Occupy movement empowers citizenry

You are amidst a historical time period in American history.

This goes beyond the seemingly perpetual wars and debt crises, although it relates. The historical time period we must recognize pertains to the masses of people crowded on street corners and sleeping in public parks all across the world. ‘Occupy Wall Street’ and its 1,000+ offshoots from Seattle to Atlanta, from Lexington to Taiwan, can no longer be denied.

The smug dismissals and uninformed name callings are becoming the minority in regard to the opinion of OWS demonstrators.

According to a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday, 58 percent of New York State voters agree with the views of the Wall Street protesters. And despite the empty rhetoric spewing from the television, 60 percent of voters understand the protesters’ views ‘fairly well’ or ‘very well.’

These numbers of approval merely affirm the overall context that justifiably enrages an overwhelming majority of Americans.

Over 46 million live below the poverty line and 45,000 die due to lack of health care annually. Tens of millions have been and are threatened with foreclosure; most due to illegal and unjust mortgage lending practices. The country’s governing elites are inept and silent on anthropogenic climate change; despite the catastrophic effects this will have on the future of life on the planet.

Student debt has surpassed $1 trillion nationally. Many college graduates still pay tens of thousands in debt payments way into adulthood, often chained to low-wage jobs. Public unions and public schools are being swept aside by the financial elites. This is part of a trend toward private prisons, corporatized universities, and the ever-impending aurora of neo-feudalism. And within this national context, I am still confronted with headlines of ‘What Do OWS Protestors Want?’ This rhetoric is not only inane but also ignorant. The above observations are uncontroversial and depict the stark realities among us. Whether on the corner of Main and Esplanade in Lexington, or in New York City’s Liberty Plaza, this outrage is beyond justified.

Though this resentment is sometimes unorganized when expressed, this is to be expected. The United States has been largely sterile with regard to sustained public protests for the previous several decades. To compare OWS to a child, the baby was born on Sept. 17 in Liberty Plaza. At present, it seems many are criticizing this newborn movement for not already running after one month. In confronting the harsh realities of the world, it must learn to crawl and walk first.

While the Declaration of Independence may have been signed in 1776, the Constitution was not completed until 1787. It took 12 years for this new nation to learn to run, to learn to articulate a clear set of values and governance principles. This time around, besides not allowing (wage) slavery and counting women as people, it may take quite a while to restructure our society around  theories.

Today, the citizenry faces an omnipresent corporate-media entertainment complex and an ever-burgeoning and willingly expressive police state. This historical time period should be relished, not condemned. The hundreds of coherent coalitions, foundations, intellectuals and non-profit groups in the United States have already done plenty of work. It’s just that most of these groups and people have perpetually offered brilliant solutions to the nation’s various woes, but speak to the deafened and money-clogged ears of national and local governments.

The demonstrations sweeping the nation are unique in their structure. While most protests occur for the duration of an afternoon, they usually never last for more than 24 hours. Most protests also have clear hierarchical structures. There are lead organizers and common protesters. Those in the front talk and shepherd the crowd, those in the back listen and obey. OWS is profound and unique in its organization. While most call it a leaderless movement, I see it as a leader-full movement. Everyone has the opportunity to be a leader, and most will get that chance to facilitate an assembly or lead a march. Occupy Lexington’s assemblies happen daily at 6:30 p.m., and you’re welcome to join.

Further, the internationally used consensus-based decision-making process allows people’s voices to (finally) be heard. Stories are shared and opinions given. No doctoral degrees, certifications or licenses are necessary to speak your mind at an OWS event. All these qualities create an atmosphere of non-hierarchical and democratic decision-making processes. It is understandable then that the international assemblies in public squares truly scare the plutocratic elites. That’s because this movement is focused on empowering the citizenry as much as it is about protesting the destructive practices of multi-national corporations.

Not since the Civil Rights and Anti-War Movements in the mid-20th century has the populace had such an opportunity to engage in such large public displays of contempt for the status quo. Recent spurts of third-wave feminist, LGBTQ-rights or environmental activism have largely been focused around policy and funding decisions; prioritizing work within the state structures. Most methods of these modern protests have been shown to be predominantly ineffective and inefficient.

Am I supposed to ‘sign’ an online petition to get money out of politics and restructure the growing wealth inequalities? Do I call my ‘representative’ and ask he/she respond to public health concerns and not the hundreds of thousands in campaign donations from the oil and coal companies? These tactics are demonstrably laughable and naïve, for there is no way to vote against Goldman Sachs in the currently rigged and undemocratic voting process. Those taking to the streets understand this reality. And in taking to the streets, we try to grasp what is left of our First Amendment rights. And in doing so, demonstrate that the corporate coup hasn’t entirely succeeded yet.

Let us all hope, and participate, in making this reversal continue.