The Thing About Movements…

by Deborah Grabien

First things first: I should say, up front, that this is not going to be a particularly unbiased look at the Occupy movement. As much as I would have liked this to be an exemplar of classic journalism – with the author’s opinion tidily tucked into the background in favor of impartiality – that’s not happening. What started out, conceptually at least, as a balanced overview has become an op-ed piece, with heavy emphasis on the “op”. I should also say, up front, that I’ve now taken part in Occupy San Francisco, so I’ve had the chance to see for myself.

Look what’s happening out in the street –

Got a revolution! Got to revolution!

To some degree, we are almost all in the same boat: the good ship 99%. We are the unemployed, who are being told that not only are the jobs thin on the ground, but that unregulated corporate America is free to discriminate by hanging signs above the door: No unemployed people need apply. Only lateral movement welcomed. We are the middle class who, with ten-plus years of greed-run governmental policy behind us, are the middle class no longer; we’re now the slave class, thanks to our elected officials and the insidious stupidity that is the legacy of Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics. We are the homeowners forced to guard our doors against banks who mismanaged their assets and forced their own customer base into usurious interest rates and ruinous mortgages – and foreclosure.

In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s an awful lot of us. 99% of the population, in fact. That makes us the majority. Hell, that makes us the super-majority.

Hey, I’m dancing down the street

Got a revolution! Got to revolution!

A couple of years ago, a collection of oversized dinosaur institutions admitted they were teetering at the edge of ruin. This had come about gradually, with help from previous political administrations, especially the most recent Republican one, George W. Bush and Friends; when The Powers That Be are big believers in sticking it to the working class and charging 32% interest on the lube they don’t bother to actually use, the fat cats do what they want. And when the Democratic congress cowers and abases itself before the Republican half of the equation, everyone loses. In this instance, what we lost was stability, and our futures. Not very surprising that we’d like a word with the people who lost it – except, of course, that they didn’t lose it. They stole it.

Ain’t it amazing all the people I meet!

Got a revolution! Got to revolution!

With Too Big To Fail entrenched as part of the American political and corporate mindset, certain things became inevitable. One was TARP: According to Pro Publica’s tracking list (, 926 banks and insurers were given $579,952,314,483 in taxpayer funds. Less than half of that – $277,810,865,263 – has been returned. And in fact, a ridiculous percentage of what was returned was raised by the recipient institutions using a technique that really does boggle the mind: They raised interest rates on their customer base – the same people who provided the government with the money to hand out to those institutions in the first place. They did it because they could; no one from Dick Cheney through Timothy Geithner was willing to impose regulations on these people. In the dimwitted greed-soaked world of Friedman Economics, the market regulates itself, and everyone else should just relax and back off – and, presumably, bend over and assume the position. Purest usury.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul is one thing. Robbing to Peter to pay Peter, whom you’ve already robbed, is in a class of ethical bankruptcy all by itself.

So, what have we got? We have a two-party system which seems, more and more, to be devoted to a common goal: creating a slave class that will rip each other’s throats out for the privilege of paying a 17% mortgage rate to Bank of America or AIG or Citicorp or one of the MAEs, while working a job that requires a name tag and a constant repetition of “you want fries with that?” We have a corporate power structure so bloated, so overweening, so unregulated, that it can wave its arms and sneer booga booga booga, nice little economy you’ve got here, shame if something HAPPENED to it, and a panic-stricken political structure will throw more money at it, with virtually no hope in hell of getting more than a dribble of it back.

In light of that farcically tragic situation, two things strike me as inevitable: the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movement.

I hate the Tea Party. I’ll be upfront about that. The people making the noise on their behalf are, without exception, a collection of jinglebrained ninnyhammers who, presumably, all think they can see Russia from Sarah Palin’s gun rack. Michele Bachman takes government funding to “pray away the gay”; the obviously-named Rand Paul thinks “Atlas Shrugged” is a how-to manual, rather than a bad novel. The Tea Partiers shriek about wanting government out of the lives of the people from one side of their mouths, while trying to control reproductive rights and other peoples’ marriages out the other. They rail about the bad results of deregulation, while howling about how terrible things are when Big Government regulates things. What inconsistency.

They’re also a political movement, with a political agenda. The second inevitability, Occupy Wall Street, is something else altogether. With respect to Vice President Joe Biden (who compared the two movements and who, as a core part of the problem, should probably just shut up now), Occupy Wall Street – which is now in cities across America and has spread to a similarly financially beleaguered Europe – may be exactly what we need to get it right.

I’m not going too deep into the core of the movement. If you rely on Fox News or a Scaife or Murdoch-owned print news media, you’re probably already calling me rude names. I don’t waste time on lost causes. But if you’ve been paying attention in the real world, you know that, from New York to Boise to Atlanta to Miami to Pocatello to Seattle and well beyond, the social movement called Occupy is on the march and on the rise.

Because yes, this is a social movement. It has no political agenda. In fact, I’ve been hoping that Occupy refuses any hint of a political touch, because that would be the wedge the 1% used to break it apart. The moment someone sticks a flag in the movement and claims it in the name of Smaller Government or the Obama Jobs Creation Bill or Get Out of Afghanistan, it’s in trouble. This is about the diversity of the 299 million parts that make up the whole of that 99%. This is one of those rare instances where the sum of the parts and the parts are equally matched. That also makes them equally vulnerable. Hold fast, guys. Don’t let the bastards wedge you into nonexistence.

I spent about seven hours on the ground with Occupy San Francisco, in front of the Fed building on Market and Main. Following OccupySF’s tweets, I read that they were in desperate need of clean socks and underwear; luckily, Walgreen’s had a huge bin of $1.99-for-four-pairs of socks, so I blew my mad money for the week and scored twenty pairs of socks. I loaded up a couple of bags and, with old friend and sister rabble rousing progressive Denise Dunne in tow, we headed downtown to see what was what.

The cops on duty that day seemed very nice, which surprised me. I was expecting flaming Gestapo types – the previous night, interim mayor Ed Lee had dispatched a small army of pissed-off cops to the site of the Fed building on market and Main. Supervisor John Avalos – who is getting my vote for mayor next month – negotiated; the cops promised to leave the Occupiers alone, and then both manhandled them and stole all their stuff on a ridiculous assortment of bullshit charges as soon as Avalos was gone.

This was a new shift of cops, and they were more sympathetic than I’d expected. The new crew had let the protesters know that DPW would be coming by sweep again, and the protesters were worried. I brought my car around and we bundled as much into it as would fit, and I went off to park until DPW had been and gone. Mostly, what I stored safely were their sleeping bags.

Many of us saw what happened during the New York marches: the video of the thuggish white-shirted NYPD cop bragging that his nightstick was going to get a workout, of him and a few like him charging into a crowd of citizens who were breaking no laws, is now viral and imprinted. But this is San Francisco, city of traditionally loopy lefty progressive politics, of beatniks and hippies and the nation’s first openly gay politician. There were no sneering swaggering uniformed button-popping lumps of self-importance, waving nightsticks at the people they’d sworn to serve and protect. Mind you, if the idiot officer handling the media liaison for SFPD is anything to go by, there are still a few bugs in the local system; the man was rude, pompous and left me wanting to reach through the phone and slap him. Still, that’s easier to deal with than armed jackbootery.

For the hours I was there, the cops were fine. They kept the protesters off the property actually owned by the Fed, and made sure they stayed on the public sidewalk; that way, the Fed couldn’t bitch. When the Occupiers were joined by an anti-war march and the numbers swelled by several hundred, the police motorcycle escort were efficient and utterly non-confrontational. To a man (I saw no women officers on duty), they ignored the two completely naked guys, holding up signs.

As an old 1960s Viet Nam asskicker, I had some thoughts on the protest. I couldn’t help thinking it would have been even more effective had the people in the Fed looked down into complete silence, and seen that sea of faces and upturned signs. I was impressed with the General Assembly the Occupiers use to communicate: Information is passed through a widening circle of people, all repeating it aloud to make sure everyone’s on the same page. I was also impressed with the number of MUNI drivers who took part, in their own way; the curbside was lined with Occupiers holding up signs asking people to honk if they support the 99%. There was quite a lot of horn action going on, and a heartening percentage of that came from public transport vehicles. They know exactly what’s happening to their pensions, and who’s responsible, it seems.

Denise and I were interviewed by two nice young men from the Academy of Art college, who were filming a documentary. Their stated hope was to get it before the rest of their school and out into the neural pathways of the internet, via youtube and beyond. We signed waivers and answered questions as to what we believed was happening, why we thought it was happening, how it differed from what we’d seen back in the bad old days of the Viet Nam war protests. That really brought it home to me; my daughter is 32 years old, and it’s just possible the parents of the kids who filmed us, asked us intelligent questions and then listened to, recorded and filmed our answers without interruption had not yet been born when Denise and I were going mano a mano with the ancestors of that thug in the white shirt in New York City. A Moment, really, as telling as it was poignant: I’m old.

There are certain things this movement needs, the main thing being bodies willing to put themselves out there, 24/7. I can’t do that – with multiple sclerosis, certain things are simply not negotiable, and the soma is the last voice in what we do. Old or not, though, I can hold a sign and make noise, and that is precisely what I did. I can use the internet, tweeting what I say and blogging, and that’s just what I’m doing. I can and will make as much noise as I can, because silence, here, is complicity. I don’t choose to continue my dignified and stately progress towards the grave unable to meet my own eye in the mirror every morning. So silence is not an option – nor, if you are one of the 99% or understand what is happening, should it be an option for you. The good ship 99% is finally arming itself, albeit not violently, and it must not be allowed to founder.

That’s one thing about most movements, the thing that kills them, the thing I dread most about this one: that the Occupiers will waver. We have drawn this line in the sand, and told the greed-mongers, the thieves, that we’re on to them and that we’re going to hold them accountable. We’ve announced it, on the rising tide of outrage and smashed hope: We are not going away.

So Occupy can’t go away. It can’t waver. It can’t let itself be disheartened, scared off by misguided cops protecting the very people who are stealing their futures. It can’t let itself be pushed back or defeated by the winter that’s coming; they will need sleeping bags and supplies to keep them going through the cold brutal nights on the street.

Because, if we waver, we’re all likely to discover first-hand what sleeping on the street in the winter is all about.

Deborah Grabien is the author of numerous published books and articles,  and editor at Plus One Press. Visit her website at:

Quoted lyrics are all from the Jefferson Airplane song, “Volunteers of America”.

Film, I Am Not Moving uploaded by Corey Ogilvie, includes photography from Alex Mallis.

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