So, the Occupy movement is supposedly returning to Walnut Creek today. It is scheduled to start at 4 p.m., again in front of Bank of America at Mt. Diablo Boulevard and North Main Street, although more protesters, including members of organized labor, are expected to turn up at the BART station and hold rallies into November.
Some in Walnut Creek grumble about the some 200 protesters last week taking up space on the side walk or slowing traffic. Others dismiss them as disorganized, leftist Code Pink hippies or societal malcontents and predict this Occupy movement won't last because there is no clear message.
On one hand, Contra Costa Times columnist Tom Barnidge was correct in noting the disparate "all-you-can eat" buffet of messages espoused by protesters.
On the other hand, I heard the chant at last week's rally, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, corporate greed has gone to go." And, that summed things up for me--for now.
And, as Barnidge said: "Their disparate messages didn't detract from the sentiments shared: a fervent desire for a better America and exasperation at not knowing how to get there."
Some voiced surprise that Walnut Creek would become the site of such a protest--notably, members of the media covering the event. I shrugged and thought "there we go again with the stereotypes about Walnut Creek and suburbia." We have a Tiffany's and we're going to have a Neiman Marcus--in front of which the protesters knowingly or not planted themselves--so that means--right?--we in Walnut Creek all part of the greedy corporate, tax-break-hording 1 percent.
Actually, I saw people I knew at the protest, such as members of the Democrats of Rossmoor, the "largest Democratic club in Northern California." They're a feisty, politically active and socially conscientious group, and the ones with whom I'm acquainted worked hard all their lives, built a good living for their families, are civic minded, tax-paying "great Americans" -- in the words of Sean Hannity. They were not in a a Howard Beale-esque rage, shouting "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more."
They were just saying what's going on right now in America isn't right.
I saw people I knew observing the protest, more hard-working locals. I myself was one of those observers. I would say these other observers support success and the capitalist system, and probably have shopped or will shop at Tiffany and Co. or Neiman Marcus at some point in their lives. But they were privately saying: "I support what the protesters are doing." Maybe they couldn't say exactly why they supported the protesters. They just liked what they saw.
Yes, I would venture to say that most people I know in Walnut Creek are not part of the so-called 1 percent. Most have good jobs, or their spouses have decent paying jobs. They are middle class or perhaps upper middle class--though still not part of the 1 percent. They own homes but they have endured a la off or they work at companies, and are even executives at companies, that are "restructuring," downsizing, laying people off. They have dealt with or are dealing with financial setbacks. Their retirement accounts are not as healthy as they used to be. Basically, they might be doing OK, but they know others who are not. They are aware that a lot of people in our community and our country are hurting right now, and they, like the protesters, believe our economy and society is out of balance, stacked against the majority, steeped in inequity.
"I support Occupy Wall Street," they say quietly.
I wonder what they are afraid of in whispering their support. Would they prefer not to be labeled Code Pink malcontents? Members of a losing cause? People who are too "political"?
Yes, I, too, support the Occupy movement, even if there is no "clear message" yet and even if it makes me political and labels me a bleeding heart and a malcontent. I support the general idea of it, that somehow things need to change. It seems that politicians from either party are so entrenched in their ideology and saving their own political butts that they don't know how to listen. Throughout history, protests, uprisings and even the dreaded class warfare is how you get the attention of the powers that be. Democracy in action. It's a beautiful thing.
No, I'm not advocating that protests turn violent or that anyone storm Bank of America. Personally, I also hope that the Occupy movement doesn't get co-opted by the usual suspects of Bay Area protests or new groups as Anonymous (yes, there were a few people at last week's protest donning the Anonymous-esque Guy Fawkes mask) or the Fans of the Berkeley hikers (don't get me started on that Trio).
I expect that the message will become more clear over time, or someone will emerge who can articulate it. Isn't that what happens in revolutions, in times of social change? And if someone doesn't create a soundbite-friendly slogan sometime soon, well, I guess the Occupy movement will splinter and we'll fall into a state of societal inertia, a rut of disengagement and misery. You know, I've given up trying to predict or control the future.
The Occupy movement--certainly the one in Walnut Creek and communities like it--should truly come from the middle class, however you choose to define the middle class. In my definition, it is made up of people who are thoughtful, fair-minded and care about their community and this country. They believe in doing the right thing, and want leaders who believe the same thing.