Explaining the Occupy Movement

I was recently interviewed by a college student in California about my involvement with Occupy Denver, and my thoughts on the Occupy movement as a whole.  I thought I would share that interview here.

What is the Occupation Movement? I’d like to say that the Occupation Movement is a progressive movement for social justice, but I think that’s probably simplifying it too much and really ignores the vast diversity that exists at these Occupations. Plenty of people there would rather wake up in bed with Ted Bundy than describe themselves as progressive, and I don’t know if everyone is all too interested in social justice. Lots of us are, but not all of us. Honestly, I think the Occupation Movement is different things to different people. I think we’re pretty much all united by a disgust with how the whole banking crisis was handled, which is why it began on Wall Street, and how some people in this country simply aren’t held accountable for their actions and aren’t required to pull their own weight. It’s become painfully obvious to many of us that while each and every one of us is punished for breaking the law and forced to pull our own weight in taxes, a small minority of Americans are not subject to the same rules.
I think that this unifying ideal transfers into a movement for social justice for a lot of us. This gross inequality is just another symptom of a disease which oppresses so many of us. But for others it translates to something else. I have to guess at what it is, because I’m not coming from their point of view, but I think it’s something like seeing it as the gross incompetence of our government and it’s ability to reign anyone in, which raises the question of what the point of government is at all. You see as many people at these rallies waving Ron Paul signs as any official progressive motto (you do not see much in the way of other signs for actual politicians), and I have a good photo of one man holding a sign saying he’s a life long, proud Republican, but he’s down there in support of the Occupation because what the Occupation stands for applies to him too. I’d be happy to send you photos I’ve taken at Occupy Denver, if you’re interested.
I think primarily what the Occupy movement is is a forum for a dialog unlike we’ve had in many decades. We don’t all agree with each other (I think there’s an awful lot of conspiracy theorists down there who probably should take a science class sometime), we’re all talking to each other for the first time. We’re making the attempt to take back the dialog. For all the talk about reaching across the aisle you hear in this country, I think the diversity of the Occupation movement is coming closer to it than anything we’ve seen so far. The key to this is the fact that we’re finally out of our homes and looking face to face with the person we’re discussing this issues with. For decades now we’ve been content to sit in front of our TVs and video games and we don’t really have any community gatherings or public forums anymore. We’re very isolated. When the internet came along I think people thought it was this great unifier, but in actuality it’s done the opposite. When you’re talking to someone in digital land, you lose that sense of respect and kindness that you have in a face to face discussion. It’s easy for me to tell someone in a forum “Well if you believe that, you’re a big fat idiot”, but in real life, face to face, we all tend to be softer, more empathetic, more respectful, even when we don’t agree. It forces our minds open and inspires us to form new ideas. When we’re isolated from each other and safe from the consequences of our closemindedness and rudeness, we have no reason to listen to other ideas and be innovative.
The Occupations give us a forum for that listening and learning and speaking and innovating. That’s the most amazing thing that it is, I think.

What are their primary goals? This is the million dollar question isn’t it? Ha ha. Well, the short answer is that there is no primary goal. Or maybe it’s that OWS has a list of demands on it’s website, and you can find a lot on OccupyTogether.org. There’s actually a document out there that looks an awful lot like a declaration of independence that has a good list of goals or demands. There’s a lot out there and it baffles me how so many people say that OWS has no organized message. We have a lot of messages. What are people looking for, precisely? The reason why this movement has been able to get so big is because it doesn’t limit itself to one specific message, but rather a number of issues that are all interconnected and represent a large number of people. Maybe because I’m a women’s studies minor and I spend a lot of class time talking about the intersectionality of various social justice issues, I have a hard time seeing how people can say something like “So is this movement about Wall Street or about The American Indian Movement?” (which are two major forces here at Occupy Denver), and the answer is it’s about both, and it’s about one thing. The two things are intertwined and cannot be separated. It would take literally a thousand pages to describe all the connections between the two issues, which also connect sexism, racism, poverty, homophobia, environmental issues, and just about every social justice issue you can think of. It’s all part of the same machine. Social justice tends to be the short term for it, but I think Martin Luther King summed it up pretty nicely when he said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
I will never understand why so many people think that we need to have just one specific message or goal. Having one specific message or goal alienates a lot of people and divides and weakens us. If I get out there and say that as a feminist I only care about feminist issues, that’s going to alienate a lot of people from my movement and I’m going to be out there marching with much less people than if I get out there and say “This movement is about justice for all people”, you know. The more I learn, the more I realize that I cannot continue to prioritize what movements need to be addressed first and then go after the others once the first ones are solved. We can never solve our environmental issues, for example, unless we also work to address food production model issues. We can’t address food production model issues without taking a long hard look at food access issues. You can’t address food access issues without taking a look at poverty. You can’t take a look at poverty without looking at education. You can’t look at education without looking at privatization and corporate power. You can’t look at corporate power without looking at campaign financing. And along the way, you’ve probably discovered a bunch about nutrition, racism, farming issues, petroleum production, terrorism, science and development, and much, much more. It’s all interconnected. We can’t address one thing without addressing the others. That would be the definition of treating the symptoms rather than the disease.
So I guess the primary goal is to first figure out what disease is causing all these symptoms that we are complaining about, and then figure out what to do about it.

Do they have any secondary goals? Given that our primary goal is so all encompassing, I’m not sure it’s possible to have a secondary goal, but I suppose that a more specific goal that could fall under what I described above could be that we demand to be seen and heard. Right now the supreme court has ruled that money equals free speech, which means that the more money you have to give to politicians, the more free speech you have and the more control you have over the political dialog. Everyone at the Occupations pretty much agree that this is not right. That the voice of a rich person is not worth more than anyone else’s voice, and that their money should not be able to exert more power over the government and how it functions than mine. Another issue that stands in the way of being seen and heard is our society’s desire to hide any evidence that things aren’t hunky dorey. For example, Occupy Denver has been particularly persecuted by law enforcement, and most people seem to think that part of the reason we’re getting it worse than other Occupations is because we’ve made the Occupation a welcome zone for the homeless. Our kitchen fed a great deal of homeless people and a lot of homeless people decided to make the Occupation their temporary home. But homeless people are generally considered unpleasant to look at, and seeing them reminds people that there is actually a great deal of poverty in this country. Before the Occupation they tended to stay out of the public eye, sleeping in tucked away places and only making widely public appearances to beg on street corners. I have heard people say that Occupy Denver was gross and scary. I would have described it as a reality check. There are really poor people in this country. People who don’t even have a shack to sleep in. The powers that be would like to keep this and other unpleasantries hidden from the public who doesn’t want to be reminded that not everyone has the same comforts they have. I can say that at least Occupy Denver has tried to make invisible unpleasantries visible again, and give those who have been invisible a voice. It’s been a hard road thus far. I had planned to spend the day down at the Occupation today after a crazy weekend that resulted in 20 arrests and one injury, but I was home with the stomach flu.

What sort of activities does Occupation partake in (i.e. protesting, picketing, marching, etc)? Please be as specific as possible. Occupy Denver maintained a constant Occupation outside our capitol building until this weekend, now we’re kind of in a grey zone. We also have weekly marches on Saturdays at noon. Members of Occupy Denver have joined in on other actions, for example a few weeks ago President Obama was at my school campus and many members of Occupy Denver, myself included, joined the AIM in protesting the Keystone Pipeline. Also, the Colorado Progressive Alliance had a week long event called The Mile High Showdown where a number of social justice actions took place, and Occupy Denver participated in that. I’m hoping to arrange a Gratefulness Day meal (instead of a Thanksgiving feast, out of respect for Native American participants), but I’m not sure how that’s going to work out now that the Occupation Zone has been dismantled. Some of us are also talking about some guerilla gardening movements, and “occupying” foreclosed houses, if not literally then metaphorically. I’d really like to carpet the front yard of the foreclosed house across the street from mine with wild flower seeds, for example.
What are the events like (if you have attended)? It really depends on the event. The Saturday marches bring out a ton of people. The biggest one I went to had thousands, I read estimates ranging from 2 to 5 thousand people. We blocked the streets, not to be jerks, but just because we couldn’t all fit on the sidewalks. We marched from the capitol to the heart of downtown where all the banks are and the Federal Reserve. We had police escorts, it was all very peaceful but powerful, and hard to ignore, I imagine. Seems like it was ignored though, at least in the press, but I don’t think the press is a major speaker for this anymore. I don’t think we rely on the press to get the word out. The media can write us off as a bunch of hippies or an unorganized movement, but we’re everywhere, and the people see us and can’t ignore us.
Would you like to elaborate on any particular events you attended? What happened? Did you feel it was successful? Did the Occupation Movement see it as successful? I guess I described one event in the last question. Whether or not it’s successful is kind of hard to say. Define success. Ha ha. I see this movement as a long term event, not a battle that will be won in a single action. I mean, as Martin Luther King Jr. was sitting in a Birmingham jail, he might not have looked back at that particular protest as successful, but as a piece in the puzzle it definitely was a successful event. It’s all sands through the hourglass, you know? I feel like the movement as a whole is making a serious impact on society. I don’t think it can be defined in terms of success or failure.

Has anything negative happened at any events that you either attended or heard about? There have been a number of arrests, I always seem to not be there when they happen. I think it’s unfortunate that there have been some people at events yelling things like Fuck the Police and spitting on police officers and whatnot. They are far outnumbered by the people saying that the police are part of the 99% too and behaving peacefully, but of course those jerky people get the most press. It’s worth noting that there is a group of self described anarchists who do not affiliate themselves with Occupy Denver, and Occupy Denver does not affiliate with them, but they come to all the protests. They come allegedly because they believe in the message but disagree with Occupy Denver’s commitment to non violence. They believe in their hearts that violence is the only way to change the system. I think this stems from ignorance, some people just don’t understand the value of and power behind non violence, and that’s why it’s a good thing that Occupy Denver offered a free school, but I don’t think enough value was placed on that. Some people believe that the anarchists were shipped in by someone, or that they are paid to be there and make the movement look bad, and I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility (after all, the Coors family pays people to protest outside of abortion clinics, so why not to mess up Occupations?), but I tend to think that people of that frame of mind are on the look out for an environment in which they can express themselves, and the Occupations are just a good fit for that. If any rich person is paying people to come and be anarchist at Occupations, they are probably not being very wise with their money. Why pay to make something happen that will probably happen naturally with time anyway? But then, paid anarchists are less likely to attend a free school and be convinced that non violence might actually work better, so maybe I’m wrong.

Feel free to add anything you feel I have missed that you would like to comment on. Please don’t wait till I choose to ask more questions, as you may have something interesting to say and forget later.
You know, I hear a lot of people saying that this movement is about jealousy over what others have, or about wanting something for nothing, but truth be told, I don’t want to be rich. And I don’t have a problem if other people are rich. All I want is the ability to make a living that provides me with my basic human needs, safe shelter, healthy food, health care, access to education, and the feeling that I’m contributing to society in some productive manner. I want this without having to sacrifice my relationships with friends and loved ones, my personal health, my connection to community, my basic freedoms, my personal growth, and the health and safety of my surroundings. I don’t feel like it’s too much to ask, and I don’t think this expectation out of life has to be inherently communist or will make it impossible for those who want to work extra hard to be rich. I’ll be completely honest, I don’t want to work extra hard. I have priorities that are way above money. But I do feel that what I’m asking for is a fair return for the work I am not only willing to do, but want to do. After all, part of what it is that I said that I wanted was a way to make a living and be productive to society. And really, all of us want that. No one wants to feel that they have no productive purpose in society. That’s what Betty Freidan’s Problem That Has No Name was. It wasn’t that women aren’t cut out to be domestic and therefore must work outside the home, but rather that all people need to be valued by society and have some productive way to contribute to that society which earns that value. Hopefully that pursuit nurtures your creativity, and when I say creativity, I don’t just mean art and poetry, but rather the knowledge that you’ve actually created something, the true meaning of production. My husband gets creative satisfaction out of his electrician work, for example.
I think in the end that this is what we’re all yearning for. I think that if people who were critical of this movement understood that, they’d be a lot more sympathetic, because in the end, isn’t that what they want to? I don’t think anyone is really looking for a hand out, we just want the opportunity to live fulfilling lives, that includes work, relationships, community, a safe and healthy environment in which to live, freedom, and an ability to connect to something larger than ourselves, and larger than consumerism.

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About Rockingthehomestead

Badass feminist environmentalist.
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