My first visit to Occupy L.A. was in the context of the October 7th "Jobs Not War" Peace March marking the 10th anniversary of the War in Afghanistan. "What is the focus? What does this mean? And is this effective?" Those are but some of the questions I've been pondering as the growth and momentum of the Occupy Movement has become not only the focus for reporters and bloggers but the fodder for editorials and sermons in the days and weeks since.
And so I returned to Occupy L.A. for a second visit on a Sunday afternoon (10/30.) Deciding not to announce my identity as a priest, I left my clerical collar at home -- and spent several hours in observation.
I approached from the corner where the First Aid Tent stands with its assurances of free care (and a massage table), then visited as many landmarks as possible: child care with kids blowing bubbles, the press tent, the theater tent (for poets and playwrights), the sukkah left over from Sukkoth (who said there is no religious presence?), the meditation tent (with or without Reiki), the Library, the Food tent, the People's Collective University Tent (remember Mandela converting Robben Island into a University?), and two active music and dance centers.
The signs, now famous on Facebook, were everywhere:
• "A Library is not a luxury; it is a necessity," Henry Ward Beecher (I of course wanted to send this to every right-wing congressperson trying to do away with public services)
• "15 years ago we had Steve Jobs, Bob Hope, and Johnny Cash. Now we have No Jobs, no Hope, and no Cash."
• "The world will not evolve past its current state of crisis by using the same thinking that created the situation," Albert Einstein
• "I believe that as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil," Robert F. Kennedy
I engaged the folks staffing the Food tent. All their supplies have come from friends bringing in water, food, and ice. "No, we don't have shifts; we're not that structured. I've been here for hours. We just show up when it's meal time."
I stayed at length at the People's Collective University for the end of the lecture on non-violent tactics and the start of the hour lecture on Economics 101. I was impressed with the dedication to responding to any police action with 100% non-violence. A West Point graduate who had served in Iraq gave the basics making sure that no one responds violently -- only with a "fetal ball," to protect one's vulnerable points and with as much video as possible ("the police have an Achilles' heel -- they can't combat video reports of our non-violence with their rubber bullets, billy clubs, and tear gas.")
I was entranced by the Capoeira dance and music -- an interracial, Afro-Brazilian music and dance form that was delightfully interracial and non-sexist.
In the end my questions of "What is the focus? What does this mean? And is this effective?" were gradually replaced with what I think is the deeper question appropriate at this young point in the experiment spreading throughout the planet called "Occupy."
That question is, "What can we learn from these people?"
Maybe there is a second and more profound question: "If democracy began to look like this, would it be closer to the founding fathers' notion than what we have in Washington, D.C. right now?" I think the answer to the first question is: "We can learn a great deal." The answer to the second question is a resounding, "Yes."