Okay, I’m kidding. Sort of. My point is that this is going to be a challenging year of great drama on this planet, no matter what, and we all need to be present and take responsibility.
What form should that take? It’s up to you. (It always is.)
I tend to feel a sense of fatigue, frustration and even dread at the beginning of a new year. This time, I’m feeling much more positive and energized, despite the draining effects of the GOP primaries, the NDAA, and other political developments and lack of developments. Maybe it’s because I haven’t been deathly ill, as I’ve been through so many Christmas breaks, but I think it’s more likely due to inspiration from the populist uprisings here and around the world.
I’m not a very useful activist. I wear out quickly, I don’t shout all that effectively, and I’m uncomfortable carrying a sign or being conspicuous. Mostly I just write letters to the editor and posts here. But I did go along on the New Year’s Revolution march in Albuquerque last Friday.
It was a beautiful day, and there were about 150 of us from a range of organizations including Occupy and (un)Occupy*, some socialist groups, and Southwest Organizing Project. Turnout was small considering the number invited, but there were also a good many people who hadn’t participated in this sort of thing before. Everything went pretty smoothly. When those at the front of the pack started out in the street on Central, though, the cops were there instantly. I mean within seconds. From an SUV, they blared out orders to get back on the sidewalk. Frankly, this seems reasonable to me– marchers can be just as loud on the sidewalk, and then nobody gets hit and we don’t antagonize the population. I do understand the point of being as unignorable as possible, but still. A little while later, the megaphone in the police car yelled, “THANK YOU FOR STAYING ON THE SIDEWALK!” “You’re welcome!” some of us shouted back.
Speeches were made at various stops along the way. One stop was the post office, an institution that can’t be saved in its present form, I fear. Some guards eyed us warily from the front of the building, along with someone from Homeland Security, while some city police officers hung around behind us. The Homeland Security guy took our picture– because, you know, we were SO threatening. Some of us returned the favor:
You can see just what a horrible, lawless rabble we were here:
I’m told by someone closer to the front lines (and who made it through the whole long march, which I did not) that the post office was the place where the protesters got the most pushback from authority figures, even though the demonstration was in support of the postal service workers and had a positive tone, unlike some of the speeches at other stops where marchers were against something.
We made the TV news for a moment:
I was dismayed by the clueless comments some readers of the KOB story made, and allowed myself to reply. The folks who say “Get a job!” are so far out of it it that I hardly know how to speak usefully to them. What I found positively painful, though, was the guy who said– and I’ve heard this kind of thing before– that it was pathetic for all those people to spend their time walking down a street when they could have been doing something useful for society. I don’t know, honestly, that marching accomplishes a lot in itself, but being visible is crucial, for reasons I outlined in my last couple of posts on the movement. Being visible may bring hope to a lot of people who have been mired in apathy or frustration.
There has been talk lately about what percentage of a population constitutes a tipping point. Apparently it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 percent. Then ideas and movements take on a life of their own. To get anything to really happen, to save ourselves in this time of environmental mayhem and political and economic stagnation, we need to tip over that point soon. Swami Beyondananda says that we need “100% of the 99%, and 99% of the 1%.” That may be a little beyond reach, but it’s worth striving to communicate with as many of the folks as we can. “We” meaning anyone who is trying to improve our collective situation.
That may include talking with people who appear to have a completely opposite agenda. A few weeks ago, Leslie Linthicum wrote in her Albuquerque Journal column about some comparisons and contrasts between Occupy and the Tea Party. Her point was one I consider painfully obvious but that hasn’t been mentioned much in the mainstream media– that Occupiers have often been roughed up by the same police that left Tea Party demonstrations alone. She got quite a few responses, a number of which were printed in the next Sunday’s Journal. (I wrote to her myself, but only to her individually.) Some of the letters showed such ignorance of the facts that I am going to discuss them below, in the hope of dispelling some myths. I’m assuming that it’s all right to quote the letter writers, since they had already submitted their work for public consumption.
Al Groff wrote: “Tea partiers respect and support police officers and leave event sites cleaner than they were before their events.” Occupy groups have organized waste management brigades and have also assiduously cleaned their sites. They have not been remotely “crapping in the street.” As for Mr. Groff’s contention that “the occupy movement is well funded,” good grief, last I heard, the Albuquerque groups weren’t even taking donations. He says that “it will only get more violent”– but it isn’t violent to begin with. Nonviolence is a core value of the movement, and the Albuquerque group has been steadfastly nonviolent.
Robert L. Brien wrote: “She states that the police have beaten the snot out of the occupy people. When and where?!” Mr. Brien, haven’t you seen the videos from New York City?
Milton E. Schroeder wrote: “Don’t break the law and you won’t be ‘walloped,’ as Linthicum states.” Now, how does that apply to the many journalists, including those from major media outlets like the New York Times, who have been wrestled to the ground, hit, and had their press credentials torn from their necks, for simply and peacefully trying to do their jobs? Here in Albuquerque the relations between cops and protesters have been largely very good, with both sides being cordial to each other. I have seen cops here act positively friendly and kind. To the best of my knowledge, this reflects not only the fact that those individual cops are decent human beings, but that some community groups had already worked to establish a working relationship with the police overall. We have benefitted from good planning and good will. This has simply not been true everywhere. Some individual cops, like one notable case in New York, have been out there on the street despite a history of abusing citizens. Some have been poorly trained at dealing with situations like this. Some police chiefs have given inappropriate orders. One way or the other, it’s not acceptable to beat up on peaceful citizens exercising their right to free speech. Period.
[On the day of the last march, I noticed a headline that read “115 N.M. Officers on Possible Sanctions List.” Sigh. Many of these officers were taken to task for issues that had nothing to do with mistreatment of citizens, though.]
Al V. Puglisi wrote that “liberals are far more wealthy than conservatives.” Boy, I wish he’d included a source for that contention, because it sure isn’t true among people I know. He then stated: “OWS has ben facilitated not by homemade signs but by iPods, iPhones, and laptops used by spoiled youths in designer jeans.” “Spoiled youths?” OK, first, the “youth” aspect. Looking at Occupy and allied activities here, I’ve seen a good many grey heads. I myself am a middle-aged sole proprietor of a business, and I am very much in support of this movement. At one meeting of a group with similar goals, I was one of only about four people under 60. Are we “spoiled,” then, if not necessarily young? Well, my daughter, who I think is pretty typical, has been commuting over an hour each way to work at a food-service job (she could not find one in town) while going to UNM full-time until her graduation a couple of weeks ago. Many college-agers who are involved are working at jobs with low pay, no benefits, no potential, and pretty much no chance of ever reaching the middle-class security their parents and grandparents once enjoyed. And then there are the student loans to pay back. Yet, they are aware of being privileged and better off than so many Americans. There is a saying, “Check your privilege.” That’s in at least two senses, “check it at the door” and “check yourself” for unwarranted assumptions. Some Occupiers in Albuquerque are working on useful projects like getting food directly to people who need it. They’re so “spoiled” that they spend a lot of their time thinking about others who are less fortunate.
Please feel free to correct any factual errors you see here. I expect I’ll be hearing from you.
*For the sake of simplicity, speaking of those here in Albuquerque, I’m writing “Occupy” instead of “Occupy and (un)Occupy.” I understand why (un)Occupy uses that name, but I think the idea of occupying our own country and our own public spaces does make sense, and can still be used by the indigenous people who were occupied to begin with. Perhaps (re)Occupy?
Here’s a story on a previous populist movement and how it almost worked, with lessons for us today: