultural movement than a "political" movement. We have worked harder than most of us have ever worked before to ensure that our communication and structure is egalitarian, dynamic and unlike anything that has come before. Of course there have been problems but let's think a moment...this movement is less than a year old in practice, if we count from the day we hit the streets in September.
The effects on our national conversation and challenges to our entrenched worldview are staggering given the infant stage of this movement. Now is not the time to rest on our laurels as backslide to the old way of doing things, hoping that our "representative" democracy will indeed represent us or our best interests.
Finally, are we doing our part to create change? Even if some of us do decide to appeal to the "system" ( I like the old school title "The Man"), we can demand until we are blue in the face; but in our hearts we know our "demands" fall on deaf ears. These are powers so big they think they can shake us off like fleas. That is until they are reminded that their profits come from the sweat of our labor, from our entrusting our retirement funds to their gambling schemes, and from our dependence on their system. If we are not willing to get out in the streets and get a little roughed up, then it is time to take away our support of their profit driven machine. It's time to take our money out of the banks, to do some serious boycotting, to grow our own food, make our own products, stop shopping in their stores. We can meet our own community needs by creating co-ops and time shares, barter and trade our own goods and services; and let them know we are doing it and why.
We have been waking up, but slowly, and we too readily hit the snooze button and settle back into comfort for just a little longer. We can't afford to snooze, time is running out.