It’s September 17th, 2012. One year ago, the Occupy movement began its first action in Zuccotti Park. My initial response to the movement was that of skepticism. Having come of age during the anti-war protests of the early 2000’s, I felt certain the movement would devolve into nothing more than a couple of drum circles and masturbatorial street art exercises limited to the Berkeleys and Cambridges of the world. I used to say that while I agreed with the grievances expressed by the movement, I thought the tactics ineffective and doubted there would be any major policy changes as a result of such an unfocused mess.
I believed that the major social changes would not come until the next collapse, and assumed that our civilization was too complacent to sustain any real direct action.
One year later, I look back and find myself guilty of cynicism. In the past year, this social movement has stopped foreclosures, helped to provide legal assistance to the working class and brought the idea of democratic empowerment and participation back into our consciousness.
It’s so easy to write off the drum circles and dread-locked white chicks. The street artists and homeless. The young. We always look upon the young with suspicion. But what happens when the young are joined by the old? The poor with the middle class? We often forget that the pillars of the middle class were fought for and spearheaded by the undesirables of the previous generations. Anarchists, European immigrants, coal miners, etc.
These movements started small and disorganized. Poor Italian immigrants of the early 20th century formed much of the American radical left. They weren’t political when they got here, but they got organized. They experimented, they starved, they disobeyed, they educated.
Minimum wage, the 40 hour work week, child labor laws. All championed by the fringe, the unwashed, the same people who were accused of being lazy and entitled.
What I see today is the beginning of a new shift towards a redefining of democracy. As more and more Americans realize the slow and gradual coup d’etat that’s been occurring over the past decades, the current power structure will eventually fail. It won’t happen soon. But it will happen sooner than we think.
The more times the social contract of the working/middle class Americans is broken, the less we are inclined to obey.
The radicals, the poor, the “weirdos” are energized in a way we have not seen in decades. The next step is for the middle class and those who consider themselves part of the American mainstream to realize the only way they can have a stake in their future is to participate.
This is not a political movement. It is a social movement. We aren’t running Occupy candidates for Congress. Like the American middle, we no longer recognize their legitimacy. We want money out of politics and greater accountability from our government. The only way to achieve that goal is through engagement, direct action and disobedience.
It’s unlikely that we’ll have another Kent State. I still believe the social capital of American society is strong enough to avoid any major conflicts. So my question is: What are we so afraid of? People have fought against worse and won!
Occupy won’t go anywhere. I’m cautiously optimistic about the future, though I anticipate there will be failures. There will be bad press. There will be moments when we lose focus and perhaps even fight amongst ourselves. But we must remain focused and, most importantly, continue to listen to each other. Solidarity must exist for the working poor, the middle class and the wealthy who stand with our message.
Middle America, we want to get to know you better. Since the shrinking of the middle class, we’ve seen our numbers increase. But to those of you who are still doing okay: What are you waiting for? Don’t wait for the next crisis or collapse. The government will not bail you out. The 1% will not invest in your communities. And they will not create jobs, they will create a new serfdom.
Only we can create our own future. Not the government, not the financial institutions, only our own will and drive towards self-sufficiency.
We are the 99%.