I had the opportunity to spend a decent amount of time in Kanawha Plaza, participating in Occupy Richmond, before the raid. Because of both work and school, it was usually in the afternoons during the week. On the weekends, I spent almost all of my free time there. It's hard to explain what being in the middle of a functioning Occupation is like. People were wandering everywhere, most of them engaged in some task or other related to the everyday needs of the people staying in the park. Others who were standing around in small groups talking about dilemma's their work groups were facing at the moment, and trying to grind their ideas down into working solutions. Some would be having impassioned conversations about "the movement," in philosophical, political, economic and spiritual terms. Others would be conversing in the way people familiar with each other do no matter where they are, laughing, joking, just enjoying the company of friends.
Those are all worthy interactions. All of them have some variety of sustenance for the humanity of a person. But there was another kind of interaction, that struck me, no matter how many times I experienced it in quick succession. I would inevitably be wandering around the camp for some reason or other, having ventured out of the media tent either for water, a warm drink, to smoke a cigarette or just to stretch my legs after sitting on a hard wooden park bench for a number of hours, staring at a laptop screen, trying to decipher what might next come out of the ether and benefit (or harm) Occupy Richmond. I'd find myself in conversation with someone I hadn't seen around the camp before and find out they were either someone donating something or someone who'd come directly to the park to ask what the most pressing need of the Occupiers was. Inevitably, the conversation would turn to the latest events of the movement, and we'd talk about that, whether it was positive, negative, inspiring or outrageous, most often though, it was a combination of all of those things.
At some point I'd say, "Thank you so much for coming down to donate. We all really appreciate it." It wasn't something I said out of the pure societal expectation either. It was something I meant. I may not have been sleeping in the park every night, but the amount of time I spent there made it very clear how much our Occupation was relying on the support of people who against everything our society has been telling all of us for the majority of our lives, were giving to other people, in order to sustain them. They were feeding, clothing, and keeping warm a group of people they didn't know with absolutely no discernible suggestion that they would get anything in return. I don't think anyone did or does take for granted that the Occupy movement will necessarily succeed. There is no sense of predestination among the overwhelming majority of Occupiers, at least in Richmond. They know there is a hard road ahead. There is no guarantee that any of it will create anything other than a mass movement that has passed into the history books, as so many other movements have. But these people were providing what they could to other people, understanding all of that. It's a touching thing, to see people who are able to do something like this, based on nothing more than a common hope that this could help lead to a better future for all of us. It flies in the face of the most intermingled and poisonous forms of cynicism we are inundated with on a daily basis.
And that brings me to the two things I've been hearing most often, both from Occupiers and from the people who have been supporting the Occupy movement both materially and emotionally. It's come to the point that when I meet someone new, I know to wait for it, because it's going to be said at some point, and not in that crappy way the people use language to solidify their own feeling of belonging in a group or movement, but out of genuine emotion. The first is, "This has given me hope." I've been hearing that over and over again. It's a strange thing to hear coming out of the mouth's of people who are citizens of what has always been referred to as the most optimistic nation in the world. How long have all of these people been without the hope that there might be solutions to the problems we face? How long have they been without the hope that their future's may be filled with something better than their present? In that context, is it any surprise that something like the Occupy movement has sprung up? The thing that is undeniable is that the people who are Occupying, and the people who are supporting them are passing that hope around amongst each other. It's not pinned to anything other than their shared involvement and their shared sense that this has to happen.
There's also something really strange about that moment, when people say, "Thank you, this gives me hope." I know how much the Occupations rely on people coming and donating. I know how grateful the Occupiers are for all of it. And it's in that moment, where you're being thanked by someone who is doing something to help you be sustained, and being told that what you're doing is giving them hope, that you realize that every time someone comes to donate, they give you hope. "We might be able to do this. We might actually be able to stay here long enough to do something real." and that thought gives you hope. It's a cycle of something much better and much more substantive than the cycle of vicious competition and cynicism that has seemed to be a cultural focus for too long. It is the exact opposite of the kind of "everyone's in this for themselves" narrative we've been fed, and it presents a direct contradiction to the question of whether or not community can still exist in a digital world. It suggests the possibility of a new kind of community, based on something different than what we have, and that too gives people hope. I'd be willing to go so far as to say it's one of the most important reasons the movement has continued to grow, people are passing out hope to each other, and then taking it to the next person and giving it to them.
There's a direct correlation between "This has given me hope," and the other thing I've been hearing so often, "I've been waiting my whole life for this." Most often, it's coming out of the mouths of people in their mid-thirties or younger, who aren't old enough to have participated or actually seen social movements of the sixties and seventies. To consider what that actually means is a stunning comment on the state of our society. Many of the people making this statement are college educated, and they're from a relatively wide variety of backgrounds in an experiential sense. They are people from upper middle class families, families with activist backgrounds, working class families, poor families, families full of academics and intellectuals, and so on. Across that spectrum of people, they are all making the admission that since they were old enough to grasp the concepts involved, they've hoped to see a major social movement attempting to effect some significant change on the way that society functions. It's possibly conjecture, but I also think they're saying they have been waiting for a movement which focuses on average people making that change. That's also significant because it speaks to the fact that they have felt this way for so long, they at some point lost all hope that there would be any kind of pertinent and fundamental change driven by the societal institutions that have been relied on to produce or drive that change.
The idea that this many of a nations citizens have been waiting their whole lives for a functional and empowered social movement should be a wake up call, not just to government, corporate titans and finance industry luminaries, but to all of the ordinary people who have been taking aim at the Occupy movement. There's also something that should be disturbing to all of us when we consider just how many of the Occupiers and their supporters are educated, be it thoroughly self educated or traditionally educated. It begins to paint a picture suggesting that a significant portion of the nation's intelligent, capable, organized, motivated and educated population believe themselves to be deeply at odds with the way society is structured. That is the shape of real revolution. It paints a picture of something very different than "class warfare."
It's also a sign that the kinds of barriers that have existed between classes in the United States, since it's inception, have at best begun to come down, and at worse, have started to become extremely porous. For the politicians and propaganda agencies of the corporate state, that should be a troubling development.