It was full of dancing, hackey-sack, patchouli, beards, dreads, tie-dye, Legalizers, LaRouchies and the RCP. There were old people, young people, dirty people and clean people. There were single issue people and people who didn't know the issues but saw an opportunity for fun. There were garbage cans, porta-potties, compost and recycling. There were things being given away and requests for donations. The signature gatherers were there and so were the soccer players, the music players, the pot smokers, and the man with a sign that simply read, "Prayer."
There were a couple of hundred people there.
|From Occupy LA|
We were standing at the foot of the steps to City Hall, listening to a reggae band and watching the fun when a woman in her thirties stepped up beside me. She was lean and clean and well coiffed, but nervous with the Sunday LA Times clutched to her chest.
"Can I ask you something?" She started.
"Do you think these are the people we should have representing us?"
"Are you with the press or an outside organization?" I asked before responding.
"No. I'm just here because I want to support this, but..." she gestured with her whole torso at the milieu.
She didn't need to finish the sentence... I knew. I'd had a similar thought when we entered the plaza. Although there was no trash to be seen, the people were dirty and grizzled and young
Her "But" was:
"But these people are dirty."
"But these people seem to care more about hackey-sack, pot, dreadlocks and dancing than income inequality. That one over there is obviously insane and those two guys are walking around in their underwear."
"But this looks more like a homeless encampment than a revolution."
But more important than those buts was the foundational conjunction beneath them all:
"But these people are not like me."
We talked for a while. She pushed against the lack of organization, the lack of a conduct code, the lack of focus, the dirt, the drugs, the lack of a coherent message. "I am all for the message, but don't you think that when the working class people around the country see this, they'll be turned off?"
And I pushed back:
"Yes. Some of them will. A lot of them will, probably. But that doesn't mean that this isn't right. We talk about the sixties now as if everybody participated, but squares who spat on hippies outnumbered them 10 to 1 even among young people. Even so, the change that was being worked for benefited all people. Large numbers of workers were anti-union even during the height of the workers movement, but they still enjoy their weekends and their workplace safety regulations. It's a sad fact that fear of change and fear of the different often outweigh personal self-interest."
She wasn't satisfied. She wanted it to look different. She wanted it to act different. She wanted it to be more like her.
It's sad because just like all class struggles, this one is already ending up as a struggle among the proletariat. The police are arresting teachers and union tradesman are defending themselves against the rage of the frustrated and fearful outer crust who have been left to ossify on the empty tin left behind by the shrinking American Pie.
The hippies are being dissed by the progressives and other people are pissed at the pot smokers because they just don't seem to care.
It's always easier to fight the people you see than it is to fight an enemy you can't.
When I first moved to Los Angeles in 1999, a friend drove me around town to show me the sights. We were driving through the hills and I remarked casually that the rich really did have it different.
My friend paused and then said, "These aren't the rich. You can't even see their houses."
I nodded my head as if I understood. I didn't understand. I examined the houses with circular drives, architectural masterpieces and mammoth testaments to the imbalance between money and taste and was mystified that these weren't the rich.
I didn't say anything because I didn't want to seem like a rube. But I get it now.
I get it not because I've actually seen the truly rich, but because even now as a citizen of the City of Angels, I haven't. When they cross the 1,000,000,000.00 mark I read about them. I know some of their names but our geographical proximity cannot overcome our economic distance.
But those that sit on fortunes only slightly less zeroed are mysteries. They luxuriate in obscurity known only to each other and their servants.
These barons are not manor lords who are known and feared by their serfs.
The truly wealthy are wizards of Oz and we only see their projections. We only feel their power.
And because they are so distant from us, so far up the ladder that we only know they are there by the torque their weight puts on those of us lower down, when their machinations nearly cause us to fall we get mad at those we can see below us. We are embarrassed by our lessers because they are our closest neighbors in line.
So, lady, while I understand your feelings, I reject them outright. While it is important that, eventually, a progressive movement coalesces that has an agenda and is a political force, that does not mean that the occupiers do not represent us. They do.
The 99% is the 99%. It is not the middle 3 quintiles. It is not the politically progressive strong earner's coalition, it is a movement by and for everybody who is being left behind and if those of us who are slightly less behind reject those who trail the pack, we are no better than those we are protesting.
And frankly I don't see you down here with a tent, classing the place up.