Saturday, October 22, 2011

Occupy Boston: Tents of Hope

Last night, in the parking lot of a local rec center, I listened to Jake's band play a few songs. They started a program of music, mostly local kids, jamming out. It is the very best of Newton, in my opinion. Neighbors gathering, centered almost always around kids.

Today, I went down to Occupy Boston. This is what I've been encouraging my students to do: Stand up, be counted, be heard. It is a small city inside the city. Logistics center, medical tent, tent for donated clothes, food tent, dishwashing tent... Camp Alex.

I liked his peace sign.

You could make a sign, or pick a sign.

I liked the one about Texas. Corporations are not people.

A few cops were around, standing on the outskirts. Not hundreds of cops, maybe only a dozen, looking relaxed, if not a little bored. No dogs, no rifles, no riot gear- and I'm grateful. Ask the folks in Denver- not every city is tolerant.

There were people speaking. Some listening. Some standing in line to speak. I saw a man in a suit and tie helping himself to a free sandwich. I started to judge him and then realized, that's not the point.

Everyone keeps asking, what do they want? What specific changes? What are the demands? It's not the point, either. This is about protest. It's about people with fear and despair, no longer being willing to sit behind closed doors. Together, they have a dream of creating change.

Maybe the change is within each person, once isolated, now with the power of the group. Maybe the most important piece is creating a new community and a new sense of public commitment to others. Maybe it is everyone leaning out their windows, ala Network, screaming, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!"

So the guy can afford his own sandwich. Everyone is getting fed. In this small community, this tiny strip of green between high rise hotels and upscale businesses, there is enough.

I've watched my kids struggle living in Newton, a community where excess is not unusual. They want things only to be told no as a matter of values, not money. Designer sneakers, clothes, phones, computers, cars... so much stuff. They are kids surrounded by peers- I understand the pressure on them. I also know, as I did last night, sitting on the picnic bench, listening to Jake's awesome bass line, it's not simple.

The occupy movement is not simple. People are coming together in a digital age. Real faces, real voices. It's a physical presence and cannot be ignored. Tarps, signs and a guy brushing his teeth by the side of the road. It is real.

And so is my community gathered around a makeshift stage, listening to music. There is fear and despair, and yet we gather to celebrate our kids. Nothing is guaranteed anymore. People lose jobs, savings, homes in every tier of the economic world. If Patrica Kluge, can lose everything, so can everyone.

This is about taking that fear and turning it into love and hope. It's about a sandwich for the guy in a suit. It's about people taking a microphone and being heard. It's about our environment, our government, our economy. It's about our world.

Mostly? It's about hope.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Update on Wall Street Protest

I read the news today... 70 million dollars given to date to the Obama campaign.

Protestors being sent packing to "clean the park" in NYC. Clean the park. Indeed.

Any effort to bring in portajohns, dumpsters, portable showers, have been blocked. Businesses have been highlighted as suffering from the protestors use of bathrooms, yet, the city refuses to allow the problem to be solved. Private money has offered to pay. No go says the city.

This is America. We allow protests. We encourage debate. We are a democracy.


Wish you had some of that 70 million back from Obama?

I fear tomorrow will end up in violence.

I fear more that the spark will be snuffed out. We need this. We need an awakening.

They cannot arrest 10,000. Shoulder to shoulder, they cannot.

Create hope, generate power.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: Generate Power

Occupy Wall Street. Speak for the 99% of Americans who are not filthy rich.

Hmm. I like that idea.

I've been watching this protest for a while. Their message is not a clear, one line, snappy PR piece. It is a combination of voices, all chiming in, all asking for social and economic justice.

I really like that idea. It, however, causes problems for those who want to understand the message. In America, we have been dulled by ad campaigns for everything from dish soap to electing a President. We want to know in the length of a twitter what is going on and why.

This is not a twitter length issue. It's about banks and taxation. It's about access and loopholes. It's about greed and indifference.

Zachary heard me listening to a newscast on the internet yesterday about the protests. Why are they protesting? he asked. I began to explain banks, and laws, and corruption. He had no idea what I was talking about. Then I said, it's about the 99% of this country who are suffering.

Cool, he said. He was engaged. We watched the video of the Brooklyn Bridge arrests. We talked about standing up and being counted.

I kept away from words like "financial crisis," "economic downturn," all the nifty little catch words used in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. To explain with numbers and statistics about unemployment in recent college graduates, the hopelessness that is pervasive in a generation of well-educated yet unemployed people wouldn't have impact on him.

Why? All those numbers, I realized, leave me in my head. It takes the pain of people who cannot afford rent, or medicine, or food, into a place of theory, and economic policy debate.

It leads me away from the anguish of parents who sent their kids to college knowing they would have a better life, only to have them living at home, working minimum wage jobs, unable to repay loans. The frustration of those kids, now adults, unable to move forward as they had been promised their whole lives. No longer is the world a place where everyone gets a trophy for trying.

There is a level of despair in this country that has been medicated, sanitized and turned into made for TV movies.

On the website,, is a very real list of the pain, anguish, and frustration.

And the fear. One holding up a sign saying she is one paycheck from homelessness. Another, college educated, school loans, and no job, at 39 years old. Another, house value crashed, no retirement, at 51 years old. Yet another, 56 years old, working for minimum wage, no health insurance, no retirement.

You know the stories. You know because your friend or sibling or parent or neighbor have these stories. Now it's time to do something.

If we don't fight, if we live in fear, if we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the system, nothing will change. The progressive community has all sat around pulling a Hamlet on the rock, To be or not to be, for long enough. People say protests are a thing of the past.

Tell that to the people in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen and Libya.

This isn't about writing a check and getting a sticker for your car. Stand up and be counted. A few hundred people can be ignored. A few thousand, minimized by the mainstream media.

Hundreds of thousands must be heard.

If you think we are living in standards far above those countries listed above, think again. The divide grows greater every day. The reality is not what you see on television or in the newspapers. Schools don't fight about Glee club spending; they struggle to hire qualified teachers. Doctors don't wander around popping vicodin and spending countless hours on a single diagnosis; they are required to hustle through patients on insurance dictated time frames, using insurance dictated tools.

And dear God, young, fashionable vampires don't exist. Our youth aren't out sucking blood in Armani, they are trying to find jobs that don't exist.

Numbers, statistics, theories are all important. Information is essential in creating change- keep the baby with the bathwater. Be aware, it can be used to create energy and it can be used to create a sense of hopelessness.

I know it is far easier and more comfortable for me to stay in my head. I don't have to feel the guilt of having, of being comfortable. The guilt, however, is my choice. People are protesting for those who have no choice.

It's not about me. It's about us. I am part of us. My friends, my family, my coworkers, my community... us.

One could say the "Arab Spring" happened because people finally gathered in enough numbers to create hope. That hope spread. Ultimately, in crowds of tens of thousands, there was much more than hope and ideals and perseverance. There was power. Not power given, but power generated by masses gathered, shoulder to shoulder.

Go join a protest. Create hope.

Generate power.