Why to get behind the Occupiers

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Mike Scanlon

Mike Scanlon

Editor, Rio Grande Digital

When the Occupy Wall Street movement first began to stir this summer, its message seemed obscure. Initially — to the less attentive observer, anyway — there were but a few keywords, “corruption” and “greed” among them.

As the days and weeks drew on, images of the movement began to develop. Some saw it in a hopeful light with optimism that it could bring genuine change to our country — not the “Change” of empty campaign promises but real, palpable change. For others, the images harkened back to the anti-war protesters of the 1960s — a hairy, smelly nest of ungrateful hippies ready to pounce with disdain on returning war veterans.

Along with the latter perception there came the inevitable vitriol that has become uniquely ours in the USA, fueled by post-9/11 fear, political division and the advent of strictly political cable television channels that masquerade as news programming.

For me, scorn is a trigger that makes me want to stand beside its target until I can sort fact from fiction and determine for myself whether I want to support something or not. I have visited two Occupy camps and seen images of and read articles about dozens of others. I kept an open mind as I learned more and more about the movement.

The Occupy movement is an affront to the richest 1 percent of the US population. The city of Las Cruces has about 100,000 people, so the 1 percent equals 1,000 Las Crucens. El Paso County has 800,000 people, so there are about 8,000 1 percenters in El Paso. So yes, as the Occupy movement grows bigger and louder and is more of a threat to the 1 percent’s way of life, there is bound to be some pushback. And there is.

Some people — not just a few — will reject the Occupiers outright and come down on the side of corporate greed and government corruption even if it is contrary to their own self-interests.

I generally support the idea of it. Here are the Top 10 reasons I do.

  • Occupy is transparent. When a group of people decides to oppose something — and oppose it to the point of wanting to obliterate it — they could gather in a smoke-filled room or darkened basement somewhere to plot a subversive plan of attack. A Coup d’etat. But the Occupy movement from its beginning has been out in the open in public parks and streets, its members willing to share their beliefs and make their arguments to anyone who cares to ask or listen. It holds its meetings and decides its policy in full view of anyone who wants to watch.
  • Occupy is patriotic. Occupiers see a problem in their country, and they want to fix it — not just for their own personal benefit, but for the benefit of most — of 99 percent, to be exact. Whether they are right or wrong about that, they employ as their primary tactic their Constitutionally granted and protected rights to free speech and freedom of assembly. These tools are the very cornerstones of the USA’s claim to the nickname, “The Land of the Free.” Occupy is democracy in action.
  • Occupy is inclusive. I’ve not heard of anyone being turned away from an Occupy camp anywhere unless they were trying to cause trouble or disrupt the movement. Anecdotes abound about Occupiers readily sharing food and shelter with the homeless and the vagabonds who stumble upon them. Their hospitality is part of the reason the movement has grown to such an impressive mass. When Josue Rodriguez showed up at El Paso’s San Jacinto Plaza in his wheelchair, the Occupiers did everything to accommodate him and keep him comfortable. Josue later wrote about that on Facebook.
  • Occupy is educational. One feature of most Occupy camps is a bulletin board covered with fliers and slogan-bearing signs along with fact sheets explaining complex and obscure financial trading concepts, such as derivatives and hedge funds. No doubt many people have developed at least a rudimentary understanding of these things by visiting Occupy camps.
  • Occupiers are determined. When police departments in New York, Oakland, Denver and elsewhere attack Occupy demonstrators, the attacks often are caught on video and posted immediately on the Internet. The attacks usually appear unprovoked. They are, after all, posted by Occupy supporters. In general, the Occupiers returned the following day as an even bigger more determined and more boisterous crowd. What has become evident is that the Occupy movement is not going to go away any time soon.
  • Occupiers are not lazy. Lazy people stay home on the couch and watch TV. Occupiers are sleeping outdoors in tents and sleeping bags, maintaining and improving their camps, educating each other on various aspects of corporate greed and government corruption, making signs, holding organizational policy meetings. All this equals work equivalent to or harder than a job. Most probably would prefer to be at work earning a paycheck — if only they could find a job.
  • Occupiers are creative. To say that the Occupy movement is unconventional risks an understatment. It is a revolution without a particular leader, without a particular spokesman. Yet it has order and purpose. It perseveres and continues to grow. Take a stroll through an Occupy camp and look at the signs and posters. Observe how the camp is set up. See what the Occupiers are working on. They have their own way of communicating and their own way of reaching a consensus among themselves. This is a very creative movement.
  • Occupiers are forgiving. Teargas, billy clubs, handcuffs and threats. The Occupiers take the brunt of whatever intimidation and abuse the police feel like dishing out. Yet they continue to fight for economic justice for all — including the police. Blue-collar workers are among the hardest hit by these economic hard times, and, in many cities, the police are the most visible part of the blue-collar community.
  • Occupy is peaceful. “Don’t fight back,” is the admonition spoken over and over again at Occupy camps. I have heard this in person and countless times on video. “If you encounter an act of aggression, join arms and sit down. If there are children or people who need assistance, form a circle around them. But do not give in. Do not fight back.”
  • Occupy is popular. Opinion polls always are problematic. Different polling organizations — even the non-partisan ones — often reach very different conclusions about the state of public opinion. I have seen a range of estimates of the Occupy movement’s popularity — from around 20 percent public approval rating to almost 60 percent. So if you take the low end of that range, the movement is more than twice as popular as the US Congress, which has an approval rating of only 9 percent. Fewer than one person in 10 approves of Congress. I would say there are more people than that actively supporting or involved in the Occupy movement.

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