Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Occupy Boston

His red curly hair sticks out from under his woolen cap. His teeth are yellowed, the spaces between them filled with plaque. Sitting on a stool outside a tent in Dewy Square, he talks about facilitating meetings. He wants to get inside of a corporate board room. He wants to be visible. This is what Occupy Boston is about, making the invisible visible, and as I walk the paths of Occupy Boston one Saturday in October, I am struck by two things. First, that this is a community, and second, that the folks camping here are mostly homeless.

Some say there is no organization. All I see is organization, at the entrance a sign welcoming me, another sign setting the rules: No alcohol, No drugs. There is a medical tent, a library tent, a food tent, a clothing tent, a tent where a volunteer uses bicycle parts to generate electricity to charge iPads and iPods. Volunteers haul bags of garbage to designated dumpsters. They pick up trash. Outside the food tent, they wash dishes. Mornings, they hold general assemblies. They schedule events. This is what Jeffersonian democracy looks like, people gathering to protest a government that does not respond, to our will. And they are not alone. Daily, others join them, teachers, engineers, students, my three friends and I who have traveled from York, Maine.

What do they want? What do I want? What do we want? Nothing less than to reform and reconstitute American democracy. This is a movement about choices. Do we want housing, schools, books and libraries or do we want drones, wars and death? Do we want to give away our jobs, give up Medicare and Medicaid or do we want to tax the rich and to tax corporations?

So how do we organize to have our voices heard? I stand in front of a stage at one end of Dewey Square, listening to an activist answer that question. He holds the mike close to his lips, speaks passionately about a sustained campaign across the country, where through our community organizations, we ask our local government to pass a resolution to cut pentagon spending and put that money into human services, including transportation and education. Fifty-nine percent of our Federal budget goes to the military, six percent to health and human services, another six percent to transportation, four percent to education. Those values are skewed.

Later that day, a crowd gathers to listen to Noam Chomsky, summarize what has happened, slowly and over time as fiscal policy such taxation, rules of corporate governance and deregulation made way for the banks to grow bigger and richer so that now corporate profits are reaching record levels. Unemployment, real unemployment is about the level of the Great Depression. More people are sliding down into poverty as the rich grow richer. Our schools are collapsing; our infrastructure is collapsing. Elections are bought, the outcome pretty much dependent on funding. This is not new, Chomsky says, but what is new is the extraordinary amount of money poured into campaigns. Also new is the buying of committee chairs in Congress. Chairs need to pay the Committees. And where does that money come from? The same people who fund the campaigns. These policies have set in motion a vicious cycle, that gets worse and worse. We need to break that cycle. This is what Occupy Boston, Occupy Wall Street, all of the occupying movements are about. Of course, the rich and the powerful, that one percent will try to dismiss the movement, ridicule the movement, scorn the movement. But we are the ninety-nine percent, and I plan to make my voice heard. How about you?

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