Wednesday, October 19, 2011


I planned to write my review on the season 2 opener of Walking Dead (short version: liked it, especially the first 30 minutes, have some reservations about implicit sexism in the show, but we'll see), but today I'm going to write about some conversations regarding the #Occupy movement.

First, though, check out Lousy Canuck's post which is a nice summation and has plenty of handy links for some background. I especially like the graphs (which he knicked from Mother Jones) showing how basically 80% of us are all in the same boat. See how those lines just sort of flatten out and listlessly lie there on the bottom? That's us. Lousy Canuck also quibbles a teensy bit about the 90% to 99% and how they actually have it pretty good and should expect that this fight will directly benefit them. I agree, except to say that I believe this battle will indirectly benefit them - I think that the wealth that can be generated by having a population that is fed, sheltered, educated, and healthy is not insignificant...I mean, we're pretty much at a stage in human history with few limits on energy and wealth (aside from some issues about distribution, and our tendancy to ignore what's best for us and continue using fossil fuels and helping global warming get worse...). How many Einsteins are never going to be discovered because they live day-to-day with no food and less money?

For me, the most powerful thing about the #Occupy movement is the 99% meme. Yesterday, coming home on the subway, I watched the people around me and contemplated on how we are all together on this. We all share a lot of the same struggles, we all just want to live our lives without worrying about the roof over our head, with full bellies, with work that we find fulfulling. It's powerful to realize that we are all together in this.

That said, I've had a couple of convesations with friends about the #Occupy movement here in Toronto. They're interested in it, they know that things are getting worse for us, but they are really reluctant to join in the protests. One of them says that if his face appears on camera, he could lose his job. Another has similar concerns, that if people find out what she is doing she could be fired, and the risk to her and her family is too great.

With both of them, I found myself getting angry. Part of it is that these are the people that need to be out there. One of the weakest aspects of modern activism is that it's easy to dismiss as "the usual suspects". No one listens to the poor, the homeless, the "extreme leftists". This movement needs the faces of the people who work, the people who have mortgages and kids and lines of credit. It's frustrating to me that they feel frightened and stuck, that they can see that the bills get higher, the pay stays low, the interest doesn't get paid, but they fear that if they do something, they could lose everything. It's the prisonner's dilemma, but when there are other people depending on you, most often you need to take what seems to be the safest choice, even when you know that with the safest choice, you still lose.

What's worse is that I know there's a critical mass. If enough of these people, the ones in the middle, came out, there would be change. Big change. The reason why they feel so much pressure, why they're stuck feeling afraid, is because they have real, serious power. Not individually. Individually we all have squat. But if these two friends, and a few more, all came out, the halls of power would tremble. And if my friends came out, maybe that would inspire some of their friends to come out, too. It's like standing in the middle of a pile of kindling, your friend has a match, and complains that it's too cold, but they're afraid to light the pile. Frustrating.

I think another part of my anger or frustration comes from the fact that these people can afford to be silent, and some people can't. It happens in every social movement that it's the outsiders that have to do the heavy lifting. In the gay rights movement, it was the trans and the drag queens and the women and the really, really faggy sort while the middle class, white male gays living in the closet because they could ended up getting the benefit. And today, where a guy like me can live my life relatively free of homophobia, those same people, the trans and queens and fags and women still have the same old shit.

And now, it's the poor who are fighting for everybody. These people have nothing to lose, yeah, but that means that they have nothing. And we're watching and hoping that maybe change happens, but we're afraid to lift a finger to help it. We let Them do the hard work, because we are scared shitless that we could one day become one of Them. This is the underside of humanity, our worst nature that we don't like to admit. We're all in the same boat, but as soon as we have any kind of comfort, we forget about all of those who don't have it. We worry, we agonize, we say things like "I wish I could go, but...." and in the end everything gets a little harder for everyone. The house we're worried about losing isn't worth quite so much, the future for our children isn't quite so bright, the air isn't quite so clean...but we hold on to what we do have instead of risking it on the hope that maybe working together we can all make things better. For a social species, sometimes we aren't so bright.

I have to back off, though, because I don't have kids. I don't have a mortgage. I've been (briefly) homeless, and I know that the world is pretty much chaotic enough that losing everything isn't a disaster. And if I can help to make things a little bit equal, I know it's worth the risk. But if I ever had to look into my son or daughter's eyes and tell them they can't go to college because I lost my job...that would be tough. I can understand why people are scared to act, and while it makes me angry, I can't force them to do it.

But I make sure to tell them that there are other ways to help. They can make donations, they can write letters, they can go and wear a mask, they can convince a friend or two to go in their place, they can make sure they vote, they can spend their money more wisely. We need to do these things, at least, because we've got the poor doing all the hard work fighting for us, the 99%, and we really ought to support them somehow. It's only decent.

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