Phoenix, Arizona — The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s changed our country forever. We went from a segregated society to all men being equal — well sort of. My (Esteban’s) father was a part of the Brown Beret movement and he and others marched alongside with the Black Panthers, who may have been militant, but those times called for those types of measures for people to be heard. People across the country were protesting hand in hand with a clear message that this cannot continue. Look at the impact that it made! If they were unorganized and didn’t have a clear message, our country would look very different today.
Now, fast forward to 2011 and our country again is at crossroads. This time our country seems to be on the brink of collapse. The working middle class, the backbone of our country, is rapidly disappearing and eventually we will resemble a third world country with just the rich and the poor. When I first heard of the #occupy movement I was excited! I thought that this is the shot in the arm that our government needs to get us back on track. But the #occupy movement isn’t all that I hoped it would be.
It has caught fire worldwide and is finally getting some mainstream media attention but what is it really all about? Like the rest of the world I have been getting my info from the Internet, mostly Twitter. At first I thought this is great, we could use this as a vehicle for real change in our country. From everything we were seeing on the Internet, though, it was very us-against-The Man. Courageous protestors against evil police and comments on web pages talking about how the police better not do anything. I agree that police brutality is wrong, and we have the right to protest, but this sentiment seemed to be a focal point of conversation and not what the movement was about… to us it started to seem like the #occupy movements objective was becoming unclear.
We tried to read up on the #occupyphoenix protest before the big day. We saw that the website didn’t really say much about the movement other than “we are pissed off!” Phoenix New Times did a small article and quoted one author on the Occupy Phoenix Facebook page as saying, “This land has already been occupied while we have turned a blind eye. We are in solidarity with the Dine and O’odham Nation who have been fighting this colonial system for hundreds of years. To fight the banks and wall street is to fight colonialism!” The goes on to say that the protest here is going to focus in part, on Southwestern issues like “ongoing resistance to the CANAMEX/NAFTA Highway projects and the Arizona Snowbowl. Stand with indigenous resistance to colonialism and against the destruction of the earth for profit and recreation.”
This is not the 99% that represents me, nor anyone I know. Our parents and grandparents fought for Civil Rights, migrant workers rights, Women’s Lib! They made a difference in our country by leaps and bounds; this current movement has so much potential but I don’t think it’s making the impact that it could be because everyone is fighting for something different! The message has become convoluted.
When the #occupy movement came to Phoenix on October 15 to Ceasar Chavez Plaza my wife and I decided to go downtown and support the 99%. We were cautiously optimistic of what the overall message would be. The Phoenix Police Department were giving protesters their space and respectful at the same time even in the face of aggressive opposition. A young man who got a hold of a bull horn started to hatespeak our police officers. Saying that we don’t need cops and they only harass people. To take out our cell phones and record whenever you see someone getting pulled over or talked to by a cop because that would deter them from… from what? Not sure, because a cop came up and asked him if he had a gun in his pocket (I was well within viewing range of his pocket and I couldn’t discern what it was but it did look like the wooden handle of a gun). When he refused to answer they asked him to leave the plaza (about 10 feet away from where he was standing) as it was illegal to carry fire arms within a plaza. He spoke a few more epithets against the police and then was off walking the streets.
We spoke to a few nice police officers who agreed that people are fed up and this is a good thing people are trying to do but we need a clear message and not just mass frustration. It was a great mix of people from all ages and walks of life. I would say there were quite a few people who did represent what I thought this movement was about. I took many pictures of signs I agreed with about healthcare, college tuition, the war, banks and big government. This wasn’t all for nothing, but the ones that were the most outspoken detracted people from the core message. Screaming racial slurs and talking about “white women’s flat asses” for four hours hardly seemed relevant, for example.
This was with a crowd of about 50-100 people at any given time of the four hours who thankfully didn’t agree with this man. Another guy who was leading a chant with a few hundred people chanting after him was basically preaching communism — everyone should have the same opportunities, free schooling, everyone should be given the same housing and everyone should be equal, equal, equal. Sorry but this is not the country we live in. Everyone has the opportunity to work hard for what they want. I think the 18-25 year olds are becoming the face of the movement, and I understand that they want to be involved and have a voice, but it seems since they aren’t in the rat race, they haven’t necessarily felt what it’s like to lose a house to a greedy bank, lost a job that you’ve given blood, sweat and tears to, and then can’t get another one, that they aren’t coming from a place of knowledge, but of ideals. This group doesn’t really represent the 99%, their parents do. The electricians, plumbers, teachers, engineers, your everyday blue collar worker needs to be the face of this movement and for some reason they aren’t.
There were too many things going on at once in the Plaza. There was a rap concert going in one corner, the police haters, the racist guy going crazy and oh yeah, the main focal point where people were speaking on the mic about their problems lost most of their audience less than halfway through. This isn’t what we signed up for and not what we want to get behind. Now of course we can’t speak for what is going on in other cities all over the world but we can definitely tell you what was going on at this unorganized mess.
We have legitimate problems like being over-educated and under-employed, or unemployed all together. Along with losing our homes and healthcare the Southwest has other issues like SB 1070, The Dream Act, and immigration reform. Why can’t we organize and protest these things? Will this movement be remembered 50 years from now? Without the right leaders taking charge and coming up with a clear concise message to our government and everyone participating with an objective and educated vote it will have no lasting impact and will not make any change on the face of our nation. Then where will we be?