Sync weekly

Occupy Little Rock interview for Sync Weekly

Text of an interview between a good friend of mine and a local newspaper. Cross-posted here in case the truth needs to be known later. Never know how the media might twist the truth.

by Cat Innergy Hicks on Friday, 14 October 2011 at 14:30

INTERVIEW WITH SYNC CONDUCTED THROUGH TEXT:

Will: I can’t imagine how busy y'all must be. That would be a cool element to the story- organizing the masses while balancing a full-time job.

Me: Interesting angle, but this isn’t about me. It’s about the movement. Contrary to popular belief, almost all of us have jobs. Ones that don’t pay enough or don’t provide benefits or don’t offer enough hours or treat us poorly through illegal practices such as altering hours to avoid paying overtime or leave us struggling to support our families… We all have a reason to stand up and give our voices power. We are not lazy. Rather, we are patient and determined. We are not afraid to seek change, in spite of knowing that we could lose our jobs in an attempt to voice our concerns - which is itself a testament to the corruption of the system.

Will: You put it very well. And I think that’s something people have to understand- that you represent people who have jobs and who want to bring light and change to issues that hamper all of us.

If you want, you can answer the interview questions I drafted up via Facebook:

Me: Before we start, let me preface by saying that my views and ideas are in no way reflective of the individual voices involved in Occupy Little Rock. I will do my best to keep my personal solutions to a minimum while still identifying the problems and our common themes of action. 

Will: What does Occupy Little Rock aim to do?

Me: As a group, we aim to raise awareness of ongoing economic injustices which are plaguing our nation and the world. Within the General Assembly meetings, as well as on Facebook and our website (occupylr.org), every individual is empowered by their voice and opinion. As a leaderless movement, we seek majority rule on all voting issues - particularly on the ways we choose to organize ourselves. With this, we aim to demonstrate how the democratic process should be working. However, with current corporate greed and policy, our representatives in Washington are often bought out by interests backed by larger pocket books. We, the 99%, aim to reclaim our country from the wealthiest 1% of the population. Your level of wealth should not determine your level of power. 

It is important to note that this is not a political movement. It is easy to get this confused due to the role of financial institutions in politics, but the movement does not endorse or refute any political party.

W: How has this been inspired by Occupy Wall Street?

M: Obviously, our brothers and sisters on Wall Street have inspired this global awareness, education, and action. For the time being, Occupy Little Rock has adopted the mission of OWS as its own:

“As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.”

W: What is the unifying theme or mission of the Occupy movements?

M: Everyone’s voice is important, and I think a common theme among our local voices is the desire for a redistribution of wealth through proportional taxation, no matter what tax bracket you fall into. Campaign finance reform is also a big topic for us, as well as abolishing fiat currency and giving our entire economic system a makeover by ending the Federal Reserve or nationalizing it. However, it’s important to keep in mind that this is my own interpretation of the evolution of the movement thus far. As our focus has primarily been the march, we have tabled certain decisions about our unified mission until we have more time to organize and participate in our own system. Our movement is still very young, but it is important to note that we are not unpatriotic, nor are we lazy. To the contrary, we are standing up against injustices. However, it is hard to pin down a clear message when the corporate greed we are against has its hands in so many pockets - political candidates and representatives, agriculture and environmental issues, technology and marketing, medical care and pharmaceutical development, banking, taxation and bail outs, outsourcing of jobs overseas, inflation as hidden taxation, etc. As the movements continue to grow and expand, a central theme will become clearer. After all, it’s hard to find a solution if too few people are even aware of the problem. 

W: What’s your role? How did you become involved with coordinating the movement in Little Rock? What motivated you to get involved and help direct the movement?

M: I am a participant who is willing to contribute in whatever way I can. I think many people are well-educated and excited about this opportunity, but we must each humble ourselves to realize where we can be of most use. I have been a social networker, community activist, and event organizer in central Arkansas for many years now, and I have built a pretty good reputation as such. However, I am not alone in organizing, and in all honesty, every single person involved has contributed to our ability to organize through their voice, their vote, and their presence. 

I was motivated to get involved by my personal beliefs, as well as the feeling that - if I don’t participate, I am allowing the system I no longer have faith in to continue its dominance over me. It is important to educate people on how they could be treated better and how they can help make a difference. It’s easy to keep participating when you see the incredible response from our community - donations of blankets, food, sign materials, time and services; participation of persons from all backgrounds, colors, and classes; collaboration with law enforcement, local media, and businesses. The list goes on. It is truly inspiring to be a part of something so organic and positive. 

W: Do you forsee movements in other cities in Arkansas?

M: Other movements have already popped up in North West Arkansas (particularly in Fayetteville), Hot Springs, Conway, and for the greater area of District 2 (central Arkansas for those not so keen on politics). Though Arkansas is part of the Bible belt, and we are known to be a little more on the conservative end of the spectrum, I think people here are open to education and will form their own opinions accordingly. I think several cities here have the potential to join us and other cities around the globe in solidarity. 

W: Where will the march take you? Does your route through the city (i.e. the specific buildings/businesses you pass) serve a purpose?

M: Our chosen route absolutely serves a purpose. We will start at the River Front Amphitheater and march through the Farmers’ Market to gain awareness. From there, we will stop at the Stephens building, our Chamber of Commerce, the Bank of America building, the Federal building, and ending at the Capitol. We are targeting Little Rock’s major financial and political locations in order to allow our people to voice their concerns directly to the local sources of our national problems. It seems to be a great understanding that in order to achieve global change, we must act locally - especially when people worldwide are standing up to act locally, as well.

W: Will this end with one march or do you forsee people continuing until some demands are met?

M: We intend to occupy until we see changes made. Throughout the occupation, I anticipate several marches, and perhaps several different occupy locations. However, our main focus in planning over the last two weeks has been the march and first (indefinite) occupy location. 

W: Ideally, how can this movement help better Arkansas?

M: Well, let’s look at the statistics. Arkansas is 2nd in the nation for highest in poverty and children in poverty. We have 20,000 to 30,000 homeless citizens per year, and 10,000 homeless children. We only have 8.7% unemployment, but we are still second in the nation for poverty. This is due to our low hourly wages, but it also displays the fact that we Arkansans WANT to work! We need livable wages, better health care, and proportional taxation in order to redistribute wealth. As the home of such super-giants as Walmart and Murphy Oil, Arkansas may play a crucial part in economic reform. Beyond our state, the more participants in this movement, the more likely we are to accomplish change globally. This problem may be occurring locally, but it is much grander, and I think we are prepared to stick with this idea for the long haul.

Finding the wisdom in my hands.

I recently read about Doug Stowe, a craftsman in Eureka Springs who teaches woodworking and emphasizes the mental impact of working with your hands. I used to work with my hands more often, in school, classes and camps, but the inevitable big-girl job found me at a desk with my fingers glued to the keyboard, as it does most people. I was inspired by Stowe’s story to find the wisdom in my hands again. 

Fueled by renewed enthusiasm in crafting, I ran to my list of bookmarked ideas (uh, Pinterest) and found these golden animal thumbtacks that looked simple enough: you take cheap toy animals, cut them in half, spray paint them gold and glue thumbtacks to the backs. The end product is a menagerie of gilded trophy mounts along with their rear ends poking out of your bulletin board. Sounds adorable and easy, right? 

But after scoring some mini dinosaurs at the Dollar Store, I hit a roadblock with step one, cutting the poor creatures in half. My first attempt was, stupidly, with scissors, before I realized the thick plastic wasn’t going to give that easily. So I asked a housemate if I could borrow his handsaw, and, after giving me a sideways look that said “you’ll cut your hand off,” he obliged (and monitored from the other room). This did nothing but carve shallow grooves in the backs of the dinos, and after watching me struggle for awhile, my housemate was intrigued enough to jump in with a screwdriver and hammer in an attempt to chisel the bodies apart. In a final moment of desperation, with sweat pouring down our faces and sore hands, I put on a pot of water to boil and dumped in the handful of dinos which had been spared mutilation thus far. After the plastic was softened, scissors sliced right through them like a cheese knife through brie.

Mind you, this is all before spray-painting gold and messing with E6000 glue, stuff so strong my sister uses it to glue ceramics together at her pottery studio

But that messy, emotional episode wasn’t enough to deter me. I found that I can do just about anything armed with a can of gold spray paint. Magnets, wooden salad utensils, plain paper journals — everything that I touched gained a stripe or triangle or accent of gold. I was a weird little King Midas, and finally on a roll. 

My real moment of glory came in using food stamps. No, not those food stamps — I actually stamped my own wrapping paper this Christmas using pieces of food. Did you know that chopping off the butt of an entire celery stalk produces a really awesome rose shape? I found stamping use in a potato, too. Just cut it in half (a knife works this time, thank God) and carve out the shape you want. 

Since you can’t exactly keep a painted vegetable in a drawer for use a week or two later, I found myself digging around the house for anything and everything I could stamp. Gift bags, blank stationery, white envelopes and old issues of Sync were all fair game.

Yes, I felt a bit insane at moments. Like when my housemates came home to find rolls of white Kraft paper circling the house and every possible surface stamped with potato hearts or covered in glitter. In their eyes, I’d gone 0 to 60 in 2.5 seconds. But as I finished each project, I had a real sense of accomplishment. I’d made something. I had fruits to show for my labor. Not something on a computer screen, where so much of my time these days is spent, but tangible objects!

Also, there is something contemplative and relaxing about working with your hands. Maybe not so much in shredding spikes off the backs of plastic dinosaurs, that was tiring — and slightly depressing — but in the repetitiveness of painting, cutting, gluing, coloring, stamping, carving and building something, which I think is what Stowe is getting at with his classes. I felt re-centered after each of my craft-spasms, something I’ve missed since the bygone days of camp arts and crafts and college art classes. We all need that reflective, productive time away from smartphones, laptops and TV, and I intend to find time for more of it in 2013. 

In other words, check your mailboxes for golden, glittered, potato-stamped, possibly painful but very well-intended Valentines in a couple of weeks. Chances are there will be some sweat and tears thrown in the mix as well. 

by Stephanie Maxwell. This column was originally published in the 01.30.13 issue of Sync weekly.