My Time at Occupy Philly

As a measure of journalistic curiosity and general empathy, I decided to shed my suit and tie and join ‘Occupy Philly’ at City Hall last night. It was both experimentation and genuine dedication, and I would like to share my experience so that a better understanding of the general movement can be conveyed to those who cannot be present or might be receiving a doctored message through the mainstream media.

To begin, every few hours there are several meetings of small ‘committees’, usually around thirty to forty people. The purpose is to reiterate basic ground rules-respect for each other, non-violence, no self-appointed spokesmen, and to begin work on drafting a general mission statement. Each committee then tasks itself with electing a delegate for the day, who shall then join the next committee meeting to represent the wishes and ideas of the former group, a quasi-representative system of democratic rule. This allows for the most basic level of cohesion possible, dedicated more to correctly aligning march times than adjustment of any final goal or ideal.

The message is still quite varying, seeing as most of the individuals can unequivocally state that this their first bout of street activism, but the overall theme stays consistent with the ‘99%’ meme floated on the websites, social media, and the first ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement. The crowd is varying, from students to professionals to veterans of the military and public service, but each has their own story to share about what they view as injustice in their lives. Despite the variance in age throughout the crowd, it is overwhelmingly dominated by younger white males, especially significant considering both the population of African-Americans and Hispanics, who are disproportionally affected by the policies which ‘Occupiers’ are decrying.

As the hours flew by, I began conversing with several of the ‘Occupiers’ to get a general sense of what drew them to City Hall, rather than writing a blog post, drafting a petition, or organizing a boycott. The signs and banners which decorate the site proudly display messages such as “HUMAN NEED NOT HUMAN GREED”, “WE ARE THE 99%”, and “THEY DON’T NEED ALL THAT MONEY”. In this regard, this sit-in is much akin to the beginning of the Russian Revolution in 1917, which focused its anger on the kulaks, the independently wealthy farmers who the peasants considered to be “greedy” and “selfish” money-grabbers who deserved to have their property taken away. Once the revolutionaries seized power, they began a process called Dekulakization, which involved rounding up, arresting, deporting, and even exterminating those whom they determined to be “too rich”. Unfortunately, the latest sentiments from many Americans have teetered toward SOAK THE RICH, a theme covered by my last radio program.

In all sincerity, let us hope it shall not come to that:

After engaging with several occupiers, I began to fully understand the ruling mantra of the event. The vast majority believes the current system of political organization and economic ‘distribution’ is inherently unjust and evil. They demonize capitalists and industrialists, who they claim have made their fortunes “on the backs of the rest of us”. One fellow even went so far as to say that there were absolutely no virtuous billionaires, with one sole exception: Mark Zuckerberg. I then put forth the relevant question: if Mark Zuckerberg can make his billions of dollars by selling individuals’ private data to marketing companies and branding corporations, mostly by preying on the gullible who are willing to share every aspect of their personal lives online, how can any measure of virtue be found in his actions? My question was met with no response. There was no discussion of Bill Gates, George Soros, Warren Buffett, or any other of the 60 billionaires who have pledged to give away at least half of their fortunes in their lifetimes. The reciprocating silence allowed me to easily grasp the tensions that existed there, and decided to transition to the telling of my own story.

As close to fifteen people gathered round, I began to share my own grievances. In attempting to keep my journalistic cover, I stated the following:

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“As I have been able to work and study abroad, I have been able to compare the composition of the American ruling structure to others, and significant inconsistencies arise. To begin, there is an ongoing maintenance of an overseas empire of millions of troops to the tune of trillions of dollars, but it seems to be no concern to the domestic population. The military is stacked with poor, rural individuals who have no other means to pay for college or University. Faced with the high costs of tuition, many, including my own friends, choose to serve in the armed forces as a means of paying for their education, rather than take out costly loans. They then find themselves in lands which have seen thousands of years of conflict, where American occupation has greatly shaken the population and constant resistance proves to greatly endanger their lives at every turn. As those young men and women risk death, billions of dollars in public contracts are doled out to politically-connected groups and corporations, enriching many private citizens with public wealth while the rest of the domestic population sees their burdens more heavily weighed at every turn. The Federal Reserve lowers interest rates and continues to print fiat money, perpetuating economic inequality and distorted market signals which plague our society and susuatin mass unemployment. Those trillions of dollars, with no real worth, are driven into the hands of selected banking institutions and are extended to Congress to pay for their enormous deficits. Meanwhile, poor minorities feel the blunt of the unjust drug laws, clogging up to 50% of our entire justice system. If there is anything or anyone who is to be demonized or demoaned, it is to be those while continue to support and justify such transgression.”

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Once my monologue had ended, the tone of those near changed. Many of the occupiers lamented saying that economic justice was their only goal, now claiming that war and peace issues were just as significant. As a journalist, this was especially poignant. Whereas before the concentration was merely on focused on ‘distribution of wealth’, the opening of the forum to other matters sparked more pointed conversations about what the movement should hope to achieve. Many more began speaking of the elite financial institutions, tied to the Federal Reserve and the fiat money standard, which are actively bailing out European banks in order to save the Euro. Others concentrated on the drug war, and the disproportional affect on minorities. The ideas spread and the crowd began to engage on a further level. New signs were crafted, new chants were memorized, and fresh perspective inspired what was still a long night ahead. It was 3am by this point, and the crowd was reduced to approximately 150 people, with only half actually attempting to catch a wink.  Even the mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, stopped by to pose for the cameras (coincidentally during election season). Alas, the publicity hounds exited and the lines of coffee cups were gently placed in the recycling bins. Another day had passed.

As I took the night bus away from City Hall, many of the demonstrators began huddling in groups in order to stay warm. While this was based in rudimentary biological functions, it also eased the sharing of thoughts, ideas, and concerns that would charge their march the next day. This measure personified their dedication to what they viewed as fair participation in a democratic state, blankets and all.

The waning gibbous moon shone over the courageous souls who had found a new reason for living this week. While many may view the gathering as an autonomous, unorganized, incoherent expression of malcontent, the occupiers see themselves as the truthful advocates for a better tomorrow, whether it be dominated by the refreshing of participatory democracy or by the maintenance of a complacent majority-rule.

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