Why I Occupy, and Why I Do Not.

November 28th, 2011

“We. Are. The Nine-Dee-Nine Percent!”

Protestors chant down the streets of the Financial District, walking in lock step and shadow with Boston’s rich history of revolution.

People of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds are holding signs and holding hands. Anarchists, Libertarians, Socialists, Tea Partiers, and Progressives march together. The lines are blurred and then erased. They are marching together. They are marching together.

They are marching together?

Are they marching together?

This was my first march with Occupy Boston in early October. At first, I was a bit uncomfortable marching because I did not know what the movement was really about. Why should I march for the sake of marching? Because I am here? Because I made the effort to get to Dewey Square? Should I should just go with the flow? I did. Too much thinking and not enough acting. My decision to march helped set the tone for my relationship with the movement—fluctuating between hopeful and doubtful, into it and over it. While marching, I faded into the group. I observed the march with a strange apathy while in the midst of hundreds of passionate protestors.

My friend made a sign for me. I didn’t hold it up at first. It was safely by my side. But as the march continued, the spirit sort of overtook me. My self-consciousness melted away as I began to understand the meaning of “solidarity.” It is the ideal that no matter the circumstances, no matter what happens, everyone is in it together. The definition is easy, but to actually witness it and be “in solidarity” is not. For what sake, I am still not entirely sure, but I felt like I was a part of something bigger and more important than myself. I felt like I was making a difference. Cue inspirational music!

This seems like an awfully dramatic way to frame this experience, but the movement is pretty incredible when you consider its size and scope. Putting opinions of the Occupy Movement aside, the energy generated from the gatherers of Dewey Square is contagious, and I admit, almost intoxicating at first. To see all these people working together for the sake of working together is somehow reaffirming. Reaffirming of what exactly? I do not really know. No, I do not know at all. The best way I can describe my feelings towards the Occupy Movement are hopeful.

I was even hopeful at the end of the march when I decided to leave. A few students started to chant “Burn the FED,” and that is where I drew the line. The movement is not perfect, and solidarity is difficult to maintain. Inevitably, there will be problems that arise, but the movement is still in infancy. This becomes more and more evident as time passes by. Many criticisms revolving around the Occupy Movement claim that because there is no universal, concrete goal (or communist agenda?!), then the occupations are not valid or warranted. Many people I have spoken to at Dewey Square will tell you that this does not detract from the movement—it is what gives it shape. Other people say that because the Occupy movement is so extreme, they cannot fully support it.

Look to the poignant John Oliver clip from the Daily show. About a month ago, Oliver went out into Zuccotti Park and the surrounding areas of Occupy Wall Street to find the oddest and strangest of occupiers for interviewing. It is funny to see the elaborately decorated man with the confederate flag, and the man with the Viking hat (commonly used in stereotypical depictions of the “fat lady” in operas, with the two blonde braids and iron helmet with two tusks protruding from the sides like some sort of hardcore antennae).

It is funny to see people that are a little bit off and the people that are quite a bit off, but the segment accurately depicts certain aspects, be they positive or negative, of the Occupy Movement. After the humorous part of John Oliver’s segment, he interviewed seemingly “normal,” middle aged men and women. They claim to support the movement and claim their place in the 99% with pride, but they do not necessarily want to participate in the occupations. It seems too extreme at times, almost counterproductive. Why not call your representatives? Why not create a petition? Why not start a campaign? Because it does not seem to be working. Because people are tired of waiting.

My parents (who comfortably fall into this age group) follow and support Occupy Boston with a keen eye, but have never stepped foot in Dewey Square. To even begin to understand the occupations, you must see it for yourself. “We are the 99%. You are the 99%” they scream. “We are the 99%” we scream. Going to Dewey square can change your perspective of the entire Occupy movement. I was impressed by the General Assemblies and the marches, by the food systems and health systems, free libraries and teach-ins, speakers and drum-circles; it seemed like a fun little commune dream of my eighth grade hippie phase.

But it turned out to be more than just that. The system set in place at Dewey Square is not perfect, but it gets the job done. It sends a message of more than dissatisfaction. In my nineteen years of life, which I understand is quite a long time to live, I have never seen anything like this before. My friends and I optimistically say that this is the first real social revolution in America since the Civil Rights movement, and we are excited to be a part of it. But we in no way understand what we are part of.

From where I stand now, I support the health of the movement. Police brutality changes everything, from the movement’s character, to range of supporters, to how the camps operate. It is inexcusable. Everyone understands that police officers are just people doing their jobs, but they are crossing dangerous boundaries with their discipline methods. This is America, right? People have the right to peaceful protest. This sounds a bit naive and perhaps idealistic, but Americans pride themselves on their free speech. Peaceful protest should not warrant violent counter-protest. The brutality uncovers the problems our system that protestors are attempting to fix.

It is difficult to write about my views on the Occupy movement because they change from day to day, from newspaper article to conversation. This does not mean that I am fickle or flaky—it only means that because the Occupy movement has not formed an identity of its own, I cannot commit to a formal opinion.

This frustrates many people I speak to, and frustrates myself.

In one of my favorite essays entitled Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “speak what you think today in hard words and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today.” In other words, it is counter-productive to “stick to your guns” when you no longer believe in them. I was afraid to commit to an opinion because I knew that it would not hold true for me day after day. It is important to realize, with the Occupy Movement as an example, that it is okay to change your mind if you take ownership of it. You must take responsibility.

This is not a cop-out. This is not a cop-out because I can be more honest with a changing opinion for a changing time. I am not worried about making a grand statement on the movement, especially in this blog post. Take what you will from this, though. This is a changing, breathing, growing movement! It is important not to write it off because it says something about our society, whether we like it or not.

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