Yesterday was a national day of action for supporters of 2012 federal unemployment insurance extensions with demonstrations across the country from 2-3 p.m. I told my husband that I planned to lend to the numbers in a demonstration outside our local state representative’s office, but that I was not bringing a protest sign. That was not a problem because the organization We Are The People had a sign for me and all of the other demonstrators. Within minutes of meeting a few of my compatriots one of the organizers asked me if I would be willing to say something to the crowd because they did not have an unemployed woman on their speaker schedule. “Just 2 to 3 minutes”, he said. All of a sudden I faced backing up my values with action that could result in publicity. One of my former coworkers had already driven by, so I knew the rumor mill would be spinning within the hour, but risking publicity is daunting when I am hoping someone will hire me. The work world is a precarious and intimidating place with people becoming uber-compliant in hopes of keeping their pay. Being unemployed has made me careful, too (note the abbreviation of this blog’s author’s name). However when put to the test I will do what is “right”, to the frustration of many past acquaintances and sometimes to my detriment. Anyone who knows me would tell you that if you ask for my opinion I will offer it up 99% of the time, often ad nauseam because I deeply desire people to understand what I say. What began as 2 to 3 minutes speaking to my fellow demonstrators segued into a request from the Grand Rapids Press to print my name along with the picture on this post (we are praying), an interview request from a local labor paper, and another for an on camera interview with a reporter from a local news station. To say I was uncomfortable and nervous is like saying blue flames are hot. My only regret is that I had not prepared a statement, something I will be sure to think about PRIOR to attending future demonstrations. No matter how prepared though, I would never have anticipated a reporter asking me if in lieu of finding a job as an administrative professional a.k.a. secretary, I would consider becoming an apprentice plumber. I am sad when I hear remarks like, “if they spent more time looking for a job rather than protesting…” and “they should be willing to take work outside their field for less pay”. First of all, the slim number of jobs to apply for leaves me with some spare time. Secondly, every business needs secretarial work completed just as much as they need the toilets and faucets to not leak. Almost as much, anyway.
The majority of the 99% watched from our couches and computer desks as the Occupy Everywhere protesters had a very busy and contentious week. About 50% of the 99% do not agree with or simply do not understand what the Occupy Wall Street movement is all about. Although we live in an age of information overload, I believe that much of what we are fed is bullshit. If I care about something I have to go to several sources to collect different views and then do background searches on the veracity of stated “facts”. This is how I know that they feed us a lot of bullshit. We also have a tendency to ferret out information that supports our beliefs and reject any news that contradicts those same beliefs, so we must take some responsibility for media catering to a captive audience eager to be validated.
I can easily find slanted news reports to support either my dislike or empathy for the Occupy movement. The media and Mayor Bloomberg tell me that Zuccotti park along with protest sites in Portland, Oakland, Denver, and Salt Lake City were rife with health and safety concerns. Protesters were unhygienic and even urinated and defecated in the parks, despite the availability of portable johns a few blocks away. In order to avoid a confrontation, a coordinated police effort raided protest sites in the middle of the night. Mayor Bloomberg graciously offered Occupy protesters readmittance to the park once it is cleaned, but they will not be allowed to camp out because this whole thing has a hefty price tag for already financially strapped cities. I use the term “graciously” because it is how he is portrayed in the news of the eviction, along with being unerringly reasonable. The movement in our neck of the woods is Occupy Grand Rapids, which was never allowed to camp in the park where they protest daily because we have a city ordinance against it. Grand Rapids prefers to keep our homeless safely tucked away in shelters and under overpasses, out of the public eyes that are spending money in the downtown hub, especially visitor’s eyes. We also have a church on every corner, one of which offered up their parking lot to the Occupy Grand Rapids protesters for overnight accommodation. I hope that the Occupy movement is here to stay until we see big changes like job growth, fair trade, and regulation of trading and speculation that drive prices and fleece retirement funds. Judging from the solidarity protests across the country yesterday, it seems like a good possibility, but winter has not arrived full-force yet.
The media also gives me plenty of fodder for my angst on these issues with new unemployment numbers each month. The good news is that unemployment decreased in Michigan by half a percentage point in October. The bad news is that it still stands at 10.6%. National Public Radio gives me plenty of news on the state of the top 1% and even told me this week that the top 5% hold 40% of the nation’s wealth. I believe that these reports are not necessary information, but are related with a transparent incendiary purpose. My personal experience requires that I consider that some of the wealthiest Americans extended their post-college education to attend graduate, medical, and law schools, while others launched successful businesses. I do not begrudge them their fruits, only wish that the Bush-era capital gains tax breaks would be allowed to expire. It is harder to not react to these reports of surplus while I am unemployed, but I hold onto my beliefs and keep reminding myself that they are not situational.
The media is feeding the fire of those that sympathize with the Occupy protesters by giving us stories of police brutality such as the Marine who was attacked by officers and suffered a life-altering head injury and 84-year-old Dorli Rainey who received a face full of pepper spray in a Seattle Occupy protest on Tuesday. I would love to meet this gal, who stated the next day that she will continue to participate in Occupy Seattle protests because, “I’m pretty tough, I guess.” Images of conflicts between police and Occupy protesters show us what the punishment is for civil disobedience and likely influence many supporters to stay home and search for safer means of aiding the movement.
My measuring stick of Occupy Everywhere’s impact is whether the Bush tax cuts will be extended by the Super Committee tasked with cutting the national budget by November 23 and the subsequent congressional vote. I keep hearing the old Kent State memorial song, For What its Worth, “There’s something happening here, What it is ain’t exactly clear, There’s a man with a gun over there, Telling me I got to beware, I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound, Everybody look what’s going down”. Today I am grateful for the Occupy protesters fighting for our American Dreams (in my not-so-humble opinion), their focus uninfluenced by the media coverage on any given day.