A brief occupation

By Michael T. Corrigan

Guest Columnist

Since I recently attended an “Occupy” rally in Augusta, I read Tom McLaughlin’s column with interest last week. He’s right that local and national OWS protestors are “unfocused.” They are, deliberately so, because they don’t want to be co-opted by the two major parties. They are against business as usual and politics as usual; in lobbyist-infested Washington, too often these are the same things.

The Augusta group did seem to be mostly Democrats and left and centrist Independents, but people didn’t wear buttons and so who could tell? When one young firebrand with a megaphone made disparaging remarks about “rotten Republican proposals” in Congress, people mostly just shuffled their feet and muttered a little; they didn’t appear to be there to hate on know-nothing Republicans in particular. Then again, with the stated focus of the rally on jobs in Maine and on lowering income inequity in the nation, do-nothing, know-nothing Democrats didn’t seem all that popular, either — although three attending Democratic state representatives got some applause for showing up.

A recent poll shows the U.S. Congress’s approval rating at 9%, the lowest in recorded history. Only one of the sometimes-amusing homemade signs I saw in Augusta last Thursday mentioned party politics at all. It appeared to be a Democrat’s sign, which would have pleased Tom, I suppose, because this one contained the only misspelling in evidence at the rally: it was addressed to the “GOVENER,” and so perhaps only expressed its subconscious urge to get an “R” out of the Blaine House. Corporate control of both parties is a continuing Occupy theme, anyway. One rather complicated sign said, “I thought I was poor because I owned no shoes. Then, I met a corporate executive who owned no Congressman…”

Before an electrician from Harrison spoke about his experiences and expressed worries about his job and country, and a shipyard worker from Brunswick said he worried if he’d be able to retire, ever, the crowd gathered in a parking lot near, and sometimes nervously under, a decaying Maine Department of Transportation bridge. For some reason, we had to practice chants before we started, the first test of our fitness for protest being “Jobs, Not Cuts!” an exercise I backed with enthusiasm. We also chanted,  “We… Are… the 99%,” which I sort of petered out on because, of course, we weren’t the 99%. We were kind of representing the 1% of the 50% who actually understand that the blamed and shamed bottom feeders of the Great Recession didn’t do anything wrong and would now like to find a deal a tenth as good as the people who crashed the economy got. Also, many of the 99% don’t see a problem and think that even dilettante protestors and day-trippers like me are wackos who can’t spell “governor” and who would like nothing better than to turn LePage, though at least the man’s not completely nuts: he wants small business for Maine. Over half the country now does see “income inequality” as an important issue, whereas last year, only 1% so viewed reality. The Occupy Wall Street movement has been educational, at least, and maybe consciousness-raising is its most important “message.”

Occupy Wherever is not an old hippie movement, though about half of those at Thursday’s rally looked to be over forty. Like the old Boomers, many Occupiers just want to be teachers and small businessmen and artists and tradesmen and entrepreneurs and social workers and middle managers and health care workers — solid middle class people, who would do their part in building the country. College students and young people started the Occupy Wall Street movement. I’ve read their dispatches and they don’t talk like the “left wing loonies” that Tom termed them in his column in The News last week. They are by nature far more collaborative than we Boomers ever were; they are kind of running their unfocused movement like a democracy, actually. They collaborate on setting living conditions and operations, as workers in the new information technology sector do on their jobs.

The Occupiers see the Congressional Republicans as corporate shills, and the Democrats as corporate shills and milquetoast appeasers, besides. OWS is just bearing witness to the feeders at the troughs of the corporate moneybags who run Congress and the country, that's all. So, the Occupy movement remains “outside the system,” which of course frustrates the system. More trouble is coming, though, along with winter, and I have a hunch it won't be the actual Occupiers that start that trouble, though politicians, big city policemen and party liners will blame them, and the media will fall in line, because the media is “the establishment,” too.

But remember, the civil rights movement and the women’s rights movement, which sought other forms of economic and social justice, also stayed outside the system, and eventually they won the day. The Occupiers know Tom’s pertinent question to the North Conway protestors about getting money out of politics — “And just how exactly do you propose to accomplish that?” — can’t be answered by appealing to the money or to the politics in that equation. The Occupiers seem to want “We, the People” to find their voices and begin what they see as the long and necessary process of rerouting the course and redesigning the plans for this Titanic of a world they see sailing toward the Really Big Iceberg. Eventually, the argument goes, the politicians will come around — because they’ll have to. We’ll see. Standing with my fellow frustrated, hesitant, semi-uncertain part-time citizens in Augusta last week, it really seemed as if concessions might be the best that can be expected. Money hasn’t lost a fight yet, and it won’t ever lose one as long as we keep re-electing it King.

It’s not that hard to see what needs to be done. We need to narrow the bloated trade deficit abroad and control health care costs at home. We are handing our jobs and our treasure to China and India in the name of short-term profit and cheaper consumption, and we can’t seem to stop ourselves. We need to create jobs to jumpstart the economy. The government could even create some jobs now, to tide us over, since banks can’t or won’t loan to entrepreneurs or help fund start-ups. It would benefit those famous federal deficits if we did not fight the interminable nation-building wars that have cost us world prestige, American and “collateral” lives, and trillions in treasure. The Occupy kids know all this. They want to build their lives as a first principle, and not their fortunes, though one assumes they’d take the fortunes if they can get them. All through their growing-up years the Occupy kids were told that their assigned mission was to be the best consumers money could buy. No, no, old people, they are saying now, since you don’t have a whole lot of honest work for people to actually consume anything with, we have decided to be citizens for a while instead.

Mike Corrigan is an award-winning journalist, who worked for The Bridgton News for three decades. He now resides in Lewiston.

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