(Para leerlo en Español, haga clic aquí.)
We came from all walks of life: blacks, whites, Asians, Latinos; students, professionals, the unemployed and retired; young and old; representing all different levels of wealth. We were not Republican or Democrat, we were not blue or red; we were Americans. We were the 99%.
Back in early August, when the US credit rating was downgraded, I wrote about a Shift that I believe is taking place on the Earth, in all societies from east to west, north to south. Today I joined a movement that I believe embodies the idea of this Shift, a movement that rides on the pulses of hundreds of thousands of citizens all hoping to inspire and create a change of culture, a change in our ways of thinking as human beings, a shift from greed to compassion. Today in downtown San Francisco, I marched with the #OccupySF movement, just one of many growing regional chapters of the Occupy Wall St.
What are we protesting? I keep hearing reporters on the news blather on and on about how this movement doesn’t know what it stands for. I disagree. This is a movement of average, hard-working Americans who are fed up with corporate greed and corruption, with corporate lobbyists residing in the pockets of our elected officials, with fat-cat executives padding their greedy pockets while the average American struggles to get by. This is a movement that does not agree that the banks should have been bailed out, only to have their executives continue to reward themselves with million dollar bonuses to redecorate their multiple million dollar mansions. Shame on them. This is a movement of American citizens who are disgraced by the stark divisions of wealth that have formed in this great Democracy, a gulf that continues to widen each year as we provide more loopholes to the wealthiest corporations and individuals in our society. This is a movement of the people, by the people and for the people, and just as it did in Egypt during the Arab Spring, it is turning into a Revolution.
We convened in front of the Federal Reserve Bank in downtown San Francisco, just as Capital One and ING Bank were inside in the midst of merger discussions. This merger would make them the 5th largest bank in America, and like the others that have gone before them, it would of course be “too big to fail.” (note sarcasm) One of the organizers called out “Mic check.,” to which the crowd called out loudly, “Mic check.” Not being very experienced in the ways of protests, I quickly realized that this was their clever and efficient way of turning the crowd into human microphones to spread the message throughout the sea of people. He continued on to tell us the advice of a lawyer, who suggested that we abide by the law and stay on the sidewalks, and that if we did take over the streets, we would risk arrest. In true democratic style, the leaders reverberated the message out through our human microphones and then they asked for our consensus: Did we want to abide by the law and stay on the sidewalks, or did we want to take over the streets? Now I’m guessing that many people who will read this will be thinking “Stupid San Francisco hippies, surely they chose to break the law.” Au contraire, mon frère. The leaders took a vote of the audience by a show of thumbs up, and the vast majority of thumbs went up in favor of keeping within the law, for keeping it a peaceful protest. By pure consensus, this Democracy had made their voices heard.
We then got word, and spread it amongst our midst, that if we agreed to stay on the sidewalks, that the police would support us and would provide an escort for us, blocking off the roads for us to cross as we went. We polled the audience again and asked for a consensus. Given what had happened in NYC with the clashes between protestors and the NYPD, the crowd was in agreement that we wanted the police on our side. Not only did we want them on our side, we were grateful for their cooperation in allowing this to be a peaceful protest. The decision was made. We began marching up Market St., along the sidewalk, and the police escorted us as we went.
The tone of the crowd was one of jubilant optimism, with the palpable feeling that we could in fact make a difference, that we could forge a positive change of culture in our society. As we walked along chanting different messages, many of us stopped to thank the police officers along the way. Whenever we did, we were met with a friendly smile and a sincere “You’re welcome.” The police were on our side and we felt supported in our cause. There was cooperation in community. This is in fact what Democracy is all about. We were exercising our 1st Amendment right to assemble with free speech, and those police officers that we hired to serve and protect us, were doing exactly that. This is exactly as it should be, and what a beautiful example that can serve for other cities, for other countries, for other cultures.
We came upon a large construction site where a crew of minority construction workers were building the next corporate tower. They yelled out to us with hearty cheers of support and enthusiastic thumbs up and fists in the air. Shop owners came out of their stores and cheered us on as we went. Little kids pressed their faces against the windows waving at us as we passed by. Dogs walked alongside us, wagging their tails and carrying their own little banners. Passing cars tooted to us in support, hanging their thumbs up out the window. The movement was growing. We then made our way up to Union Square, the main tourist center of San Francisco, and we came upon one of our classic San Francisco Cable Cars. Even the Cable Car drivers were supporting us with thumbs up!
The foreigners on the Cable Cars were all excitedly taking pictures of us. From the dead give-away clothing, I could tell that many of them were Europeans, and were therefore themselves much more accustomed to these types of marches. I was reminded of my year living in Spain, years ago during college, and how the Spaniards would take to the streets regularly in massive protests. And by massive, I’m talking 10X the size of anything we’ve seen recently in the United States. Any American who has ever been stranded by an airline or rail strike, knows all too well that the Europeans are masters at this sort of peaceful protest and activism. And it occurred to me that we as a society have become largely complacent. Sure there have been plenty of anti-war protests about the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, and there have been Tea Party protests, protests about health care reform, among others. But since I’ve been an adult, I know that we’ve seen nothing the likes of the civic organization and activism that took place during the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. Those times in history invoked passion and fire in the bellies of our citizens. They stirred people to rise up and come together and join in the bonds of community, to fight together to make a difference. And throughout the past decades of growing comfortable with our material comforts, the security of our jobs (for those that are so lucky,) and the distractions of daily life, we as a people have grown complacent.
Our Egyptian, Libyan and Syrian friends, among many others, have been a shining example to us, that we the people are the ones with the true power. For too long we have let the politicians in Washington run around on the political hamster wheel, accomplishing nothing. There has been too much bipartisan bickering, too much extremism (on both sides) and not nearly enough compromise. And we the people are tired of the gridlock. We are tired of our elected officials being roadblocks to progress and evolution as a society. It is time for we the people to rise back up, let our voices be heard, and spark the next Revolution.
As it is in this day and age, we walked along tweeting and posting Facebook updates so that the world could see in real time what was going on… just as they had done in Egypt. As I scrolled through my News Feed, I saw friend after friend in other cities jumping onto and supporting the movements of Occupy Wall St. in their own cities. I literally saw the movement growing before my eyes, in real time. And it was clear to me that this too will continue to spread in its viral nature. As I was sifting through posts, I saw that one friend had posted an excellent and poignant quote:
It’s not Conservative vs. Liberal, it’s Aristocracy vs. Democracy. ~John Fugelsang
I was struck by the pure yet simple brilliance of this quote. It is true. We are the 99% and we want our Democracy back. And this is what Democracy looks like: