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Occupation Street Pt. III: This Time It's Personal

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Occupation Street Pt. III: This Time It's Personal

A few months back I was in my big bank, cashing a check and moving around funds between accounts.  When the teller stopped me. 

"My manager would like to speak with you," she said, after staring at the screen a little too long.

Now there was a time when a teller would do that, and I'd know it was time to get the fuck out of that bank.  Those times are long gone.

"Mr. Clifford," the manager said, walking up.  "It looks like you have been pre-approved a line of credit."

"I didn't apply for one," I said.

He smiled.  "It's for your being...a valued customer."

"Valued customer?"

"That's correct."  He smiled big.

I got it.

"If you'd like you come over here," the manager said, "we can have you sign the paperwork--"

"Because I have money now," I said.

The branch manager stared at me.  "Pardon?"

"I needed your credit couple years ago.  When I didn't have money.  I don't need it now."

Couple years ago, I was down to a few hundred bucks, and my big bank pretty much bent me over a barrel and fucked me raw.  I was a week, maybe two, from having to crawl back to Connecticut and live in a car port.

"But you don't understand," the manager said.  "Why don't you sit down, at least listen to what we're offering?"

"Because," I said, "I don't need your help now.  I needed it a couple years ago. When I was broke, and nobody was extending me a line of credit.  Not that I have some money, you want to give me credit?"

"Well, yes," the manager said.

"And what I'm telling you is, I don't need your help now."

I walked out.

And, fuck, that felt good.


So I've been trying to figure out why these Occupy-whatever types piss me off so much.  Part of it is overexposure/media saturation, and a natural reaction of any rebel to, well, rebel.

Even if you're rebelling against the rebels.  Plus, I'm leery of any mass movement, from left or right, because there is idiocy in numbers.

Yes, we may be the 99%, but in that 99% remember: 17% think Joan of Arc was Noah's wife.

I hate a lot of movements, including, but limited to, environmentalism, consumerism, commercialism, tea partyism, yogaism, and most symphonies (I've said it before, I'll say it again.  No one really likes classical music any more than they actually like jazz.  They like the idea of it.  Like foreign films about boys with red balloons, and David Foster Wallace).

No, this Occupy shit has been getting to me for another reason.  It's not the cause itself.  I mean, is there anyone out there reading this blog who isn't pissed off about economic inequality?  You'd have to be fucking blind not to notice a wee disparity between the haves and the you, a little pissed that while you are busting your ass, someone else is whacking your dreams into their Olympic-sized swimming pool with a polo mallet, having a good laugh at your expense.  Even the most staunch defender of free enterprise and a competitive market has to concede that there is something just a little amiss when the average CEO (who's tanking company has earned him a fat bonus with your taxes) is making anywhere from 280x to 450x that of the average worker.  But it's not just the distribution, is it?

It's the gaudiness of the excess in the face of pronounced deprivation.  Or to quote Lou Reed:

We who have so much / to you who have so little
to you who don't have anything at all.
We who have so much / more than any one man does need
and you who don't have anything at all.
Does anybody need another million dollar movie?
Does anybody need another million dollar star?
Does anybody need to be told over and over
spitting in the wind comes back at you twice as hard?

There's more.  It goes on and on, filling up the Hudson... But you get the point.  You're going straight to the devil, Strawman.

So what are we arguing about, really?  We're all on the same page.  Unless you're a CEO or somehow rich enough to be considered in that upper eschelon.  And you're not.  The rich are getting richer, we're staying put.  Here's a bone.  Good dog.

And yet these Occupy times give me such a terrific pain in the ass.  I mean, they really bug the shit out of me.

After the General Strike last Wednesday, which my wife attended, and at which, it had been suggested, my son should also appear, bad stuff happened.

What started like this

as expected, ended like this

Which was followed by this


Justine was incensed the next day, wringing her hands over police reaction.  I was like, What do you expect? People were breaking windows, trying to "claim" buildings, and, in general, acting like jackasses.  Because there are always jackasses.  I know the mass majority who attended the General Strike did so peacefully.  But the very nature of this sort of thing invites the jackasses who only want to break shit.   How else do you explain inciting the same police who just last week unleashed tear gas and were shooting unarmed vets? (  Don't poke the fucking bear.  Idiots.  I have no love loss for the police, having seen them beat the shit out of more than a few friends of mine, but what did they expect?  They were just waiting for the excuse.  And the dipshits gave it to them by throwing rocks through bank windows.  

And that's why this thing is getting to me.  Because I would love nothing more than to believe there is actually a groundswell that could bring about real change. I talk to friends, on both sides of the political spectrum, and everyone is pissed.  You fight to get ahead, fretting over how to pay medical bills (something Justine and I got to enjoy first hand, when we lost our health insurance when she was pregnant), hoping to get to a day where you can breath a little, relax... And you're still waiting.  I saw this handwriting on that fissured wall when I was 16.  I remember saying to my old man, Take away the car now.  I ain't working.  And of course he lost his shit, because hard work and gainful employment was his life.  I was lazy, true.  But I also saw an inherent flaw in the wage system.  And my father?  He worked his whole life for nothing the pain. Now he walks these empty rooms looking for something to break...?  No, Bruce, sorry.  He don't.  He's dead.  Killed by toxic slop from the same company store he sold his soul to.  He worked a contaminated site when they knew full well the danger. They just did the math.  Worth more to pay out the million(s) dollar settlement to my stepmother (whom I haven't seen since. Strange, eh?), than it was to clean up the mess.  Oh, the sweet irony.

And that's why I hate these Occupiers.  They remind me of me.  And I hate me. And there's no me I hate more than the 20-year-old me.  The fucking railing against the system and the man, the let's take to the streets, rah rah bullshit.  Shut up, 20-year-old Joe.

All it meant was finding a way to circumvent the laws and rules that govern the rest of polite society.  So I could get high.  It's pointless.  Like writing poetry.

Nothing's perfect.  Never will be be.  Life is unfair.  Shut up and find a way to survive, take care your shit, and stop blaming others.  No big mystery.  I don't want to be reminded of my misguided notions.  Even the ones I was right about. Especially the ones I was right about.  I once believed this was my fight.  It's not. I'm not sure it's anybody's.  But it sure as fuck ain't mine anymore.  And I don't want to go back there.  

Because I am a fucking family man now, mutherfucker.  

And yet...

Maybe it's the old anarchist in me.  Not "anarchist" as in "look at my cool punk rock T-shirt."  I mean, the genuine article, the one that's part dreamer, and who still wants to believe in a better place, where you can work hard at something you love and have everything you dream of, instead of slaving away for the company store, at some piece-of-shit job you hate, with your balls in hock to the bank.  I hold out hope.  I still clench my fist, hold it up high... These days, I just do it privately, cautiously, from a safe distance, like DeNiro watching Freddy after he chastises him for coming up short when he had the chance to do something when it mattered.

Maybe it's not too late to make something good happen.  For everyone's sake. 

I ain't banking on it.  

But I'm paying attention.

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At November 7, 2011 at 9:37 AM , Blogger Justine said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At November 7, 2011 at 9:44 AM , Blogger Justine said...

The media, movement opponents and even many of the supporters of the movement are focusing a tremendous amount of anger at the anarchists and protesters who vandalized property, started fires and threw objects at police. Its true that a few negative actions can hurt the cause but I also believe the police reaction has been brutal and outrageous.

The media often does not report information accurately, we all know that yet we hear the news and still have an emotional response (i.e. calling them all idiots). Conflict sells in the media industry, so that is what is being reported. There are some key pieces of information about last Wednesday night that has not been reported by any mainstream media. First of all there were no fires lit until after the police used tear gas. The fires were controlled, set far away from any buildings and made to dissipate the tear gas. The police also used tape to cover up their names and badge numbers indicating they were planning on breaking the law and using excessive force.

People are angry, justifiably angry, and there is a long history in Oakland of police brutality these things together make the Occupy Oakland protests ripe for riots, even all out wars between police and protesters. Instead of letting this divide the movement and provide fodder for critics, it seems like we need to help channel this anger into the challenging but proven successful methods of non-violent civil disobedience.

If we can engage and train a large number of protesters in these tactics the protests can be safer and more productive for the movement. People will almost certainly still get arrested and possibly hurt but it will help keep the movement united and hopefully keep more people safe. However the movement started as a spontaneous purely democratic movement with no leadership so there are some definite challenges to organizing it for these types of actions. Taking over a vacant building to turn it into a community center is very doable and pointed direct action. It just needed a little planning and organizing the action first. We need to be thoughtful about our actions: writing on any old building with a sharpie is not going to have the same impact as covering up the door to a bank with a sign or slogan.

Personally, at this point I would deem the movement as somewhat successful. They have brought the issues of economic injustice to the forefront of public debate. The issues are making front-page news, people are talking about them, debating them and many people are being moved to action. Finally an older African American woman in one of my classes made an important point to the critique heard a lot about the Occupy Movement: that they have no concrete short-term goals. This woman compared Occupy to the Civil Rights Movement, saying the civil rights movement received the same critique, but the goal is a long-term major shift in our society- it will not happen overnight. Even when the Occupy aspect of the movement is over hopefully we will continue to use a wide variety of tactics and continue to struggle for more economic equality.

At November 7, 2011 at 11:23 AM , Blogger Joe Clifford said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At November 7, 2011 at 11:25 AM , Blogger Joe Clifford said...

Dear, reader, while I agree with many of your assertions, I feel I would be remiss if I didn't point out a couple "inaccuracies." One, I am not the "mainstream media"; I am your husband. And, two, though I think community centers are terrific (as Jimmy and Petersen both will attest), "the movement" has no right, squatter or otherwise, to break in and assume control of private property. Just because something is vacant does not mean it doesn't belong to someone. How would you feel if we put up our home for sale, were living elsewhere while we waited for an offer, and a bunch of...protesters...decided it would make a nice community garden? Community garden = A-OK. Community garden where my house, which I bought and paid for, once stood? Not so fucking much. I applaud the efforts of those trying to bring about equality, economic and otherwise. I may be a cynic, but I would love for my son to see a world where birthright doesn't dictate life options. But rules, contrary to popular opinion, are meant to be followed. Otherwise, they'd be called suggestions. We can't pick and choose which laws to follow because then it becomes a matter of personal interest, which is what we are trying to get away from. In short, don't break windows unless you want the cops, who are already on edge, crawling up your ass.

At November 7, 2011 at 2:14 PM , Blogger Carolyn Keay said...

K.... going to be a total pain in your ass and drag you back to academia and am forwarding you two some social theory articles to mull over and hopefully integrate in your insightful reflections. I too have been bantering with people over this, and I have been getting a lot of shit from people for basically saying occupy is a waste of energy. If you want to make a change be more aware of where your money is going ethically and socially and boycott those institutions which you don't approve of. I do not say this lightly, and do not think is easy. I think it is a daily inconvenience to not rely on what is a "readily available resource" because you don't want your money going to support them, but I fucking do it. With that said I am going to look at my crashing stock portfolio.

At November 8, 2011 at 3:59 AM , Blogger Jenny Dreadful said...

I feel ya. This movement opens a gaping divide in opinions. At 27, I want to tear to the streets and scream my voice raw. I'm fucking ANGRY.

But then I see trust funders representing me. I hear 20 year-olds on VPR protesting because mommy and daddy can't pay for their college. Pay for your own damn college. Try working off 70 K of debt.

I've slummed it in the gutters for over a decade for a FUCKING TRUST FUNDER TO PROTEST?!?

I'm seriously conflicted - I want to protest - but I also have to clock in/out every fucking day to avoid living in my car. I look at some of the people protesting down here - a corporate banker, ironically who has a trust fund, is protesting. Really? I makes me want to puke Occupy Burlington.

I desperately want to be involved in a movement that will surely define my generation. I just want to kick the middle class kids on their ass too. Wrong? Maybe so. Maybe so.

At November 15, 2011 at 8:38 AM , OpenID said...

I've been spending half my time ranting about protesters and the grateful dead element of Occupy which reminds me of burning man and the other half fighting my younger self who is like yea, fuck the man, let's live in a box on the hill and grow our own food. Truth is, when I see other people angry about the same things I, too want to rebel against rebels. I remember that sticker I saw when I was 13 saying, "I'm conforming to non-conformity."

I am just a critical person in general.

and I work hard, I have a million medical debts, from losing my health insurance, I got laid off from my job in 2008 with no warning and no reason, and granted, my life has been a HELL OF A LOT cooler since then, (after about a year of nightmares like moving into my grandparents abandoned black mold infested house for two years) but insofar as I don't think about money. Ever. At all.

So I don't know. I don't know how to change this. Someone was talking on NY Times about how a bunch of hippies in the '70s or somewhere around then shaved off their beards, dressed really nice and stormed a political rally to vote for the democratic candidate or something like that (don't quote me, all I really remember is that they shaved and dressed nice to go to a rally) in order to change something. Maybe instead of what's going on that's not working (see: Today in New York City) we can do something like that. Sometimes, you have to be IN the system in order to change it.

At November 15, 2011 at 8:39 AM , OpenID said...

But that's not really the solution, either, so, meh. I give up.

At November 15, 2011 at 8:41 AM , Blogger Joe Clifford said...

Yes, and yes, and pretty goddamn much...

(But the younger me is still raising his fist, and holding it up high... Just, shh, don't tell the Man; I'd hate to see my sweet-ass mortgage rate go up...)


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