This is the fourth in a series of excerpts from Jim Gober’s book titled “Deep in the Heart of Occupy Austin.” A new excerpt will be published at OccupiedStories.com every Wednesday, so come back next week to follow Jim though the evolution of Occupy Austin.
Today was Sunday, and since it had rained the previous night, the trees, so desperate for rain after a year of drought, were engorged with water and the hills beyond the occupied city hall plaza were a deep luscious green. The urban forest for which Austin depends to protect itself from the tortuous summer heat was at peace. The balmy air felt nice as I arrived at the occupation. As I prepared to cross the street to enter the plaza, a young man handed me a flyer reiterating the latest Occupy Wall Street demands.
I positioned myself along a limestone wall behind what I now call the “Honk if Yer Horny” line. That’s where the sign-holding folks stand on the curb inciting everyone to honk if they agree to what their sign might say. For example, there was: We Need You, Get Corporations out of our Government, We Love You, If You Are Thinking-You Are Winning, Stop Being A Battery for the 1%, and my favorite: Watching TV is Like Taking Black Spray Paint to Your Third Eye. Somebody rented a stretch Humvee limo to continuously circle the block to irritate the protesters, and it was becoming a source of – well, irritation. It must have cost 100 dollars or more an hour to rent, but I guess someone thought irritating desperate people was a better idea than buying schools supplies or helping the food bank.
Earlier in the day, a redneck driving a type of diesel pick-up truck called a dooly in Texas, because it has dual tires on each side of the back axle, downshifted and with one foot on the brake and another on the gas, drove slowly along the honk if yer horny line spewing thick black smoke over the protesters. The black carbon waste obliterated the entire occupation. It was looking like the real threat was beginning to come from folks who think they are the rich ones, but are up to their ass in debt and worry. Putting a face on their misery is getting us spit on, cursed at or worse. Although the truth hurts and is often ugly, somebody needs to be a representative of truth in our world. The lies are too great for a counterbalance to not appear. And here the truth was – right in everyone’s face.
One may ask, “Why would anyone hate to think someone might be trying to throw people lifeline?” Maybe it’s because it’s so easy to ignore suffering in America. Most everyone believes they’ll never need help-that death is an option, until one day they can’t stop coughing or that nagging pain doesn’t seem to go away and they can’t go to work or the Doctor, or even wipe their ass. Maybe they’ll have a handicapped child, or they’ll wreck their car in a fit of road rage and end up disabled for life. Or they just get old. Then they will bury their face in their hands and wonder why they are being forsaken by a system they worked so hard to support all these years. The answer is because they worked for the system rather than fighting so the system will work for them. The system is not infallible. People change every day to accommodate the system, such as adhering to some ridiculous new law that inconveniences them or costs them money. Isn’t it time the system changed to accommodate the people? Look at all the laws that have us in a straitjacket now. Just think what the next 20 years will bring.
After a while, I walked over to meet two 35-40 year old women sitting in a two-seater canvas lawn chair with an American flag draped on the back. One of them was holding a sign that said, “We want our Country Back.” Their names were Kazel and Shea, and we talked a little about why they were there.
Then out of nowhere, a couple in their 50’s strutted up to Kazel as she was reclining, chatting and minding her own business. The man stood over her with his crotch one inch from her face and angrily asked, “Take back your country from whom?” And she said, “The corporations.” Then he angrily proclaimed, “The corporations have given you everything,” and stormed off with his wife. This less than lovely pair, disheveled from drinking too much, looked like they were originally out for a nice afternoon, but decided to make a special trip through the plaza to blow off some steam. I fell in behind them as they huffed and puffed through the plaza. I shouted, “Can I ask you a few questions?” I pulled out my pen and pad as they turned to speak. My assumption about the drinking was correct because they reeked of alcohol and they were obviously a couple of mean drunks who haven’t fucked each other in years. I decided to draw them out.
“What do you mean corporations give you everything?” I asked. “Well, they do!” he answered. He became nervous when he saw me scribbling down his response, as if I was a major news organization and he was finally going to tell the world his position-or show the world how to be an asshole. I could sense he was choosing the latter, so I pressed. “Everything?” I asked. “What about life, happiness or love?” He replied, “Well, not that.” And I said, “So without corporations that would be all you have? He said, “Yes, that’s right.” So I asked, “Does it look something like this?” I stepped back so he could get a clear view of the plaza and protesters who were laughing, dancing, visiting and obviously working to make others happy.
“NO!” the woman suddenly screamed. When I looked at her, her half-crossed drunken eyes set in a bird’s nest of premature wrinkles surrounded by a curly mass of dyed jet-black hair startled me. Not because of how she looked, but because of the sheer ugliness and meanness that exuded from her persona. “These people are all on drugs!” she yelled. “They have to be! Just look at them! These are not normal people. What are they doing?” “Just living and loving,” I replied. She shut up and fumed. So I asked the man, who had bags of worry under his eyes, “You are a small business owner right?” I asked him that because unemployed Republicans are always “small business owners” while unemployed liberals are just losers or bums. And of course he said he was a “small business owner.” In reality, he was a dead-ringer for the long-term unemployed who had eaten through his savings and was now becoming desperate as society cast him aside.
So I asked, “How many times do you hear politicians talk about helping the small business owner, all the time-right?” And he agreed. Then I asked, “And how many times did that talk turn out to be crap while the big corporations that compete with you got all the breaks?” And he answered, “All the time.” Then, I stated, “That’s why we are here. To stop that behavior and give people like you a chance.” That made him angry; because I trapped him into agreeing, which is so easy to do with conservatives it shouldn’t be considered a sport. So to finish him off I asked him, “Is it fair the American taxpayer pays for bad corporate decisions while the corporations enjoy all the benefits when they win? For example, should we offer tax breaks when an oil company drills a dry hole or if an investment bank makes a bad investment? Is that fair to the taxpayer or the small business?” He became confused, “That’s a hard one to figure out,” he replied. He was quiet for a few seconds then suddenly became angry. I obviously short-circuited something in his head. His wife, noticing her husband’s retreat in order to grope for more mental ammo, decided to draw fire and reiterated the occupiers were crazy, on drugs and needed to be at work. I said, “It’s Sunday, for one and two, why are you talking about drugs when both of you are stinking drunk? She screamed, “We just had a couple of glasses of wine for dinner!” And the smell of strong liquor poured from her maw that glowed with the embers of hatred, years of disappointment, frustration and anger.
“I guess you want to fight about it,” said the man, who was so vulnerable to a smashing fist in the middle of his drunken pallid face it took everything I had not to pull the trigger. Then, a young guy, maybe 19 years old, named Brighton, had overheard the situation-and rushed over with his eyes aglow and asked if we were working on “common ground.” Which of course we were, but it was making the drunk very angry to know he was one of us and was now standing on common ground whether he liked it or not. I asked the man, “Do you really want to go to jail for fighting?” and he said, “Hell yeah!” and stumbled backwards as if he was already suffering from a TKO. Then I asked his battle axe if she wanted her husband to go to jail tonight, and she timidly agreed that, “Yes, it would be OK,” as though only a fragment of the meaning of my question had entered her besotted brain. I just shook my head and walked away because for one, going to jail would throw my schedule way off and ban me from the plaza, and two, today was not the day. So, they teetered off, deflated, to the land of drunken meanness, and I moved on through the crowded plaza.
Suddenly there was a commotion from a small parade of Latin Americans who were representing the Worker Defense Project which protects construction workers from accidents. It’s a problem where immigrants are hired and the general contractors give them crap equipment to do their jobs. Occasionally, they fall a really long way to their deaths or get hurt and spend the rest of their days paralyzed on a dirt floor in a poverty-stricken village. Of course, in America it’s not an outrage if they work under substandard conditions-because they’re illegals, of course. But these guys knew how to make a lot of noise with a little bit, and they had a great banner. After a few laps around the plaza they walked north on Lavaca and their chants were swallowed up by the sounds of the big modern city. A city they built with their tough brown hands, under dangerous conditions, with no overtime pay while undoubtedly trying to make each other laugh the entire time.
While I was listening to a lecture about alternative currency from a young man, who looked like a Coblynau, I spotted an old girlfriend of mine from college named Wendy. She seemed a little disjointed and frazzled, but she still had her contagious smile and beautiful mane of thick blonde hair. She had spent the day prepping and serving food for the charity, Food Not Bombs. I worked with them in San Francisco, so I know she worked brutally hard that day. We hung out together for quite a while and I gave her some water and we caught up a bit. She was at the plaza because she works with autistic and severely handicapped children in their home. It’s mostly charity work because there is not a state agency to help and the medical expenses for families are so high, they can barely afford to pay her. Wendy is very frail herself and complained about fibromyalgia. You could see the chronic pain taking its toll on her thin body. But still, this hero for those who literally do not have a voice, was there, not for herself, but to talk about help for the severely disabled. This was what I saw all around me. This was not a selfish exercise; most everyone at the plaza was there was because someone they knew needed help and did not have a voice.
I invited Wendy over to spend the evening and meet my partner, Frank. Once we got home-I drove her car as she was so exhausted-I noticed her inspection sticker was expired two months ago. We drank a few beers and I learned she had been through a terrible ordeal after college, when a man broke into her apartment one night. Then her mother died two months before the trial. And sweet Wendy, with the entire world before her the last time we parted, had struggled with this disaster for 25 years along with debilitating chronic pain while helping the most helpless people in our society. I was heartbroken, because she was always so happy-but I still got her to laugh a few times because of course, I still love her. Who wouldn’t?