Friday, November 18, 2011

So what really IS the occupy movement?

I work with High School students and it shocked me last Wednesday to joke with a few of them and say, "yeah, so now you will start your own occupy movement.  Ha ha  ha  . . . . ha . . . . . .  ahem"

Blank stares.

They had absolutely no idea what I was talking about - they had heard nothing at all about what the occupy movement was.  I am extremely non-political - I like a little about what everyone is saying so I don't line up on one side or another . . . but this was interesting.  They had no idea what was going on in the world.

Which made me think - what do people know about this phenomenon?  I don't mean politically, if you want to hear political jargon this blog isn't going to help you.  I am more interested in where  this came from and where it is going.

My personal understanding on this goes like this . . .

About 45 years ago Communist leaders in eastern Europe enacted a series of reforms called "The Prague Spring."  It represented a thawing of the rigid structures of Communism to allow more personal and political freedoms.  It filtered through academia and the arts and began a movement among students.  The Soviets responded with force in the fall.

Fast-forward to 2010 and in December last year students and workers in the Arab world began protesting the absolutist structures in their own countries.  They called it the "Arab Spring" in a nod to the demonstrations of the Prague Spring.  When you hear "Arab world" think Egypt, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Jordan among others.  Essentially the entire northern tier of Africa and the fertile crescent.  Unemployment in these countries was high and resentment over government inaction led to protests.  Demonstrations there have brought in regime change in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia with major reforms in several other countries.  Syria is currently in trouble with the Arab league because of how aggressive they are being with protestors. 

So anyhow - seeing what was happening in the Arab world, political organizers sent the message through primarily social networks that similar demonstrations can be used to effect change here in America.  Citing the number of people out of work while leaders of corporations are getting 'bailed out,' organizers of a similar kind of movement decided to 'occupy' the centers of privilege that have ignored the vast majority of people in the US (the oft-quoted 99%).  Leaders of a Canadian magazine purchased the domain for the occupy website in early June.  Then in July the same magazine called for an organized protest for September 17th.  They wanted about 20,000 people to take up residence in the Wall Street section of New York City.

Participation in September was more in the neighborhood of 1,000 but the movement began to gather steam in early October as media began running stories of run-ins with police.  The movement purposefully has stayed away from a centralized message and structure so as not to imitate the very thing it is protesting.  The Occupy movement encompasses people who are upset with capitalism, upset with the treatment with women, angry over joblessness and homelessness, irritation with proposed 'austerity' measures and dozens of other messages.

Last weekend most of the Occupy movements were evicted by their host cities citing social and sanitary problems that were taking place at the encampments.  Most Occupy participants have now vowed to take the protest out of the encampments and into the streets.

As an example of this new phase, I was in Philly yesterday and heard that the Occupy movement was going to march up Market Street and demonstrate near 30th Street station to show people that the place needs to be renovated and that people need jobs.  At least they told commuters where to not drive . . .

So there you have it - a hopefully impartial account of where it has come from and where it may be going.

Personally, I don't think we can solve our own problems.  I know that sounds so cynical, but our humanity is like blight.  Our humanity is the one thing that continues to inhibit our ability to treat the ailments that are caused by our humanity.   We need something outside of ourselves and our politics to lift us out of the mess we are in.  You don't treat blight with sanitized blight.  We need something or someone outside this thing we call humanity to lead us out of the mess we are in.  I mean, that is why Jesus came to begin with . . .

. . .  and why He'll come again.

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