“There is tremendous suffering”

The Occupy Movement’s strength is the power of the unambiguous demand to end the corruption of politics by money.

 

There may be few parallels in U.S. history to the occupy movement that has spread to hundreds of cities and towns in the last two months, but the causes are a familiar story: a gilded elite who monopolize power and wealth against a public who feel they have no say in the system and no control over their lives.

This divide is encapsulated by the “There is tremendous suffering” refrain I have heard at occupations from New York to New Orleans and Washington, D.C. toDetroit.

In Chicago, Luke Welker speaks of abandoning his dreams to be a doctor, two courses shy of a bachelor’s degree, because “I lost my sister to drugs and had to take care of my 8-year-old nephew.”

Karen Joseph of Youngstown, Ohio, says her family spends one-third of their income on health insurance, and she has been fruitlessly searching for part-time work for years.

John Paylor, a Marine Corps veteran, says, “I’m homeless. I sleep in the streets,” as he eyes survey Pittsburgh’s skyscrapers that he used to work in as a security guard.

Candice Milligan, a transwoman with a tenuous housing situation in Toledo, Ohio, tells of being unemployed for two years because of the economy and “I started living as myself.”

Their suffering is not unique at a time when the real unemployment rate is greater than 16 percent, but all of them say they have found hope in a movement that has rewritten the national debate and which could upend what many say is a barbaric system.

It is a movement with the unambiguous demand to end the corruption of politics by corporate money – though the demand does not seem apparent to those more interested in reporting on broken windows than broken lives.

The movement itself is another demand. In cities that have successfully occupied a public space, participants say the general assembly allows them to experience a democracy in which they have an equal say and their voice matters. Occupiers light up when they talk about the movement creating community, a model for a new society and planting the seeds for a humane economy.

Now, the movement is also amorphous, even contradictory, but that is a strength. It includes anti-capitalists and Republicans, homeless inner-city youth and retired professors, Iraq War veterans and Vietnam-era protesters, union members and small-business owners.

Seasoned activists have given the movement legs by helping navigate issues of aggressive police violence and internal discord over the ridiculous, drumming, and the sublime, nonviolence (which is a far-from-completed debate).

But the movement’s power is to attract the non-political. This creates disruptive moments, such as Marine Corps vet Shamar Thomas shaming of 30 cops in Times Square or the general strike in Oakland. Many disruptions happen on smaller, even an individual scale. In Mobile, Alabama, I met with about 20 occupiers, mainly white youth with no previous political experience. No one knew each other before Occupy Mobile began. They had just lost their public space, and said the police used excessive force in arresting 18 people. Regardless, a number said the movement “is one of the best things that has ever happened to me.”

This is why so many politicians, police and pundits alternate between paralysis and paroxysm when reacting to Occupy Wall Street. And it is why if the movement started with specific demands, support would have been thin, and the demands would have been rejected, ignored and co-opted.

By defying political and ideological conventions, the Occupy movement has notched victories. Many Midwest occupations backed the successful campaign to repeal Ohio’s law that would have severely limited collective bargaining for public employees. And the fact that banks backtracked on imposing new fees was clearly a response to the Occupy movement and the related “move your money” campaign.

Yet difficulties are evident, whether arrests and evictions from Honolulu, Portland and Denver to Chicago, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia, cold weather, fatigue among occupiers and supporters, dwindling media interest and divisive political issues that have splintered past mass movements.

Nonetheless, going into the 2012 election, the movement has the potential to disrupt the one-party system, the party of capital. This movement began because both parties are in the pocket of Wall Street. No one disputes this anymore, and as the 1 percent up their bets on the presidential horse race the appeal of Occupy Wall Street will only grow.

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2 Comments

Filed under Occupy Movement

2 responses to ““There is tremendous suffering”

  1. Pingback: Life after occupation (Salon) | Occupy USA Today

  2. Pingback: City University » Occupy Wall Street’s Goals and Public Education

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