November 3, 2011
I cut my political teeth in the sixties. I am far left of center and an activist.
It seems very long ago that we activists fought with fervor and hope, believing that we could change America for the better. And indeed, in many ways we did. Our legacy of civil rights and women’s rights and programs that attempted to eliminate poverty still stand. At least in some measure. Unfortunately, in recent years, we’ve watched in horror: the wars on women, growing income inequality, the decimation of the personal/family wealth of people of color, the mortgage loan scandals, the pollution of the political process by uncontrolled and un-accountable amounts of private/corporate spending, threatened to wipe away all of our gains. Instead of hope, we began to experience despair–feeling powerless to stop the Right’s money and influence.
Misinformed and deceived, the American public was caught up in the Right Wing’s insistence that the real crisis facing America was a rising National Debt—not foreclosures; Citizens’ United; un-employment, college loans and credit card debt; evaporating futures through defaulted pension funds and runaway outsourcing. Nope, not these.
They went so far as to frame the political debt debate as a matter of “national security.” The not-so-secret Norquist code was: no more government spending on anything but wars and Wall Street.
Then along came the Occupy Movement. And behold, income inequality was finally front burner reality. “Occupy” was everywhere and it was everything I had hoped for–eye opening and invigorating. Somehow, someone clapped one hand and the juggernaut paused in place, mum for the moment.
With glee I could see young people in the streets, not just grey-hairs like me. Joined by the unionized middle-aged, middle class, thousands of Occupy sympathizers and General Strike supporters filled the streets of downtown Oakland, protesting, marching to the Port of Oakland to shut it down.
Their posters and banners spoke Truth to Power. They published and broadcast to the nation that the system wasn’t just broken, it was fixed, rigged and wired by the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.
I wanted these messages to be the topics of conversation throughout the nation. This was the teachable moment I’d been waiting for. I prayed it would be the powerful, populist, photogenic antidote to Tea Party poisoning that had afflicted our political process. And the media seemed to be awakening, reporting on our actual numbers and broadcasting the hand scrawled messages held high above our heads.
I carried no sign this time. I was a photojournalist, there to bear witness to our collective outrage and to document this movement in my city. I was there to see and feel and capture the hopefulness and sense of possibility at that moment.
Yes, we can! No, they may not!
With clenched fists triumphantly thrust skyward, a thousand voices shouted: May they know us by who we are today—resisters of their domination, mendacity, cruelty and greed. We are the future. This is our City. Notice what we stand for and who we stand with. We are the 99%.