I do not believe in Civil Disobedience. Civil Disobedience is a misnomer. It is our civic responsibility to act out when government no longer treats its citizens with civility. As a youngster I was drawn to movements demonstrated a true spirit of community such as the general strike in San Francisco in 1934 to the Kent State protests that resulted in tragedy. Both the triumph and the devastation stirred me to tears.
When I read of these things in my teens, I felt that our country in the 80s and early 90s moved through complacency and division with blinders. A few years passed and the Internet found its way into our homes. At that time, before I used the web for discount shopping and joining old friends, I felt a great sensation of optimism that somehow in some way this connection would create a worldwide revolution of communal change.
Here we are. Occupied. I'm not particularly fond of the terminology, but I am awestruck by the community forming worldwide in response to the clear disregard for common folk over that of wealthy interests. I thought the purpose of the Internet caved way to the interests of Orwell's Big Brother, but suddenly I'm moved.
I'd first heard of the Occupation in some momentary flash and then I disappeared to the posh climate of a private event sponsored by Google in the dreaded Scottsdale, Arizona. I say dreaded because that's where the private communities with private-police-protect a white, homogenous upper-class society that befuddle me. Still do, actually, but I had the absurd privilege of being with a roster of invitees including Arianna Huffington, Cindy McCain, and Mark Cuban for the week following the inception of the Occupation. We were in non-stop seminars so while I knew New York was protesting, my eyes hadn't fallen on the news until I'd gotten out of our resort isolation.
When I came home, I lied in bed weeping while glued to this phenomena all over the Internet. Overwhelmed. Dumbstruck. My dream for humanity... and the Internet... took to life!
I immediately decided I had to go. I had to protest. I had to be a part of this "something." I also immediately knew I that Occupy Wall Street had to clarify their demands. Through social media, I asked them to do so. However, I got no response. It seemed that they were still voting on them. I had to go. With faith, I had to go.
I live in the middle of nowhere. You may not know where that is. When you reach the edge of nowhere, keep driving. About three hours northeast of LA, an ominous canyon separates us by an hour from one of California's most conservative cites on one side and the Mojave Desert keeps us an hour from an Air Force Base. Nowhere. I wanted to head straight to San Francisco, but I chose to take the shorter drive to LA first. While the initial visuals somewhat surprised me, the language stayed with me.
Language. Obviously, I find language very important. And difficult. Today, as I looked around the LA Occupants I thought, "How could any kind nuclear family look at this mess of radicals and drop outs and think that we had the right idea. Living in tents? Seriously?"
Honestly, the Occupation is a tent city, or a multitude of tent cities, with a slightly higher purpose than the homeless you find under bridges. Or, perhaps, I should say a louder voice. Yes, the Occupation in LA appears to be an empowered tent city.
It really didn't help much that there was a well-intentioned long-haired blonde dude, and I mean dude, mediating what seemed to be an open mic. Huh? He practically begged people to join the forum until there were so many lousy singer/songwriters joining the party that there was no need to ask anymore.
Just before arriving, I'd read something posted by another supporter about appearances and how important they can be. I agree. However, people have to be themselves. So how do you appeal to the masses when you look like the fringe?
I think you have to shift the language first. Two extremely nerdy, even hokey kids around twenty showed up with the intent of having a workshop on the Human and Animal Torture Connection. I think that's how they framed it.
Thrilled about their agenda, I suggested they join the stage. They weren't aware of the loose schedule being presented so they at least conceded to ask that the workshop on the grass be announced because, apparently, no one was showing otherwise. A few speakers and talent acts passed and nothing was mentioned. I asked this tall, geeky young man with a passion for animal rights what happened. He said, "I don't know. He said he was going to announce us after the first guy, but I'm not sure he was convinced this is the right kind of event for them." Nonsense. I asked for a pamphlet then marched up to make the announcement happen.
In the end there were just over a dozen people gathered to hear the animal activists. As I suspected, they were all already vegetarians. What I didn't suspect was the kids didn't have much of a plan and had a language of arrogance that ONLY OTHER VEGETARIANS would be willing to listen to. How silly of me. They were kids. I attempted to offer counterpoint to persuade them in developing a kinder, gentler language, but I was shut down. More than once.
Perhaps, if they took a page from Tony Robbin's book, they could have mixed it up with strong language a bit; but really, they weren't shocking, sympathetic, or at all compelling to the listener. That was not a good condition to be in considering they were competing with the loudly mic'd stage acts. What they were, however, was incredibly NORMAL looking. If you had a bunch of them on the news arguing for animal advocacy, they'd fail miserably in their use of language than, say, an eloquent Marilyn Manson.
No? Well, I think to my cousin who always looked like the girl next door but listened to Morrissey. Geez. Morrissey. I bet if he made the case against Chinese Child Labor when she was sixteen, she wouldn't be shopping at Walmart today. Also, that same cousin is a dedicated Christian who's entranced by the Word of God. Not his face. Not his fashion. Not his fancy car. So, as I listen to these nerdy kids try to sell me on a method that I already carry, I find their narrow-mindedness off-putting.
Why does it matter to them if we all agree about why so long as we all agree about how? Does it matter that I want outstanding public education for every single child in America because I want to narrow socioeconomic disparity or because I want America to be number one in scientific and technological advances or because I want the kids on my street to be productive citizens or just want my kids to get a good education that I couldn't afford on my own? Not if it all comes down to equity and excellence in education.
Will I disregard the 99% because I don’t like the soundtrack of flat vocals and strumming? Would I turn my back on those brave enough to speak up because I don’t like how they frame things 10% of the time? Will I be brave enough to join them more often even though we aren’t a homogeneous group of total like-mind? Please, it's not like I belong in Scottsdale!
When I returned home I discovered the city on the other side of the canyon, Bakersfield, drew a few protestors of its own. Next stop...