Once Occupy Wall Street began to catch fire in other cities beyond New York, right-wing outrage was predictably harsh and immediate. To listen to the rhetoric, one might think that these protests consisted exclusively of lazy freeloaders. Much like a grumpy uncle, the demonstrators were told to get a job and stop whining. Having gone down to one of the Occupy DC sites to see for myself, I have a very different perspective to add. Occupy Wall Street and its outgrowths in other cities have actually provided the unemployed with needed structure.
Being out of work often makes a person feel useless. Losing a job usually means abrupt isolation and end of regular routine, which makes a bad situation even worse. Instead of heaping scorn, it might be better to seek to compassionately understand the mentality of the recently jobless. I agree that daily structure is usually a good thing, but in its absence, even without an income, working towards a greater cause can fill the void. A friend of mine has only been able to find sporadic employment, this because her undergraduate degree and work experience makes it challenging to find a job. The issue here is really one of bad luck, not of irresponsibility. Nevertheless, she has found herself feeling worthwhile and needed while a part of the movement. She is far from the only one.
In a time where we are all supposed to be too lazy to break a sweat, I find the work that others have done on the ground very inspiring. In an all-volunteer gathering where no one is a professional, it is true that a few weak links in the organizational structure exist. For example, in the slightly smaller, younger McPherson Square protest I have visited, outreach to the public has primarily relied upon a Twitter account and frequent Tweets. A better strategy would increase visibility to the DC area, the news media, and beyond. The hope is always that with enough participation from the public, these weaknesses might be shored up or neutralized. What I took away from my time amongst the demonstrators is that true Democracy is messy and a bit off-center sometimes.
If any wish of mine could be granted, it is that conservatives might choose to understand, rather than demonize. As we may recall, the Tea Party protests were frequently hateful and vituperative. Signs held aloft were rooted in anger and resentment. Their behavior could sometimes be boorish and childish. I have never seen anything of the sort in my own observations. The gatherings are convivial, but it would be unrealistic to expect that among those with strong opinions, passionate disagreements have sometimes taken place. Yet, it still seems that there is enough desire for forward momentum that even the strongest conflicts have not sidetracked the protests. One of the most prominent of these concerns the interplay and relationship between both Occupy DC groups. One is located in Freedom Plaza. I have chosen to write here about the second, which is found in McPherson Square. Each has a similar message to convey, but there has been some minor head-butting among activists as to what that might be.
To expand beyond my initial premise, Occupy DC is not merely the domain of those without a job. Several participants are gainfully employed, which is why numbers swell at the end of the workday. To stigmatize broadly, as Republicans have done, is to misunderstand the nuances present. Some protesters live in the area, some do not. Some camp out and sleep in the Square at night, some do not. Some take an active role in planning strategy, marches, and additional actions. Others have sought to find a niche with the intentions of then providing their services. In the meantime, the gathering has chosen to self-govern itself by creating specific committees, each intending to perform needed tasks.
Many local businesses and individuals have been sympathetic. There seems to have been no shortage of food and drinking water, much of which has been provided for free. Many hope that these protests will continue to take on steam and grow. For now, any hopes and dreams of this nature fall under the heading of idle speculation. With winter only a few weeks away, one wonders whether the resolve of these hardy souls will be tested. The protests still exist in an embryonic state. A month is an exceptionally short period of time, especially as concerns long-range organizing.
Until then, I, like many others, have held my breath and crossed my fingers. Even the organizers themselves are largely unsure of where this is going. After questioning one of them, his answer was quite direct. “You know as much as I do,“ he said.