I have never been one for crowds. I don't much care for loud noises, either. (The only exception to this personality trait would be a U2 concert or an Ohio State football game, both of which are made tolerable by my deep-seeded passion for them.) The thought of voluntarily heading to a Big Box Store at midnight (really, not 5:00 a.m.?) the day after Thanksgiving holds about the same appeal for me as a trip to the E.R. So, this year, I thought I'd try something different (different than just sitting at home and watching yet more football).
I'd been meaning to head down to our local "Occupy Bellingham" site, but just hadn't found the time. Well, I just hadn't made the time (because, really, we can make the time for anything we want). The fact that it was a lovely day made my decision even easier--so off I went. I wasn't really sure what to expect. I knew that our crowds weren't exactly crowds--more like dozens. I also knew that, for the most part, there had been no drama, which is always nice in a protest movement.
When I arrived, a fellow by the name of John, a commercial fisherman, was there to greet me (yes, I'm told that each occupy site has a "greeter").
John told me that he sees his role as similar to that of a campsite host. He knows who's staying where, and he's in charge of making sure that the camp runs smoothly. He pointed to a "chore chart" that was hanging from a covered tent in the center of the site:
He also pointed out a list of items that would be appreciated as donations (food and blankets, mostly) and where the "kitchen facilities" were:
John told me that the crowds have gotten smaller since the weather started turning ugly. In the days before Thanksgiving, we had 65 mph winds rip through the area, and more heavy winds Thanksgiving day. He told me that tents were rolling down Holly Street, and lots of folks just decided to bag it. Can't say as I blame them.
Then I got to thinking. I wonder if this is the reason that protest movements don't last too long or accomplish too much in this country--because, generally, we don't like to be uncomfortable. It's why fruit in California goes unpicked. It's why factory jobs go overseas. But this is not the case everywhere.
Take for example Leymah Gbowee, the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize recipient for ending the civil war in Liberia. Here's a excerpt from her bio:
Leymah Gbowee shared the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her work to end civil war in her native Liberia in 2003. Gbowee left Liberia during its First Civil War (1989-1996), but returned with her children after living as a refugee in Ghana. In 1998 Gbowee began volunteering with a Luthern-affiliated peace effort called the Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Program, which sparked her interest in peace activism. Encouraged by mentors she met in West African peace efforts, Gbowee attended the first-ever meeting of the Women in Peacebuilding Network; shortly thereafter she became the coordinator of the Liberian Women's Initiative, which inspired her to start a nonviolent women's movement that crossed religious and ethnic divides to call for peace and civil rights in Liberia. The Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace involved thousands of women working together, using prayer, sit-ins, threats of a sex strike and peaceful demonstrations to protest violence and oppression. Gbowee and her fellow activists continued to bring pressure on African leaders during rounds of peace talks in 2003, leading to the end of 14 years of war in Liberia and the election of the nation's first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Her story was featured in the documentary "Pray the Devil Back to Hell," and in September 2011 Gbowee published her account of the Liberian women's peace movement in "Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War."
She made an appearance on The Daily Show a few weeks ago, and actually mentioned the fact that Americans don't have the wherewithall to withstand the inconvenience of a prolonged sit-in (but she said it much more eloquently than that--see the interview here):
And, to a certain extent, she's right--I certainly am not camping out on Holly Street. I have a job and a family to take care of. But is that a good excuse? Certainly, there are other ways that I could become involved, but would they be as effective as being there, over the long-haul? (Side note: the documentary based on Leymah Gbowee's experinece, "Pray the Devil Back to Hell" is amazing--you should see it.)
I sometimes feel like an imposter, becuase on the surface, I'm all about living sustainably--it's part of what I do for my life's work, plus I garden, I recycle, and I talk to my daughter about creating a reverence for the earth, which can only provide so much for so many. Yet, I drive an SUV, and I travel by air--a lot. I like my laptop, and I love my digital camera. I try to tell myslef that it's not an either-or proposition, that I don't have to cook by campfire, eating only what I can manage to grow or kill. But still.
When I think about the top 1% controlling the vast majority of the wealth in this country, I get angry. When I see scenes like I saw over the weekend of customers being pepper-sprayed at Wal-Mart just to get to cheap electronics, I get even angrier. Where did we go wrong? Who made the all-mighty dollar the arbiter of what is good and right in the world? When did commerce replace relationships? And why have I been sucked in to this crappy narritive, along with most everyone else i know?
Whith Christmas on the way, I'm feeling edgy. There are things I really want (several of which require an electric cord), but what do I really need? Ah, isn't that the question? Maybe the reason I detest the greedy 1% so much is that they force me to take a close look at the 1% within me--that part of me that I pretend doesn't exist, but is there, lurking beneath the surface.
So here's to Bellingham's own, tiny occupy movement. I will donate what I can to their cause (short of pitching my tent alongside theirs). And I will try to go easy on myself, finding a balance between want and need, too much and not enough.
During our Thanksgiving dinner, the topic of Black Friday came up. Without missing a beat, Sarah chimed in and proclaimed, "Well, there are more important things than shopping." Amen, sister. Amen.