Note: Today we have a post from a community member who attended the “Don’t Cut Our Lifeline” Rally on November 28th in Olympia. This community member wanted to share their thoughts on the rally and the presence of the “Occupy” movement on this day.
Thoughts from Olympia, 11.28.11, 3:00 PM
Just over an hour ago, Room 4 of the Cherberg Senate Hearing Room buzzed with the fervor of desperate and yet hopeful professionals, public servants, and stakeholders—like me. I was securely seated at the back of the room by the exit door. Camaraderie seemed present, as people chatted and shared their vital messages. Those who planned to speak quickly read and re-read their lines in anticipation of testifying before the Human Services Ways and Means Committee about the beleaguered state budget.
I reflected on my impression of these legislative grounds—walking far distances to enormous buildings and cold gathering places in order to be heard. I saw the huge State Patrol presence and felt at once annoyed by their vigilance and protected by their presence. I recalled the dedicated group of individuals with disabilities, their advocates, and their family members who had withstood bitter cold that morning to rally for increased revenue to avoid cutting folks off from their necessary lifelines. I represented children in the great State ofWashingtonwho could not vote for their own needs. I was there to be one more voice in the crowd. I felt proud to be an American, able to speak up and be heard.
I was encouraged by the power of a marching group of protestors, The Occupy Movement, who were on cue after our rally. Their banners waved in the same breeze as the American flag above them and they chanted in loud voices that sounded like a rushing river. They were part of the “99%” and bore messages ranging from supporting schools, to ending homelessness, to stopping corporate greed. I took photos and video to show my children the importance of speaking up in our free land. Indeed, we are also part of the 99%.
I had entered the hearing room in the Senate building anticipating the great speeches I would hear that would support that 99% of our society. But as the time grew nearer, so did the thundering explosion of “the people”, their angry chants filling the corridor outside as they pounded on walls and beat raucous drums.
In walked two young men in black, marching toward the front of the room with confidence. Their group did not follow. In irritation, they beckoned the rest to come forward. Again no one followed, so these two leaders returned to get everyone. And that is when I felt the brunt of their wrath. As one of the men reached back beyond me, I heard—then felt—a scuffle. Two angry men pushed hard against a middle-aged man, who was standing up to them. He, in turn, fell against my back. I put my elbow up to protect myself and then, my shrill voice betraying my mixed annoyance and fear, I said, “You’re hurting me! I’m just sitting here and you’re hurting me!” This seemed to stop them.
The larger Occupy group filed into the room surrounding all in the galley, blocking the view, and chanting loudly to drown out the words of the first speaker attempting to defend his concern before the Committee. In a brief pause, I was able to interject, “It’s not okay for you to hurt me!” A lone male voice said, “We’re sorry.”
It is difficult to know where culpability lies in this scenario. If we believe that “the people” are in charge, then we should also respect the one percent for their viewpoints. We should also respect that many of the speakers at the hearing today may not be with the “Occupy” group, but they also certainly represent the 99%. Were that not so, they would not have been willing to speak up for the most vulnerable citizens as they were. These brave speakers got there early, signed up for their two minutes to persuade legislators not to cut services, and they waited calmly. Sadly, the Occupy group took over, not even allowing these individuals to speak—repeatedly interrupting other important words in order to be heard themselves. I was reminded that even the Occupy group is just a fraction of the 99% that it represents.
By now, I was unnerved by the tension in the room. After watching the Occupy group “place” the legislators under citizen’s arrest, I decided to leave myself. I felt crowded by the accelerating conflict and worried that if I did not leave now, tempers would flare and worse things could happen.
One of the Occupy members, dressed in black leather, stepped forward to ask if I would like her to escort me out of the building. I was grateful because I did not know what lay out in the hallways. It sounded loud and cacophonous. In her, I saw the decency that underlies their passion and the goodness that comes from knowing what it is to live without. She seemed to understand that being victimized by the system does not mean she must become the aggressor.
Even though I was afraid, I saw that at the heart of this conflict, there are individuals (the majority of the 99%) who know that they must speak on behalf of those who are vulnerable—the children, people with disabilities, jobless and homeless individuals and families, and our elderly—without trampling on the rights of others. They know this, and do it peacefully, reaching out with compassion to others who possibly share their viewpoints.
In the end, the message from the “Occupy” movement and the rest of the 99% seems to be similar: Do not cut vital services that so deeply affect people’s lives—even if you have to add revenue to the mix. And of course, perhaps, one of the greatest messages of all: We—all of us—are “the people”.