A Reflection After the General Strike

Posted: November 13, 2011 in Uncategorized

At twenty-one years old, I like to make faces as I describe the current zeitgeist, my peers and myself as “Generation Me.” Or, I used to. These days, I’m more likely to be throwing on my finest bandana and practicing my devil-may-care grin for when I inevitably get caught in the flash of someone’s camera. In a society that appears to be collapsing from every direction, where TIME announced “You” as the Person of the Year just five years ago and everyone knows what I had for breakfast and the hair color I’m currently rocking, I’m thinking that maybe the Occupy movement is proving that we CAN find a balance between stoking our own egos and saving the world.

First, a little on Generation Me. As a normal, self-involved young adult, this phenomenon is both the bane and the center of my existence. Before I go to sleep, I check Facebook to see who else is awake and what they have to say. Before I get out of bed, I browse Twitter to find out what happened while I was down. Maybe make a hilarious observation if I’ve got one ready. Every few hours, I pull out my smart phone to check in on everyone’s business and send out some of my own. I start to feel stressed when I have the same profile picture for too long or if I post an update and no one leaves a comment. I worry that I don’t Tweet often enough. When I deactivated Facebook for a week, I received countless texts and emails from concerned citizens, wondering if I was okay. My mom immediately called, begging me to reactivate so she can know exactly what kind of trouble I’m getting into. As a member of Generation Me, my life will be publicly and indefinitely archived. If I want to find a job, I’d better make sure that there aren’t any beers or bongs visible in my online photos. If I run for President in 15 years, my opponent will be able to cite a status update in 2009 in which I told America to go fuck itself. It’s a lot of pressure to be a child of the Internet Age. No one has time to read books anymore. We’re all too busy counting our “likes”; managing our “brand”. Failure to do so is atypical in a negative sort of way. Why wouldn’t you maintain a public profile if you have no secrets to hide? It’s a vicious cycle that’s kept us all glued to our monitors, trying to concurrently entertain distant acquaintances and satisfy authority figures. More importantly, it keeps us from going out into the real world, connecting face-to-face with each other and actually DOING stuff.

At the moment, it is clear that the world is, plainly, fuckt. It is also clear that Occupy is quickly becoming the most dividing and important political and social force that America has seen in decades. What people don’t seem to understand is WHY. What, exactly, has led us to ignore the gross injustices that our government is, in the very least of instances, complacent in? Theoretically, we have a democratic, three-branched system of government that, via separate executive, legislative and judicial bodies, is meant to keep itself in check. And with the media historically acting as the fourth branch, exposing corruption when it appears, this country should be bulletproof. So why has it come to this point? Hell if I know- I’m not a political scientist or sociologist. But I’m sure they’ll all be creaming their jeans soon enough, trying to figure out what went wrong and why the world seemed to awaken all at once.

Until then, what we have are individual reports from the ground- from developing minds and bodies like mine. Generation Me, the core of Occupy. This movement has spread like a wildfire, inspiring awe and fear en masse. Even from the beginning, on September 17th when a few hundred people in New York City went out to protest and found out that the NYPD had barricaded them from entering Wall Street, people were talking. In fact, people were excitedly talking. On the same day, San Francisco held a solidarity march, which I attended. And while I heard reports from NYC of people being teargassed by the NYPD, I was proud of the police out here, who assisted in the march by shutting down whatever streets we chose to pass through. That night, San Francisco started its own Occupy, as did several other cities across the country. Less than a month later, and my personal world was abuzz with Occupy talk. I was hard at work with Occupy Berkeley, which held its first GA on October 8th. Meanwhile, my best friend was at Occupy Oakland, which was rapidly developing. They officially began on the 10th, and their story is by now familiar to everyone who cares to know.

So what’s the problem? By mid-October, I had long since withdrawn from my senior year at UC Berkeley, choosing to devote some time to gathering life experience, which ended up manifesting itself through Occupy. The movement was my life. I was connected, 24/7, to news sources that informed me of what was happening in New York City’s Liberty Plaza and like-minded gatherings across the globe. It was the only thing that my people, in both the real and digital world, were talking about. My various social networking timelines were exploding with friends and family who all appeared to be Occupied themselves- I had a buddy in Chicago updating on how Chi City’s Occupy wasn’t allowed to sleep in any parks or on the streets and how his mom had forbid him from sleeping on the curb overnight because she didn’t want him arrested. I had a cousin, heavily involved in LA’s branch, who was sending me frequent tips and information to help guide my own Occupy’s formation. My heroes over at Citizen Radio were giving OWS constant coverage. We were all talking about it.

Furthermore, we all knew exactly what we were protesting. Well, we knew what was uniting “the 99%”- we were disgusted by the collusion between Wall Street and Washington that allowed these companies and their CEOs to be making record profits, even as the rest of us were being kicked out of our homes and jobs while our tax dollars were being used to “bail out” these corporations that had become “too big to fail.” And they HAD failed, tanking the world economy in the process. Worker productivity had risen incredibly in thirty years, while worker wages had remained stagnant. At the same time, unions were being stripped of their few remaining rights, such as collective bargaining. Wisconsin saw its own uprising as over 100k people took to the State Capitol, occupying it for months before the rest of us caught on. The world was going to hell and the reason was obvious- private money was in control of the political system. Running a campaign isn’t cheap, and without universal public financing to candidates, the politically ambitious are well aware of where they can go to find support. And when the time comes to regulate, to comply with anti-trust laws by breaking up monopolies or to improve working conditions for the 99%- those who can’t afford to “make it rain” on their congressmen- no one wants to bite the hand that feeds them. Fair enough. We all have a natural drive towards self-preservation, but there is a point where survival is not the problem- the true problem is greed. That was where WE stepped in. We gathered in public spaces near financial and political centers of our respective cities and refused to disperse. The message was clear: we’re here, and we’re not going anywhere else until this conversation is opened and closed in a way that satisfies us. We refuse to use rage or violence to achieve our goals- such tactics would imply that our message is not strong enough to win by its own merit. We are angry, but determined to address the causes of that anger on a civil level, rather than dragging those who misled us through the streets. We will arrest the Bush administration for war crimes. We will imprison the executives at Goldman Sachs for economic treason. WE are civilized- THEY are not.

And that leads to the WHY that I don’t understand. Why isn’t this all common knowledge? Some people are angry at us. They appear to believe that we DON’T have a clear point. And while it IS true that we don’t have a ready plan for fixing the world, I don’t believe that any of us, the 99%, are paid to come up with such plans. In fact, we’re not being paid at all. Instead, we’re being raided and teargassed by the police forces that are meant to protect us. We’re being ignored, mocked, and twisted by the very media that is meant to empower us; to give us a voice. We’re being violently intimidated by those who DO have the means to address our concerns, and people seem to think that WE’RE the problem. October 25th is a day that has become infamous across the globe, due to the Oakland Police Department’s gross misuse of force against Occupy Oakland. On that very night, as news was getting out and I stood face-to-face with a line that included hundreds of riot cops (my very first confrontation with ANY sort of law enforcement) who were ready to fire tear gas and rubber bullets at myself and my friends, my very own cousin was hard at work on Facebook, telling me that I was an idiot and that I deserved to get hurt for being out there in the first place.

Personally, I have trouble connecting with the “haters”. What, exactly, are they defending? Why? Do they still maintain some dream that, one day, THEY’LL be the 1%? Do they relish the idea of crushing the rest of the world under their feet in pursuit of bigger profits? If they actually want to make their own fortunes, then why aren’t they all out here with us, protesting for better laws, wages and working conditions? Why hold multiple jobs merely to survive? Shouldn’t such a hard worker be thriving instead? Where are they getting their information? Why do they truly believe we don’t know what we’re fighting for?

This is when I realize the beauty of the symbiotic relationship between Generation Me and Occupy. WE give it a voice. Even with all of the money being thrown into sabotaging us (remember: even the “liberal” news station, MSNBC, is owned by GE, which is pretty high up on the list of rat-bastard, tax-dodging, soul-sucking, profits-over-people corporations), we prevail. Though the spread is slower than it would be were the mainstream media on our side, it’s happening. Even now, closing in on two months later, we’re gaining steam. On November 2nd, Oakland hosted the first successful (and totally illegal) general strike in 65 years. And there WILL be more, bigger, stronger actions in the future. Generation Me gives grassroots power to our message, to independent journalists who will spread the truth to others. We’ve created instantly accessible networks that cannot be taken down without extreme authoritarian measures, such as internet and mobile blackouts. And Occupy gives Generation Me something to write home about, so to speak. My own profiles speak to that: covering Occupy Oakland has gained me tons of Twitter followers. I’ve changed my picture at least four times in the past two weeks: people keep taking ones where I look cooler and cooler! When I update my Facebook status, I can expect an explosion of likes. My ego is out of control. The more feedback I receive, the more I want to keep moving forward. People tell me that I’m their hero- I’m sometimes their only source for the real story on what appears to be the biggest global movement on record. And it keeps getting bigger.

During the march to block the ports, I saw EVERYONE. Secretly, I’ve been a little upset with my friends. Some of them are very supportive, but almost none have previously shown up to any action. They haven’t even stopped by one of the camps to have a look. During the general strike, I ran into people that I wouldn’t have ever imagined to be the politically active types. And I was happy to see every single one of them. We are the 99%, after all. Something that’s being overlooked, I think, is this. Generation Me, though ridiculously accessible and interconnected on a scale that has never been seen before, is LONELY. We can comment on each others’ pictures and instantly send messages to one another via text messaging… but something has been missing. We no longer appreciate personal interaction. We don’t go to the local skatepark after school anymore. We don’t have sleepovers or go to the movies just for fun. Maintaining friendships is no longer a reason to get out of bed. Though maybe we haven’t realized it, we’ve been suffering in self-enforced solitude. To me, that’s the real magic of Occupy- it’s a chance to feel human again. Never before in my life have I felt so energized. So friendly. So happy. So loving… So loved. I’ve made friends that I want to keep around for the rest of my life. I met a new best friend while waiting for a San Francisco raid that never came. I biked down to Oakland, in awe of a pre-existing best friend. I felt honored to be close to such an amazing and passionate woman, embarrassed that I hadn’t seen it before. We’ve all been so distracted and emotionally detached that we didn’t even realize how much we were missing out on. Now, all of that is changing. To go to an Occupy, to meet new people and share life stories, is one of the greatest experiences that we can all take part in. Even the detractors tend to change their tune once they sit down and listen. The social aspect of Occupy is a force to be reckoned with. Where would we even go, were this movement to “fizzle out”, as some overeager pundits are constantly predicting? How could anyone spend one night Occupying and not be raring to return the next?

While I idled around 14th St on the night of the general strike, waiting for the tear gas to clear and dreading tomorrow’s headlines about Oakland’s violent anarchists and whether the movement had overstayed its welcome, I felt joy. As I sat on the front line at 3am with my new, real and totally amazing Occupy friends, we goofed around, laughing and taking pictures. This movement has given us a reason to be happy. It’s given us that sort of face-to-face bonding time that Generation Me has been sorely lacking. It’s giving us the recognition and comraderie of our old peers and the pure thrill of meeting new ones. When the cops finally retreated at 4:08am, we cheered, understanding what so many others haven’t figured out. We knew that despite their best efforts, we would be victorious. Thanks to the blossoming of Generation Me and our starved egos, the battle is already over. The 1% just hasn’t accepted it yet.



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