For years I had wondered why my generation was so politically passive, silently observing as war after war was started in our name, as our “democracy” was purchased wholesale, as our planet was trashed and polluted, and then as the latest president we elected to change these things proceeded to make it worse. I sat around, wondering why everyone else was just sitting around.
Then the Occupy movement took root. People started showing their outrage in public spaces. People took that step before me and made it easier for me to get involved. A few weeks ago I made a sign and joined a protest for the first time in my life. (My sign said, “One planet shared by 100%”)
I’m a 26 year old grad student who has been pretty well-informed for a long time, but my experience protesting in the last few weeks has changed my world view more than any class or book ever could. This is especially true of when I went with a group of students to join Occupy Oakland’s march on the Port of Oakland on November 2nd.
When the march began at the encampment, at first we could only see the people immediately around us. It seemed like there were a few hundred, maybe a thousand. We marched a couple miles, chanting slogans, drumming, waving flags and signs, and then we came around a corner and the crowd started cheering. We could see a large bridge ahead, and walking up that bridge was a crowd many times bigger than I imagined. The sight was amazing. Still, we were only seeing a small fraction of the entire attendance. I would guess there were over 40,000 people marching that day, others have guessed close to 100,000 (media reported some nonsensically low estimates- but that’s another issue).
After the bridge we made it into the Port itself, and what I saw there reminded me of the celebration in Tahrir Square when Mubarak stepped down (doesn’t that alone say something pretty powerful?). It was jubilation. People were everywhere, on top of trucks, waving flags, the trucks were blasting their horns, and more people were continually flowing in.
Groups split up to block off the different entrances of the port. Others stayed in the middle, celebrating, playing music, dancing. When we left for the night around 9pm, on the way out we saw more people still coming in.
That one day reversed years of practicing learned helplessness. You know the drill: watch the news (i.e. The Daily Show), get outraged, and then just swallow it and repeat. None of that mattered anymore after I personally saw tens of thousands of people come together and do something as powerful as peacefully shutting down one of the nation’s largest ports. And that’s just what happened in one city. And this is less than two months after the beginning of the movement. It’s difficult to continue being pessimistic when you’ve seen something like this. These people do not feel powerless, and I can now say from personal experience that it’s a great feeling.
The movement appears to be gaining momentum. And whatever becomes of it, it has already drastically changed the national conversation. It will be very interesting to see how it matures, and I know I’ll no longer be passively watching from the sidelines.