|My sister and I protesting in Washington DC in the early 70s.|
We stopped going to the peace rallies as much after there were some violent actions on part of demonstrators and police. In 1971 or '72 there was a big rally on the mall in Washington D.C. while we were visiting my grandparents. My aunt and uncle went, and may father took them into town. I really wanted to go, but due to the size and recent problems at rallies, they just didn't want to take a little boy, so my sister and I made signs and walked up and down the block. My sign was mounted on a gun-stock.
Anyway, after the 70s, Americans became very complacent. Things would happen, and some minor rallies would take place. Usually just a few 'freaks.' Everyone else stayed in the suburbs, watched TV and went about their business.
While people were watching TV and going about their business, corporations and the government took the lack of interest as permission to slowly erode peoples' rights. During the Bush administration, a war was waged based on false pretenses. I went to a little anti-war rally in Nederland, Colorado. There were about 15 demonstrators.
That same administration was also starting to spy on our own citizens, and was torturing people in illegal prison camps in Cuba. A few people balked, but very few people seemed to really care.
The right wing has taken to busting unions, tearing apart school districts, diverting federal funding to religious organizations, illegally funding campaigns with foreign money, buying politicians, influencing the supreme court to say that corporations are people and money is speech, lowering taxes on the richest Americans and corporations, creating massive loopholes so that rich people really don't have to pay taxes at all, and so forth.
In the meantime, people were waking up in other parts of the world. People cast off their oppressive governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Lybia and are working on that is other countries around the world.
People started to wake up a little bit in the United States when Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin set about stripping unions of their rights in secret, illegal meetings of Republican lawmakers. A prank caller, pretending to be David Koch, got him to show his hand. An occupation began of the capitol rotunda for many months, until recall elections changed the balance of power in that state.
Finally, the rest of the United States is starting to take notice. Two weeks ago, a leaderless group of citizens started an occupation of Wall Street. Several hundred, then several thousand people showed up to bring notice to the manipulation of the US citizenry by Wall Street bankers and others. Many of these banks had been bailed out by TARP money - billions of dollars given to banks to keep them afloat. The banks gladly accepted the money, and then refused to free up loans for small businesses and citizens. Within a year, these bankers were back to giving themselves millions of dollars in bonuses, and just doing business as they always had, taking care of themselves and their wealthy friends, and continuing to suck on the the teet of middle-class of America.
As Andy Borowitz put it, it is like a man who has been rescued from a burning building then turning around and kicking the fireman in the nuts.
The mainstream media refused to cover this protest, as their corporate owners saw this as a minor threat, and assumed that if they didn't show it on TV, people would just lose interest and go home - the way Americans typically do. I learned about the protest through my Canadian cousin, who posted a link on facebook pointing out to us Americans what was happening in our own country that we had not heard about!
Two weeks later, Occupy Wall Street has become an international movement.
I went down yesterday to join Occupy Denver. I had a number of interesting experiences, so I'll just tell you that story:
Feeling an urgency to participate in what I saw as the most important movement since the Vietnam war, I went to my local Occupy gathering place. Occupy Denver took place near the Capitol building.
I walked several miles to get there while my wife was volunteering for The Race for the Cure. When I got there, I saw a dozen or so people milling about. No one was on the capitol steps, where my email said the protest was happening.
A little disappointed, I sat down on a bench nearby and thought about my options. When I looked up, I saw my friend Tony walking over to me. He was coming to tell me that I looked like a friend of his, and I was just about to tell him he looked like a friend of mine.
He told me that the protesters were out marching around the city. The dozen or so people milling around were the actual 'occupiers,' and they had been there for 9 days, and intend to be there until at least January first.
He and I walked down and met them. Tony had been there all morning playing his drum. I'm still not sure why he was walking around by the out-of-the-way bench I was sitting on. Just something meant to happen, I guess.
I talked to several of the 'occupiers' - and realize these were extremely well educated, well spoken and well intentioned people. They were not just a bunch of radicals. They spoke from the heart about the issues they believed in.
The message of the day had become "We are the other 99%," meaning that the millionaires and billionaires being so well taken care of by our government constitute 1% of the population. We are the remaining 99% - the vast majority of all Americans.
The marchers came back after a short time and rallied on the capitol. The headcount, according to the 'occupiers' was nearly 600. The week before, a similar rally had brought out 50.
Then the protestors took off again to march around Denver.
The people occupying the street were extremely cautious about being courteous and following the rules, so that the police had no reason to move them along. They were constantly picking up litter, and making sure the sidewalk remained clear for people to pass.
After a couple hours, I needed to go back to meet my wife.
On the way back, I passed the protestors, who now seemed to have a police escort.
There was a story behind the police escort that I learned about later:
There is a pedestrian mall in Denver called The 16th Street Mall. It is a high-rent high-profile area for a lot of upscale stores, hotels and restaurants. A video on youtube showed the protestors approaching the mall, which was being blocked by the police. The protestors came upon them, and the initial cries went out "get your cameras out" "cameras out!" and hundreds of people started taking pictures of the police. After that, the chant changed to "The police are the 99%!" "The police are the 99%!" After a minute or so, one of the police officers gave the order to allow the protestors onto the mall.
Like I say, when I saw them, the police were leading the protest, blocking traffic and clearing the way.
Meanwhile, the occupation movement is gaining momentum.
In New York, some 500 people were arrested as they tried to cross the Brooklyn Bridge. News agency accounts say they were blocking traffic and not following directions. A number of non-news agency interviews with the protestors paint a story of being lead onto the bridge, as if the police were going to escort them across. Once in the middle of the bridge, they found themselves in an orange net and being arrested. This is on the heels of the macing and arrest incidents on Wall Street.
However, with this sort of movement, any violence directed toward the protestors benefits the protests. People today are blogging about the fact that many current and former members of the military are saying they are going to participate, along with union member and others also joining the movement. The military people say they will offer support as well as protection to the protestors.
This reminds me of the last big protest I was in, which was a small revolution in Moscow, USSR:
There had been a coup, and the government was attempting to establish marshall law. Tanks were in the streets, and soon surrounded the "Russian White House" where Boris Yeltsin was holed up, pointing their guns at the large tower. At some point, there was a dramatic shift. Yeltsin jumped up on one of the tanks, and the tanks turned their guns to face away from the Russian White House building. In the course of a few minutes, the army had moved from being aggressive toward this symbol of freedom, to protecting it from other military that may be meaning aggression. This also happened in Egypt. Is it happening here?
The military are the 99%, after all.
So, is this our Arab Spring? Is this the beginning of the shift to put the people once again in charge of the country instead of the wealthy, banks and corporations?
This is the biggest American movement of my adult life, and I am proud to be a part of it.
There are Occupy movements currently in almost every large, American city. You can be part of it. Even if it is an hour or so. Or maybe you want to be one of the occupiers, and live with a group of like-minded people.
And what if you are not like minded? What if you are one of the Tea Partiers who has followed the likes of Sarah Palin, or Michele Bachman. Maybe for you, it is worth talking to some of these protestors and see if they are really as bad and misguided as the right make them out to be. They are, after all, asking for less influence of money, fiscal responsibility and putting control of the government back into the hands of the citizens. If you are part of the other 99%, maybe they are representing your point-of-view more than you think. Perhaps you have been brainwashed by your TV. It is worth considering. And if you disagree with what we are standing for, we will support your right to believe whatever you wish. That is power by the people.