Category Archives: #OccupyWallStreet

The Thankscraziness Post.

I was going to put off all further blogging until Dec., when National Novel Writing Month will be over, but I find myself ruthlessly procrastinating today anyway, so I may as well be procrasti-writing.

First, a sincere and heartfelt thank-you to those of you who expressed sadness or frustration that the blog fell asleep for so long. I’m touched. Really. Thank you for reading.

Second, here’s some of the stuff I’ve been up to in the meantime:

1. Ahem. I wrote a little play. It’s called Her Story in Blood, and it revisits and reimagines the story from the synoptic gospels of the woman who bled for 12 years. You are more than welcome to read it while you are waiting for the next blog post. And, you know, pass it around to your friends and plaster it over social media and let me know if you know anyone who wants to stage it. 😉  [BONUS: You get to see who I really am! With my real name and everything! Well, my professional pen name anyway. More professional than “Fairy Bear.”]

2. It’s National Novel Writing Month! And I have a little over 5,000 words to WIN! So I am seriously going to be buckling down and writing for real. Write* after I finish procrasti-writing this post.

*I was going to go back and edit that last sentence to read “Right” at the beginning, but I decided to leave it. That’s where my brain is. That’s where it should stay.

3. I finished shooting a short film with a friend! I have a few still shots, but I don’t think I’m allowed to show them to you yet.

4. I started teaching again! And I also have made peace with it. More or less. I think. We’re starting with a fun social studies unit, anyway, in which I get to bring in my friend’s TARDIS and take the kids time-traveling to ancient Greece. Yes, I brought togas. (Properly, peplos, as togas were Roman, but essentially they’re togas.)

5. Traveling! I went to visit my sister for a week in Florida to help her pack up her apartment. And also to help me say goodbye to the apartment, which really was heavenly. Two words: Rooftop pool. Okay, two more words: Harbor views. She will very happily be staying with me for much of December, so I don’t have to say goodbye to her just yet, but leaving the apartment was hard. Even though it wasn’t actually mine. Not gonna lie.

PS – I took some photos of the amazing sunrises I got to see in Florida. They’re posted on my Instagram. Which is named after my professional pen name. Which you can find if you link to my play. Hint.

Then of course there’s been all the regular life stuff. Like grocery shopping, burning eggs to rubber because my brain starts to atrophy with boredom when I cook, mulling endlessly over emotional obstacles because I’m *that* kind of person, and getting a paper cut that made my whole hand swell up. I am also slated to visit with three families this weekend – my nieces, my hubby’s family, and my best friend’s family.

All that together in a 30-day month makes this a Thankscrazy season! And I am crazy thankful, emotional obstacles not withstanding. Here are a few things I’m thankful for this month:

1. My patient and dedicated hubby.

2. 8 perfect St. Pete sunrises.

3. Being able to quote the entirety of whole 80’s and 90’s movies with my family.

4. Starbucks Skinny Vanilla Lattes.

5. The dedicated and fabulous early-morning crew at my favorite Starbucks, who are ludicrously cheerful and efficient at 6:30am.

6. Hubby driving me to work in the mornings.

7. If I have to teach, at least I get to do cool stuff. Like travel in a TARDIS.

8. Heat. Especially on days like this.

9. Enough money that I can eat breakfast at Starbucks if I choose instead of burning eggs.

10. This wonderful computer.

11. Scrivener software. Seriously, where have you BEEN all my life?

12. Wine and beer.

13. This song. For real. I can’t stop watching this.:

14. My mom, who is awesome.

15. Pottermore, even though I’m suddenly spending waaaaaay too much time on it. So much so that I’m embarrassed to tell you how high my dueling score is after a mere week of practice. (Ravenclaw in da house!). Still. There’s something kind of meditative about the dueling format – it forces me to be totally in the moment. I find it very calming.

16. My spiritual community. Especially Transmission, and my two book clubs, and my writer’s group(s).

17. All the pep talks from NaNoWriMo people who keep me writing this novel down. And the ones from my sister. And my hubby.

18. The opportunity to catch up with my brother and talk business and marketing and all kinds of other things not normally related to my day-to-day.

19. A perfect Sabbath this past Saturday, which included the 50th Anniversary global simul-cast Doctor Who special.

20. The Whodle created by Google for the occasion. 🙂  I can’t find a working one archived anywhere (please let me know if you know where to find it!), but here’s a most impressive round by someone who was definitely not me:

21. Nerdy friends with whom to bond over things like Doctor Who and Pottermore.

22. Twitter. I love Twitter. Who knew?

23. Wine and beer.

24. Yoga. Hot yoga. Vinyasa yoga. Ashtanga yoga.

25. All the books who walk with me through my life, keeping me company and carrying hope. A Secret Garden. A Little Princess. Heidi. Harry Potter. Narnia.

26. New books that offer me hope. Pastrix, by Nadia Bolz-Weber. Also Occupy Spirituality, by Adam Bucko and Matthew Fox, which I was supposed to review on this very blog probaby weeks ago, but I keep crying every time I pick it up, so it’s slow going. Crying in a good way. It’s very beautiful to me.

27. The opportunity to see my nieces in two days.

28. Being cozy on a rainy November night like tonight.

29. My facebook community. Seriously. I love Facebook. I don’t think it replaces face time in pure quality, but it’s wonderful for keeping in touch with people who are very far away, especially for someone like me who is even worse at letter-writing than at cooking.

30. You, dear readers. I know, I’m getting squeamish at how that sounds too, but really, if you read this, I’m thankful for you, because you remind that I’m not alone, and that perhaps my many words are not completely wasted. Cheers.

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My Prayer for the Occupy Wall Street Day of Action Tomorrow (11/17)

I’m deeply uncomfortable praying out loud. Here goes anyway.

Father G-d,

You have always heard the cries of Your people, Your little ones, when they are in distress. You have always heard the cries of the voiceless when they have nowhere else to turn. It is You who delivers us from slavery, from prisons, both internal and external, it is You who frees us to be fully human, to act in dignity, open-handedness, and love. It is You who creates unity, You who softens hearts, opens ears, lifts burdens, melts opposition, and creates space even for forgiveness.

Your people labor under powers and principalities that grind down many, which create shame and suffering, which bring death to people in far places, which seem at times to be insurmountable.

You, G-d, hold all of history, past and future, in Your hands, and I cannot know Your will for tomorrow, but I know you honor justice and relief for the oppressed, and that You knit unity from division and order from chaos. You care about our cries, and You care about how we treat one another in our distress.

I pray for Your peace to reign over the city tomorrow, that Your Spirit would move among us all, protesters and bystanders and police alike. I pray You would move in our hearts as a people, that our eyes might be open to what You want to build. I pray that You would create dialogue in places where there was hatred or silence, I pray You would create delight in the midst of anger, and I pray that Your passion for people and for justice and for forgiveness and for compassion and for love would bubble through Your people everywhere, that we would see You in one another.

Help us to see.

Help us to hold steadfast to hope, for ourselves, for one another, and for the world.

Help us to remember that we are all Your children.

Help us to find some truth in the confusion.

Weave something beautiful for the world tomorrow.

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The Miracle of Compounding Interest and Other Libertarian Folk Tales.

My dad, bless his heart, used to have this talk he’d give us at the dinner table periodically – an hour-long, rapturous monologue about The Miracle of Compounding Interest.

He’d start with the bit about how anybody in America could be wealthy if they worked hard, lived within their means, and knew about investing. Then his voice would get all thick with emotion while he got out paper and pencils and calculators to demonstrate –

“See, if you put $10,000 in an interest bearing account, and you get, say, 4% per year, then at the end of one year, your money has earned you an extra $400. If you earn 4% interest on that $10,000 every year, then you get an extra $400 every year. You’d earn $4000 in a decade. That’s simple interest.”

And, oh! the gleam would come into his eye, and we could feel the tension building towards catharsis. Simple interest was good – a smarter move than keeping your allowance under your mattress, but everybody in our house over the age of 4 knew that the real magic was in compounding interest. We sat with rapt attention as the pencil scribbled figures down the paper:

The Miracle of Compounding Interest, in graphic form

“But if you put your money into an account that has compounding interest, then after that first year, the interest you earned gets added back into the account, and so in the second year, instead of earning 4% interest on $10,000, you are now earning 4% interest on $10,400. So at the end of the second year, your money would have earned you $416. So you’ve received an extra $16 without doing a thing! Repeat that for another year, and you’ll get 432.64, again without doing a thing. After ten years, you would have earned [scribble, scribble, scribble…] $4798!”

And there it was. The golden truth. Without doing a single thing except keeping your money in the right place, you, the savvy allowance-saver, the shrewd mower of lawns, could receive untold riches through the Miracle of Compounding Interest.

Man, I love my dad. He’s a hoot.

Anyway, the whole reason I bring this up is because I want to explore in some more detail a point I made in another post  about unequal opportunity in America.

I think this idea deserves its own post because I keep having the same conversation over and over and over again with my libertarian/conservative/Tea Party friends.

(Yes, I actually have friends in those camps. Lovely people for the most part.)

The conversation goes like this.

I post a link about Occupy Wall Street.

My friend will insist that OWS has it all wrong in protesting rich people.

I will then spend a moment deliberating whether I want to make the point that Occupy Wall Street is not about protesting rich people in the first place (see here and here and here).

While I deliberate, my friend will say something like, “Taxes should not be raised on a particular set of people simply because they have more money. I don’t believe in taking from one to give to the other. Everyone needs to do their own part.”

Or, “Government is force: The ability to take money and redistribute it based on the whims of those in charge.”

Or, “When government acts beyond its legitimate grounds of defending people from force, this is the kind of thing that happens. And that’s true whether the government is targeting hapless progressive protestors or people who balk at having half of their peacefully-acquired income plundered.”

Those are cut and pasted from actual facebook threads.

Notice the key words: “taking from one to give to the other,” “to take money and redistribute it,” and “having half of their peacefully-acquired income plundered.”

My image of gov't when I was about 10.

Underlying most of the conservative arguments against government in general and social programs in particular is this idea that taxation equals theft.

Especially when the tax money is used to fund social safety-net programs for all those bottom-dwelling freeloaders who aren’t doing their part.

I might agree with this idea if I believed that a) poor people are poor because they are lazy, and b) I am well-off because I earned it through hard work.

But I can’t ignore the fact that my face to face experience with life says otherwise.

Take for example the fates of me and one of my oldest friends, J. We met when we were 9 years old.  In the immediate way of 9-year-olds, we knew we were kindred spirits because we both liked to draw horses.

J. has always been brilliant. She is at least as smart as me and twice as creative. She’s also a hard, hard worker.

And she’s a welder on food stamps, while I have a master’s degree, debt-free.

What happened?

Compounding interest.

Money isn’t the only commodity that works on the principle of compounding interest; opportunity does too.

The thing about compounding interest is that it only really works if the account is allowed to accumulate and re-invest in an uninterrupted fashion. If, every year, you debited out the interest you’d earned, it would never accumulate, and at the end of 10 years, you’d have the same 10,000 that you’d started with. Plus maybe some gadgets.

Worse, if you were to remove chunks of the principle investment, then you’d have to back track and play catch-up to build the principal up again before you could achieve the old level of interest. You’d have to work much harder to achieve the same result.

Opportunities wax and wane in much the same way.

First of all, if you are born in America, you already start with a bigger deposit in the Opportunity Bank than most people in most of the world. Even with all our problems.

If you are then born into a family that can afford to give you lots of personal attention and nurturing in your early years (when you are acquiring the most language), you get another big deposit in your account.

Go to a good school staffed mostly by well-trained professionals (either because your family can afford to live in a good school district, or because they can afford to send you to private school). Deposit.

Three square meals a day. Deposit.

Supportive family. Deposit.

Continuous good health. Deposit.

Music lessons. Deposit.

Culture-rich family vacation(s). Deposit.

Summer camp, after-school tutor, sports team – deposit, deposit, deposit.

Compound all of these together, and you get a hard-working, college-bound young adult. Probably going to a good school with at least some scholarship money, and headed for a productive career.

Ta-DA!

But what if those compounding benefits are interrupted? Debits in opportunity, like debits in banking, can send you backward, not forward, and leave you playing catch-up.

Mom works two jobs and can’t read you to sleep every night, stunting your early literary language acquisition. Debit. (Or at least a lower interest rate.)

Go to an underfunded school staffed mostly by overstressed and inexperienced newbies still in their first five years of teaching. Debit.

Don’t speak the “standard” American dialect of English. Debit.

Lose valuable study hours being hungry. Debit.

Lose valuable school hours being distracted because there’s no grocery store for miles around, so you ate M&M’s and Pepsi for breakfast (again) and you’re on a pure sugar high. Debit.

Lose a few weeks of school every year to hospital visits for your asthma. Debit.

Move schools several times a year because your housing situation isn’t permanent. Debit.

No quiet place to do homework because you’re sharing a tiny space with too many people. Debit.

Nobody ever told you about responsible credit card use. Debit.

Family illness, death, or divorce eats your college fund. Debit.

Emotional trauma from abuse, divorce, or neglect. Debit.

Rape, or assault, and the accompanying PTSD. Debit.

Lose a parent early to death, imprisonment, or abandonment. Debit.

One parent (or more) deals or uses drugs. Double debit.

Never being able to take your safety for granted. Debit.

What would the cartoon of your life look like?

The list goes on, and on, and on, and on.

No one debit, not even a small cluster of debits, can derail a life forever. Everyone, including one-percenters, experiences hardship and tragedy. Everyone, including the poorest, gets second chances.

But in America, some people get many more second chances than others.

And some people need many more second chances than others.

And those two groups often fail to overlap.

J. and I, who are still good friends, didn’t end up in wildly different circumstances because I’m “doing my part” while she’s sitting around expecting handouts. We ended up in wildly different circumstances because she struggled through three times as many debits as I did. Even with my setbacks, the overall arc of my circumstances opened doors for me. J. got a PhD in the School of Hard Knocks.

Or, as my buddy Sebastian said at Occupy Wall Street, “I’ve worked with the homeless for years, and the things some of these people have gone through are just unimaginable to anyone from a middle class background. If someone pulls a knife on me in an alley, I don’t assume that they’re a morally deficient person who needs to be punished – probably that knife has been the only semblance of safety they’ve had for a long time.”

So, to go back to the original proposition: a) poor people are poor because they are lazy, and b) I am well-off because I earned it through hard work.

I think I made my point about (a).

Regarding (b), I say, of course I worked hard. I worked my ass off for both my degrees. But it would be a more accurate statement to say, “I am well off because I worked hard, and also because the privileges of my birth and circumstances gave me a huge head start.”

If you are also a hard worker from even somewhat privileged circumstances, then I applaud your discipline, and I invite you to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, there was also some luck working in your favor.

Libertarians love to say that government is force, and that the only legitimate use of a government’s power is to defend its citizenry from the use of force by others.

I think that a properly representative government can be used a little more actively and creatively than this, but essentially, I agree. Who wants more government than absolutely necessary?

Where I disagree with libertarians is in their assumption that government is the only institutional arbiter of force in America.

Consider this quote from Nikolai Berdyaev   –

“There is a still more deep-seated form of violence, and that is the strong hand of the power of money. This is the hidden dictatorship in a capitalist society. They do not use violence upon a man directly, in a noticeable fashion. The life of a man depends upon money, the most impersonal, the most unqualitative power in the world, and the most readily convertible into everything else alike. It is not directly, by way of physical violence, that a man is deprived of his freedom of conscience, freedom of thought, and freedom of judgment, but he is placed in a position of dependence materially, he finds himself under the threat of death by starvation and in this way he is deprived of his freedom. Money confers independence; the absence of it places a man in a position of dependence.”

Government is not the only agent of force acting in our society. America hasn’t been agrarian for several generations now. Gone are the days when being middle class meant having a homestead and raising your own food, relying on outsiders for the few things you couldn’t make yourself.

American citizens are deeply dependent on the systems and corporations that organize our labor and our supply of goods and services.

So when a few people at the top abuse the system, they are abusing all the people dependent on the system.

It is right, just, and appropriate for government to intervene on behalf of those who have been left behind, left out, and crushed by the powers of compounding interest.

What does it mean that we believe that all people are created equal, with the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

If we believe that the poor are usually at fault for faltering in a system in which we participate, and which we perpetuate by continuing to buy, bank, and brand, if we believe that those who falter have earned their distress, that the price of faltering is to go hungry, fight for shelter, be denied healthcare, receive a second-class education that won’t prepare their children to rise above the circumstances of their parents, if we deny certain people the most basic economic security necessary to secure individual liberty, then what we really mean is that some people are created more equal than others.

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Simplistic Constructions Frustrate Me.

Here’s a pic a friend posted on facebook:

Here’s my response:

Here because I have no idea how to upload it directly into his comments… 😛

And I’m feeling snarky and simplistic today.

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More Ordinariness at #OccupyWallStreet

Headed down in the cold October rain this afternoon to check out the action at Liberty Plaza again.

The most immediate and striking difference from my last visit: tents.

Figuring that the freedom of assembly trumped local regulations, the occupiers started erecting tents and other shelters last week in anticipation of worsening weather. The owners of Zuccotti Park (Liberty Plaza) have thus far decided not to enforce the prohibitions (perhaps a little wary of public backlash, given the reaction to the cleaning that was to have taken place a couple weeks ago?).

The tents take up a lot more space than the old, bare, sleeping-bag-and-tarp arrangements, but I’m sure it’s much more comfortable for the occupiers themselves. Most of whom were holed up in their shelters to (understandably) avoid the abysmal rain.

As you might expect, this made things much lower-key than my last couple of visits. A fraction of the usual tourists, no circles on the ground for teach-ins and think-tanks, etc. Many of the actual activities were still happening, but had been moved to public atriums, or friendly spaces in nearby buildings (Trinity Church, etc). The white board that had the daily schedule was unfortunately illegible, despite efforts to protect it with plastic sheeting, so my friend and I weren’t sure where to find any of the action. The guys at the info booth had information on some of the times and locations (like the Education Empowerment group having their nightly 6pm forum in what I believe was the teacher’s union building on Broadway), but not all of them.

Still, my friend and I had some really interesting conversations with the brave few who were socializing or manning outdoor posts.

We met Ashlyn, from rural Maryland, who just arrived three days ago to volunteer with the Medical tent. She said she had quit her job as a medical assistant to come join the occupation, and that it was the first time she felt right about where she was and what she was doing. She also said she was surprised and impressed by how legit the medical operation was down there. They have both a homeopathic/eastern methods tent for things like accupuncture, homeopathic and herbal remedies, etc., and a regular Western-style first aid tent staffed by volunteers like herself who hail from the more standard medical professions. There wasn’t a whole lot of activity going on right at the moment (thankfully), although a few people stopped by to get vitamin C supplements.

We spoke to a guy who works in the Food Group, specifically in the pantry. Although I can’t say exactly how new the presence of a pantry really is, it was definitely a new development since my first visit to the park, when the “kitchen” was two plastic folding tables and some boxes of donated canned goods behind. The pantry is next to the kitchen area and receives donations, keeps inventory, and supplies the actual kitchen area, where things are prepared and served.

The whole Food Group had posted notices that they were going to be temporarily scaling back operations for three days in order to have time to meet as a group to better organize and prepare for the coming cold weather. As the movement and occupation have grown, they find that they are feeding over 1,000 people a day, and they need to address kinks in the system if they hope to continue an uninterrupted supply of food over the long-haul. The pantry volunteer spoke candidly about how they would also be discussing how to deal with certain people who he said had been “very aggressive” about food over the past few weeks.

Our favorite conversation was with Sebastian, who was hanging out under the “free empathy” tarp. He said that he’s not actually one of the “free empathy” team members, who engage people in non-violent communication, he just lives in that corner of the park. He had a wonderful beard and a wonderful British accent, and explained that he and his wife had moved to the park from Portland, OR. She is a singer/songwriter and writer, and he is a music producer, and through donations from well-connected acquaintances and from their church, Imago Dei, they were able to quit their jobs, fly to New York, and still keep their rent paid back home.

That story was remarkable to me, not only for their commitment and sacrifice, and the sacrifices of their friends and church, but also for the number of people they were representing, people who wished to be there but who weren’t in a position to quit working for a while in order to be temporary-professional activists. It reminded me of the woman I met at the think tank two weeks ago who had come from Gettysburg, who said that she was there to check things out and then report back to her community about what was going on. It made me wonder how many other people who visit or occupy the park are actually representing numerous others. It made it more momentous for me.

Sebastian also had many thoughts on how the Occupy crowd is truly a mini-society, and reflects within itself some of the ingrained social strata that exist in our society. He said that even within the occupation, there are many who are encountering truly impoverished people (the homeless, the addicted) really for the first time, and distancing themselves. He and a few others had just started a Social Justice working group to try and address some of the hierarchies forming within the occupation itself, to make sure that the most impoverished, marginalized, and vulnerable occupiers are not forgotten and discarded as the movement gains momentum and negotiates the terrain ahead.

It’s people like Sebastian who make me immensely proud to be part of this movement.

If you’re interested, he and some others are leading a march tomorrow (10/28) at 11am, meeting under the big red sculpture, to advocate for truly free public transit, especially for the unemployed.

In other news, there is now a bona fide General Assembly website (still in beta form) at:

http://www.nycga.net

Here you can check for updates, meetings, join working groups, find ways to help, etc. I did find navigating the site to be kinda glitchy – I had to reload nearly every page because it kept getting stuck. There was a LOT of great information there, especially announcements for teach-ins, marches, forums, think tanks, etc. I’m sure, like everything else at the occupation, they will be working out the kinks as they go.

A few other random notes:

There is a new “Good Neighbor Policy” that emerged out of this meeting. Here’s the policy:

And, we ran into some lovely ladies representing for their Muslim community:

 

And, last but not least, #OWS has developed a grey water system to recycle their dish water:

Love sustainable occupations 🙂

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Things To Do At #OccupyWallStreet That Don’t Involve Police

I know the police clashes make the news more often, but most days at #OccupyWallStreet look more like this.

I’m so full with the day I hardly know where to begin.

I went down to #OccupyWallStreet bright and early today because a friend was planning to propose to his girlfriend via the “People’s Mic” (that thing where one person talks and everybody nearby shouts it out to the people farther away), and I didn’t want to miss it.

I missed it anyway, because I was on the wrong end of the park unfortunately, but it happened and it was beautiful and somebody got video and put it on facebook, so I got to see it after the fact. She said yes 🙂

(Here’s the footage:)

In the meantime, while I was missing the proposal, I got to talk to some people who were there showing support from their Methodist church. They had communion prepared if anyone wanted it, and a sign that read “Jesus Was One of the 99%.” I found out a bit later that there are quite a few churches, synagogues, mosques, and other religious organizations represented. There was even a sukkah and several people walking around with cardboard badges that read “#OWS Chaplains.” They are available if anyone needs prayer, support, counsel, etc.

And they’re planning a demonstration together where they march a golden calf down Wall Street.

Badass 🙂

Then I got to sit in on an education discussion circle where people were discussing what the educational system needs. Most of them were teachers I think, and some administrators. There were many individual voices, but a lot of common ground. Everyone seemed to be listening well and cooperating with the guidelines of the process.

There was a really great bucket band playing at my end of the park.

Then I sat in on a free class/seminar on media issues. I missed the very beginning, but shortly after I sat down, there was a fact sheet passed around about how in 1980 there were 50 separate companies who ran the media in the US alone, and today there are only 6, worldwide. After that, the conversation focused on how that fact impacts our media, news, channels of information, etc. Again, everyone was listening and taking turns.

Of course, in any gathering this size, you always get at least one crazy. There was a guy walking around with a sign that read “Google Jewish Billionaires” (emphasis on the Jewish). The first time I saw him, there was a circle of people around him chanting “Stop the hate,” and the second time I saw him, he had developed a tail of three people carrying signs that read “#OWS Does Not Support Bigotry.”

I went wandering, trying in vain to find my friend who was supposed to be proposing (and probably had already by that point), and I talked with three very nice ladies from upstate and NH who were carrying signs that read “Grandmas Support #OccupyWallStreet.”

Then I wandered past some occupiers performing a silent dance piece. It was pretty cool.

There was also some scripted theater going on, topically relevant.

I figured out that I must have missed the proposal, and wandered over to where there was a circle of conversation going on.

It turned out to be a “think tank.” I always wanted to be part of a think tank. 🙂 Apparently they have an open-forum think tank every day (?) from 12-6, and anyone can join. We had a bunch of New Yorkers, quite a few who were only on their first or second visit, and one lady representing Gettysburg, PA.

It. Was. Awesome.

I didn’t even really sit down with the intention of sharing anything, I just wanted to hear what everyone else had to say, but as the discussion moved forward and people raised questions and concerns (our topic was campaign finance reform – not something I feel I’m an expert on), I found that I had some suggestions and ideas that I felt were worth speaking to the group.

To quote another occupier, I felt like Ralph with the conch.

Electifying.

It felt so good to contribute an idea that I did it again a few minutes later. There was someone taking notes throughout the whole meeting, writing down everyone’s comments, and our facilitator said that some nonprofits have volunteered to type up and aggregate the data and ideas they collect, for future use when the movement grows big enough. And people listened, and added dimension to my ideas, and identified drawbacks, and it was all so very civilized and intelligent and cooperative I nearly floated away!

If you haven’t gone to an #occupy event yet and participated, go, go, go! Who says you only get to do democracy during election cycles?! Ah, amazing. It was such a high.

We had some added excitement during the think tank meeting. Someone nearby called “Mic check!” (which is the signal for everyone to pay attention). The man then announced “MISSING CHILD!,” which was shouted out to the corners of the park, followed by a description of the child and her name. They found her within a minute I think. She had wandered off a little ways and was amusing herself  at a different station. The woman sitting next to me in the think tank gave me a look and said, “Now that’s organization.”

Who says the occupation isn’t efficient?

And then, to top it off, I passed John Oliver interviewing someone on the sidewalk on my way out of the park.

For the first time in quite a while, I loved New York today.

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*Why* I Care So Much About #OccupyWallStreet

I don’t hate rich people.  

I don’t want to bring the government to a screeching halt.

I don’t hate capitalism. Much.

I don’t believe that drum circles will bring universal peace and love to America.

Although, being a dancer, I do relish a good drum circle.

I don’t even watch political news. I get all my politics through B, who has a much keener interest in keeping up with pundits and blogs.

And yet I have been sounding off frequently on facebook and on this blog about #occupywallstreet.

Because I do have some strong opinions about the political/economic situation that we find ourselves in.

These opinions don’t come from pundits, or op/ed’s. I wasn’t raised with them. In fact, my current view of things is pretty far removed from the ethos of my upbringing.

My feelings about the injustices in this country come from living with them daily.

Before you get your knickers in a twist (I really love that phrase), I’m not talking about the economic realities that I am personally living with.

It’s true that I belong to the 99%. I am 32, have a master’s degree, work two jobs, get by just above the poverty line, will be paying off medical bills for several more years, and remain uninsured by force of circumstances.

I would say that 70% of my financial hardships are by choice, and I’m fine with that. I chose an industry with very limited earning potential (and I’ll not choose this post to pick a fight about the drawbacks of relying entirely on market forces to assign value to things). I chose to leave a cushier job to do something I’m more passionate about. (Also b/c the cushier job had a very abusive environment. Still, I chose it. I could have stayed.)

I accept that I will live in shabbier neighborhoods, shop at thrift stores, and eat out much less than other people as a consequence of my choices. I don’t resent that other people make different choices and make more money.

I am pissed about health care. I played by all the rules, avoided credit cards, avoided student debt, socked money away in an emergency fund and a 401(k), and still got slammed with dental bills that weren’t covered by the health insurance I had. They wiped out my emergency fund and put me $4000 in debt before I could recoup. Then I got stuck in that awkward earnings range where I’m making just a little too much money to qualify for free health care, but the cost of even the cheapest available healthcare became too high for me to meet after a year of paying for it on my own. It shouldn’t be this hard just to go to the doctor if I’m sick.

Still. It wouldn’t be enough to make me leave the house.

What really drives my obsession with #OWS is what I see at work.

I am a teacher. I teach an enrichment program to underserved public schools, and I supplement that by tutoring on evenings and weekends. I tutor for a very high-end boutique firm.

I serve the children of the very, very poor, and then I serve the children of the very, very rich. Every week. For years.

I love my students in both demographics. I know wonderful and horrible families in both demographics, and neither group, as a group, has tremendously more intelligence, drive, or raw potential than the other, but the differences in their available opportunities/supports is stark. Dramatic.

Growing up working class/middle class, I never would have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.

My wealthy students are very hard-working. The vast majority. Wonderful people. I’m happy for them when they are successful, and I want the best for them.

My poor students are also very hard-working. The vast majority. Wonderful people. I want the best for them too. The thing is that many of them are working very hard at things that my wealthy students don’t even have to think about.

Like staying healthy. It’s hard work to stay healthy in a neighborhood where the pollution is so bad that you and many of your friends are in and out of school and the hospital with asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

It’s hard work to stay healthy when you live in an area without ready access to healthy food alternatives.

It’s harder work to get your homework done if you don’t have the luxury of a stay-at-home mom or nanny or tutor, or even a teacher’s aide, to make sure you understand everything. Because trust me – the wealthy kids don’t understand everything the first time either.

For that matter, it’s a lot harder to get your homework done if you can’t afford notebooks and pencils.

It’s harder to learn how to read if your school doesn’t have enough books.

There’s a lot more. The opportunity costs of poverty are severe. I know this because I’ve seen it, not because I read about it or was brainwashed by liberal news media. But I would like this post to be readable in one sitting.

I don’t want to hate on any particular socio-economic demographic. All I’m saying is that the system itself is broken. And it’s hurting more of my students than it’s helping. I support #OWS for them.

One more thing.

There’s something else I learned from teaching.

Fairness.

I teach mostly kindergarten and first grade classes in my public school program, and we talk a lot about fairness.

Fair does not always mean equal. If Johnny works twice as hard as everyone else and accomplishes something extraordinary, then Johnny gets rewards in kind. Extra gold stars. Extra recess time. Maybe extra snack. And maybe some public praise and a letter of commendation home.

All this is good and deserved, and it even motivates the others to perform in kind, so it’s healthy for the community as a whole.

But fair also means there are some things Johnny does not get, no matter how extraordinary his achievement.

Johnny doesn’t get excused to push the other kids around on the playground without repercussions.

He is still bound by and held to classroom regulations.

He doesn’t get to use his extra cookies as leverage to get the other kids to bend to his will.

Johnny still has to clean up his own messes and contribute to the maintenance of the classroom environment.

Johnny doesn’t get extra votes in classroom decisions, nor does he get more than a regular share of time holding the Talking Stick to air his opinion.

Johnny doesn’t get all the gold stars, all the cookies. He doesn’t even get most. He is 1 of 25 classroom citizens, and other people are putting in work too.

And that’s really what it comes down to for me.

At the end of the day, we all only have 24 hours.

Some people are willing to work many more of those 24 hours than I am, and they should totally get more money than me.

Some people are able to accomplish much more for other people in the same amount of hours that I work, and they should totally get more money than me.

There are people out there who should definitely be making 10x and 20x more money than me. More than that, even, for the really extraordinary people.

But nobody should be making 500x what I make – without paying out to the greater community the same percentage that I pay out, without having to clean up their own messes, without having any repercussions for when they use that 500x leverage to push people around, bend regulations, buy off enforcers, and have everything their own way.

At the end of the day, we all have 24 hours. No one person, and no 1%, I don’t care how innovative they are, is so crucial to the economy that they get to make everybody else play by the rules they invent to benefit themselves. That’s not fair.

It’s feudalism.

That’s what #OWS is about for me.

I don’t care that we don’t have cohesive demands yet. Everybody had demands for the 2008 elections, and look how much has changed!

The system, as it is, is broken. And the people we elected to fix it for us have failed, time and again.

It’s our system. We don’t have to wait for other people to change it for us. That’s what democracy means.

That’s why #OWS is taking the streets. The streets that we, the people, paid for with our own tax money. They already belong to us.

If the government won’t hold Wall Street accountable for their crimes, then we’ll do it ourselves. We are already occupying their space.

If the government isn’t creating solutions that work for everyone, then we’ll create our own. We are already crafting action plans in General Assemblies.

If the media won’t tell the truth, then we will create our own media and distribute it over the internet and social networks, and through word of mouth.

And if you don’t like the lefty-leaning sound of the actions and solutions emerging from the movement so far, then stop complaining about it and come make yourself heard.

We will listen. We want a system that is responsive to everyone’s needs, everyone’s values, not just the lefty-leaners. If you are a libertarian, come out. If you are a Republican, show up. If you are a Tea Party member, get down there.

I am confident that the American people are at least as great as the Egyptians. I am confident that we can make this work, even with our differences.

All we have to do is make the system responsive. We do that, first and foremost, by showing up to be seen and heard and counted.

Come occupy with us.

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