Much like my guiding light, Britney, oops, I did it again. I truly, honestly was not going to write any more about Occupy, and instead return to the narcissistic San Francisco-based navel-gazing that I am so not well known for. And yes, that last sentence is why I need an editor. Nope, I was going to focus on our little town at the edge of the world, and in reality I will actually return to that. But first, there is that little nagging problem of last night I have to get past.
Last night the Commonwealth Club here in the 415 had the audacity to host a panel about the future of the Occupy movement. And lo and behold, three people representing Occupy actually showed up to talk about the movement. They also got Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and UC Berkeley linguistics professor George Lakoff (the architect of "framing"). I was thrilled, having never actually heard any of the Occupiers talk for more than a sound bite.
My thrill lasted about five seconds. When I say they were representing Occupy, I mean that they did not represent Occupy. Which they all made sure to state with in the first thirty seconds of the talk. Because remember, no one represents, stands for, or leads Occupy. Which was a pity, because these three seemed pretty reasonable, well-spoken, passionate individuals. They spoke about what Occupy meant to them, why they joined the movement, and where they thought things were going.
This panel was being streamed across the web and broadcast on radio. If there was ever a moment to invite the rest of the 99% into the conversation, this was it. They had three perfect people up there to put a human face on the Occupy movement for the rest of us. And of course, they screwed it up. No, not the people up on the panel. I am talking about the gaggle of preschoolers out in the audience.
Because after the Occupiers spoke, Mayor Quan started. Understand that to Occupy, this woman represents everything evil in the world after her police department tear-gassed Occupy in Frank Ogawa Plaza (an admittedly bone-headed reaction of the highest order). Quan is not the most personable person in the world, but she was deserving of some respect for actually showing up. She knew full well that the room was packed with Occupiers and the second she started speaking she would get attacked.
Which is exactly what happened. Up jumped a young woman who started yelling at Quan. The moderator (full disclosure, she is my girlfriend), tried to get the talk back on track, as did representatives of the Club, who pointed out that we were there to hear everyone on the panel speak. That's what a forum is: the opportunity for everyone from all sides to come together to have a conversation and find common ground.
Except that is exactly what Occupy doesn't want. They don't want conversation. What they really want is to hear themselves, and nobody else. After the fourth or fifth outburst from the room, the Club again tried to get things back on track for the 99% that were there to listen. But doing that to Occupy is like trying to rationalize with a nursery school class on a sugar high. Up jumped the young lady, and yes you could see this coming from a mile away. "Mic Check!" she yelled, and off they went having a conversation with themselves.
What a waste of an opportunity. One of the Occupiers on the panel is in charge of starting community outreach for Occupy San Francisco. I honestly feel sorry for her, because after last night no one is gong to be interested in sitting down with a group that truly, deeply, doesn't want discourse. The problem with the outbursts last night is that they unmasked an ugly reality about Occupy. Mayor Quan was trying to talk about the violence in the camp and what led to the police raid. This is what provoked the "mic check."
The ugly reality is although Occupy likes to talk about the movement, and how the camps represent that movement, they refuse to acknowledge that there is any problem with the camps. Nope, they are perfect little utopian burgs as they will tell it. No violence. No drugs. No mental health issues or problems with the homeless. They will tell you they have created a "barter economy" that works. No, it works because people out here in the evil capitalist world are giving you things. You exist because of charity, not manifest destiny. The cry last night was "We are going to occupy everything!" Spoken just like a capitalist.
Yes, I know I am going to get attacked again, but the sad part is I believe in the issues that Occupy is talking about. I believe in the change that needs to happen in the world around us. Lakoff said last night, "We are living in a very dangerous time, and that is no joke." How true, but where is the path for the change? If you have the temerity to challenge anything Occupy says, you get rewarded with a mic check or their "get out of jail free" card: "You represent the 1%!"
No, I don't. Like most people struggling through this economy, this world, this time, I am just trying to represent myself, my family, and my friends. The greatest risk to Occupy right now is not the 1%. It's that if Occupy refuses to adapt and evolve, it will become the other 1%. And the 98% of us will decide neither of you represent us.