Today is Gandhi's birthday, and yesterday I think I witnessed a hopeful future for humanity. David, Laurel and I went to lower Manhattan to take part, if only for a day, in Occupy Wall Street centered in Zuccotti Park, about a block from the New York Stock Exchange. What I saw there was a few hundred young folks (and a few older folks) occupying a space, and creating a community of resistance to the burgeoning and oppressive plutocracy in the U.S.
One of the most frequent, and powerful in my mind, themes touched on by this growing movement is the concept that we are the 99% and we are being sold out and exploited by the richest 1% and their enormous corporations (recently given First Amendment rights by the US Supreme Court). The ones who get generous tax breaks and simply want to feed their own greed with no concern for the overall health of the nation. The disparity between the billionaires and the rest of us has increased and is quickly beginning to resemble many third world countries where there is no middle class.
The exciting thing about this movement, and its surprising growth, is the young folks -- the Millenials -- playing such a key role in an open and truly democratic process, which I think is part of an early stage of an actual nonviolent revolution. And about a week ago on NPR I remember hearing a discussion lead by Linda Werrtheimer about this generation (folks in their 20s on down to middle school), and all the talking heads agreed that cooperation and putting the needs of the group ahead of the individual was a hallmark of this generation. They believed that the emphasis on cooperation, far more than the last several generations, would lead to them being able to solve many of the world's problems. Sounds pretty idealistic, but I think it's true.
The media although beginning to cover the occupation, still can't seem to get the messaging right. Here is a manifesto of sorts put forward by the occupiers. I am rather hopeful after what I saw in that park in lower Manhattan. I saw a food station, a medical station, rain tarps, a myriad of progressive causes being advocated, a drum circle, and a engaging nonviolent direct action training. I also saw a lot of mutual respect among the participants, and a determination not to be lulled into complacency by slick and corrupt politicians and mind numbing celebrity-driven TV (as so many of my generation was).
The march to Brooklyn Bridge was also exciting, although a bit scary when Laurel got stuck behind the cops' orange fencing (now a favorite tool of the NYPD when making mass unlawful arrests). Luckily she got out soon enough and we met back at the bus returning to DC, but it was reported that 700 nonviolent protesters were arrested when they blocked east-bound traffic on the bridge. That is a major nonviolent direct action, and didn't get that much press, but it is still a powerful movement. Word on the streets in Manhattan is that the unions will start endorsing, and apparently the New York Teamsters already did. And there is a lot of talk over the weekend how 200 NYC cops refused to show up to enforce crackdowns on the occupation.
"Something has started," Michael Moore simply stated on Democracy Now last week when talking about Occupy Wall Street. And it's something I am feeling extremely hopeful about. It maybe the start of a much needed revolution to secure a better future for 99% of us.
This Thursday it comes to Freedom Plaza, DC -- my hometown. I will be there for a little part of it. And although the first two or three days will be far more programmed (permit, big stage, older group of people on a steering committee) than Occupy Wall Street, it will quickly take on a very grassroots and participatory democratic structure, and a life of its own, when many refuse to leave and truly make this mobilization in the capital city another sustainable occupation demanding greater social and economic justice for all.