On this blog when the words “Occupy” or “Occupation” are mentioned I am usually referring to the ongoing Israeli Occupation of Palestine. In 2011 a different kind of Occupation sprung up on the streets of NYC and spread to many other cities. As someone who has been involved in protests I know that what is seen from the distance on the news is not always the reality on the ground. So I asked someone else for their first-hand account of the Occupy Wall Street Movement.
Enter my friend Tony III … below you will find a guest post written by him reflecting on some of his initial involvement in the Occupy Movement.
I need to apologize to him first and foremost as this post is looooong overdue for posting. He sent it to me at my request last fall and it is only now being published. I have asked him to send me another post giving his current thoughts on the Occupy Wall Street Movement and I promise to publish that 2nd article in a more timely manner.
Just for a little context … I met Tony in high school. He was a curly haired city-kid with a denim jacket, heavy metal demeanor, and a satanic bible in his back pocket. I was a country boy who went to church twice a week, went to Christian music festivals and wore whatever was on sale at K-Mart. We were unlikely friends but united by our creative spirits and a love for role playing games. After high school we lost touch but were reconnected via Facebook awhile back. It was great to reconnect … I found out that Tony had become a father, a small business owner, and a practicing Buddhist. His love for music had persisted and I wasn’t surprised to find out that he was still in a band.
One thing that has impressed me about Tony since reconnecting with him is the diversity of his Friends list on Facebook. He truly is friends with people from every walk of life. This often leads to lively Facebook discussions between complete strangers that have only Tony as their common denominator. This has always been beneficial for me personally and I value Tony’s input on the matters of the day. When he started getting involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement I asked him to write a guest post. Without further ado, here it is …
MIC CHECK (MIC CHECK)
MIC CHECK (MIC CHECK)
My name is Tony (MY NAME IS TONY)
I’m a 38 year old father (I’M A 38 YEAR OLD FATHER)
and small business owner (AND SMALL BUSINESS OWNER)
I pay my taxes and I vote (I PAY MY TAXES AND I VOTE)
And I’m here because I want change (AND I”M HERE BECAUSE I WANT CHANGE)……..
And so the People’s Mic continues to shout the voice of the people. Anyone can use the People’s Mic in these local democratic groups that have been born out of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Just shout “Mic Check” near any Occupy encampment or march, and anyone in ear shot will echo back. You now have the floor to voice your story; your thoughts and suggestions; your message to others around you.
On my first visit to Zucotti Park, during the second week of October 2011, I witnessed The People’s Mic for the first time. It was about 8pm and an hour into the nightly General Assembly (GA) meeting. A person stood in the middle of a massive group of hundreds of people near the park steps. Using a mouthful of syllables at a time, the message was relayed like a wave over the crowd. This crowd was big enough to have to repeat the initial phrases 3 times for the whole group to hear.
The GA was voting on if the “media group” could use $2000 (of the amassed money the group had received from donations) for the printing of flyers and other material. “Are there any blocks?” the People’s Mic echoed.
At that point, I learned, anyone present could “block” the vote, if truly opposed. Arguments may be presented and a new vote taken. There were no blocks.
A second check for no blocks was made
“I don’t see any blocks. Do we have consensus?”
Almost all hands went in the air, fingers wiggling – The signal for agreement. Some, wrist bent down (the No vote) but only a few in the crowd.
“It appears we have consensus,” The announcement echoed through the crowd.
We had consensus. The media group would be allotted what they requested. As simple as that.
Observing Real Democracy In Action
There were probably a few other small bits of “rules” that went along with this communication and voting process that may have eluded me at that time but when I realized what I was witnessing I was a little taken aback.
This was democracy working.
Everyone had a voice and a vote. Anyone could propose almost anything. And it was rare when I saw this People’s Mic abused. The People’s Mic always seems to “break” when people start to speak hateful or violent things as this is very much a peaceful movement and the people, WE, control the People’s Mic.
Watching five hundred or more people get things done in a civil, cooperative way was a breath of fresh air. What if more people actually took an hour a day to involve themselves in the process of making things happen in their community? This was a group of people who didn’t know each other more than three weeks before, and they seemed to have a functioning micro-government. They had a sanitation crew, a working kitchen, a sacred space for prayer and meditation, a medical tent with real doctors, a library and so much more already in place.
If this organization was left to our government they would have likely still been debating and re-voting on what type of bottled water to have ordered during the breaks. This was direct action without the red tape and it appeared to be working. There were no specific leaders., but there were plenty of people who were willing to step up and take jobs to help the new community. However, no single person that looked over or gave final say. Final say came from the General Assembly votes and anyone present had a vote.
Are We All Created Equal?
I’ve had a cynical outlook on our government and many aspects of American society for a long time. I had watched what it did to the Veterans of the Vietnam War, through seeing what my father and many of his friends went through in the system. I witnessed the economy get worse and worse as I got older. I watched us, as a society, put profits over lives in many ways, over and over…..and it all sickened me.
This breath of fresh air was the first time, in a very long time, that I felt a bit of real hope for society and this country of ours. I was brought up being told I could be anything I wanted if I tried hard enough. I was told that this was truly a free land of opportunity where “all men were created equal”. If anyone really believes that last statement to be honest and true at this point, I would love to sit and discuss that with you, because I can see, blatantly, that those with more money have more power.
And that is NOT in line with “all men are created equal”.
I have no issues with people having money or extra things if they work for it. But let’s level the playing field and work towards that “created equal” goal and slightly change the verbiage to “all PEOPLE created equal”.
Getting More Involved in the Occupy Movement
I found a new feeling of hope, that enough people felt like I did, that the social and political issues of this country needed to be brought to light, discussed and remedied and that we might actually be able to change some things for the better. Health care, education and private/ corporate funding of politicians were MY main issues. I have a few smaller ones too. And many have other issues that should be addressed. Some agreeable and some not.
But overall, we all wanted the same basic thing: social and political reform and accountability of those that put this country in its current disastrous shape.
That would mean politicians, banks, lenders, corporations and WE the people. After all, at some point we started caring less that we no longer have a say in our system and started caring more about either which color our iPod is or how we were going to survive the next month in such a declining economy. We left the governing to “those in charge” and they sold us out. It was time to reclaim our voice in OUR nation.
Over the next few weeks I attended what I could. Sometimes just visiting the occupation site to help out in small ways. Pick up some garbage, donate winter clothes, lend people my phone and help the People’s Mic be broadcast. I started discussing the movement everywhere I went. Educating people on what REALLY goes on and not what the main stream media depicted as “truth”. They after all are run by the corporations that fund the politicians and have something to lose if the message gets out to too many people. So I became the media. With a sense of empowerment and a better understanding of our laws and our Constitution I was ready to discuss issues with people from all walks of life and I loved it.
Since that fateful day of discovering the movement, I’ve attended several rallies, marches, occupations and General Assemblies. I’ve stood face to face with riot police, maintaining my stance on non-violent protest, even as I’ve watched some police officers and local politicians blatantly break laws to try to subdue both individuals and the overall voice of the movement. I’ve made friends from Occupations across the country. I’ve been invited to other cities for marches and rallies.
Overcoming Cynicism and Working Together for Change
Because of my participation in the Occupy Movement I’ve watched my cynicism in having hope for this country lessen.
I want this land to be all I was told it was when I was a kid. I want our Constitutional rights re-established. But most of all I want my kids to have a future and a fighting chance and if I can assist in bettering this country I’ll try my best to do so. I’ll risk arrest, taunts and violent “peace keepers.” I will face off with corporate America, and the politicians & police forces they keep in their back pockets.
I will do this so that maybe, just maybe, my kids won’t have to worry about doing the same thing down the road. They’ll have that fair chance I was never given. They’ll live in a country where they have a voice that means something and a government of the People that helps them better themselves and their social environment at the same time.
This really is just the beginning of a movement that will evolve and transform into bigger and greater things. I’m very proud and happy to be a part of it and welcome the rest of the 99% of the world to step up to those that socially or economically oppress you. Together it can create change and a better world for all.