Lately I’ve been feeling something I can’t really put into words. Every new story about Wall Street corruption or politicians finding new and creative ways to shaft us adds to a general sense of anxiety and frustration about the future. But apparently there is a revolution taking place. And it’s not somewhere far away like Egypt, or even as distant as New York. The Occupy movement has sprung up within walking distance of my apartment in Boston. There’s a good chance that an Occupy movement is taking place in your city, too.
Much like the social revolutions in the Middle East, young people are taking to Twitter and Facebook to spread the word and get people involved. I watched online with nervous fascination as the movement here began to pick up steam. Then when I found out Amanda Palmer was playing a free gig at the protest, I decided this would be a good opportunity to break the ice and see if the movement was something I could support.
It’s not that I didn’t think the protests were necessary. I just know a few things about social movements from the past. The second wave of feminism made huge strides for women’s rights, but it has been severely criticized for excluding women of color. Similar civil rights movements supported advancing the status of racial minorities, but often ignored those of women who stand at an often dangerous intersection between race and gender oppression.
While the “1%” does control most of the wealth in our capitalist system, there are many, many people in the “99%”, regular folks, who hold deep seated prejudices about race or gender. The reasons why are many and complicated, but even without the “bad guy” bureaucrats, women and/or people of color run the risk of being silenced and excluded. This movement is already being touted as our generation’s struggle. I needed to know for myself that this was a movement I could feel proud to join.
So my husband and I walked to Dewey Square, where all of the action is taking place. We kept to ourselves because we’re new in town and we don’t really have a social precedent for revolution etiquette. Despite trying to remain inconspicuous we were interviewed by The Boston Herald. Amanda Palmer’s set was amazing, and there on the street, with the witty signs and empowering music, I started to feel hopeful.
I hadn’t seen a non-famous woman holding a microphone, but I hadn’t been there the whole time either. Something about the way Amanda Palmer encouraged us to play the ukulele gave me goose bumps. I was feeling optimistic enough to go back again, and this time with some supplies for the people living at the protest site. I stayed for a general assembly to watch democracy in action. A few individuals made proposals to the group, and though the process of using hand signals and The People’s Mic, everyone was allowed to ask questions, express concerns, share facts and suggest amendments. It is slow—at times painfully so—but it allows everyone’s voice to be heard.
While this is all very inspiring, my reason for supporting the protests came from a very unlikely place. During a proposal, someone made the suggestion that we stop “pussyfooting around.” There it is, I thought. I knew a peaceful grassroots movement that synced up with my feminist beliefs was too good to be true. If I want to stand up to corporate greed, I’m going to have to tolerate demeaning language.
But almost instantly someone used The People’s Mic to speak out against gendered slurs that alienate half of the 99%. That’s when it clicked. If I want to be represented in this movement, I have to stand up and represent myself. People at Occupy Boston are offering all kinds of workshops and classes, including tools to fight sexism. Just because this isn’t billeted as a feminist protest doesn’t mean feminist values do not have a place in it.
By definition these movements are more open to change and suggestions than the current status quo. They have already made significant steps to be more accommodating to the disabled, and they have made a tremendous effort to include a special statement of solidarity with indigenous peoples. I’m sure things we haven’t even thought about yet will be addressed soon.
I don’t want to romanticize Occupy Boston or any of the other Occupy movements currently taking place. This is not perfect by any means. The goals are unclear, and with so many competing view points, there is still a risk that the movement could shatter. But it is a powerful and important step in the right direction. So while it isn’t a utopia, it is a platform on which everyone has a right to speak and can be heard, which is more than I can say about our current system of government. So I’ll be back again soon with my wittiest sign, because even if we can’t fix everything, exercising my right to dissent helps me sleep at night.