Occupy Starts a Conversation, Begins a Movement

Occupy Lexington (Photo courtesy of tumblr.com [sofivondeath]) By Savannah Westerfield Five o’clock had finally come. I was free from the daily grind. Free to go fight the downtown traffic and strategically placed red lights. I collapsed into the driver’s seat, strapped on my seat belt and game face and then I raced out of the parking lot with the goal of making record time home. As I dodged in and out of traffic, and noticed traffic starting to slow the further entrenched I became downtown. While I crept closer toward my home, there were numerous people congregating on a sidewalk beneath the shadow of the mammoth Chase Bank building waving homemade signs that read “End Corporate Greed”, “Honk for Jobs”, and “Love Thy Neighbor.” While others around me honked and supported the crowd, I continued to drive, focused on my end destination: my home. Like so many, I have idly sat by and accepted the status quo. Five months would pass between that initial introduction to Occupy Lexington and the connection I would soon make between the Occupy movement and my own life.

A Movement Begins
September 17, 2011, marked the day our vocabulary would change forever. As a nation we were introduced to phrases such as “Occupy Wall Street” and “We are the 99%” when the Occupy Wall

Street movement captured the mainstream media. Over the last few months the term “occupy” has taken on a new meaning and now refers to the movement that has become an international wildfire. The Occupy movement has not only introduced new vocabulary to our culture but also started a much needed conversation. Individuals have gathered across the nation and the world to take back control of their government and public space. Based on the Principles of Solidarity, those involved in the Occupy movement are no longer staying silent, but seeking change through voice and action. While many try to dismiss the ideas of income inequality, political disenfranchisement, and social justice, Occupy has worked to bring the issues to the forefront of our conversation. Those involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement are working to take control of the future and to make it a better place for generations to come; the occupiers are engaging the attentions of both the media and political worlds. Senator Bernie Sanders during an interview with Keith Olbermann celebrated the attention brought by Occupy Wall Street on the need for Wall Street reform. Both Keith Olbermann and Sen. Bernie Sanders concluded that in order for reform, it takes people to stand up and bring attention to the act of wrong doing; Occupy Wall Street has ignited a conversation and stands for those who have no voice. Though not explicitly agreeing with Occupy Wall Street, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke admitted that there was “excessive risk taking” by Wall Street that somewhat contributed to the recession, indicating the need for reform. Occupiers able to are taking back public space and calling it “home” while working toward the goals of the movement: to raise awareness of the blatant injustices faced by millions in our country and around the world every day. Those involved in the Occupy movement have done more than be an inconvenience for the wealthy and elite. Although many of the Occupy Wall Street camps have been disbarred by local law enforcement, the movement continues through the use of social media and a will to change the future through action. Occupy Providence worked to gain through the disbarment of their encampment at Burnside Park, Providence, Rhode Island. Occupiers worked with local governments to insure the opening of a day center for the local homeless population through the winter months in return for a peaceful removal of their temporary camp site. Despite some negative press coverage, the Occupy movement is working to “Almost Half of U.S. Households better the communities it is a part of. Occupy live one financial blow Providence recognized the need of the homeless and from the bread line” worked to be a voice for those who otherwise may not have even been acknowledged by local governments.

Creating a Conversation
As the tents seem to be coming down one by one, the Occupy movement has begun to appear in college and university course catalogs. Oregon State University and Roosevelt University are now offering a course exploring the Occupy Wall Street movement. Both classes aim to examine the underpinnings of the movement and provide a better understanding of the ideas of the Occupy movement. The courses are yet another example of how the Occupy movement has crept into our mainstream conversation. Clearly what we have been doing is not working. Our previous practices drove our economy into a recession and according to a report by the Corporation for Enterprise Development, 43 percent of

households in America live “one financial blow from the poverty line.” We have become so enthralled with ourselves and simply getting through that we have refused to question the status quo, and we have become complacent. The Occupy movement is bringing the injustices of the status quo to the conversation and making us, as a nation, face what is rather uncomfortable. It was just this idea of facing the injustice of the status quo that presented itself in early January. The day was unseasonably warm for an early January Saturday. Dressed in our best University of Kentucky attire, tickets in hand, my husband and I trekked from our over-priced parking spot toward the “holy ground” known as Rupp Arena. We were taking a break from the everyday to enjoy the privilege of attending a men’s basketball game. As we walked down the sidewalk within the crowd of the Big Blue Nation, we could hear a “chug” in the distance. As we got closer we were able to pinpoint the noise to a car refusing to start for its owner. The young woman sat as the lead car at a very busy intersection unable to get the slightest spark from her engine. We continued to walk closer, still discussing game stats, thinking surely someone will stop and help this young woman. Finally we crossed the street and found ourselves approaching the woman. She had ran out of gas and now the vehicle would need to be pushed out of the way in order to ease the congestion that was starting to form behind her. With the young woman at the wheel, my husband at the rear ready to heave, and I directing traffic, we worked to get the car to safety. Despite the hundreds of people walking by and the evident strain on my husband’s face, people kept walking by. Finally after what seemed like an eternity, another gentleman stopped to help my husband finish getting the vehicle through the busy intersection. The young woman had placed a phone call and had someone coming to pick her up. She insisted she was Photo source: alittlereality.com fine, and we continued toward Rupp Arena. As we walked toward the basketball arena our conversation turned, no longer were we talking about basketball stats and rankings, but rather we had been faced with a terrible truth: people have turned inward and are consumed with themselves. Neither one of us could believe that no one had stopped to help before us, or even hesitated in their stride. I was taken back to a crisp fall day in September where people stood on a sidewalk waving signs that said “Honk for Jobs,” “End Corporate Greed,” and “Love Thy Neighbor”. I did not honk, nor did I make eye contact with the protestors on that day in September; I just wanted to get home and had no interest in what they had to say. Little did I know that on a fateful day in January I would clearly understand what I had tried so hard to ignore. We have become a nation so consumed with ourselves that we put on our “blinders” and get in the race to help fatten the pockets of the corporate elite. Much like a winning race horse lining the pockets of its owner, we too have contributed to the corporate greed by remaining silent and just driving home. Although some public figures, such as Newt Gingrich and Bill Maher, have denounced the movement and told the “douchebags” to “take a shower”, Occupy has not wavered. The question is not whether or not to join the movement and pitch a tent downtown, but rather it is a question of whether or not to join the conversation. By joining the conversation, we can all work together to take back our democracy, help those in need, and ultimately make the nation a better place for future generations. One person may not be able to change the world, but one person may be able to inspire the world to change.