Inside/Outside Occupy Philly
It’s hard to know where to begin in talking about what I witnessed and what I felt today when I went into downtown Philly today with Mr. Rev. to see with my own eyes and listen with my ears and my heart to what is happening here and all over the country. Mixed feelings—despair and hope, humor and sadness, expressions of peace alongside preparations for violence. Lots of pictures here.
I drove my new hybrid car to the commuter train station and found the one open parking place. We took the train to the city, got off at “suburban” station, the one closest to City Hall and walked the long underground corridors to emerge into the concrete lower level of City Hall/Dillworth Plaza. Up the stairs and there it was. People, tents, tables, signs, drums, cameras, everything that we’ve seen in pictures and more. We walked around and looked at signs, listened to the drummers, talked with a variety of people and listened to others engaged in dialogue.
The people who are settling into Dillworth Plaza seem to be mostly from two groups—young, articulate, thoughtful, and passionate activists, and the homeless. They are sharing the turf and the young activists are very aware of and sensitive to the presence of the homeless and are conscious of the need to share space and resources. To what degree the young people may themselves be homeless or on the brink of it is not obvious—nor should it be. They are all part of the 99% and coming together in solidarity is the aim.
I had a conversation with one of the young volunteers at the information table talking about what this is all about and what it is not about. It is about politics in the truest sense of the word—the work of the people. It is not about politics as it is played or practiced in this country—politicians and parties that are bought and paid for by corporate interests boosted by corporate media. Should the party politicians try to co-opt the movement they will be met with . . . let’s just say they will not be welcomed. Many of the people there were once Obama boosters and believers but are now totally disillusioned with him and the process that got him into the WH. One young woman said that the process here was very wordy, very time consuming and didn’t get a lot accomplished with any speed but was important. I told her I was clergy and was totally used to that.
We were present for the noon General Assembly. It was similar to what has been happening in Occupy Wall Street except that there is a real microphone and a speaker up front. Comments and questions were handled with the “people’s mic” which is really ingenious and very frustrating for those who are used to being bombastic. The big issue of the noon meeting had to do with a proposal to separate housekeeping and maintenance issues into the noon GA and actions and mission based issues in the evening GA. Questions and comments went on for a very long time. The proposal could not be resolved by the noon GA alone so it would be discussed further at the evening GA. Reports were made by committee volunteers about trainings, comfort (rain is coming, they need tarps and pallets for the tents) food, sanitation, and the legal team’s role with the police. Real democracy in action!
We participated in the Non-Violence training at 2 which was led by an energetic young volunteer named Zachary. He is a teacher and it showed. Clever, passionate, knowledgeable, personable. Important stuff with underpinnings in history, in faith, in community solidarity.
So here are my own jumbled thoughts. I’ve been an activist for several decades. I’ve worked on issues, I’ve volunteered for candidates. I’ve marched, rallied, gone door to door, done phone banking (my least favorite thing.) I was always part of the team, the crowd, the movement. I stepped right in easily. This felt different. I didn’t fit. I didn’t not fit. Odd.
No, it wasn’t organized around one issue, one agenda, but that was actually encouraging and freeing. The people at the occupation are thoughtful and articulate and I have faith that they will take their time and get it together. Something is happening here and though it isn’t exactly clear we all kind of get it. There is a dis-ease in this country and they are the antibodies, the immune system organizing itself to fight the toxins, the infection in the body politic. That’s a good thing.
What was troubling for me wasn’t about them. It was about me. I am by far not part of the elite 1%. I’m a clergy person serving a smallish suburban congregation and getting close to retirement age. I am not wealthy, but I do have a nice house, drive a nice car, have a rewarding job and am surrounded by wonderful people as I work and for whom I work. I am blessed in so many ways. And I am also worried that the retirement pension plan I have been adding to for decades will be decimated by the banksters. The last quarterly statement that came in the mail on Saturday showed a 10% drop in my career savings over one three month period. It scares me and yet I am still one of the haves (not the have-mores.) I am vulnerable. One illness could wipe it away. The economy is hitting people in my congregation which in turn affects me. I am part of the 99%.
I decry the injustice of our society, the inequality, the failure of our system to uphold the rule of law and I do it from a position of privilege. I want to support the movement and these courageous people. I’m on the outside of this movement physically but on the inside emotionally and spiritually. My heart is with the movement even as I return home to my comfortable house and cats. I guess it is time to turn the healing of our broken world over to the next generation, support them as I am able and cheer them on. We all need to support them and cheer them on. Our collective survival depends on it.