A friend of mine recently called me, in a place of desperation, not sure where to turn. She recently lost her job – one she’d held for nearly a decade – a management position at a local food manufacturer. She and her husband have had an extremely bad run of luck this past year. He got laid off at the beginning of the year and struggled to find work up until recently, and she’s been plagued with a host of health problems, having been diagnosed with tumors in her back, ongoing problems with her digestive system, as well as work-related physical ailments. After multiple surgeries and months of recovery, she was finally able to go back to work, only to be laid off herself a month later. Around the same time, they got evicted from their home. Her car got repossessed. They, along with their three children, rely heavily on both her and her husband’s incomes, so now that she isn’t working, they are sinking fast.
When she called, she was in tears. “I don’t know what we’re going to do,” she said to me, her voice shaky. “We’re literally down to our last ten dollars. We can’t pay our bills. I can’t find a job. I’ve looked everywhere under the sun. Full time, part time, and everything in between. I just found out that I’ve been denied unemployment. We are simply screwed.”
I didn’t know what to tell her. My family is in the same predicament. My husband was also laid off earlier this year, after working for more than ten years in the same industry, eight of those years at the same company. He survived the first two rounds of lay-offs, but not the third. We’re lucky enough that he draws unemployment, and for a brief moment he was going back to school to further his education, but then he lost his scholarship money and grants due to budget cuts. I work part-time from home, while also taking care of our toddler son, but my salary is barely enough to make a difference. He is unemployed. I’m underemployed. Yet we’re one of the lucky families, because we still have somewhere to live.
I hear stories from friends, family members, and acquaintances every day who are struggling. People who have always been able to keep up with their monthly finances are having their utilities cut off, losing their vehicles, having to apply for food stamps and Medicaid. They are forced to take out title loans on their cars or pawn their belongings to make rent. I know quite a few families with children who are being forced to find roommates, or share homes with other families, just so they can keep a roof over their head.
Those stories are not unique. My friend’s families and my family are not extreme cases. In fact, we have it better than many in this country right now. We haven’t lost our homes. We still have our vehicles. We still manage to scrounge up the money to pay our cell phone bills and keep food in our mouths. Many families in the United States do not have those privileges.
For about a week now I’ve been watching the Occupy Wall Street Movement with fascination, pride, and admiration. I’ve watched this exemplary group of people stand up for their rights, and for our rights. “We are the 99%…and so are YOU!” is but one of the inspirational messages of this brave, intelligent and steadfast group. For the first week of the occupation, they got little to no attention from anyone at all. They stood their ground. Within a week, people on Twitter were paying attention. Then came Facebook. Then some independent media. Now, as I write this, a few media outlets, including MSNBC, NPR, and a handful of others, are dipping their toes gingerly into the water. They are beginning to cover this incredible event. Some of it is biased, all of it is vague, but the coverage is coming. Slowly, celebrities and respected public figures are lending their support, advice and friendship to the cause. Among those are Noam Chomsky, Dr. Cornell West, Michael Moore, Susan Sarandon, Russell Simmons, Roseanne Barr, Lupe Fiasco, Immortal Technique, and more. Every day another notable public figure joins the fold and lends their notoriety to the cause.
As I watch the live streaming of this movement, I can’t help but swell with pride that these are my peers. Naysayers on Twitter and elsewhere would have you believe it’s just a small group of “unwashed hippies” standing up for a muddled and unidentifiable cause that will surely fail. What I’ve seen is somewhat different. People of all ages, including the now infamous “Grannies For Peace,” are standing up in solidarity for change. I’ve seen people from various political groups, including Democrats, Libertarians and Republicans, standing together in friendship. Children as young as 11 are mingling with college students, unemployed 40-somethings, and everyone in between. 9/11 first responders are out there. Vietnam veterans are out there. United States postal workers and airline pilots are out there. Even a few police officers seem to be showing their support for this movement.
People keep asking, “What are you guys protesting?” The short answer is: injustice. We are protesting the 1% of wealthy individuals in this country who keep the rest of us, the 99%, in poverty. We are protesting Wall Street, corporate fat cats, and the fact that corporations run our world instead of democracies. We are protesting the fact that our country is so far removed from what our founding fathers intended that we’ve become an international joke. We are protesting the death penalty, due to inhumane and outrageously unfair executions, such as in the case of Troy Davis last week. We’re protesting censorship, the denial of our liberty and constitutional rights. We’re protesting sexism, racism, homophobia, and discrimination of all kinds.
(The Social Group Anonymous, which is affiliated with the movement, has released what they are calling The Occupy Wall Street’s List of “Demands”, which can be found here.)
The important thing, however, isn’t what we’re “against.” The important thing is what we’re promoting. Freedom. Liberty. Solidarity. A nation that operates openly, so that the collective eyes of the country can always see what is going on. A nation where everyone can have an equal piece of the pie, where innocent people don’t starve to death or die of illnesses that could have been prevented if they’d just had a little money. Where the select few aren’t able to make billions off of recessions or trade in the human suffering of others. Where we don’t act as big brother to the rest of the world, or base our very existence on the almighty dollar. We are promoting peace, love, and happiness (or, at the very least, the pursuit of it). Okay, so maybe some of us are hippies.
The movement is now in its 11th day, and more and more people are trickling in, and becoming aware of their place in it. Despite the negative press, the violent clash with the NYPD, the media blackout and mass apathy of the general public, the movement is spreading. People are gathering in Chicago, L.A., and Denver. Protests are being planned for Atlanta, Memphis, and Madison, as well as Sydney and London. It will continue growing. It is a beautiful thing, to watch citizens of all ages, all socioeconomic statuses, all levels of education, political affiliations, religions and cultures, all gathering together to take back our lives. To take back OUR country. And they are doing it peacefully.
I hope, and truly, I believe, that this movement will accomplish something. We have reached a point as a society, and as a nation, where something must change. We have the power to do so. I’m on pins and needles with excitement, and full of hope that we can take back our rights, become prosperous and equal again, and that people like my friend and her family can once again enjoy the freedoms that they are promised as citizens of the United States. I hope that we can once again become a nation that everyone is proud of.
Just as “The Arab Spring” left us captivated and inspired earlier this year, so will the “American Autumn.” We have the power, and we can do this. You are me, and I am you.
Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you. -Thomas Jefferson
Photograph Courtesy of Steven Greaves/Demotix/Corbis