Category Archives: Think

What I learned at Occupy Seattle

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The Occupy movement in the United States  has been the subject of lavish praise and the most severe criticism, yet it’s everywhere.

A couple of weeks ago, as I weeble-wobbled to my yoga class near Westlake,  Seattle, I inadvertently walked right through what a few moments later be billed as one of the most iconic movements in the Occupy movement.   Just a few minutes after I walked past a small group of people huddled in the middle the Pike and 5th intersection and surrounded by bike cops,  a priest, an 84-year old woman and  a pregnant teen would be famously pepper sprayed by the Seattle Police.   Images would be seen around the world.   In the meantime, I was curled up in my first child’s pose of my practice in the warmth and comfort of my slightly upscale yoga studio.

Sure, I flung around opinions about the movement in little sound bytes and plagiarized mainstream-medial catchphrases, but I really hadn’t done too much homework on it.  So last weekend, I decided to do some real homework.   I went down to the Occupy camp at Seattle Central Community College and, encouraged  and accompanied by  Nick,  to talk to people and take some pics.

The camp was surprisingly well organized and clean.   No noxious smells or obvious grime reported in other cities.  No druggies or used condoms.  The tent city boasted a makeshift library and activity center with an organized itinerary of community activities.    As we walked through, we noticed a small group of around 20-30 people circling up.   A man was explaining a plan to march to an abandoned house and then “occupy”  the space.  As they set off down the street, yelling “Get out of your tents and onto the streets,” we decided to walk in their general direction and learn more.

Contrary to what many cities reported, the Occupy Seattle participants looked like a group of ordinary, concerned citizens…not drug addicts, hoodlams, and drifters portrayed as participants in other cities.   Some of them carried homemade signs, others professionally printed signs.   They went through a number of different chants,  “______, we don’t need em’! all we want is! total freedom,”  “whose streets? OUR STREETS!”    “We! Are! The 99%”  “Banks got bailed out! We got sold out!”   “Revolution has to come!  Everything for Everyone!” Sometimes, they just chatted among themselves.

The march collected people as it went along, and only a few blocks in,  a Seattle Police car started tailing a hundred feet or so away from the marchers, headlights on,  effectively preventing the marchers from getting run over, whatever else their purpose.  The group erupted into a chant of “Hey Hey! Ho Ho! Police Brutality’s Gotta Go!” and occasionally an individual lobbed an insult at the police car.  (“Hey!  You’re a tool!”)   The tensions, just a few days after the famous Westlake confrontation, were understandable.   But whatever SPD’s reasons for tailing the protesters, at no time on that day did  I see SPD interfere or do anything but shield the marchers from oncoming traffic, effectively protecting their right to effectively protest.

As we marched, an occasional marcher would stop and lyrically chant bit of history, or policy.  One man explained that the term “skid row” originated from the working classes skidding logs down Yesler Way.    One woman encouraged people to think of the youths (this precipitated a detour to a youth detention center and chanting “Our Passion! For Freedom!  Is stronger than your prison!”  until the youths started pounding on the windows.)

On the road we talked to a retired  older man who lived with family members and wished his food stamps would buy him a pizza and that he could have a cell phone to call his brother, who lived and worked nearby.   One bright, articulate young woman railed against the inability of privileged white men to understand the plight of minorities.  Two older women whispered amongst themselves about what their big-law employers would think about their participation.   A few well dressed young people stood at the outskirts of the march, looking on in approval.

On the road, we  talked to a gorgeous elderly woman who watched the march from an intersection, and in very broken English asked what the ruckus was about.   We tried to explain in a dozen different ways.  Finally, her face lit up and she said “they want make better government?”  We said yes, and she left, looking hopeful.   Another woman came out of her home and told us that after her husband’s death, she discovered that they had had an adjustable-rate mortgage and was stuck with an exorbitant monthly mortgage payment.  A foreclosure soon followed, and she was left  valiantly adjusting to widowhood and raising two grandchildren in transitional housing.

After a long uphill climb, the marchers reached an abandoned, half-built home.  (Presumably, the house had been foreclosed on before construction was complete.)  Some of the younger marchers rushed into the abandoned house, ran up the stairs, and clambered out the windows and  onto the roof,  cheering and chanting.

After the marchers had settled into the property,  some crowding on the sidewalk outside (avoiding the potential crime of trespassing), and some sitting on the eaves and the roof or hanging out the windows,  a lull settled.   Some made spoke about occupying the house and using it as a youth center or homeless shelter.   A young man wrote “OCCUPY IS HERE” on a piece of cardboard,  put it on the old, derelict, long-fallen  for-sale signpost, and secured it outside where it  could be seen from the road.   The police shift changed, with a seamless swap from one patrol car parked half a block away to another.

It got darker and colder, and eventually, we walked away, leaving a group of shushed, cold people huddled in a wooden frame of a house.

I learned a lot from my day tailing the Occupy Seattle movement.  Here were my takeaways:

1) There is nothing more American than the 1st Amendment.   The rights of Americans to assemble & speak freely should be treasured and protected as one of our most important national values.   Having lived in not-as-free countries,  scenes like Occupy Seattle, whatever its flaws, are especially moving to me.

2) Understanding some of the movement participants’ aversion to hierarchy, it’s clear that a lack of strong leadership and a unified message in the movement prevents a clear, strong message from reaching those that need to hear it, and an inability to ensure that all participants demonstrate in a peaceful and respectful manner.   The result of these factors is reduced credibility for the movement.  Contrast with the strong leadership of Martin Luther King in the civil rights movement, who was able to encourage the majority to adopt a strong, simple message and embrace peaceful, meaningful, relevant, demonstration and  civil disobedience in the face of circumstances that would have otherwise provoked widespread violence.   Leadership and a message would probably dispel the myth that only “hippies, the chronically unemployed, druggies and anarchists wish for positive change in society and would encourage more people from more strata of society to get on board with producing change.

3) Based on the many economic and social ills affecting people in the U.S. & around the world today,  I am shocked that more people aren’t on board with the Occupy movement.   But then again, see #2, above.

Did I miss anything?  Have you been part of an Occupy movement?

* All photos mine & Nick’s 

Lists in Action.

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Source: piccsy.com via Karin on Pinterest

 

Last week  Just a Titch had a post about doing a  morning pages ritual–writing a few pages first thing in the morning.   I loved that idea.   Being a list maker, I decided this week to make a few morning pages lists alongside my normal to-do lists.

Of course,  I don’t think we should limit ourselves to pages.  Some things need to be written in lipstick on mirrors or on sidewalks with brightly colored chalk, or tagged on overpasses or shouted from the rooftops.   But pages are a good place to start.

Here are some lists to put in action, however you choose to proclaim them.

1) 10 things you absolutely love about yourself.   I was inspired by  (a.k.a cribbed this from ) Tera Warner.  (Caveat:  nothing on the list can be about what what you own or what you do or who you love.   It’s what you love about you.   Your scars, your lion strength, your lightening wit and crooked teeth, legs that run marathons, inventive monkey minds and proud heritage and listening heart.   Not your husband or wife or job or car.)

2) 10 careers or life paths you would take if you had 10 lifetimes.  Ponder the fact that it is quite possible for you to do it all in the next fifty or sixty years or more.   Ponder the fact that if you don’t start anything because it is impossible to do it all, you will end up with zero items on your list completed as opposed to  one or two or four or six….

3) 10 people you could extend some kindness to in the next week.   A call to grandma.  A dollar to the homeless person across the street.  Lunch with the new girl.  Check the off as you do them.  Start over next week.

4) 10 touristy, unique, or cool things in your city you’ve not yet been to.   I  was the New York resident who never went to the Statute of Liberty, Radio City Music Hall, Carnegie Hall or the Met.   Don’t let it happen to you.

5) 10 books that have changed your life.   Bonus points…make it a point to pass each book on to someone in your life that  needs it.

What’s on your list?

Always Remember, Never Surrender.

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On September 11, 2001, I was sitting in my 11th grade history class.

We had just started the school year, and we were going to study American History.

We were discussing what history meant; what it meant to a group of fifteen very privileged teenage girls, the kind of young women that were destined for Ivy Leagues and internships on the Hill.

We are in a time of peace and prosperity, said one girl, we will not see anything of significance in our lifetime.

No sooner had those words left her lips with such certainty that there was a knock on the classroom door.

The TV was turned on, the girl that had spoken turned white as the world as we knew it shattered around us, the second tower was hit, and the Pentagon, and the plane went down in Pennsylvania.

Tears flowed. Girls had parents and siblings in New York and DC . My parents, proud naturalized citizens, wept.  We all felt the weight of the collective injury, an injury to our country, to our people.   But in reality, we could not imagine.  I could not imagine, a thousand miles away, the terror of those whose last minutes were spent in smoke and flames and dust and horror.  I could not imagine the pain of those who lost loved ones with such unimaginable violence.

Flags waved, songs were sung, we vowed not to let the terrorists win, and we went to war.  The world was changed.  The girls in the classroom that day grew up.  We grew up in peace and prosperity, but not the same peace and prosperity we had expected. We were afraid.  We served, our brothers and sisters served, and some gave their lives, their limbs, their health.

Ten years later, 9/11/11, the sun rises and I’m flying east, to Washington D.C.  The world has changed.  It’s scarier. Uncertain.  The attacks of 9/11 broke something in each of us that can’t be fixed.  The images shown over this weekend in the media reminded us of how fresh these wounds are still.

Remember always how these events, these lives,  redefined what  freedom means, and what it takes to preserve it in this world.

Battle against violence and intolerance with forgiveness, curiosity, understanding, and an unshakable commitment to a peaceful and free society.  Starting with ourselves.  Be peaceful, be free.  Never Surrender.