Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Yesterday when I got off the BART, downtown Oakland, I couldn't help but notice the hundreds of people at Occupy Oakland protest taking place at Oscar Grant square (at the 12th Street BART station). Hungry, I got a cheap slice of pizza (Pizza Man) and found a perch to listen to the speakers and soak in the ambiance of the drizzly evening. People spoke, handed out fliers, chatted, ate, made eye contact, clapped, and cited websites. Last Friday I intentionally visited the Occupy San Francisco protests at the corner of Market and Drumm, where the Embarcadero BART lets out, though on Friday I was a little late for the speeches, coming after work. There were still plenty of people hanging around and talking and disseminating information. I have not attended too many formal protests for lack of any strong political convictions (the 2003 Iraq War protests in Portland being the last I intentionally joined. Informal protests is another story, easily confused with passive aggression), however I believe in 'the message' of the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Which, from conversations I've had about it, seems to be a sticking point: uncertainty about what exactly the protesters are protesting about. If you read the signs, they're all over the place, from anti-war to anti-bailout to 'tax the rich' to moral messages ('greedy bankers') to support for unions and teachers and nurses. My favorite sign read "Trickle Down Bullshit." Obviously prosperity has not tricked down from the richest of us, and instead, all that we've gotten is bullshit. Not that that needed explaining, but right now, it doesn't really matter what these protests are about, at least as far as a singular message (read: soundbite). The point is not to advocate for a particular political change, but to raise awareness that they way things are, the status quo, is not working for us. To have this fact acknowledged by the media and politicians and ourselves, is important.

The world is complex. Things happen for many reasons. To reduce the complexity of our lives and our ourselves to didactic soundbites is to ignore the contradictions and mysteries that make life interesting. It's hard to understand each other. It's hard to speak, and be heard, and to listen well enough. Our words are such pale imitations of the things we feel and of the things we do. They do not begin to hold what we are capable of. For those who criticize Occupy Wallstreet for having "no common cause," I ask, what is your cause? What do you believe in? Is it something that was given to you? Something that you find yourself a part of? Are we all complicit? Born into it? Or is it something that you came to on your own? Something that you made, through the terrifying work of finding a place in the world. Not to say I know any better, how to live or what to do, but a nuanced message, I believe, is a welcome change of pace.