Occupy Public Discourse

Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it.

Henry David Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience”

To be honest, I haven’t known what to think of the Occupy movements. I understood why they were protesting. I thought people who claimed not to know why they were protesting were being disingenuous.

The middle class is collapsing. We are deeply entrenched in an economic crisis that has seen the top tier corporations post record profits while jobs were drying up and everyone else was getting poorer and poorer. We’ve experience, in the past few years, the loss of what we had always taken for granted — our sense that opportunity in this country is for anyone who works hard enough. You can work plenty hard in this economy and still end up with less in the end than you had when you started out. Meanwhile, the system seems broken. Congress, Obama, and everyone who ought to be leading us out of this have all proven worse than ineffectual.

We are all feeling this. No one really disagrees that things have gone wildly wrong and that the powers that be have hurt more than they’ve helped in the process.

And so we all understand, whether we admit it or not, that the Occupy protests are about this loss of opportunity coupled with this loss of faith in the system.

What I wasn’t sure about was whether I agreed with the methods. I’ve had lots of questions.

*****

What’s the big deal about camping out in parks? Why not follow the normal posted rules of the park? Why not show up when it opens and leave when it closes?

Why am I only hearing about occupations and never hearing about speeches? Where are the voices of this movement? Where is the substance of the movement? Where are the points of great debate?

Why are you targeting Wall Street and not targeting Washington?

Are you sure you really understand the civil part of civil disobedience? Even Thoreau who called for people to refuse to serve governments they found to be corrupt said, “I am as desirous of being a good neighbor as I am of being a bad subject.”

*****

Thus, while I’ve been vaguely supportive, I’ve also been skeptical. I may have been even more skeptical, but I kept remembering Emmeline Pankhurst, a very militant suffragette seen as downright crazy and foolish by many of her day. Perhaps she was crazy and foolish, but without people like her, women would not have gained the vote. It took the extremists to move the conversation into the mainstream discourse.

For that I do support the Occupy movements. I might sometimes think they ought to have gone to more effort to procure permits to camp out in their parks of choice, but I do appreciate that they are doing the job of bringing the subject of income inequality into the mainstream conversation. We are rapidly moving into a feudal system without room for middle class opportunity, and we need to be talking. We need to be scared.

I look at the college students just starting out, and for the first time in my life, I am not sure they are better off going to college. They will be more likely to make a living driving a truck or cutting sheet metal than as a lawyer or as a mid-level business manager.

Meanwhile, college fees continue to skyrocket, making it unlikely that today’s college graduates will even be able to repay their student loans.

Am I exaggerating when I say this? I hope I am, but I fear I am not.

That’s why I believe college campuses are precisely the right places for protest movements to take hold. The purpose of the college is to promote the free exchange of ideas. Colleges ought not to be sitting back waiting for the Occupy movements to come to them, only to behave reactively without first thinking through their actions. They ought to be proactive. They ought to be getting out ahead of the movements and organizing their own ways of addressing the economic and political crisis of our day.

In other words, the California universities that have been the sights of conflict between students and police officers this week are in the wrong. I may not be sure how I feel about the methods of the Occupy movements, but I am sure that a university campus is not a city park. The university holds a different set of responsibilities to its citizenry. The university holds a greater-than-average responsibility to protect free expression. The university holds a greater-than-average responsibility to treat even uncooperative citizens humanely, compassionately, and respectfully. Police measures at peaceful protests should last resorts.

I am not going to go radical and say the police should never be there. If a student brought a gun into the crowd, people would be quick enough to want the police involved. I am only saying that there are plenty of other options available to university administrations before they reach the point of pepper spraying their students and beating their faculty members with police batons.

I am also saying that it is time for all of us to these movements seriously. You don’t have to occupy a park bench. You can occupy public debate instead.

It’s time to research, think, and speak up. It’s time to look for solutions. It’s time to make known the kind of government and the kind of society we can respect.

The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordon

66 in my 2011 book blogging challenge.

Rick Riordon’s latest was my reading pick for the days I stayed home sick this week. It’s an undemanding book written for middle-schoolers. It was easy to read and sleep at the same time.

Why is a grown woman reading a book like this, you ask? Well, mainly because I’ve read all of his other books.

I wouldn’t say that these books do make the leap from being books for kids to being books for everyone, but they do have a certain charm. I enjoy them, and I suppose that’s all the reason I need.

In The Son of Neptune, we once again follow the adventures of Percy Jackson. This time, however, he’s lost his memory, and he has found his way to a camp of demigods who follow the gods in their Roman aspects rather than in their Greek aspects. This is really a brilliant way to teach the differences in the Greek gods and their Roman counterparts. I know I came away with a better grasp of how Neptune is not just another name for Poseidon but another personality for the sea god as well.

That said, I didn’t like this book as well as I liked the previous one, The Lost Hero, but I did finish it eager to read the next installment. I think this a bridge book. The third one in the series where the Greek and Roman camps come together should be the real story. On its own, book 2 is really just the same old Percy Jackson stuff told all over again. As part of a series in which we get Greek and Roman demigods coming together on adventures, it’s a pretty cool twist on Riordon’s normal pattern.

If you’re a Percy fan, you’ll enjoy this one. If you aren’t already a Percy fan, there’s no point in starting here. Go back and read The Lightening Thief instead (the first book in the original series). And if you have middle school kids studying mythology, consider that not just a suggestion, but a must. There’s no one better than Riordan at making the old Greek (and now Roman) myths come to life for a new generation.

Amazing Grace by Jonathan Kozol

65 in my 2011 book blogging challenge.

Amazing Grace should probably be required reading for everyone. It is required reading in some of the sociology classes at JCJC. That’s why we picked it for our book club this year. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it. I knew it was about children living in poverty, and I wasn’t sure how much of that I could handle. I’m still not sure, but I’m glad I read the book. It is an important book with an important message.

We tend to blame the poor for being poor. We blame them for falling victim to the social woes that run rampant in poverty-stricken areas. We expect them to pull themselves out of their own bad circumstances. We look at them and say things like “Get a job.”

We do all of those things without having any idea what it really means to be poor in America. We have no idea how complex the problems are or how difficult they are to overcome. As the book points out, we find a few samples of people who’ve behaved heroically, and we use those as examples in blaming everyone else for not being heroes. We expect more of the poor than we expect of ourselves. We aren’t heroes, but if they aren’t heroes we think they deserve their own fate.

To me, the main message of the book is that among the poor there are so many factors hammering away at any possibility of hope for the future that overcoming poverty is not something anyone could ever be expected to accomplish alone. This might be a country of opportunity (or at least it was prior to the economic crash), but opportunity is not equal for everyone. Kids who grow up hungry don’t have the same opportunities to learn that other kids have. Kids who grow up under constant threat of violence don’t have the same opportunities that other kids have. Kids who grow up with parents who have given up or parents who are sick or parents who constantly struggle just to keep a place to live don’t have the same opportunities.

In these poorest of poor neighborhoods, there are still moments of grace, and you will see that if you read the book, but there are so many burdens. These should be burdens felt by and addressed by us all, but most of society prefers to turn a blind eye, to think that these are someone else’s problems.

Warning — you cannot read this book without feeling guilty about how much you have not done to help the poor. I challenge you to face your own guilt. I challenge you to read this book and really think about what poverty means to the children growing up in America’s worst neighborhoods. I challenge us all to think of something we can do.

Not So Itsy Bitsy #photoaday #project365

Day 320:  Not So Itsy Bitsy

320 of 365. Our Daily Challenge — Wildlife.

I’m still sick and unable to get out chasing down wildlife. I decided people might enjoy checking in on my friend that lives in my crepe myrtle, though. Looks like all is well for spider pal today.

For those who haven’t met spidey before, here’s a Wikipedia page about the Crab Spider (or whatever you want to call it) — en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gasteracantha_cancriformis