“Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You don’t need to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermo-dynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
–Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Get a job, parasite!”
– Overheard at the OccupyLA march on Veteran’s Day
I think there must be some misunderstanding. I’ve been regularly visiting and engaging with the Occupiers at Los Angeles City Hall since the first week of the Occupation, and I haven’t met the awful people that I hear the media talking about. It’s a pretty diverse crowd, and it’s not accurate to lump them all into a single category. Are there Hippies and Burners? No doubt. Kids looking to party and get laid? Well, duh. Hoodlums? Surely, but not exclusively. Most of the people I’ve spoken with at the encampment are earnestly committed and passionate. Still, a clear majority of the 99% have yet to become actively involved.
I know that many of you are asking, “Who are the 99%? And what the hell do they want?” To answer your first question: if you’re not a millionaire, you are the 99%. To answer your second question, well… that’s up to you. What do you want? When you imagine an ideal United States of America, what does that look like and what do you think it’ll take to achieve it? One thing I’ve discovered while interviewing the Occupiers is that each of them has a different reason for being there. A lot of criticism has been tossed their way as a result, many interpreting this pot luck of ideas as a lack of focus. I don’t see it that way.
Back when I was still but a lad, my folks bought a membership to Family Fitness Center (which is now 24 Hour Fitness). For a ridiculously small monthly fee, they could sign up the whole family, so that’s what they did. And just like that, purely by circumstance and through no choice of my own, I was a member of a gym.
Every day, that gym was filled with people who shared a common goal: to become more fit. Nothing more controversial than that. And each of them had their own personal reasons for being there. Some needed to be healthier, some needed to feel better about themselves, some needed to work off their holiday binges, some were compelled to compensate for… anyway… None of those reasons could be construed as incorrect. How could they be? The important thing is that because of those reasons, they all showed up to do something positive for themselves.
I’m going to be honest with you, I never really went. I could have, at any time of my choosing, resolved to get off my ass and enjoy the benefits of a membership I never asked for, but I didn’t. And yet, that didn’t make me any less of a member. Not only that, I don’t begrudge the people that go to the gym for exercising their right to do so. More power to them!
If you find yourself near a health club, you may be tempted to assume that a large group of like-minded individuals assembling regularly in one place is a political party. Nope, they’re just regular folks trying to get their burn on. You may not personally care to work out, but there’s no reason to become angry and yell rude things while they’re taking a Pilates mat class. I’d personally find it very upsetting if I ever saw a police presence in riot gear bust down the door, kick over weight benches and assault unarmed, peaceful gym patrons with pepper spray when the media wasn’t watching. I think we can agree that to do any of those things makes absolutely no sense, and at least one of those examples is a violation of their Constitutional rights. Not to mention cowardly.
Okay, it’s not a perfect analogy. But you get the idea. If you aren’t a millionaire, you are in the 99%, like it or not, and the Occupiers are working together to reach solutions that will not only benefit you in the end, but our society as a whole. You may not approve of people sleeping in tents, but you’re still a member. You may bristle at the sight of dreadlocks, but you’re still in the same club. Not only that, you’re welcome anytime. If you think your views aren’t represented by the Occupy movement, it’s because you’re not there presenting them. If you don’t like the actions they’re taking, it’s because you’re not there offering alternatives. If you think you have nothing in common with any of the Occupiers, you couldn’t be more wrong.
Like I said, it’s just a misunderstanding. The media has chosen to show you only the flakiest, shadiest and least articulate of the Occupiers (which is why I decided to interview them for myself). I guarantee that if you take the time to personally visit your local Occupation, you will find it a richly rewarding experience. I know, that goes against everything you’ve heard, if you’ve heard anything. The true story can’t be found on the evening news because they haven’t put in the time. Better to defer to eyewitnesses carrying cameras and cell phones:
Before I sign off, I want to share a couple of videos with you. Something I hear a lot from friends who misunderstand the movement is the idea that Occupy is anti-wealth. Not true. What they are against is the lop-sided distribution of our nation’s wealth, which is very different. If you don’t get what’s so wrong about a country having too many poor people, even if you plan on never being poor, Richard Wilkinson does a compelling job of laying it out for you. And if you like diagrams and British accents, well… bonus:
I want to be perfectly clear about something. I belong to no political party, and it’s been that way since I was 20-years-old; I avoid Fox News and MSNBC equally. I think pundits do more harm than good, and most journalists don’t do much of anything. That said, in scouring the internet for any information I could find about the horrific events that unfolded early Tuesday morning at Zuccotti Park, I ran across this Special Comment by Keith Olbermann which I’m posting because it is the most appropriate and well-stated response I’ve yet heard.