1. "Occupy has no clear goals."
Occupy is, above all, a movement for economic justice. At its core is the understanding that the ever-growing gap between the very rich and the very poor is incompatible with a stable and sustainable society. A few weeks ago, ORWC had a special meeting in which we got together to reach consensus on some goals for our group. With the idea that more goals would follow, this is what we came up with on that afternoon:
- End corporate dominance of our community.
- Get people to move their money out of the big banks (and into credit unions/local banks), making a noticeable difference on the banks' bottom lines. Get cities and other large organizations on the Peninsula to move their money as well.
- Stop or slow foreclosures in the area.
- Improve and protect the environment locally.
- Foster a culture of direct action in San Mateo County.
- Grow the movement.
One thing that I like about Occupy is that everyone brings their own goals, both personal and political, to the group. We are a leaderless group; we don't tell you what to believe and the only official stands are those on which we can all reach consensus.
2. "The Occupy movement is dead."
First of all, would the Chronicle please stop writing this? The Occupy movement is far from dead. If anything, it's still in its infancy. Did you reach maturity at under a year old? At ORWC, we're still meeting every week to have our general assembly [GA] downtown, as we've been doing for the past seven months. Change takes time, we recognize that, and we don't plan on going anywhere.
3. "Occupiers are all violent anarchists or professional protesters."
The mainstream media reports on the most extreme people, who are rarely representative of their larger Occupy groups. As localized groups within a larger movement, we reflect our own communities—urban, suburban, or rural. Many of us within ORWC have differing political beliefs, but we rarely talk about them. We're too busy working on the causes that unite us, and despite our varied labels we all share core values. (Also, not all anarchists are violent! That's a stereotype.)
Nor are we, by any means, professional protesters. Some of us have been activists for decades, and others are first-timers. But whatever our experience, no one makes a profit from ORWC. We're all from the area and have strong ties with the community.
4. "Things are fine in Redwood City. We don't need Occupy."
I hate to break it to you, but if the status quo is "fine", I don't want to be around when things get to "middling"! We need Occupy because San Mateo County has some of the most severe income inequality in the nation. The Bay Citizen reported that in an area between Atherton and Central Redwood City, 20% of residents are living in poverty (defined as a family of four making less than $22,113 a year). There are also a significant number of people living in extreme poverty—those making less than half of the previously mentioned $22,113. Our neighbors are dealing with homelessness, lack of affordable housing, or foreclosure.
The rate of homelessness in suburban areas has been steadily rising, as well as the number of people on food stamps (especially for those who were previously well-off).
But the good news is, we can come together and help each other. In Occupy we tend to take a multi-pronged approach. We protest entities and legislation that contribute to these problems—big banks, corporations, indifferent politicians of all parties. But we also want to rebuild the community networks that can meet people's needs where government or business fails. Across the country, Occupy groups have been providing food, shelter, and educational opportunities. At ORWC, we want to do the same. We've been organizing Really Really Free Markets, where anyone can pick up free food, clothing, housewares, and other useful items. To make a bigger impact, we need your help!
5. "I'm too busy with work/school/family to participate in Occupy."
In ORWC, we tend to live by that old adage, "busy people get more done". Many of us have stressful jobs with long hours. We have families, social lives, hobbies and personal projects outside of Occupy. At ORWC there is room for people at all levels of participation.
We'll welcome you, whether you want to come to the occasional GA or start your own working group to plan actions around specific issues. If you want a taste of what Occupy is all about, come to a GA to see citizen-led democracy in action. It's a place where everyone's voice and opinion matters. (You can find us rallying at 5pm on Courthouse Square; GA usually begins around 6:15. We'll be having GA in front of City Hall while is happening.)
So consider this: Whatever you enjoy doing, do it with Occupy. Whether you love to write, do art, garden, lead chants, or meet new people, you can contribute. This is your movement, too. So take a chance and get to know us beyond the myths. I think you'll be glad you did.
(This post was a collaborative effort. Thanks to the folks who shared their ideas with me!)