By request, this month’s TBT post tells about the three months I spent with the Occupy movement in five different American cities.
“It ain’t a middle finger on a t-shirt, the establishment’s tryin’ to sell.
It’s a guy with the balls who told the establishment to go to hell.” – Eric Church
Slam Poetry Intro:
If a movement were to embody the battle cry of the disenfranchised, overworked, and generally shit-on Generation X, it would be #Occupy. We are the first generation in the history of this country to be worse off than our parents. Saddled with ever growing mounds of student loan debt that we were encouraged to incur in the futile pursuit of the American Dream, we are slaves not only to our debt, but to the boomers, our parents, as they age and look to us to care for them. At the same time, we struggle to provide for our own children and have the lowest rates of home ownership of any generation.
We grew up in the 80s, the era of Reagan and trickle down economics. Let me tell you that from the view of the 99%, the only trickle down that has worked have been the piss and filth in which we squander as the result of the establishment choking us to the point of death and then continuing to squeeze. It makes Urinetown look not like a musical, but rather like a pristine, and sterile hospital. We were raised in the age of excess, where more equaled prestige, and when it came our turn to take the reins, encountered a Second Depression that the right likes to write off as “recession.”
We break our backs under the lie of meritocracy. If good deeds equaled rewards, then why are we on our knees, as we beg for rights like healthcare, housing, and employment? We are the generation that fought your war on terror, and yet our veterans come home to shambles worse home than abroad. As a country, we neglect those who have fought to protect our freedoms, often in a war that they did not support or understand.
In all five American cities in which I occupied, encampments held relatively the same type of folk. Generation X. The students, the veterans, the homeless, the gay, the everyday people whose blood, sweat and tears keep this country moving every day.
End Slam Poetry Intro
One of the things that amazed me the most about the time I spent with Occupy was how human we all were in our connectedness to the issues and the situation. There were people in Philly, Boston, New York, and the two other cities in which I occupied that were of all ages, colors, and religions, and were able to create a harmonious and unified community, the type of which some cities dream to create. For the most part peaceful (yes, I understand some cities had violence), it was an opportunity not only to try to have our voices heard, but to come together and share the common experiences we all had.
One of the most important things I learned from my time with the Occupy movement is that the notion of meritocracy in this country truly is dead. I have often wondered both in my personal life and as a social worker, how it is possible for people to make “good choices”: for people to be working and live in small apartments with practically no luxuries, such as no cable, no cell phone, and sometimes no vehicle, and yet still struggle to put food on the table. The problem is not that we are not working hard enough or making poor choices. The problem is that our time is not valued and wages have stagnated in comparison to inflation.
Combine the death of meritocracy with the growth of the upper class, and now there is this entire swarm of people who made up Occupy. One of the things I feel like I brought to the table in my interactions with my fellow occupiers was the realization that in some European countries, such as France, where things are very different: France has universal healthcare, ample vacation time, ample pay, and other amenities than American lack – is that in France, the government is afraid of the people. In America, the people are afraid of the government.
This is an important distinction to consider. The power of the occupy movement was in realizing that we are the 99%. While the 1% holds the power in the form of an oligarchy, we are in fact more numerous and potentially have the ability to take some of that power back. The hard part is organization.
Once the camps disbanded, we all returned to our lives. We are still slaves to our jobs, taking care of both parents and kids, and living in tiny apartments because we can’t afford houses. We can’t afford healthcare. We can’t afford vacations. We see what “normal” lives are on the media and drown ourselves even further by going into debt trying to achieve what the 1% has gotten by pushing us down.
Part of my journey into minimalism is to further embody the occupy movement in my own life by saying no more. I will not be a slave to 65-hour workweeks. I will live within my means. If I have a pair of $7 jeans from Goodwill that fit and are decent, I do not need to go out and buy a $60 pair of jeans from designer store. Who am I trying to impress? People will either like me as is or bug off. I refuse to buy into the lie that the 1% is selling.
I am fully aware that I have lived through this country’s Second Great Depression in what was supposed to be the highlight years of my life. I am fully aware that I will never be able to afford to purchase a home, or have children. At this point, I have finally realized that no matter if you work hard and make good choices, that the system is stacked against us, and that it is a system that has been decades in the making.
It is perhaps times like this, when I feel closest to people who were from my grandparents’ time the people who lived through the first Great Depression. They were able to survive hard times and yet still maintain their dignity and their happiness. My time with the occupy movement has taught me the same. I may not be able to enact widespread change of the clusterfuck around me, but I can work to enact positive change in my own life. I can strive for happiness.
Yes, I am buried in student loans that I will never be able to repay, and I do realize that education was my “choice” (but really, what jobs can you get without one?); I am not paid a salary commensurate with my educational level, but I make a living wage. I may be on a shoestring, but I make ends meet. I have people in my life that love me, and at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.
For the record, I would have to say that of five cities, Philly was my favorite camp in which I occupied. In Philly, there was a sense of community. People were respectful and helpful with advice, warmth, and coffee, anything that you needed. The people I met and spent time with in the occupy camps would literally give you the shirt off their back if you needed one. That is what life is all about. Life is about people, not things.
While occupy is a political movement, and holds deeply political meanings for me, the most important aspect of my experience was very human. It’s about knowing that you are not alone in this world, that someone else shares your experience, and that you are loved.
My name is Rachel Anderson, and I am the 99%.