I was in town pet sitting for a friend when I went online to find out what is happening with the Occupy movement in Philadelphia. I saw that there was an Assembly Meeting at the Friends Center Thursday evening so I decided to check it out.
I am so glad I did. Previously I had written twice in The Huffington Post about Occupy Philly this past fall describing my trips to Dilworth Plaza and my interviews with various people connected to the movement. I remember coming away inspired and full of hope for the future.
This assembly was an even deeper experience of insightful, spiritual activism. Even though the tents are gone, one occupier shared that "the organic whole of the movement still exists." I would guess there were about 40 people there. There were representatives of all ages and races. It began with business items first: schedules, court dates, the website, and announcements. I almost felt like I was at a church meeting. Occupy is planning a New Year's Eve party and being a part of the Mummer's parade.
Then we got into small groups of five or so and discussed what we personally have experienced or learned from the Occupy movement this past year, then shared the impact we felt it has had on Philadelphia, the country and the world.
A person from each small group proceeded to share what was discussed. There seemed to be a common theme of having changed the national conversation to one about income inequality. One mentioned how "occupy" was the word most used in the social network in 2011. Some brought up the connection the Occupy movement has to the Arab Spring and all that is going on across the world today.
Many shared how the Occupiers feel at home with one another and that everyone is like family. A young man stated how for years he watched C-Span and CNN frustrated at how things were run, but felt helpless to change it and that now this movement has awakened the activist within him. A young African American said he was proud to be a part of history through the work of Occupy Philly. Another young woman relayed how her discussion group pointed out that it was empowering to have so many people of various backgrounds, ethnicities, and races come together in a truly democratic process. Still another stated that the Occupy movement has created a culture of respect where we hold one another accountable -- something almost non-existent in our overall culture and current political environment.
Some of the local accomplishments stated include creating awareness of homelessness, a racist curfew law, a failing education system, safety issues in public spaces, foreclosure problems, and the recent "Occupy 440" protest staged by school nurses who were just laid off by the Philadelphia School District. Another accomplishment of the movement as a whole was said to be striking fear into the hearts of politicians and that the timing of the birth of Occupy Wall Street is perfect with this upcoming 2012 election.
It was also pointed out that there is now an Occupy Okinawa showing the far scope and impact the movement has made throughout the globe. In fact, a participant was there from Okinawa sending greetings from halfway around the world. A Quaker woman from the center shared that a Minister from Russia said he prays everyday for the Occupy movement.
In my small group I shared my adventure of interviewing people at Occupy Philly for my articles and how connected I felt on the train ride home with everyone in the train. Something about that experience touched the common bond I have with other fellow human beings.
Jacob, who spoke for our group shared how he was a protester from the 1960s and that this movement is much different from any that existed during that time period. For one thing, this is a horizontal movement with the energy coming up from the group and not the individual. There are no leaders directing action from the top down. It is a true grass roots movement with a forum for all voices.
I think that is what attracted me to the Occupy Wall Street movement from the beginning. My nature is to be in the background, blend in, and be part of the whole. I do that as a musician too. I felt very at home at this meeting. Maybe that is what is unique about OWS. It is not about the ego, but about consensus and working together. Their goals of social and economic justice are greater than the aspirations of the individual.
I shared how moved I was by the peaceful resistance shown by the protesters being pepper sprayed at the UC Davis in California and how it reminded me of the non-violent practices of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. (whose name was brought up more than once at the meeting.)
Jacob eloquently shared to the whole group how he felt we are the heirs of Gandhi, and King, Margaret Sanger and implied that they are watching over the facilitating of this unfolding movement. It was a chilling revelation that received a very positive reaction from all that were there.
Throughout the meeting I was sitting near an artist who was painting a portrait of one of the female participants. It was quite good and seemed to catch the essence of its subject. It was exciting witnessing this work of art come to fruition over the course of two hours. In fact, it could be analogous of the movement itself which sprung to life seemingly out of nowhere this past fall. Back in September, the nation was consumed with worrying about debt and spending. Now we are discussing jobs, outsourcing, unequal tax codes, bank bailouts, and corporate greed. It is a kind of miracle and work of art that the voice of the oppressed 99 percent is finally being heard.
Over all, after the Assembly meeting, I came away with an optimism that maybe the year 2012 will be a turning point for this country and the world. If nothing else, the Occupy movement has awakened and inspired a lot of hurting folks to get involved, contribute, and help create a better world for us all. As Time magazine so appropriately points out, 2011 is the "year of the protester" and Occupy Philly is just getting started.