You may have heard the Occupy Wall Street protesters are being paid to camp out. I heard it; they’re being funded by a shifty billionaire and that’s why they’re demanding billionaires be taxed more. Seems likely. Also they’re all Communists and ACORN. And whatever you’ve been scared of before – probably that. Sharia Law, maybe? Anti-Semites? Anarchists?
The weirdest dismissal of the encampments that has sprung up across the country is it’s just a bunch of homeless people – who’d be sleeping on the streets anyway. As if homeless people should have no voice in a discussion about economic justice. As if huge groups of homeless people shouldn’t warrant media attention.
I asked a protester in New York, Ashley Anderson, about this very thing: where is their rapid response to deal with all the rumors and accusations? Where is their team of media people? “This here,” he pointed to the crowded GA or General Assembly at Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan a few feet from where we were standing. Every night hundreds participate in a slow all-inclusive assembly to figure out a consensus on what to do next. “This is like a healthy immune system. It can handle it.” He then said if anyone didn’t like what they’re doing, all are welcome to come down and tell them.
I’ve now been to four Occupations in two countries (I had a trip to Canada planned months ago) and the lamest rumor I’ve heard by carefully coifed talking heads is that the protesters are all something: are all Ron Paul fans; or all union; or all liberals; or all white; or all illegals; or all students who don’t want to pay their loans back; or all “the people who always show up to a protest.” Occupy Wall Street and its solidarity encampments are more a lot of everything as opposed to all of anything. That’s why the rumors keep going – those who wish to discredit the movement pick out one person to identify with the movement and then they’re all Neo-New Redux Black Panthers.
At the (very crowded) Zuccotti Park I saw people with children in strollers but no one has accused all Occupiers of being overly fertile. Yet.
The under-reported story to me is how many veterans are at these Occupations. I spoke at length with a Canadian vet who served in Somalia in the ‘90s and is now “pitching in” at Occupy Toronto. In the U.S. I met several vets from Iraq and Afghanistan. They volunteered to fight for a country they now feel has fewer opportunities for them and their families. Vets are the middle-class. It was the vets who created the suburbs and the Baby Boomers after WWII. They are as big of stakeholders in the country as anyone and they’ve been given a rotten deal just like the rest of the 99 percent. Vets have the distinction of being deified by the right-wing on occasion. That’s until it comes to having their benefits cut … then they should blame themselves for not being rich.
Meet the new face of Occupy Wall Street: Scott Olsen, a 24-year-old Marine and Iraq War vet who was shot in the head with a “non-lethal round” during a raid on Occupy Oakland last week. His skull was fractured and it put him in a coma. He has since woken up to being a rallying cry for the movement. I followed a march in Toronto to the U.S. consulate to denounce police brutality in Oakland. I counted two national news trucks and a local reporter there to cover the demonstration. There was even a solidarity march to the U.S. Embassy from Tahrir Square in Egypt.
Olsen’s story is compelling. Not just because he fought in a foreign war and while in his home country, utilizing his first amendment right to peaceful assembly he was fired on by police. His may be the name you know from Occupy Oakland, but like Rosa Parks, he’s part of a bigger story. He’s a symbol for something we’ve managed to not talk about. Which is we’ve had two (sometimes three) wars in this country in the last 10 years and those who’ve fought overseas are coming home to an America with a shockingly high poverty rate. An America with the worst economic inequality in four generations. An America with less for those who work and fight and die.
Which is why they’re camped out and asking the question: “What have we been fighting for?”