Where do I belong in Occupy?

At risk of losing all anonymity, I’ll out myself as a resident of Portland, Oregon.  As a family, we’ve gone down to our occupy movement several times including bringing food and attending general assemblies with my preschooler.  My turning-4-year-old and I pass it every weekday on the bus.  During the first march, 3 vehicles of riot police passed within 8 feet of us as we transferred buses – several of the officers waving to the boy who was awed at the sight. (Scary but a new kind of emergency vehicle… cool!)  We’ve had many conversations about protests as people saying to the government that ‘this bugs us, we wish you would do something different’ … the language of non-violent communication for his preschool.  It is a movement that I (and my husband) personally support even if the organizational elements of it are fluid and difficult to make heads or tails.

So, last night, I – probably prudently – snuggled my nearly 3rd-trimester pregnant self into my bed with my preschooler down the hall in a comfy house even as I literally prayed – and I left behind petitionary prayers years ago –  that I wouldn’t wake up to a blood-bath in the wake of Mayor Adam’s midnight deadline for leaving the parks.  Tears literally streamed down my face this morning when I opened my laptop and saw that all were restrained last night.  I quickly shot off a thank-you email to Mayor Adams for choosing the non-violent way.

It has escalated again.  The parks have been cleared, a couple dozen arrested – peacefully though, and hundreds if not thousands are facing down a police line in a blocked street downtown.  Again, I watch from the safety of my home.

5 years ago, when I first came to Portland, I would have been down there with them.  But now it is more difficult; life requires different choices.  So, how do I show my support?  I offer my food on occassion; I email and call local and federal officials to beg for support; I explain to my preschooler – the very reason I cannot spend large amount of time down there during volatile times – why this is such a wonderful, if scary, thing.

Long term, I – we – have to find another way.  I teach my university courses, both of  which include a module about public conflict and discourse as it applies to communities and movements.  My husband embues his college courses with real and varied critiques of the economic system.  We continue to learn and share why we live simply, why we strive at some level to live in a radical, urban homestead fashion.

It is the sensible thing to do, the sustainable thing to do, the right thing to do at this life stage.  But right now, watching those brave people on that front line trying to peacefully ask for a better way while facing a line of riot geared officers (who, frankly, are the 99% too), those actions seem so very inadequate.

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6 responses to “Where do I belong in Occupy?

  1. Karmen November 15, 2011 at 6:30 am

    Thanks, Nicole, for posting this. There are so many of us who would be with them if we could. Our way now, as you say, requires a different involvement. The Occupy movement is important– more so than many understand; it is part of what makes us American and human. The right to protest when nothing else is working is fundamental to our society. Those who criticize and demean the movement and the people in the movement have their own reasons for doing so. Some are defensive, some are ill-informed, some are narcissistic (so very proud of their own accomplishments and not “needing” anything from anyone), some truly believe in the wrongness of it all and just don’t want to upset the status quo even if that status quo is structured to deny them or anyone in the 99% the reality of the true American Dream. I wish those who don’t know what the Movement is about ( many, many things) and are making snap judgments (e.g. they’re all homeless and unemployed– get off your duff and get a job!) would take the time to become informed.

  2. mfranti November 15, 2011 at 8:20 am

    This is fantastic, Nicole.

    I’ve been down to the OSL protests to donate food, but that’s about all.

    Hey! I miss y’all.

  3. Nicole I November 15, 2011 at 10:38 am

    Thank you both for commenting. I do believe this movement is particularly important at this point in time in the US – not just for the specific grievances it is airing but for pushing for the right (that we claim is there but do not always exercise) to stand up and say we want, we NEED, something different.

    I think one of the reasons that it has been particularly hard for me to find my place in this movement is that I occupy (no pun intended) a weird spot in between student and faculty right now – in between grad-student and full-fledged adult – both emotionally, financially, life-stage, everything. I’ve been pretty lucky (literally – because I married someone who is a bit older than I and has been able to pave the way a tiny bit) to have this transitional stage of my life go smoothly; many of my peers and those just a tad younger have not. I literally have students who have been living there while keeping up their school work and part-time jobs (talk about nothing close to the stereotype of those in the movement). I join them in spirit but I desperately want to be there in person. And as someone who emotionally and academically knows that numbers – every last person – showing up matters when it becomes conflictual, it is really difficult to stay home.

    One thing I find curious is the critique that Occupy has no goals, no direction. In general, I have an academic fascination about how decisions are facilitated among the group. More broadly, though, Occupy Portland, like many of the Occupies, has been really great about outlining specific goals and reasons for the smaller events; it doesn’t take a lot to sum that to a greater whole for a movement. But somehow those smaller goals get lost. I can’t figure out if it is ineffectual advertisement of the goals or piss-poor coverage by the media (I’ve been pleased with our local coverage but pretty irritated at national levels), or what?

  4. Jenne Erigero Alderks November 15, 2011 at 11:35 am

    I’m pretty much in the same boat with small children that makes it difficult to get to the Occupy Seattle events near me. A group of friends does plan to have a family day to go and check things out. At this point, I’m trying to apply the best of my online advocacy tools in support of the movement. I’m glad to see Occupy Youtube exists: http://www.occupyyoutube.com/ I need to record my video with my main points why I support the sentiments behind the movement and put it up on youtube. I’d like to be part of the coordinating to get the many people who feel like us to record their videos and post them. I’d like to see the on the ground events coordinate with those at home so their voices can come together in support of one another.

  5. Karmen November 15, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    Nicole, did you read the post that Melanie posted on FB a few days ago (Shareable: Occupy as a New Societal Model & Ways To Improve It)? The organization, communication and decision-making strategies are amazing and absolutely contradict the simple-minded criticism. These are the kinds of things that people need to hear and see about the movement, that the movement is actually a functioning, usable model — a civic lab — for a system change!

  6. Nicole I November 15, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    No, Karmen, I did not. I’m a FB dropout. Literally. Like I can’t deal with the cognitive dissonance of so many of my different communities on one Wall that I deleted my account after only a few months. (Sorry Mel… want to email it to me? Or post it here?)

    From what I’ve seen, the organization, communication, and decision-making strategies are amazing for being as ad-hoc as they are. Yet, as somewhat of an academic expert in decision-making in alternative models and modes (stakeholder versus participatory strategies, consensus and its demands or not on equity, etc), I know that each has its upsides and downsides and I question the extent to which the current model is sustainable. It is all fine and dandy to try to get consensus and to allow everyone to participate in everything, but eventually (1) stable leadership should and NEEDS to emerge to coexist with different decision-making structures, in part because (2) people will tire of participating in every decision, and (3) issues of representation and equity will still arise.

    Further, regarding communication, probably because the movement is moving so fast and fluid, I – as an interested party who would like to be more involved – am finding it difficult to get concrete information as to how I can be involved. For instance, my Occupy University is supposed to stage some sort of event tomorrow; yet I could not get enough information TODAY FOR TOMORROWS EVENT to offer extra credit to students for attending with a purpose linked to our class. The best I could do after a lot of googling is come up with a flyer (on FB… dang social media!) with just the basic outlines of the event.

    So, short of going down there and attending GAs every night (in the rain, during bedtime) or slogging through the videos of said GAs, I’m not seeing consistent enough info through the web presence to trust it and know my place in it. Never mind integrating beyond showing up for an event. THIS is a MAJOR problem in my mind because many of my (older) colleagues who have been involved in similar movements in the 60’s and 70s (and are not on FB) and are sympathetic to the current cause do not know how to integrate their interest either. Sure, each generation has to find their own way, but we are seriously losing out if we can’t tap that.

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