Occupy Chicago

NLG green hat for legal observersLast night I acted as a Legal Observer with the National Lawyers Guild at the Stand Up Chicago/Occupy Chicago march on LaSalle Street. It would be inappropriate for me to talk about anything I saw in particular–although the march was without incident–but it was an intense experience. It was also exhilarating and confusing.

I left the march freezing (my own fault–the weather has turned from coolish to quite cold but I have not yet reverted to winter dressing habits) and wanting to take up the vigil. I was also astounded by how little credit the occupation is getting for having a genuine, valid complaint about the status quo in American politics, social structures and wealth distribution.

I have engaged in other protests in my life, mostly protests with a very specific definable demand. I participated in the very first Day without Art, laying down in front of the capitol building in Austin, Texas. I marched in the most recent abortion rights rally here in Chicago. In between, I have raised money, worn badges, carried signs on other occasions. Goal-directed protest seemed less primal and far less vital to the protestors than this occupation.

In other words, my experience (standing at the edge of the crowd, calmly observing the interactions of the police, protestors, and public) could not be more at odds with the media portrayal and public understanding of these protests as “standing for nothing” or the “whining of privileged white brats”. Not just because most of the people standing near me where in their 40’s, 50’s or 30’s. Not just because there were as many dark-skinned as light-skinned people. Not just because there were labor activists, peace activists, economic activists, civil rights activists.

Or rather “entirely because” the mass of people all came from different perspectives and different demands. The mass of people at the occupation has a representative of all but the most rarefied privileged class of person in the U.S. And every single one of us is disenfranchised, insecure, powerless and disconnected from the structures of control.

Other marches have been obvious groups of likeminded people, setting aside an afternoon to shout about a singular issue. The occupation has much more raw power than that. It has a more important meaning. More than anything else, when I walked alongside the march, I felt amazed by how little attention the magnitude of unrest has generated.

You may think the occupation is ridiculous, but I guarantee there are a dozen people in any given occupation who have exactly as much income, exactly as much debt, exactly as much (dis)respect for Congress as you do. I hope the occupation lasts long enough for everyone who is adversely affected by the wealth inequality to realize which side of the line they truly are on.

Otherwise, we’re right where HST noticed we were a million years ago:

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—the place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

“They” will shove us back and nothing will change.


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