Saturday, October 8, 2011

My First Protest

Having spent an already sleep-deprived night awake failing to complete an assignment that fortunately had not been due after a week of midterms and a nasty cold. Still, I wanted to gather educational materials to bring to the event. I ordered a tea. I tried to sift out exactly what I wanted to bring. Should I stick to broad outlines and philosophical background? Should I create a list of worthwhile resources with commentary? Should I be more specific and concentrate on the history of a particular industry? Perhaps the media? I ordered a refill and sat down again. Maybe I should instead focus on statistics relevant to the everyday quality of life of those likely to be present. Another refill, and I end up in a series of conversations. After all, somebody was wrong about Orwell.

Time was thin, and I was evidently beyond salvaging through my usual method of caffeine-binging. I went to grab a beer and a small nap on the back porch of a nearby bar before heading downtown, staying awake once there with the help of a glass of wine, and finally walking to Krutch Park. I had come alone, so to pass the time I involved myself in the conversation of a few nearby academic types. But I did not have to wait long: the crowd soon converged around a camera: local news outlets interviewed a few of the attendees. One was a mother of three and a veteran. On a sidewalk bordering the park, a Slutwalk passed to applause.

We did not have a permit, but we were allowed in the parks and on the sidewalks. Megaphones were not allowed. The police were very professional, and I heard not even a rumor of any difficulty. By dark, they might have ceased paying any attention, even though hundreds of protesters were still present. One protester said, half-questioningly, that they have left. I think she was right.

They had come for many reasons. Some like me had come out of a mixture of solidarity and loneliness resulting from alienation in political life, but usually, they were sufferers. They are burdened by debt. They are upset by recent insults in the form of new fees. They feel everyday the effects of unaccountable corporate power, serviced by a compliant if not complicit State. They dislike militarism. They hate corruption. I did not hear anything of party politics. To my surprise, I did not even hear complaints of betrayal by Obama. Perhaps others heard differently or had like me never felt Hope™, but in general, people here have the same grievances that I have heard from all over this strange country. I saw a few Ron Paul signs and one person ostentatiously reading an Ayn Rand novel, but I did not see any heated debates. Mostly, it was about coming together.

Throughout the evening, small groups broke off to march on the sidewalks downtown. The city was quite busy with events for the "First Friday Art Walk," and so many heard our slogans.

"We. Are. The ninety-nine percent!"

"Hey hey. Ho ho. Corporate greed has got to go!"

"Banks got bailed out. We got sold out."

Though I had been over-enthusiastic early in the day and had managed to finish off my already weak voice before hearing it, the most deliciously militant:

"No justice, no peace. Tear down Wall Street!"

Most looked on with curiosity or indifference, but those who reacted were usually positive. Two women applauded on a street corner as we passed. An older gentleman gave us an incomparably energetic two-thumbs-up. Small groups threw up peace signs, and I was happy to return kindly gestures which did not involve my oppressed vocal chords. Not to say there were no rolled eyes, as I saw a few from the more affluent patrons of downtown restaurants. But apart from one obligatory "join the military" and one much less obligatory body-check of a marcher in front of me by some Polo-ridden creep, reactions were generous.

I was very happy with the turnout. I am bad at crowd-counting, but it was consistently 200-300 for a few hours, and possibly spiked at 500. As groups went on independent marches, it was very difficult to estimate. An assembly meeting was scheduled for 1:00pm the following day (today), and a small group stayed in the park for a vigil. Weary from the week and from marching with a backpack, I left to finally sleep.

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