||[Nov. 7th, 2011|11:53 am]
|||||guns and roses: sweet child o mine.||]|
I've spent a week now at Occupy Philadelphia, doing Top Secret portraits and meeting people. It's been a weird and wonderful experience -- confusing, depressing, and uplifting all at once. Most everyone I talk to says that the best thing about being there is "talking to people I never would have met" -- and I think that's true. I've met people saying things that make sense to me, and people saying things that make no sense to me, and people saying things that make no sense to me at first that later begin to make some sense.
The dynamic in Philly is so different than most anywhere else -- the Mayor is meeting with protesters and the city has been "working" with them. I say "working" because there's not exactly a consensus on what Occupy Philadelphia wants from the city so the things the mayor is doing aren't necessarily the things everyone wants. Every night at 7:00 there's a meeting of the General Assembly where a leaderless collective tries, through direct democracy, to steer their movement. But unlike many other cities, the police haven't rolled in with tear gas and batons and rubber bullets -- I suspect that nobody wants to be the next Mayor of Oakland, so people tread softly. Police and protesters are seen leaning against lamp-posts talking about sports and sharing cigarettes. That makes me happy, or proud -- that in the City of Brotherly Love and the womb of American Democracy we still know how to have a political discussion. (However, when our sports teams win something we burn the place down.)
Philadelphia's also different from many of the other occupy movements in that the place the protesters chose to set up camp was a place where a number of homeless people were already living -- some for years, and some for decades. The success at which the homeless population has been absorbed, or at least, cared for by the protesters is relatively remarkable. Occupy Philadelphia is, the last I heard, providing 1,500 meals a day for both protesters and the homeless population -- it's sometimes very hard to tell them apart.
But therein lies the magic.
I've lived in a big city for years and years and apart from Omar I've never met any homeless people. My interaction is fleeting -- it's true that to most city dwellers these people are nearly invisible -- and I've long admonished photographers who snipe photos of the homeless with telephoto lenses from half a block away and think they're making a statement. But being down here has given me the opportunity to meet people and hear their stories and have conversations -- like the fox in Le Petit Prince people become unique au monde. I can't tell you how valuable that is -- and how often I've found myself uttering some variant of There but for the grace of god go i. I was lucky enough to be born who I was, where I was, to the parents I had, in the middle class family I was -- a lot of these people weren't -- and opportunities I had during difficult times -- to sleep on sofas or borrow money from my parents, or talk my way into living in someone's closet (true story) are opportunities that other people never had, and the things that kept me from sleeping in a park.
I've been trying to figure out who the occupiers are, and it's still a bit difficult. There's a contingent here that stays permanently, and there's one that gets up at 4:00 in the morning, goes back to a house or an apartment, takes a shower, goes to work, and returns at 6:00 in the evening to do it all again, and there's a contingent in the middle.
But I'm impressed at how this tent city has been able to feed and manage itself -- set up solar panels, charge batteries, police themselves, and, more or less, make things work.
Today two people I've now known for a week got married during the occupation by a Baptist minister whose also a college professor, whose also been staying here. And until whatever bulldozer eventually comes through here, whether iron or a cloud of tear gas or cold weather, snow and freezing rain -- as I suspect it eventually must -- visiting this experiment is my #1 recommended tourist stop in Philadelphia.
But don't just walk through -- talk to people -- find out why you agree or disagree with them, tell them your story -- become unique au monde.
And congratulations to Adam and Ally.
Donations of food, clothes, tents & blankets can be sent to: Occupy Philly, 1229 Chestnut St / PMB 248 / Philly, PA / 19107 -- if your conscious won't let you support their cause, you can stipulate that the items you send be used exclusively to help the homeless.
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Kyle, do you remember that conversation we had in Tucson about the importance of staying focused on a particular issue? I think at the time we were talking about gun control or gay marriage or something, but it seems relevant.
I get that the OWS movement seems to be united on what they're angry about, but there doesn't seem to be any consensus forming around what to do about it.
From a distance, that lack of focus seems to be bleeding a lot of steam out of the movement. I'm wondering if it looks any different from ground zero.
For me one of the really amazing things watching this happen is really how diverse the protesters and their goals are. In one sense it's a sort of "angry people gather here" thing but in general they're largely concerned about the same big umbrella issue: corporations have too much control over the political system. And they're equal opportunity -- they chased both Eric Cantor and Bill Clinton out of town and they're planning on protesting President Obama today (if memory serves).
I was asking people "what would make you pack up and go home feeling like you'd achieved a victory" and most people said there was no one thing that would satisfy them -- the problems are vast.
Though in Philly the homeless situation has, I believe, really come to the forefront and that may eventually become more of a uniting cause. But they do debate a lot about what direction to take. It'll be very interesting to see how it plays out.
I don't hold the "lack of focus" as a fault against Occupy Philadelphia, for lots of reasons.
Focus comes from engagement: when you're actively involved in an issue in some way, you're sort of forced to concentrate your efforts and hone your arguments. Many of the people at Occupy Philadelphia are either novices, or they're trying to engage in politics while developing a structure that they can work with. (In other words, if the normal politics of talking to the Councilperson or voting or writing letters hasn't worked, you have to come up with something else. That's probably where most of the "focus" goes.)
Also, if you do get engaged, and you have to make choices as to where you _do_ spend your energies, you have to decide to _not_ spend energy on other issues. You may decide that taxing Wall Street is more important than the rights of gay, lesbian and transgendered people, or that global warming is more pressing than relieving homeowners with massive mortgages. And there will always be allies who weigh things differently.
This is why the Left has always been the province of individualists and mavericks, while the Right can only pretend to be. The Tea Party was "focused" for two reasons: they were run by a handful of people like Dick Armey and the Kochs, and their positions were pretty much an existing national religion of free markets, small government and fear. If you trace their ideas back to the Goldwaterites of 1964, you'll find that the only way they've changed is to become more religious. They don't need to work to find a consensus because, for the most part, they already agree on almost everything.
But the Occupy movement is attempting to challenge some very powerful forces in American culture. It's made up of people who, for various reasons, have found good reason to doubt how things are being run. They're more likely to propose and explore alternatives. So they're less likely to agree with each other. They'll be less focused. If they do develop a consensus of core values, it will comes through a lot of discussion, committee work, and consideration for a very wide range of opinion.
(This is why the Republicans enjoy success as a minority. They have a unified bloc, while the Democrats have to negotiate a lot of consensus even among themselves. To put it bluntly: if the Democrats vanished, government'd be run by one powerful group: if the Republicans vanished, their constituency would still be represented by some Democrats.)
So Occupy Philadelphia's lack of focus doesn't bother me at all. Their _work_ is what's admirable.
I agree with all of that except the part about Goldwater, Brian. Ugly and hateful old bastard that he was, Goldwater was probably the last true conservative who was prominent on a national level. He was pro-choice, supported gay rights (such as they were at the time) and hated 'true believers' (on either side) with a passion. This is, after all, the same guy who said every American should line up and kick Jerry Falwell right in the ass. It's just my personal opinion, but I think he'd feel the same way about the Tea Party.
My hope for OWS (not specific to Philadelphia) is that it will coalesce around a single course of action. To me, the Get Money Out of Politics crowd, with their proposed constitutional amendment, seems the most appealing and potentially effective. My fear is that they will either be assimilated by a mainstream party with interest in nothing but maintaining the status quo (the fate that befell the Tea Party, in my opinion) or that they will be marginalized before they can get organized.
While I have no opinions about Goldwater (or your entire first paragraph,) I'm exactly on your page w/ the second. My worry is that without some sort of focus -- be it a recognized leader or a single action -- the opposing interests are just going to leave it alone and let it die with the winter's cold.