Being a member of Occupy Phoenix is not for the faint of heart. There's a reason why Arizona is both the originator of legislation like SB1070 (the notorious "Show me your ID if you're brown" law) and the same state that one year later successfully recalled the man who sponsored that bill, Russell Pearce.
In short, our state motto, rather than the official "Ditat Deus"or "God Enriches," should really be "Non es dominus" which roughly translates to "You're not the boss of me."
In short, Zonies don't like to be pushed around.
I have been a media volunteer for Occupy Phoenix for about a month now, and I can attest to the fact that our reputation for fierce - ok, stubborn -- independence also carries over to this movement, even when doing so is against our best instincts. But I do have hope.
Arizona is a state in a state of disarray when it comes to activism. The Occupy movement started nicely enough, with an incredible rally at César Chávez Plaza that brought together hundreds of folks from disparate groups. We all agreed: the 99% had suffered mightily at the hands of the few. After all, most of our Republican lawmakers had signed the Grover Norquist pledge.
If that weren't bad enough, the long, moneyed arm of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) had also rendered them minions of the private prison industry.
That day, as I walked around the plaza spraying water on over-heated protestors of all stripes, my heart fairly sung at the possibility for real change. Alas, like all new romances, the bloom came off that rose faster than Sheriff Joe Arpaio racing to a microphone.
The turf wars commenced. A small but vocal group of occupiers felt the need to insult Democrats, members of the Moveon.org and union reps. Fortunately, they did manage to stop at disrespecting peoples' mamas. Key members of the Arizona Democratic Party waxed sarcastic at the notion of events that didn't involve separating activists from ever dwindling stashes of cash. Some Moveon.org members were prickly about the attention this upstart group was getting. In the meantime, a motley group of stalwarts held the plaza.
Occupy Phoenix faces some unique challenges.
First of all, despite the fall of Pearce, we remain an extraordinarily conservative state with a very strong old boy's network - in both parties. Money talks here too, despite foreclosure, unemployment and generally high rates of personal misery. Bucking the system is just not cool - yet.
Secondly, most Phoenix occupiers work and simply cannot live at the plaza. The optics of that fact makes it difficult to convey the intensive off-site efforts of the Cyber99.
Finally, and perhaps most profoundly, onlookers' cynicism and fear (masked as smug bons mots) act as impediments to greater involvement from Phoenicians suffering through the Great Recession.
That was last week. Today, a month after that splendiferous rally at the space named after a man who personified non-violent resistance against corporate greed, a core group of people from all the aforementioned groups has come to recognize the opportunity before us. We realize we're stronger working together rather than pushing apart. We can maintain cross-identities as members of some or all the aforementioned factions. It's "both / and," not "either / or." We know we can do better. And we will. After all, Arizona might be the land of "You're not the boss of me," but working together, we'll also, once again prove the truth of "Si, se puede."
Diane D'Angelo is a writer from Phoenix. She is passionate about civic engagement and serves as the chair of the City of Phoenix Human Relations Commission, as a board member of Kids Voting Arizona, and is an Arizona Democratic Party State Committee member. This is her first piece for OfftheBus. If you would like to contribute to Off the Bus 2012, please sign up at www.offthebus.org.