“This is what democracy looks like.”
That’s one of the common chants of the protesters down at Occupy Wall Street. After having spent a lot of time there over the last couple of weeks, I couldn’t agree more.
Millions of folks out there are still calling this movement unorganized and “anti-American,” including the House majority leader, Eric Cantor, R-Va., who referred to the protesters as a “mob” (a word one historically associates with lynchings and gangsters, not democracy and freedom of speech).
It’s not just the corporate-owned media or politicians, either; even little old ladies deride what is perceived as a shiftless, pointless movement. Two days ago, after my stepmother posted on her Facebook wall that she was proud of me for being a part of Occupy Wall Street, her cute elderly “friend” replied that protesters like me are lazy, need to find jobs and that hopefully the cops would end it all soon by “tear-gassing all of them out of there!” (That, by the way, is what a police state would look like.)
What many people fail to understand is that I, like many of the folks down there, do work—hard, in fact. After a 12-hour workday, we are still willing to go down there to support our jobless friends because we believe in what they’re doing for the rest of us—the employed 99 percent.
Many Americans also don’t know that Occupy Wall Street is a democracy in its purest form, the kind of democracy upon which this country was founded. Its members not only have the courage and freedom to question a system that isn’t working for them (or for the rest of the 99 percent), but they also truly govern themselves.
Now that megaphones and microphones have been banned, an occupier wanting to address the crowd has to say “mic check” first. After the people closest to the speaker repeat what he or she has said, the words flow like a wave through the crowd until the statement reaches everyone. This means there’s little room for proselytizing or long-winded speeches. And if the crowd does not agree, it simply won’t repeat what the speaker has said. Unlike in our current media system, the people themselves control the distribution of information, not the privileged folks who own the microphones.
I myself doubted that a movement could really work if it didn’t have a chosen leader, but on Oct. 5, I was proven wrong. After a huge parade of over 20,000 occupiers, union leaders, teachers and students ended, one protester lost his cool and threw something at the police. When someone called for a mic check and reminded the people that we are fighting for the police’s pensions too, the crowd listened and repeated: “They are not the enemy; they are part of the 99 percent!” As in a truly democratic government, the people looked out for everyone—even the ones on the other side of the riot shields.
Some have criticized the occupiers for their loose, fragmented approach. The media wants you to think they are lost souls, dirty hippies who bong on their drums and believe anarchy is the answer. OK, some might smell because they can’t shower very thoroughly in a McDonald’s sink. And they’re dirty because they’re camping. The protesters in suits and the ones pushing strollers are rarely featured on Fox News because that would confer legitimacy on this movement, and those in power don’t want that.
I’ll let you in on a secret: These occupiers are not only extremely organized, but they’ve also created an eco-friendly, sustainable community and government, complete with its own newspaper, library, make-shift hospital, cell phone charging station, free clothing center, cyber café, arts and crafts center, media center, recycling center, composting area, sleeping area and community kitchen with a water-filtration system. How could they be unorganized drifters when they hold daily general assemblies?
Their reach is national: Americans from all over the country donate food online, which is then delivered directly to the community kitchen. People throw cash in the donation buckets during meal times and drop off much-needed supplies (sleeping bags, tarps, clothes) throughout the day. Occupy Wall Street feeds and clothes anyone—even tea partiers or cheapskates passing by on the way to the subway. Unlike in the rest of our country, nobody at OWS ever goes hungry.
OWS also feeds souls, giving jobs, a feeling of belonging and a sense of purpose to people who desperately need them. The other night, while I washed dishes in the community kitchen, people kept approaching me, thanking me for my service and begging to help wherever it was needed. Countless others asked how they could donate money or food.
Contrary to what Fox News will have you believe, these occupiers are role models for what most Americans believe we once were and should be: a democracy with integrity. We could learn a lot from them, for unlike our current government, OWS is not sponsored by anyone, nor is it for sale.
This is what a democracy looks like.
(Featured in the Santa Fe Reporter)