Occupying Together and Dispelling the Apathy Myth
Sitting in my holding cell after the Brooklyn Bridge arrests, I had ample time to think about what I would do when released. Like many protesters that day, I had not been fixing to get arrested, and was still wading into the Occupy Wall Street movement. We all entered that day with varying levels of commitment, but those arrests insured that 700 of us (the Brooklyn 700, as one of my holding cell-mates called us) left irreversibly involved in the eruption of a movement. That’s why all I could think about was returning to Liberty Plaza.
I was first made aware of Occupy Wall Street during the Troy Davis vigil a few weeks back. Many of the Occupy Wall Street protesters took a break from the occupation to join in the Davis march. After years of Iraq, Afghanistan, bailouts, the Patriot Act and Katrina, the Troy Davis execution was the straw that broke my complacency. For a moment, it seemed that public dissent would—had to—dictate the staying of a wrongful execution. Pressure from the populous must be powerful enough to overthrow a tyrannical wrongdoing. When the execution was carried through, we were shocked into the realization that if we do not do our best to change the system, we are complicit in its mistakes.Prior to Occupy Wall Street, the question often posed to my generation was, “Why are you so damn apathetic?” I have always disagreed with the use of this term. Splintered acts of civil society have planted seeds of change for years in the form of non-profits, activist councils, and community outreach programs. To see this civil society in action, you can protest the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, attend one of the nation-wide AIDS walks, participate in NOLA rebuilding efforts, stand with Planned Parenthood, or ask your peers how they expressed their democratic vigilance pre-Occupy Wall Street. You may be surprised by the dedication and span of activist endeavors you find.
The women in my holding cell are a perfect example: among us were activists for women’s rights, labor rights, Middle East conflict resolution, sexual and racial equality—even animal rights. These women, like so many others, were not apathetic up until Occupy Wall Street emerged for them to strap an empty wagon to. These women (pictured, right) had for years exhausted efforts to make a difference locally and globally. Choosing a cause has become almost a right of passage for my generation, but these targeted causes can become frustrated when fought in an isolated vacuum.
Occupy Wall Street is not a first plea; it’s just the opposite. It is a coalescence of many preexisting movements that have gone unacknowledged in the splintered excess of the information age. We are bombarded daily with online petitions, fundraisers, horrific news stories. But for every action we take, we are thwarted by questions and doubt about where our pleas go. We have even attempted protests before—war protests that seemed almost quaint in the era of Bush and terror as law. The eight years of the Bush administration were extremely disheartening to many in my generation. For those of us who were unable to vote in one or both of those elections, wading through the administration was systematically discouraging.
We are not apathetic. We are exhausted.
Though Occupy Wall Street has been criticized for its “buck shot” approach, the diversity of goals contributes to the ongoing dialogue. Here is an opportunity to recognize that we are all interconnected, as are the issues we are passionate about, and that many of our struggles have been hurt by the perpetuation of corporate greed as law. The question “What do YOU stand for” is different than “What is Occupy Wall Street founded on?” But to its credit, Occupy Wall Street has adapted to welcome its new participants. The march on City Hall last Wednesday played almost like a College Fair of activist causes, with cries ranging from economic critique to funding for AIDS research. While these may appear separate on the surface, all these issues connect back to the problematic distribution of resources in our country, and a systemic protection of inequality.
In the end, perhaps Occupy Wall Street is about the ongoing reshaping of our country’s dialogue. It is this amazing competency of communication that makes Occupy Wall Street so important and unique. Here we are presented with a real opportunity to hold discussions between Ron Paul supporters, Obama loyalists, and radical socialists. Maybe we have something in common after all: this is a country full of opinions and power struggles, and it is necessary to acknowledge and respect this constant back-and-forth. We all want to be heard—even if that means chatting to each other over donated pizza in Liberty Plaza. We are reaching out from the isolation of family dinner tables and beers with friends and blogospheres and tweets. That Occupy Wall Street has sparked face-to-face discussions with people we normally pass without words, even our arresting officers, is exactly the reaching across the aisle we’ve been working towards.