Over the past months, much has been written about the Occupy movement. Critics bash the movement, calling protesters "lazy freeloaders who should shut up and get a job," while supporters praise the movement, donating money, time, and supplies. Regardless of where you stand on the spectrum of support, one thing is certain: the Occupy movement has started a new dialogue between people, which in many respects is its main goal.
While critics may view Occupiers as unpatriotic and annoying, Occupiers are really following in the footsteps of our country's founders. Think back to your grade school history classes and you'll see that the United States was founded upon protests. From the Stamp Act of 1765 to the Boston Tea Party in 1773, protests are what shaped our country and helped us become a free nation. So why frown upon protesting today?
Here's why: The Occupy movement is powerful and shows the world how anyone can be just as powerful and make a difference. Instead of looking to others -- such as politicians and big business -- to make the changes society needs, the Occupiers are proving that power rests in each individual. The Occupy movement shows that anyone -- from a war veteran to a homemaker to an unemployed worker -- can stand up for what's right and change the country, even the world. For many in power today, that's a scary thought. And that's why I love the Occupy movement.
Critics of the Occupy movement attempt to undermine the movement by questioning its validity when protesters don't have any set list of demands. They claim that all successful protests have a succinct list of things they want changed. What the critics fail to see is that the main point of Occupy is less about generating solutions than about generating pressure, solidarity, visibility, and discussion. Remember, Occupy is a movement; it's not a list of demands. It's a call for wide-sweeping change, not a shot at single-issue reforms. And that's what makes the movement different and great. As one protester's sign beautifully proclaimed: "Don't confuse the complexity of this movement with chaos."
What I find most interesting about the Occupy movement is that it provokes a response from the state, and the state responds in the only way that it knows how -- with force, control, and violence. Nowhere was this more obvious than at UC Davis, when police attacked seated students with a chemical gas. It seems that the Occupy movement forces the state to show its hand. And it shows us that our society has not changed much in the past 200 plus years.
A Bittersweet View
While I believe in the Occupy movement and applaud the protesters for bringing key issues to the limelight, there are a few things I hate about it too. For one, I can't help but question their approach and the way they are organizing (or perhaps not organizing) their protest. I wonder if they'd get better results, more awareness, and more support if they had a bit more of an organized structure.
It seems from watching the protests around the world, and even seeing protesters in my own city, that minorities and the underprivileged -- the people who need the message the Occupy movement stands for the most -- actually suffer the greatest consequences in the Occupy movement. For example:
• Family Supporters -- People whose livelihood and family income is reliant on them attending their jobs the next morning cannot afford to camp out with the Occupy movement, nor is it necessarily safe for them to do so. Could there be some other way for working people to join the message without risk losing their job, especially in a time when jobs can be hard to come by?
• Homeless -- The Occupy camps easily become safe havens for individuals who don't have a safe place to go. Along with social activists, the camps attract homeless people and others who may not really be there for the cause but who just need food and a tent to sleep in.
• Women -- One of the greatest concerns for Occupy LA is that women in particular do not feel safe staying there. This is really a reflection of a larger issue that is often masked in our society. Safety, especially for women, must be addressed more strongly.
• Undocumented Immigrants -- Undocumented people are exploited for their labor in this country but are denied particular rights and privileges extended to full citizens. These people have as much (if not more) at stake in the Occupy movement but have to be extremely careful when protesting due to being possibly deported, even though their voices add to the beautiful communication that takes place in these Occupy hubs.
Love them or hate them, the people involved with the Occupy movement have no intention of going away or disbanding. But even if they did, they definitely started a new global discussion about society, about equality, and about the rights of every individual that will carry on for years. I certainly hope the dialogue moves forward and that it embraces a format that enables everyone to participate, listen, and learn. The time for real change is now.