With the Occupy Wall Street protests going global, it’s not surprising that Chicago was also included in these grass-roots started demonstrations that are targeting income disparity in the United States. I attended the Occupy Chicago last Friday, with my partner, whose much more of an activist than I; he is better-informed on a wide range of topics and is just generally more aware of social movements and political events. I’m not a complete pleb, and I do know and agree with the Occupy Wall Street protests – I can’t get past the idea of corporate welfare, when we’ve got individuals swimming in debt without handy bailouts just around the corner for them.
But my partner asked a really good question. He asked if during the protests against the Iraq war, did I feel a sense of “community” and a satisfaction. I had to tell him honestly I didn’t; I did feel that in the Occupy Chicago demonstration – especially when cab drivers and bus drivers would honk their horns in solidarity with the marchers. But with the Iraq war protests I felt incredibly sad.
The difference between the two protests in my mind was that with the Occupy Wall Street protests, the demonstrators are fighting an ongoing battle that could prove to be successful – essentially, it’s not too late. With the Iraq war protests I wasnt demonstrating for change per se – I was voicing an anger and despair at something that was inevitable – the war was going to happen, whether the populice agreed with it or not (it did). I also knew that even if the protests were successful in the supposed long run and that maybe the war won’t last long (almost a decade now), a “short” war is still a war with casualties. So, during the Iraq war protests, I marched with a choking lump in my throat and a salty sting in my eyes, because I knew that while what I was doing was important, it was in purely-practical terms (we’re not talking about rhetoric) it was fruitless.
But the feeling was different with Occupy Chicago – there is a renewed sense of anger among progressives that despite a sympathetic administration, income disparity and corporate corruption goes unchecked – not only unchecked but supported by the men and women we elected in the belief of change.
This all reminds me of a Whoopi Goldberg concert I attended – well, it reminds me of a skit from her concert. Goldberg has a character, Fontaine, who is a former-junkie-turned-political-pundit (lots of hyphens, huh?). This concert was performed during the height of the Bush administration’s PATRIOT Act, and a general distrust and paranoia of the government. Fontaine, quoting the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” promised Washington that he’ll “be watching you.”
And that is what these protests do – they remind our politicians that we’re watching them, and we will hold them accountable for their actions – hopefully.
People on the right will try to rush-compare the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations to the Tea Party, and question why progressives are supportive of one movement and derisive of another – there are similarities, primarily a distrust and unhappiness with the government. Of course, the main difference is that the Occupy Wall Street folks are for a just and efficient government, while the Tea Partiers are for no government. These arguments are simply there to create a false equivalency to highlight a nonexistant contradiction in liberal thinking – predictably, these comparisons don’t stick.
I think protest is one of the most effective way of getting one’s voice heard when that voice lives in a society constructed by hiearchy. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed if you’re just regular Jane Doe with a 9 to 5, and feel like presidents and congressmen don’t hear you. Taking to the streets and venting your anger (in a peaceful and productive manner) is a fantastic way to get the attention of elected officials that an online email form doesn’t. We know that President Obama and his administration hear the protests. Here’s hoping they’ll listen as well. Then not only will people get a feeling of community through dissent, but they’ll get a sense of community through hard-earned victory.