Sunday, October 09, 2011

For Occupy movements, "the point is to speak out, be heard and shed frustration in public"

Occupy Denver: Man in a hat reads his words and we amplify them

Occupy Wall Street is but three weeks old and Occupy sites are sprouting across America. I was at Occupy Denver yesterday to observe and to understand. I was fairly successful with the former and only partially successful with the latter. As I was casting about the web this morning, I came across some columns by Kevin Pinner on death + taxes out of Minneapolis. Minneapolis is a great alternative media city, a progressive city with a strongly Democratic mayor who supports Occupy Minneapolis. As Pinner points out, this outspoken stance is something that Occupy Wall Street lacks, as Mayor Bloomberg is obviously a charter member of the 1% (twelfth richest person in America) and a staunch apologist for Wall Street.

Still, this movement originated on the streets of Wall Street and not on Hennepin Avenue in the Twin Cities or Colfax Avenue in the Mile High City or Center Street in the Oil City of Casper, Wyo. When people gather in those places, they are taking their cue from OWS but it actually originates from a deeper place. Here’s how Pinner describes the many street protests in Greece:
Their causes are diverse, as are the people, which works for them, and can work for Occupy movements, too. The point is to speak out, be heard, and shed frustration in public, where the powers that be can digest it, where police can misbehave: that is part of the non-violent strategy’s power.
I felt that power yesterday in Denver. The point is to speak out, be heard and shed frustration in public. I wasn’t prepared for this. When Chris and I arrived on the State Capitol grounds, people were voicing concerns that covered a thousand topics: Unemployment, income inequality, expensive wars, bloated student loans, Wall Street, and so on. Each phrase that was uttered was repeated by the multitudes. At first that seemed redundant, even silly, until I realized that the speaker was counting on us to serve as his/her megaphone. One young woman spoke about her mom who worked two jobs to feed her and her sister. We all repeated her story loudly and suddenly her words were floating in the humid air above the state’s capitol building. Her story might drop into the consciousness of legislators as they enter the building to do business this coming week. We now knew her story and we might be carrying her story back to our towns and even writing about it on our blogs as I’m doing right now.

I am a veteran of many protests in rallies dating back to Vietnam. I am jaundiced and jaded. When I go to a protest, and because I am a Democrat, I expect to be harangued by an endless array of union reps, anti-war activists, aging Civil Rights marchers, lean-and-mean environmentalists, AIDs activists and so on. These are causes I believe in. These are causes that most Democrats believe in. In fact, the last time I was at a rally on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol, it was the Sunday before the start of the Democratic National Convention in August 2008. Speakers that day included Ron Kovic, Cindy Sheehan and Eldridge Cleaver’s widow. After the third speaker, my brain was fried. I went over to see what the counter-protestors were doing, hoping for some comic relief. I also visited with the young people crafting the puppets for that morning’s march. Later, the permitted march of about 1,000 souls got underway with a Denver Police escort.

The most important protest of the DNC convention happened on Wednesday. Rage Against the Machine played for a large crowd. The band then teamed up with  members of Iraq Veterans Against the War to lead an impromptu march to the convention center. It was a non-permitted march. The L.A. Chief of Police had warned the Denver Chief of Police to expect violence if Rage Against showed up. But the Denver Police took a different approach. They provided an escort for the non-permitted march by 3,000 fired-up young people. If I remember correctly, there were a few pot arrests but nothing serious. I was inside the convention hall, blogging from my seat. I should have been outside covering the march.

But in these “Occupy” days, it isn’t the march that is important. The people speak. Their words are amplified by the rest of us. In this way, we hope to bring about change that we all can believe in.

Read a sampler of Kevin Pinner’s “Occupy” columns here and here.

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