Notes from the Occupation

What is it?  The 99% Occupy thing consists of: hippies (wearing sandals, playing catch), libertarians (fun to drink with, but rather standoffish), conspiracy theorists (shiver), lefties who finally have some people to hang with and satisfy their collectivist longings (cute), union folk (with their union ball caps), and a lot of dogs.  The dogs seemed to be having the most fun.

I went by the Kansas City site last night.  I missed the march.  I just Occupied until the speakers started.  An old guy set his lawn chair next to me, and asked when the speakers started.  “I don’t know,” I said.  “I just got here.  Did you not march, either?”

“I can’t,” he said.  “I have nerve damage in my feet from Vietnam.”

“Oh,” I said.

“I was at the first one of these, you know.”


“In Selma, Alabama.”

“Wow,” I said.

One guy had a sign, “Lenin 2012,” which I found adorable.  I have always had a romantic attachment to the old-school, means of production, Emma Goldman kiss my ass left.  I’m an extremist at heart and a pragmatist in action.

Of course there was a drum circle of sorts, and a folding table full of books with suspiciously plain covers.  There was a beautifully organized committee chart.  The guy manning that station was giving a radio interview as I walked by.  There was the woman with the button table.  Unfortunately, I didn’t fall in love with any of the buttons.

First, the artist John Salvest, who created the IOU/USA monument out of shipping containers, spoke.  He thanked the crowd for bringing the piece out into the world.  Sadly, we were sitting facing the IOU side.  I like the colors of the containers, and the varied patterns on their sides, the occasional white numbers or brand names.

There were some speakers from an urban environmental group, and they talked about how the crowd was lacking faces of color because a lot of people of color had given up.  Also, I thought, a lot of people are at work, even on Sunday evening, picking up every dollar they can, or spending their only day off with family.

Another speaker last night was an economics professor at UMKC.  I was delighted for him.  How often does an economics professor get to address an enthusiastic crowd?  He talked down the notion of abolishing the Federal Reserve, insisting that it was a symptom, not the problem.  The other professor who spoke read a list of demands, including health care and free (fully government-funded) education.  I was cool with almost all of them.

But: I can never get on board with the “Americans are the best workers in the world” business.  You know what they call people who think they are born better than everyone else?  Nazis.  We don’t have to be better than everyone else to have self-respect.

I also don’t understand how the government is supposed to force companies to keep jobs in the U.S.  Even for me, the leftist, that sounds like a huge, complex, and potentially dangerous kind of government intervention.  Globalism seems to have as many benefits as risks.  And I don’t think you can put the genie back in the bottle.  Maybe they could stop subsidizing gasoline so much, so transportation isn’t so artificially cheap, but the government can’t tell businesses where to do their business.  I just don’t see that working.

That said, political movements like Occupy do work.  The political activism of the ’60s and the socialist movement in the United States (we used to have a real one) accomplished a great deal.  We have racial integration and we got out of Vietnam.  We have unions, even if they’re weakened.  We have Social Security and Medicaid and Medicare.  Leftists movements haven’t made this a leftist country (it’s still quite conservative), but they have pushed us that direction.  They have made real changes, and this one might, as well.

(Photo is from facebook, posted under  “everyone is welcome to use.”  I only sketched.)

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