MUSKEGON, MI – When the banks were bailed out a few years ago, I fucking lost it. Call me hot-headed, but I made up a series of three signs with slogans I don’t even remember— all slapped up in red paint— and hammered them into my front lawn. I lived in a shitty old house at the edge of the northern wealthy section of town, but it was the shitty old house my grandfather had died in and nearly all my friends and family had lived in at one time or another. For those reasons the house embodied many fond memories; it was the kind of place you always wanted to live in until you do.
Anyway, watching the government give up billions and trillions of taxpayer dollars to the very people who had screwed us in the first place, I fucking lost it. I lost my faith in dissent, in people, in the solidarity of mass protest … What could I do? I was just some guy with three wimpy signs in his yard— and it rained constantly, drooping the cardboard until you could no longer read my short stab at the government, blindly swiping at big business, mega-banks and the auto industry. And there were the airlines and a morbidly obese defense budget slaughtering people all over the world in the name of democracy and commerce to boot, too, but that was old hat by then— it’d been done for so long people didn’t know any different. It seemed like no one cared enough to scream and shout anymore. A dissenting voice to the Great Bail-Outs of the 21st century was nowhere to be found.
“We’re behind enemy lines, man!” I’d tell my wife. “Jesus… no one gives a shit! If this doesn’t get people in the streets, what the fuck will?” She’d shrug and we’d eat dinner with the kids. “Eat your fucking rice,” we’d say. “Good fucking beans.”
“SHIT, MOM!” my oldest son would yell. “THE GODDAMN BANKS ARE STEALING MY FUTURE! ASSHOLES!”
“No b-word at the dinner table,” my wife and I would scold him. “You know how we hate that fucking word.”
This is the caricaturized domestic life of a man who was not censored, who grew up memorizing late-night comedy routines on cable, who rolled and cried with bellyaches on the floor at George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy till his mother came home drunk from the bar and would lay down the most basic of life’s lessons— “Tell the truth,” she’d say. “Your life will be a lot easier.” So, I gave myself permission to express myself however the hell I pleased, like those funny people on cable, as long as I was honest, as long as it was the truth and sincere, and as long as the heart was involved.
A year floundered by and the world continued to stink, spin, and spew on down the line. Sure, there were puppies who found homes, bake sales were held. There’s a different colored ribbon for every f-ing cause under the sun. But anyway, a year went by, and in that time my wife and I purchased our first home.
“Put these fucking boxes in that room, and put those fucking boxes in this room,” we told the kids— even our toddler.
“DAMN IT, MOM! OUR GOD DAMN MORTGAGE IS FUCKED!” our eldest son yelled, storming off for the boxes, which our youngest echoed in tearing off his diaper, bending over and shaking his ass in the air.
Our mortgage was not fucked. It was quite fucking good, actually, but by then the media had crop-dusted so many Aqua Net politicians across the news, proclaiming and analyzing fault with the housing market, that our son began parroting all that b.s. back at us. “VARIABLE INTEREST RATES ARE STEALING OUR JOBS FOR CHRIST’S SAKE!” There was no real need to explain it all to an eight-year-old, but a good mortgage didn’t matter so much in the end anyway, either. He might as well have been right. Two years later, my wife lost one of her jobs, and the jobs we had left started providing less work. “THOSE DOUCHE BAGS ARE RUINING EDUCATION! CHILDREN ARE OUR FUTURE!” My oldest yelled again from behind the boxes, helping his little brother learn how to flip the bird—a prediction we agreed with long before.
By then, the whole country had its legs straight up in the air; my household’s income dropped by 75% soon after.
“This shit is all over the world!” I’d shake my head at my wife.
“Yeah, it’s disgusting,” she’d agree, shaking her head, too.
Then one afternoon, pissing away some time on the computer, avoiding discussions in my online classes and working on a novel that’s been ready for a final edit for months now, I came across the Occupy Wall St. movement.
“Some people are camping out in the middle of New York for a protest,” I told my wife.
“In the fucking city.” “Really?” she said. “What for?”
What for is old news now, but that afternoon I was still in my pajamas, still bleary-eyed and willing down a cup of coffee, waiting for it to shock the monkey back to the steering wheel, when this strange protest— this camping protest that had been going on for a little more than a week by then, with no immediate plans to stop— woke me right up, like I pissed myself ice-fishing or something— a sudden, exciting chill grabbed me and shook me around feverishly. “This shit is interesting!” I said, turning to find an empty room, my wife evidently somewhere else.
I’d been interested in counter-culture movements for years. It was always what I considered my passionate hobby reading— mostly 60’s revolutionary swag. I read a lot of books about (and by) a number of Black Panthers. I read a fair amount on the White Panthers, too, and a whole slew of bio books on different 60’s rock groups. I came across AIM at some point, and the Weather Underground, the Motherfuckers and the Yippies, which all came naturally after my earlier interest in the existential Beats, the Wobblies, the Diggers. My father is a musician and my mother’s a medicine woman; I’m Irish and Eastern Cherokee. My grandpa was a junk man and his brothers were hobos who used to fish for chickens from an old shack along the Flat River— I’m primed for this shit, and my wife knows it. Hell, I didn’t even mention Che Guevara, Martin, Malcolm, and Means…
For three or four days and nights I couldn’t work, I couldn’t sleep. Every few minutes I was back on the computer rummaging around the Internet for more news and developments about the movement. “Holy fuck!” I’d blurt out now and then. After a while, my wife didn’t even respond. I had to come up with something else to get her attention. “Holy fuck!” no longer did it. I combed every social website I could think of looking for Occupy Wall St. news, marveling at how fast it spread, and how far! Hell, it had already reached New Zealand! People were talking! Online, that is; mostly online, and I followed. I made it my personal duty to help the various Occupy pages stay connected, shuffling through the various sites obsessively, doing anything I could to feel part of it, helping to spread the information and solidarity.
And then BAM!— 700 people were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge. Watching the footage, my mouth fell open like a rockslide. I shook with a chill that went from my nuts to my chin and all down my spine. An involuntary grin pulled itself up from out of nowhere and put a gleam in my eyes— that wild spark that always makes my wife look at me as if my name is Willis, still pushing Different Strokes after all these years: she sees a scheme in my smile and deflects it with a prudent smirk that makes her squint her eyes slightly.
“Look at this shit!” I told her, pulling her away from her own online classes.
“They arrested 700?” she said, “What the fuck?” ”They kept chanting, ‘THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING! THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING!’ and ‘SHAME! SHAME! SHAME!’ at the police! I have to go!” I told her. “You know me; I’ve talked about this for years! I have to go … It gave me chills just watching it. I have to do this!”
Then I said, “Holy fuck!” again, because I knew that this time I meant it. This time, I saw something I felt instinctually different about. The energy and approach of it all was too high. Liberty Park was constant high noon; it was a line in the sand. Camping out in front of the White House had been something I’d ranted about for years. “I should just take a fucking tent and go set it up right outside that damn place,” I’d say, coming out of the bathroom, tightening my bathrobe, running my hands through my hair, checking for thin spots. “What the fuck have people got to lose?” But camping out to take over Wall St. made even more sense than D.C. You’ve got to show up on the doorstep of power, and OWS had its finger on the bell from the beginning.
But, primed as I was for a more liberal outlook on life, I still gave myself a cushy excuse for inaction. My claim: I didn’t know where to start, how to get involved in a way that makes you feel like you’re making a difference, that you’re not just some asshole pissing away his time when he should be at home, showing the kids how to swear in new and interesting ways so they can really wow their friends on the playground and around the daycare. Those old Andrew Dice Clay rhymes don’t cut it anymore, trust me. Ya, hear? So, recognizing where and how-the-fuck to start can be a catalyst for major change in the way a guy like me lives his life. It can help lend enough direction to spark continuous action— a lifetime of it!
When I saw Occupy Wall St., I knew; I just knew, right from that first sleeping bag unrolled in the name of freedom and democracy— I was Occupy through and through. Suddenly, I had a location and a purpose. I had the interest, the motivation, and I begged, borrowed, and scrounged for the money to get to Liberty Park. The arrow had been released.
Before I left, I called up my cousin and said, “You want to go to New York for a protest?” and he said, “Why, hell yes!” He had to sell a deer rifle to do it. We left two days later, having assembled funds and donations from a handful of kind souls in the local community.
As we drove east on I-80, facing a good twelve hours of driving into the night, I wondered what would be in store for my cousin and I, whether we would be beaten, arrested, or both; whether we would get separated and whether we would be able to find our way back to each other; where we would sleep, use the bathroom and shower … Having gotten a late start, the sun was well above as the wheels spurned us forward. In my head was rock and roll; every movement I’d ever studied; every revolutionary I’d ever had the honor to meet and speak with, learn from; and the last protest I’d been a part of—the sky gray above the land, old WWII bombers circling and roaring in the rain, fake bombs bursting in the mud around me— the lone person who saw fit to call foul on celebrating Brig. Gen. Paul W. Tibbets’ presence at the local air festival in order to raise ticket sales— a festival that has since collapsed.
My sign read, “F the A BOMB!” and “THE A BOMB IS NOT CELEBRITY!” Both sides were printed over large orange mushroom clouds I’d painted days before, and stood out against the darkness like a sudden torch in the metallic gloom.
-Dylan Hock –