Time Worth Wasting

As of this writing, the Occupy Wall Street movement is spreading – some would say metastasizing – all over the country and now all over the world. The list of reasons I could choose not to participate is long: I have stacks and stacks and stacks of grading remaining to do; at 42, I’m too old to join what seems like a youth movement; Occupy’s lack of a coherent message makes it seem like a weekend project for disaffected millennials; the marchers and campers are predominantly white and I’m white, and I don’t want to live up to a stereotype of myself; and I’m just one person, so my presence doesn’t add much to the effort. Beyond the circumstances of this particular movement, I am not a person who enjoys being in crowds, shouting simplistic slogans, hearing ideas I believe in reduced to accusatory black-and-white statements, or listening to earnest speech after earnest speech after earnest speech. There are activists who enjoy activism, but I am not one of them.

But still, my life since the few days of abortive antiwar rallies in 1991 has been riddled with various protests. I have rallied in the dark, on glorious days and gray ones, and once in a deluge with Seattle police in riot gear standing shoulder to shoulder. I have been cheered and I have been heckled. I’m not going to pretend I’ve been out every weekend, and I’ve gone through long periods where it has seemed like writing letters to the editor is a better use of my time. Nevertheless, I was at the Occupy marches today, Saturday, October 15, representing the long-suffering 99% – even though I’m an employed, not particularly remarkable Gen-Xer who would just as soon have been enjoying the sunshine somewhere other than at the Washington Monument.

But still. I was there, well before I was inspired and well before horns started honking in support, before tourists gave us the thumbs-up from open-roofed buses, and before a yellow schoolbus full of kids hung out the windows to cheer us on, their faces painted with excitement. Before all that, I was there because, when voting is not enough, people have to vote with their words, and when that’s not enough, we have to vote with our feet. When I march, I am not expressing myself, but telling the world that I am part of a disregarded whole. I am doing my part to combat the media narrative that direct action and civil disobedience are committed only by the scruffy, the pierced, and the disreputable. If I am not there, my opinion is no better than if I didn’t give a rip, so I have a responsibility to support the causes I believe in. By showing up, I am telling the world that my point of view exists, even if it is destined to be defeated or diminished. I am telling the world that I am not going to go silently.

In this case, though, the simplicity of the message – we want governments to consider our welfare, not just corporate profits and political expediency – may end up surviving its assault by the media. What is frustrating about this movement is also what makes it unique: Rather than advocating a specific course of action, Occupy is challenging the cultural and political assumptions that individual rights can be sacrificed in the name of political stability. We are the 99%, and we finally spoke up for ourselves. If I can’t spend a few hours on a beautiful Saturday afternoon voicing my support for a more just world, why should I expect someone else to fight the fight on my behalf?

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3 thoughts on “Time Worth Wasting

  1. You said it, Jill. I admire your willingness to go to the protest, and agree with all of your reasons not to go–but your last sentence says it all. It seems the more the politicians and media try to ignore or silence the Occupy protests, the more people are speaking up. “Enough already,” should become a national mantra, if it hasn’t already.

  2. There’s something afoot, literally and figuratively. I’m watching with fascination to see what, if anything, will happen as a result of all this youthful energy. My marching days were in the 1960s: anti-war and civil rights. Those movements were tunnel-visioned in their focuses and so it was easy for them to stay on track. This one is clearly much more amorphous and some of their rhetoric is very naive. Sweet, but naive. There are young folks there (NYC) who are touting Ayn Rand works and others touting Marx. For some, their ignorance knows no bounds. But leaders will inevitably spring up. What those leaders will espouse remains to be seen. But I’m rooting for something constructive and positive.

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