Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Occupy Seattle

I finally went and saw the Occupy Wall Street protests in Seattle.

Olivia and I wandered around, looking at the variety of protesters there. It was big. And small. There were socialists and unions and hippies and homeless and students and working class and radicals and moderates there. There were stoners and straight-laced family and all sorts of people with their own agendas. And there were police. Just waiting for something to go wrong.

But the protests were small too. People drummed in circles, camped in tents, held signs, danced in neon tutus, smoked cigarettes, smoked pot, and wore masks. But there were few minorities and even fewer people who looked to vote down the middle.

We are the 99%. Well, no. Actually you are all part of the 99%. I didn't see the global demographic that was purported to be represented. Not that I think they are wrong or that the protests aren't big. I am saying that the point of improvement is to create more understanding about the movement. I am saying that when I come there everyday to protest for a little while, just to show my support, then there will be something. I am saying that when the people in business suits I see walking around town follow me, that will be the movement's core. Even if those people agree, they aren't putting their necks on the line.

When you can get the people who never put their necks on the line to submit to the possibility of getting guillotined the movement will have the sweeping force for change it needs. Most of the people I saw have already spent their lives as outsiders; they have congregated to show that they remain the outsiders. What happens when they start getting listened to? Do they leave and say the war is won; find another movement to be an outsider on? I hope not, but I can't be sure.

The people who see this through to the end, the ones that persevere to fight it out through the red tape and the dull legislative process are the ones in the suits. They are the ones who have the perseverance to show up everyday and work in a cubicle, they have the heroism to keep working despite pay-cuts and corporate shirking on benefits. They are the ones who work for Bank of America despite how much they hate their job. And they can get through the boring process of give and take that is our American democracy.

Some protesters maintain that capitalism is broken; perhaps socialism is better. Should we switch to communism? Should we start the armed revolution? No! Don't be stupid. And don't give up; relegating yourself to something that won't happen. That the OWS protests are happening is a testament to a potent form of government; one where change can happen without violence or radical action. Certainly radical thought is needed, but destroying our economic system is just pinning your underlying values to an untenable position. No one is going to impeach the president or hold recall elections for all 100 senators. That's ridiculous (and if it does happen, I stand thoroughly corrected).

What could and should happen—if we have any faith in democratic ideals—is a series of legislative actions that modify the system in place to guarantee personal economic growth for a wide a range of people, a strengthened safety net for citizens who need it, reasonable yet strict regulations on industry to prevent exploitation, and an informed citizenry focused on policy and its ramifications rather than the spectacle of individual elections.

Which tends to be a problem. The modern American voter tends to focus on just that—voting. Ratings at news stations are predicated on the horse-race of campaigns, the personality of individual candidates, and the winner versus loser mentality. But the real world is one where even the losers continue to shape the world. Remember John McCain? He didn't just disappear. He has been working on many legislative deals since his 'defeat' in the 2008 elections. He is one of the reasons the Senate gets routinely deadlocked (he tends to be fairly willing to compromise as well though so point for him there). Basically, politicians continue to work even after the dust has settled and the ballot cast. A good political career can span 50+ years—that's half a century of influence. It doesn't stop mattering on the first Wednesday after the first Tuesday in November.

It's a little known fact that the Civil Rights Movement didn't happen just because a bunch of black people were walking through Alabama getting attacked by police; although they are very important and played their own role in knocking down the walls of segregation. Ending segregation and guaranteeing the rights of all Americans took a long time. It also took a lot of political maneuvering. JFK had the vision; asking for the Civil Rights Act. But he didn't have the political chops to make it happen. That was Johnson. LBJ is the little known hero of the Civil Rights Movement. Shortly after JFK's assassination he kicked the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into a position of priority, calling on the houses of congress to pass it in memory of the recently deceased president. He was even able to whip Dixiecrats into voting for the initiatives. He called in favors and put out threats. In the end, he was able to garner enough votes to override Strom Thurmond's 100+ hour filibuster. He took the political system and made it his little bitch. And that's what we need to do.

So, we occupy Wall Street. But we don't quit. And we stay informed. And we fight within the rules of our system—a flexible and accessible one. We keep going despite setbacks, and we stay peaceful. Revolution came to India without violence—well, open warfare. It was a feat that was scoffed at by everyone before it happened. It takes self-control and determination to make change that benefits everyone. It is nearly inconceivable that the OWS protesters can succeed in the face of the corporate monolith.

Except it's not. It's not inconceivable and it's not a monolith. Back door deals, public pressure, and the willingness to keep going will make this possible. It won't be drum circles and Communist literature. It won't be angry white punk rockers smoking pot—although they will help. It will be everyone. It will be democracy in action. It will be people getting informed.

Get informed. Stay involved. Demand logical non-partisan political reform. Make the entire 99% show up. For a minute, for a day, for a century.