Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Ryan Rice’s blog.
Los Angeles, CA–I recently made a post on Craig’s List calling for an open-ended “Talk to an Occupier” meeting. I wanted to offer a dialogue that was more intimate and accessible than marches of thousands of people or contentious general assemblies. With our peaceful assembly destroyed, we all know we need space to congregate and organize. I had visions of curious bystanders coming out of the woodwork, filling up cafes, bars, and restaurants as they heard eyewitness accounts of one of the most unique movements in human history.
It has yet to reach that fevered pitch, but I have faith that is where it is destined. In what I believe must sweep the world, people are contracting a dose of reality and empowerment. Reality free of the televised sort, filled instead with the stark truths of how we’ve steered the ship aground. Empowerment free of the hollow “you can be anything” mantra, filled instead with the recognition that the power in ‘All Power to the People’ is ours for the taking.
I had a great start with an undergrad colleague I recently met with. We hadn’t seen each other since her graduation in May, and her political science degree was gathering dust. She enjoys her job, but reached out to me simply because she missed talking politics and knew I was involved in the occupation efforts.
And talk politics we did! Whenever I talk about the occupy movement with “outsiders”, I always like to get Socratic and ask them to explain their hot-button issues, finding some way to connect their opinions to the greater theme of oligarchic control and money in politics. Refreshingly, my date was no hesitant bystander walking through Occupy LA on their lunch break. She went out of her way to get to the bottom of occupying, and she peppered me with questions.
She asked about my arrests, admitting it was on her bucket list to get arrested while standing up for justice. I told her of shotguns and tear gas in Oakland. Careful not to romanticize what must have sounded fairly otherworldly, I pulled her into a discussion on the elites’ desires to shut us down, white privilege in jail, class warfare and the prison-industrial complex.
She asked where the movement was going, of the mind that the occupiers had successfully shifted the dialogue and would be tea-partying Congress with real lefties with a progressive agenda in 2012. We ended up talking electoral politics, diversity of tactics, and just how realistic it was to believe that fresh faces in a morally bankrupt system could change anything.
She mainly asked how we would accomplish things, which I thought was significant. Bypassing what was wrong in our society and why it was exploiting the 99%, she was concerned with how we’d fix it. And that’s it. People across the nation and world know who is responsible and why, and they’re fed up. The pressure now lies on those alternative ideologies and perspectives to deliver solutions. By the way, they already have; evidenced in the decisions of Portugal with drugs, Iceland with banks, Sweden with education, Switzerland with health care, and Canada with income equality.
As the afternoon wore on, we talked the physical occupation and peaceful assembly, the effects on the pundit and politician rhetoric, the successes, the reasons behind crackdowns & arrests, and globalized activism. I found myself working through some positions on the fly, but I felt I accomplished what I envisioned occupying coffee would be. I know I made her think deeper about the issues and gave her the space to verbalize what she knew. Which was a lot, as it is with most people on this planet. We all know that our policies and power structures are not really what they should be. We just so often don’t have the time or the appropriate space to find our voices.
Like clockwork, a peaceful assembly between two people in a cafe at Sunset Junction provided that space and time. Rejecting the pressure to politely avoid politics and religion, as we’re so often told to do, proved captivating. She helped an occupier practice defending a radical alternative to the present society. And she helped a house full of penniless activists eat for a few days with her spontaneous $100 gift.
I’d like to think I helped her to dip her toes into activism. It was absolutely amazing that she felt moved to write a check to an unkempt, wretched idealist such as myself. I feel honored that I inspired, but what is needed is today is more than a check. She warmed my heart and her contribution filled stomachs, but we need people continuing to transfer to unions, stop paying student loans, join sit-ins and boycotts, and work to educate their friends and family, too.
It is going to require a Herculean effort to save the world. I had to coax, prod, and painstakingly convince a liberal political science grad that the occupy movement was a legitimate David to the plutocratic Goliath. This is someone who knows the issues, knows the oppressions, and has a grasp on policy-making. I hope I helped her shrug off those chains of apathy, but it gave me some perspective on the scope of outreach necessary in the years to come.
This is going to be an incredibly long fight and we need to build this movement with any and all tools. If we want to be the change as we so often say, then occupying is a 24/7 commitment. I am going to continue the Occupy Coffee series, and encourage you to join in any way you can. Set up an Occupier sign, get together with friends for the express purpose of talking politics, hold documentary screenings of Restrepo, The Union, or Inside Job.Wear “99%” gear and hold eye contact with strangers, make pot-lucks and neighborhood block parties events to talk about local issues instead of who won the game. Go do!
– Ryan Rice –