After spending a whole day excitedly making our signs and preparing to camp out with Knoxville Occupy Wall Street Saturday night, Doug and I walked amongst the group’s various organizational committee meetings in Krutch Park for about an hour, and decided to abort. Wordlessly, we read each other’s minds and nodded agreement: this isn’t working out. We were sorry, looking wistfully over our shoulders, as though we’d climbed a mountain to find God and instead found the note, “Sorry for the inconvenience.”*
It wasn’t an altogether wasted day. Before adding the Occupy Wall Street event to our agenda, we had already planned to visit some of Doug’s family at a couple of points along the two hour trip. This fall in East Tennessee (just across the Virginia state line from where we live) is spectacular beyond all reason. I felt the irony of zipping along in my new car in the crisp autumn light, and eating a most awesome lunch at Red Lobster, his father’s treat, before lighting out for Knoxville. (I love crab so much it hurts.) But spending time with Doug’s mother, who has advanced Alzheimer’s, was particularly sad and difficult. (The emotional “color” of the day.) As I told friends once we were back home late yesterday evening, “We were wrung out and in no mood for shenanigans” by the time we got to Krutch Park.
“Shenanigans” is probably not exactly the right word. We saw mostly young “hippies” (for lack of a better term), a few homeless people, a lot of passion, and a lot of immaturity. In trying to “organize,” the organization is falling apart. (See the Occupy Wall Street - Knoxville Facebook page, for details.) Three or four committees had taken up various spots in the small park, in circles comprised of about 20 rainbow-colored, pierced, dyed and dreadlocked kids seemingly getting their first chances to say something. More power to ’em; they’ve got some angst to get out of their systems before, hopefully, they move on to efforts more enduring and effective than this one was.
The real solidarity-killer was the “Constitutional Amendment” committee. As is almost always the case, a very few voices muted all others with their power and passion. One, jacked up on adrenaline, insisted that the Knoxville group’s codified demands include that the United States of America accept the authority of the World Court. Aw jeez, really?
There is nothing inherently wrong with anything I’ve described, except this: We are the 99. We are the 99 percent, getting fucked every which way but loose by the 1 percent. Contrary to the rapist’s cognitive-dissonance credo, we are not “enjoying” it. When a protest or occupation or rebellion includes 99 percent of the population, the reasons people are involved, or the issues that motivate them personally, are infinite. For example, one young, single mother I talked to was A) visibly struggling to make ends meet, B) obviously doing a bang-up job of raising a much-loved daughter, aged 6, presently; and C) really, really worried about public education. It has been stripped of funding to within an inch of its life in favor of military and other “government” profiteers, while commercialized interests seep in like water, to “take up the slack.” This woman had never had the luxury of higher education, and so the thought that, because of her so-called unlucky birth circumstances, her daughter would never even get a shot at college seemed grossly unfair. This young mother can’t afford to buy toilet paper for the school to supplement her daughter’s “public education,” and damn it, she should not have to.
And what about Doug and me, the people who drove a sweet brand-spanking new car to the event and ate at Red Lobster along the way? We are fortunate to a point that I regularly want to fall on my knees in gratitude. I have everything I ever, ever dreamed of in my life, including my first new car and the most spectacular set of stars that shine brighter-than-bright over my rural property in one of the most beautiful places on earth. I stood in the moonlight last night, with my two horses cuddling up against me on each side, 10 acres at their disposal, and I thought, OH GOD. Above all else, I attribute our great fortune to two facts — we were born white, to parents who willingly and generously helped pay to educate us, just as far as we wanted to go; and we carefully and humbly chose what it is that we want, over time. What we want is not “everything.”
We are also on a knife’s edge of losing everything, with one family emergency or serious illness. For years and years and years, we have paid top-dollar for family medical insurance, and paid into Medicare and Medicaid, and paid ridiculously rising medical deductibles besides. In our old age, despite the government medical programs that have collected from us over a lifetime of work, the health care industry will collect our assets in the form of a “spend down.” And after we’re dead, the medical industry will take the rest. Forget about inheritance taxes — nobody is leaving anything to anyone. Don’t be ninnies, Tea Baggers: it’s all getting shunted straight up, to the 1 percent. I'd be okay with it being taken, if it were for the greater good, which would include my children!
Meanwhile, our own college-educated children, the cost of whose educations would make your eyes pop out, are not having any luck finding work except for unpaid or low-pay “internships,” which they are taking, with energy and devotion, so that their resumes are not blank beyond graduation. And all indications are that we parents will be paying for their medical insurance until they are 26 or beyond, plus for their cars, car insurance, and all manner of emergencies that they can’t afford. See, Wall Street knows we’re better bets for paying for these things than our grown children are, by and large; despite all those kids’ great minds and willingness, they’re still fledgling adults, poor in their entry-level positions, struggling to make sound financial decisions, or with paying their debts. They have to learn. Better their parents do it.
And retirement? Now, who’s going to profit if anyone can actually retire? Who's going to pay for all those "less trustworthy" grown kids?
We, for all our good fortune, are the 99 percent.
When a protest or occupation or rebellion includes 99 percent of the population, the reasons people are involved, or the issues that motivate them personally, are infinite. But the cause is exactly the same: the 1 percent. There should only be one goal. Bringing it down.
* Douglas Adams, from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy "trilogy"