Who protests?

7 Oct

MSNBC interviewed some of the Wall Street protestors (http://photoblog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/10/06/8184537-who-is-occupying-wall-street-not-just-your-average-joe), who include grandmothers, non-US citizens, the employed, the unemployed and the inadequately employed, parents, students, people who planned to protest and people who just couldn’t *not* protest once they found out about it.

20 days in (the protest started 09/17/11), these folks have a lot to say. This photo blog is worth reading for a diversity of perspectives and voices that might help you, if you have something to say about the economic crisis, to articulate what it is you’re protesting against… and for.

Some statements that caught my attention:

A protestor critiqued the notion “‘that we [protestors] are just, like, angry college-age students’ and ‘lazy’… I’m here in between time camping out when I’m not at work.”

There’s a real stereotype about who is an activist (angry young people who just don’t want to work)… and the rest of their bio (pot-smoking liberals who will eventually grow out of their discontent and get decent jobs). I love that this protestor called it and let us know: protestors gotta pay their bills, too. Perhaps they just use their “free” time with more discernment and purpose than the average non-protesting person (hmm… shall I watch Project Runway or go protest on Wall Street?)

Of course, the stereotype that unemployed people are lazy has consequences beyond passersby giving protestors the evil eye: Sony Ericsson and other companies have made their stance clear, posting job listings with the qualifier: “No unemployed candidates will be considered at all” (http://investmentwatchblog.com/no-unemployed-candidates-will-be-considered-at-all/), which has led to Obama’s proposed legislation to prevent discrimination against the jobless. While Obama fights the fight on Capitol Hill, I’m glad to know this protestor is helping to educate the masses on Wall St.

“As long as the young people and this movement need our support, we’ll be here. We can’t do what they’re doing, they’re young. We did that before. But we’re here, to give them support, to [let them] know that we’re behind them.”

Protests, and how we view them, are definitely ageist. You don’t picture septuagenarians when you think of the folks marching up and down the street with hand-painted cardboard signs. But there they are. And this quote captures the strength of diversity: we can’t all do the same thing at the same time, but then again, we don’t have to. We can all do what we can do and support each other. If that sounds a little too idealistic, think about jobs: if we all did the exact same thing, then we’d really have an unemployment issue (and a lopsided economy, to boot). It’s not just (condescendingly) “nice” or “sweet” that grandparents are part of this protest. It’s inspiring.

“I’m definitely committed until we are either arrested or beaten to death.”

This made me think back to rallies protesting ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raids when I used to teach in San Rafael. At an open assembly (think town hall meeting) the students called for others to join them, even if it meant getting thrown in jail. A colleague of mine eventually stood up and took the mic. He expressed support for the mostly white students leading the charge to stand up for documented and undocumented immigrants’ rights, and shared his perspective on getting arrested: as a black man, he stated, he couldn’t take that risk lightly. It was one of those perspective-shifting moments. The kids weren’t wrong in their fervor; they were privileged. They had parents and guardians who would make bail for them immediately upon receiving the text or call. This didn’t make their passion and call to action any less real, sincere or important. If anything, it made their action that much more critical: when we are privileged, we have a responsibility to use that power for good. Not to sit back, but to stand up and do something.

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