Despite what the media would have you believe, the "Occupy" movement is not just a bunch of bratty anarchists making messes in parks. This movement is organized, it's strong and there *is* a united message. The message is...things aren't fair and we, the 99%, are tired of it.
A huge, organized group of people are tired of barely holding it together financially and paying dues while the top 1% (including corporations that evidently are "people") pays about half the taxes the rest of us do. Human beings are tired of getting kicked out of their houses after falling prey to predatory loans and being kicked out by banks that were granted a second chance and help from the government. One of the chants was "They got bailed out, we got sold out". Amen.
It's about the systematic segregation of people into races and classes that is designed to keep people in their categories and keep some down and some up. This is about middle class families like mine, who played by the rules of the 1% and went to fancy schools and supported ourselves just like they wanted and were doing a pretty damn good job of it until a terrible diagnosis and now can't make it on our own anymore. It's full of parents like ours who never imagined that they would be helping their master's educated adult children financially for an indefinite period of time, just so they wouldn't go bankrupt.
This sign pretty much sums it up for me.
I spent from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. in the middle of things in downtown Oakland at the General Strike on November 2nd. Laura and Simon came with me in the morning, then left for an appointment and then they came back with my Mom (who drove an hour just to be part of things!) and we stayed until the evening. We went to show our support for and participate in the deep system change we hope is happening in this country. It was beautiful.
When I came to work on Thursday, a coworker was horrified that we'd taken Simon, fearing for his safety. It broke my heart. It was clear that all she'd heard about the Occupy Oakland was the crap from the corporate media about the 1% of the 99% who were acting like jerks. I wish she'd been there to experience this...
All the barriers that keep us separated in our daily lives- class, race, age, sex, all of it came tumbling down for me for that day. I had long, heartfelt conversations with people I would have thought I had nothing in common with the day before. Rico, a working class African American man in his 50's on a bike reminisced about when people could actually support a family on the $2.50 minimum wage. Brian, a Latino Dad in his 30's who moved to a fancy neighborhood for better schools talked about wanting all kids to get the kind of education his kids are getting and not wanting to have to sacrifice being around people that look like him to get it. A Muslim professor at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley talked with me about the link between spirituality and taking care of the environment. An African American woman in her 50's who worked for AC Transit looked at my sign and said, "Amen" and gave me a hug.
The space outside City Hall became a living example of human beings in their natural state. People were connected, united, working together. In a tangible way, not just "let's sit around and hold hands and pray for world peace" (props to those folks too, by the way- they were there too). There were tents for free medical care, a library tent, a media tent, a chill out/crowd overwhelm tent, a children's tent with tons of donated toys, so much infrastructure that just popped up to meet the needs of the people. All for free. People and businesses donated TONS of food and refused any kind of monetary donation in return. There is a nightly General Assembly with a formal decision making process to get input and votes from *thousands* of people at the same time. If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn't have believed it was possible.
|Dia De Los Muertos altar|
|Guerilla gardening in the City planters|
|One of the formal stations at the camp|
|To anyone who thinks this is a bunch of anarchists, I present this.|
|People sharing their stories|
The thing is, it didn't feel like a bunch of hippies at a love-in (no disrespect to hippies). It felt like THE PEOPLE. There were old people, young people, black people, brown people, parents, people in suits, women in head scarves and women in tarty little outfits. Buddhists meditating in a circle on the ground. A Dia De Los Muertos altar. A "Tell Your story" booth. There were middle class people sitting next to down and out people on benches and they were TALKING to each other.
At one point right before the big march to the Port of Oakand, the crowd swelled to probably 10,000 people. I had a moment of panic thinking about what would happen if the police came at that moment, of the pandimonium that would ensue. I wondered if people would get trampled, if I would die. And then I realized that if things got crazy, I would stop to pick up the person on the ground in front of me and someone would come to get me. I had people and people had me.
It was pretty monumental.
I wasn't just there to represent me and my family. I was also there as a public health worker. The huge and growing gap between the rich and the poor in the U.S. is a public health issue. Countries that have the biggest disparity between the richest and the poorest also have the worst health outcomes overall. Here is where we fall with regard to economic disparities:
Now, the graph below shows the correlation between economic inequality (basically what the table above shows us- the gap between the rich and the poor) and health and social problems like drugs and violence to health problems like obesity and mental illness. The chart shows that the bigger the gap, the more social and health problems the ENTIRE society has. Having poor social and health outcomes at the levels we have them affects everyone.
When I first looked at this, I couldn't even find the U.S. It's that outlier, WAAAAYYY up in the top right corner. Where the really screwed countries hang out.
What this tells me, in the most concrete and basic terms, is that the system we have in place in the U.S. is not good for ANYONE and it's making us sick. Separate and apart from the personal struggle our little family is having, the way things are set up is bad for all of us.
On Wednesday, I got a glimpse of what I'd like to think we're leaving to our children. People who actually give a shit and are willing to work together to make things better.