Since the beginning of the Occupy Movement I have struggled to come up with the correct words to explain my admittedly mixed feelings. As a progressive – a rather vocal one at that – there was a part of me who felt the need to throw myself into all of it: The rallying, the human microphone, the act of occupying. “Will I be considered a ‘bad’ liberal?” I wondered. Though I realized that while income inequality is a very real thing I was uncomfortable with going into the fray with aplomb. The answer I arrived at was no. But let’s go back to the start.
I watched via LiveStream as protesters marched across the Brooklyn Bridge two months ago. How magnificent to see thousands linked in solidarity against something that has been plaguing at least 12.6% of the population for years. That population being blacks in America. I’d be remiss not to mention the obvious truth that blacks have been facing disproportionate income inequality for far too long but many have become resigned to the fact that this is their lot in this American life.
But something big was happening and to finally see people gripped with enough anger to move them towards something; to see the passion that these people held on their quest for regaining the necessities and their place within the middle class was truly amazing. College students saddled with thousands in student loans now forced to live with their parents. Or the recently laid off man with the family of four now forced to stare at bills wondering if he can provide both food and a roof over his families head. This is what people have been and now in record numbers have been facing and it is not what had been aspired to.
Of course there is a ‘but’ coming in all of this because after the march across the bridge and the tent cities were erected – probably a few weeks into the whole shebang – I could only scratch my head and think “Now what?” There were the encampments and the eventual police brutality that was unnecessary and yet…and I sigh deeply before saying such a thing…the act of police officers being terrible to citizens who are not breaking the law is another one of those things that the African American community has faced for years. But are my feelings on the Occupy movement predicated on the sudden inequities that non-blacks suddenly find themselves up against?
Yes and No. Yes, because as I wanted to scream from the rooftops THIS HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR YEARS. THERE HAS ALWAYS BEEN INCOME INEQUALITY AND NOW YOU GET TO EXPERIENCE IT FIRST HAND. On the other hand as a single person with a good job with a great salary and benefits to boot, the mere thought of losing my job makes my stomach churn. And having the bottom fall from under someone with no way back to the surface because it’s happening to most anyone and everyone, is not something that I would wish upon my worst enemy. But what it really comes down to is what can be done about a now systemic problem? Is taking over parks and bridges and public spaces worth it? Though it does bring attention to the cause and a need for change what are the tangible benefits?
It’s something that the Tea Party – and my apologies for invoking them – got right. The were able not only to rally and to bring attention to their cause which was also fueled by anger, but then they were able to find people to take their cause beyond mocking and into the halls of Congress. That is what the Occupy movement is severely lacking — leadership and the inability to truly be taken seriously. I, while in full agreement with why they were out there and the need to show all Americans the plight of so many, often looked at the tent cities with a bit of disdain. While I remained glad that people were taking note by the second month I wanted to say, “You have our attention now move onwards, forward, upward.” It’s devastating to see that this is what this country has come to but it’s even more telling to see throngs of people camping out and not doing much more to change their situation.
I have always believed that ‘If you aren’t angry then you aren’t paying attention.’. People should always be angry and question because that is what democracy is. I also believe that you can flaunt your first amendment rights until the cows come home and more power to you. But…BUT…it won’t be worth a damn if there is no follow through. Those chants, the general assemblies the arrests – the entire country and the world have been watching and now we are watching this movement slowly dwindle into nothing but an Internet meme. The 99% is far greater in number than the 1%. Without us the 1% would be at a loss without people to serve. Fuck occupying a park in upstate New York – where, let’s face it, it’s freezing – and take your message, your people, your cares and that energy to the polls.
The Tea Party did and the 99% will never survive if we do not do the same.
Cross-posted from Poliogue blog, the site of our newest contributor Heather Barmore.