Around the time when the mainstream media began to cover Occupy Wall Street, one of my responsibilities at my internship included interviewing Marva, a 65 year-old African-American woman living on a fixed income in Ballwin, Missouri who had been fighting the foreclosure of her home for over two years. As we talked, a stack of paper several inches high sat on her kitchen table -- all of the paperwork she had received and filled out in a so-far unsuccessful attempt to stop the foreclosure of her home. At some point during our conversation, Marva referred to herself as a "99 percent-er." I was taken aback.
Up until that moment, I hadn't truly believed that Occupy Wall Street was anything other than a movement created by "radical leftists," for "radical leftists." But hearing Marva self-identify with the 99% changed my mind.
Since first hearing about it last summer, I had been skeptical of Occupy Wall Street. But despite my skepticism, I continued reading about the happenings in Zucotti Park. Although I was wary of the "movement," Occupy Wall Street did resonate with me, simply because it was willing to say, "We have a problem."
In fact, it was willing to say, "We have a lot of problems. And we haven't figured them all out yet. The problems are big banks, capitalism, income inequality, unfair foreclosures, the repeal of Glass-Steagall, environmental degradation, unemployment, corporate greed, globalization, racism, a Congress controlled by corporate interests, and a lot of other very complicated things." It was willing to say, "We're angry, so let's be angry together and figure out what we can do about it."
Still, I was skeptical. There weren't any clear-cut demands! Too many people were wearing Guy Fawkes masks! The high number of young, white people participating did not accurately reflect the composition of the 99%!
But after speaking with Marva my skepticism began to fade. I realized that, as someone who claims to be committed to "social justice," it would be irresponsible and impossible for me not to participate in the Occupy movement to the best of my ability. For me, "participating to the best of my ability" meant engaging in civil disobedience at a rally at the Martin Luther King Jr. Bridge in St. Louis on Thursday, November 17 as part of Occupy Wall Street's national Day of Action.
When I asked myself, "why should I participate in civil disobedience?" part of my answer was: because I can. For most people, such as Marva, voluntary arrest is not possible because of financial, health, and other concerns. But as a white, upper-middle class college student with the social and financial resources to be arrested with almost no subsequent consequences, I can strategically use my privilege to call attention to the injustice that pervades our country.
It is integral that students across the country become even more involved in the Occupy movement. We can carry on the legacy of student activism in our country by working to build a more just future in which we will live. Civil disobedience is one way that we can contribute.
In his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail," Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. writes, "We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with." To me, that is what the Occupy movement is about. That is what Thursday's march was about. That is why I participated in civil disobedience: to force us all to see that something (even if we don't know exactly what it is) is wrong, and then to come together to figure out how we can begin to fix it.
I only spent 11 hours in jail, but many of the things I experienced and observed affirmed again and again why the Occupy movement is necessary, and why change can't wait. Injustice of all kinds was constantly on display. The other inmates (and even some of the police officers and other people who worked at the jail) expressed support of the Occupy movement's messages.
I hope that the actions across the country on Thursday made it clear that the Occupy movement is not ending anytime soon and inspired more people -- especially students -- to participate. Now, Occupy can start having serious and difficult conversations about how to transition from symbolic victories to real victories, from social change to political change, and from a problematic present to a more just future.