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Confessions of a Reluctant Occupier
(Wybaczcie, tym razem musi byc po angielsku...)

So I went to this Occupy Wall Street thing today.

It was happening in New York City, the town where I live and where it all started and where it is still going strong 27 days after it began, and where the movement seems growing bigger and louder each day. And even if there were plenty of people just like me in the crowd of (reportedly) 20,000 that showed up on Times Square on this balmy Saturday afternoon, it did not make me feel less awkward. Yes, awkward. Because as much as I appreciate the value of civil disobedience in times of great need, I am simply not fit to be a revolutionary. I hate crowds. Street marches in high heels are more than I can handle. Prolonged chanting gives me headaches. Still, I really felt I should be there and all in all, I was glad I did go. Why?

I was 18 when communism fell in my native Poland -- and I am not sure what I remember more vividly: the exuberance of the big change I witnessed, or the bitter disappointment that came afterward, when all huge and real values of this great, bloodless revolution were lost in futile infighting and pointless noise. What it has taught me was a lesson for life: Do not get carried away with the ecstasy of loud chant -- especially if it comes from a crowd, participation in which makes you feel powerful and righteous. Pay attention to the message. Ask questions, do not take anything for granted  - I tell myself. Or, to put it differently  -- in the undying words of Mark Twain: "Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it's time to pause and reflect."

I did found myself on the side of majority today. It’s a majority that declares itself to be 99% of our society -- and, for one, this is the thing I believe to be about right. So what’s my reflection?  On one side, I really feel very strongly this sense of awkwardness I already talked about. All of the sudden I found myself among people half my age, chanting tired slogans I’ve heard before and waving banners I definitely not subscribe to. Their interests are usually not my interests, their language I can barely understand, their values I am not too quick to call my own. It felt weird to be marching with them on the sidewalks of New York, and it felt weird to be saluted by countless car horns and well-wishing smiles of friendly onlookers who, for some reason or another, would not join in.

I felt like a phony, being so half-assed about it, smiling ironically in the shadow of all these young, strong, gorgeous fists, pumping the air around me. But guess what: the more I think about it, the more I do not mind being their pet middle-age woman, walking in a disorganized parade with no clear agenda. Because as much as it feels awkward to have a silly, bubblegum-pink-colored sticker affixed to my Tahari jacket by someone who could easily be my daughter, it is also much better than not doing anything at all. What I value about what I saw today is, as much as it may seem imperfect, disorganized or even misguided – it’s real. And it’s growing. And if I don’t do anything, soon the fact that  there will be no Tahari jackets, and no 2005 Bordeaux for any of us will be the least of our problems. There will be nothing but suffering and powerlessness, unless we do our job by speaking out. Each and every one of us.

So I went there and did the whole thing, start to finish, from the gathering on Times Square (which I will always remember fondly as the only day in may memory when the tourists who usually gather there could, for once, get the taste of something real) to the night walk to Washington Square. Do I think marching and chanting changes anything? I don’t. I really don't. But we have to start somewhere. In this absurd world we live in, where a decent person who worked hard all their life is refused treatment for cancer because they’re uninsured and where a smart guy with two master degrees cannot get a job for four years – I do believe it matters to see how many of us  there are. Under these circumstances, everything is better than complacency. Everything is better than silence.

By the way, the slogan on my bubblegum-pink-colored sticker says “Make Out, Not War”. Not the greatest slogan, I know. But for now, it has to do.

niedziela, 16 października 2011, bigapple1

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2011/10/16 15:57:15
Well said, makes you stop to think. Although I can't say I like you calling yourself a "middle-age woman." ;)
2011/10/17 22:47:45
"Under these circumstances, everything is better than complacency. Everything is better than silence."

Well, now it is much easier to understand how the First World War began. Similar sentiments, similar mood.
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