Greetings from Occupy Wall Street
On balance, both my daughters are a-political humanists; honest, industrious, college educated citizens. So it was surprising to hear what my youngest was telling my wife and I on speaker phone Tuesday night. I said if you feel that strongly, why not put it down on paper and I'll share it with my audience. She did, and here it is. It helped me to understand a little better, not just about what's going on in this country and around the world, but how young people were viewing the world around them. With the exception of a few commas, dots and dashes, this piece is completely unabridged and unedited
By Linda Pricci
New York City, October 11, 2011--Once you visit Occupy Wall Street, you can no longer pretend it isn’t there. I entered the encampment as a tourist—literally, as I was on my way to see the reflecting pools at Ground Zero—but soon realized that a movement like this demanded respect.
I decided to walk around this tent city located in a small New York sidewalk park about the size of a building plot—usually all concrete with the exception of sporadic trees and flower pots—to find that it’s now all tarps, drum circles, mattresses, with folding tables reflecting any and all issues and, oh yeah, bodies.
I did what I normally do, which is to form an immediate opinion of the crowd in reaction to what I saw: homeless bohemians lying around in various states of inebriation. I thought, ‘well, if you have to be homeless, why not make a party of it‘?
The whole thing felt convenient for some—a place to rest your head within a community of like-minded individuals. I understood why they were angry, mostly. I do get it. But for that moment I could not get passed the “what’s the point of the whole thing?”
I’ll admit that I was intimidated at first because part of me felt like a fraud, with my good job, nice apartment and new car. These people were not like me. I was on the outside of the barricade looking in.
I approached Paul with a rather silly “hi” wave and a “how long have you been here?” I immediately made my intentions clear--that this was a fact finding mission--because the only way not to feel like a fraud was not to act like one.
Paul explained that he has been homeless ever since he was dishonorably discharged from the Iraq War, but with his baby face I almost couldn’t believe it. Since being sent home, the government no longer had an obligation to pay him the money he was promised as a veteran and now had to live on the streets.
Photo by: Linda Pricci
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I felt comfortable enough to ask Paul why he was discharged, and he told me that with only four months before his tour ended, he turned in all his ammo, refused to take part in storming civilian homes, and began to help the Iraqi people. This was treason.
I then opened up about my fears—the ones I felt I was too “privileged” to admit—which were met with something totally unexpected: empathy. I had just looked a homeless stranger in the eyes and confessed my fear that at any moment the life I have built for myself could crumble.
I have no savings and work paycheck to paycheck. My parents will not be around forever and it feels like no matter how hard I work as marketing manager for a multi-million dollar international publishing company, a modestly paying job by big city standards, I likely will never own my own home.
At 33-years-old, I now realize I never had a chance at the “American dream” of my parents’ youth. The moment I lose it all, I am no different than any of these people living on the street.
Paul explained that we--a phrase he used throughout--cannot sit idly by and watch as 1% of our country holds 100% of the cards. “We” have occupied Wall Street because we deserve to live in a house and know that the bank won’t use some small print in a contract to price us out of our homes.
“We” deserve to be educated and should not have to begin our lives saddled with significant student debt; because we should feel that working hard means that we can afford the basic essentials, and even some luxuries, without the fear of losing our life savings in a flash because there is plenty of work, plenty of housing and plenty of resources for us all to coexist. And because there are plenty of us to form a worldwide community to ensure each other’s survival. Sounds like utopian, hippie bullshit, doesn’t it?
Well, that’s the real injustice.
What Paul made me realize is that people need to fundamentally shift their way of thinking. “We” can’t Occupy Wall Street fighting for a way to get everything we want. We need to change what we want.
When people become comfortable with less, they will want less. When people want less, they will stop acquiring at the expense of others. The media likes to think that there is no real cause at Occupy Wall Street, but the truth is there are many. And no matter how disparate those causes may seem, they all can be traced to one deadly sin: Greed.
While talking to Paul, I pointed to a large building and said, “I feel like this building represents this fight. It’s huge and overwhelming and I know no matter how hard I try I will never be able to scale it. I will never be able to go through it. I will always have to resign myself to the fact that I must go around it.”
At that point, Paul looked up and said “Yes, but if you stand on all of our shoulders, we’ll get over it together.”
Even if the fight at Occupy Wall Street does not directly affect you, it does not mean it is not your fight. These injustices, previously left unchecked, have become acceptable to the point of slowly consuming us all.
As Paul said, he is willing to fight for the people who live in their comfortable homes and are unable or unwilling to engage. “I fight for them as much as I fight for myself because they are victims too. Even if they don’t know it.”
I entered Occupy Wall Street thinking, ‘what can one person do, really?’ What I learned is it’s not about one person changing the world. It’s about one person helping to change the voice of a silent majority.
As for the 1%, I’ve learned that we’re not likely to change their way of thinking. Instead, we need to teach the masses to speak out and believe that change can happen, so that someday it’s one of our own on the ballot. This is evolution, not war.
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