“Life isn’t fair” has been a standard parental shutdown since the dawn of time. Injustice seems to be part of the human experience; and if you live enough years on this planet, you build up a certain tolerance for it. You learn certain other sayings, like “You gotta pick your battles,” and “You can’t win ‘em all,” and “You can’t fight City Hall,” and one of my favorites, “Don’t get into a pissin’ contest with a skunk.” But the level of injustice in our country has reached critical mass, and Occupy Wall Street has entered its fourth week with no sign of weakening.
The media had been either dismissive or positively snarky about this phenomenon. Even CNN, which I, in my naiveté, had thought was a serious news organization. There was a little 3-minute segment where the female broadcaster kept showing photos of the more fringy participants; and she kept asking “Seriously?” It was clear she was not reporting, but presenting an extremely distorted picture of the event. I know it was distorted, because I was there.
I am not a critical thinker. I get the basic gist of things from NPR and a cursory look at the highlights of New York Times, and then I move on with my day. But I am an increasingly conscious citizen of the United States of America. And I’m one of the millions of voters who felt bewildered, even betrayed by the Obama bailout. I am a middle-aged mother of three with independent income and a deep desire for basic justice. So I took the train to New York City, and visited Liberty Square to see for myself.
When I first got there (at around 4:30pm), there was almost a party atmosphere. A New Orleans-like band was playing, and given that we’re in New York City, the musicianship was alive and kicking. The people there were all ages, all races, clean cut men in suits, young mothers with children on their hips, raggedy, aging hippies, tidy, middle aged women, and many students of all stripes. It was beautiful. (You can see some of my pictures here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150331523711777.338393.625896776&type=1 )
At the beginning of the march, before we actually set out, we had to listen to countless spokespeople from the groups that were supporting us (various unions and other organizations). They were all saying the same things, one after the other, and it just started feeling ridiculous. We were told the march would begin at 4:30, but the speeches had been relentless and now it was almost 5:30. At a certain point some of us started chanting over the speakers, “Out of the park and into the street! Out of the park and into the street!” and I had the momentary realization that I’m in an enormous crowd of thousands of people and this could get out of hand.
But it didn’t. At least not while I was there. They finally let us go, and we began to see the other group of thousands: the supporters along the march route, with signs of their own. It was an experience I won’t soon forget.
Many of the striking images I remember involve hand-made signs. Signs made on the backs of pizza boxes, drawn with whatever writing instruments were at hand. They weren’t the slick, catchy signs produced by a well-oiled, politically placed machine. This was also not a group of people being molded by an inspiring leader. This was and is a leaderless group of people who are fed up, and they’re just getting up on their own two feet and doing what they know to do about it. And I was proud to be among them last Wednesday.
Noted author and activist Eve Ensler spent the night with them, and wrote an incredible piece about it. Do yourself a huge favor and read it: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eve-ensler/ambiguous-upsparkles-from_b_1003908.html?ir=New%20York