This is What Democracy Looks Like!

Images from Occupy Fort Myers Rally, October 15, 20011

Yesterday was a great day for me and for participant democracy all over the world. The Occupy movement spread worldwide as common people everywhere shouted in the face of power, informing the top tier, the top 1% (and the minions thereof) that we know that we are being exploited. We stated informed the world that we are not going to stand by idly any more. While the global elite bask in the rewards that they reap from immoral labor practices, from the destruction of environments, from endless wars and manufactured crises, from perpetual economic catastrophes, from blackmailing taxpayers into propping them up because they are supposedly too big to fail, common people are opening their eyes grift and graft that is the lifeblood of the 1%. From New York to San Francisco, Tokyo to Sydney and yes, even little Fort Myers, this movement is catching steam like nothing seen before.

“This is bigger than anything I was in in the sixties…” one man at the Fort Myers demonstrated said to his friend as we made our way around the downtown area shouting “This is what democracy looks like.”

This is what democracy looks like, at least from my little microcosm of the Occupy movement. According to the News-Press, five hundred citizens from a very conservative corner of the country showed up to protest. I would estimate that it was at least twice that many, but the reader can be the judge.

We started out at Centennial Park. We arrived to a throbbing welcome of drums. It made me wish that I had brought my own. As can be seen from the pictures, this was an eclectic gathering. Every age group from infant to elderly participated. It was a largely white crowd, but not exclusively so. Were there “hippies?” There may have been a few, but the right wing, FoxNoise stereotype of the unwashed hippy looking for a handout does not apply, and never has.

A play and parody of the Tea Party.

Contrary to the imbecile ravings of FoxNoise and the right wing punditocracy, the Occupy movement is not asking for government handouts. We are asking for government representation. An overarching theme at this march is the collusion of government and the economic elite, for which “Wall Street” is the short hand. In this, the 99ers offer a much more sophisticated critique of government than anything the Tea Party has come up with. Instead of the “government bad” mantra of the Norquist Right, occupiers recognize the problem to be collusion between corporations and government. “They got bailed out…We got sold out,” was the rejoinder. It’s not about big government. It’s about a government that is responsive to the needs of the people.

I would offer that none of the people at the rally were “lazy hippies.” Perhaps if the Rushites actually showed up at these rallies they would see the truth. Of course, it’s doubtful that they would report the truth, but at least they would see it. Ahhh. Never mind!

We marched under the US 41 overpass. Here, a man in American Legion regalia heckled us. “You’ll be sorry!” He shouted. “This is what we fought against in Germany!” Well, there it was, the requisite Nazi reference. We can’t really call it a protest if someone doesn’t call us Nazis. In this case, we got it over with right off the bat. In fact, I have to admire the gentleman’s courage. He was alone, facing a line of hundreds, speaking his mind. That is also what democracy looks like. In fact, there were very few critics speaking out along our march. Most of the response we received from passersby was supportive, beeping horns with thumbs up out the window. I only heard one person lean his head out of the car and yell, “Freaks!” while he was driving. I wouldn’t put that in the same category of courage as our American Legion friend, but again, this is what democracy looks like.

Five hundred my…um…yeah, it was more than five hundred.

Corporate greed and monopoly, unemployment, unresponsive government, economic inequality, critiques of trickle-down economics, anti-war sentiment, end the Federal Reserve, tax reform. These are just a few of the messages presented in this march. The mainstream media and the pundit class criticize the 99ers by suggesting that there’s no coherent message, that there’s no one thing that we are focused on. This is a false criticism, a rhetorical slight. All of the above are symptomatic of unchecked excesses of corporate power, the imbalance between the representation of the elite and voice of the people. It is a single message for anyone who has the wherewithal to examine the issues, a wherewithal that the corporate media is lacks. Sorry pundit class, the message of the 99ers cannot be boiled down to a single-sentence sound bite. I guess your viewers will actually have to analyze the issues. We’re not trying to sell advertising space; we are speaking to the ages.

Interestingly, one thing that I couldn’t help but notice was the expressed conviction that those who didn’t understand the Occupy movement were brainwashed by the corporate media. Of course, this is the very same critique made by the Tea Party and the right wing, only they use the terms “liberal media” or the Palinesque “lamestream media.” If nothing else, this demonstrates a consensus that there is something awry with American media.

Nobody wants to do away with corporations. (all right, maybe some want to do away with corporations, but not all of us) We want corporations to stop corrupting our government.

Wow! Poignant. Almost a Foucaultian critique.

Our first stop was the Bank of America building. If there is a company that is emblematic of corporate excess, it is Bank of America.

This dog was off the leash and walked with us the entire way. I’m not sure who the owner is, but what a good dog. I think he was hoping to take a bite out of bankster.

So much for the America hating hippy stereotype.

This was a huge gathering, but very organized. We made room for drivers who were just trying to go their own way, often stopping our march to let them pass. Some of us at the head of the line even picked up a fallen table at one restaurant before the line of marchers reached that point. On one hand, it was a helpful thing to do, on the other hand, we did not want the Occupy movement to be accused of “knocking over tables at a local restaurant.”

Our next stop was the Wells Fargo central bank.

This gentleman’s t-shirt caught my eye. It’s a picture of Bush W stating “I screwed you all. But thanks for blaming the black guy.” Poignant. A reminder of this crisis’ origins as well as a racial critique. To what extent does race play in blaming Obama for an economic collapse that happened before his administration?

Past the Federal Building.

Notice the critique of big government. Liberalism is not about a big government that takes care of everyone, as the right-wing punditocracy would have you believe. Liberalism is about a government responsive to the people. There were two masked gentlemen on this march. The other wore a shirt labeled “socialist.” According to the right wing, one person identifying as a socialist means that everyone was a socialist. Of course that’s ridiculous. Everyone, however, did have their say. Oh, and socialists are against big government as well. Critics of socialism often know nothing of this philosophy.

The police presence was very light and very professional. Yes, in New York and other places there are plenty of examples of bad police behavior. I’m sure there are also examples of bad behavior among the Occupiers. Where there are enough people involved, there’s going to be bad behavior. We must remember, however, that these police officers are also part of the 99% (so to speak. I’m not statistically comfortable with the 99% designation). These officers followed us the entire way, conversed warmly with some of us, but otherwise maintained their distance and their professionalism. Kudos.

Indeed, US Senators are the most highly inflated commodity in the world thanks to Citizens United.

And this is my nomination for the best sign at the rally. This pretty much sums up the state of political debate for the last four years.

Overall, this moment was a wonderful and refreshing exercise in democracy. Who knows where this is going, but if hope has been in short supply since the end of the great anti-war movements of the Bush Administration, hope is renewed today. I had the pleasure of seeing two of my high school students on the march, supporting the cause, smiling and having fun. Maybe these students can tell their friends that participating in democracy is not the kind of onerous, boring task as presented in the classroom, but rather a fulfilling adventure. Having fun. This is the advice of the late, great Howard Zinn. Protest should be fun.

Another friend of mine, an immigrant from the former Soviet Bloc, told me, “I feel so energized now. For so long I was feeling so depressed. I kept asking, ‘why aren’t we in the streets?'” Well, we are now in the streets. Let’s stay there. Democracy is of the streets. Democracy is a movement of the people, not a function of government. This is what democracy looks like!

1 Comment

  1. Hi Mike. What a great photo-journal 🙂 Just wanted to comment on white dog with pink baloons. His owner is a Ukrainian guy, who immigrated here years ago.


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