Monday, October 3, 2011

Occupy Wichita

A brief reflection on the protest event this past Sunday:

The breeze was cool as we walked to the corner of Douglas and Broadway, where the Bank of America Financial Center is located in Wichita Kansas. I walked up to the protesters and introduced myself, saying I was here to protest with them.

They were a loosely organized band. I myself had only heard of the protest through a Facebook group, and a post which said "2:00 pm, Sunday -- at the corner of Douglas and Broadway". I would frequently introduce myself, and ask if they knew who organized the protest. They would say no, or act confused -- as if the question I asked was a breech in implicit etiquette: The codes of those attracted to anarchy.

The message remained clear enough, however. We're tired of not having jobs, of not having public services, and of corporate entities running what should be our government. We want this to change.

And this means, though most everyone there was uncomfortable with the notion when I brought it up, we want power. "Power to the people" was a frequent chant, but this is a symbolic slogan. To claim "We want power" was still too strong.

Some chants I took up with others: "Here we are. Why we meet. Stop the crimes on Wall Street". "We -- Are -- the 99 percent". "This is what democracy looks like. This is what democracy sounds like" "Hey, hey! -- Ho, Ho! -- Corporate Greed has got to go!"

The sign I held was made by someone else, someone who appeared more organized. She would ask us what we wanted, she encouraged democratic discussions in a "General Assembly". She wanted to know what it is we could offer in terms of skills, and wanted names/numbers. Several interest groups splintered off to talk about arts funding, environmental conservation, economics (local business support), women's reproductive rights, and an overall organizational unit for the protest itself. I joined the last one of these. Conversation topics were diverse. Ideas were traded. Possible goals were written down. For myself, I tried to emphasize the need for organization, for a directed purpose -- for means and goals. Response was conflicted. Some agreed, but others wanted to make sure that we all knew that everyone had gathered at the group for their own personal reasons, and wanted to emphasize the individuality of everyone. I agreed that this was important, and that things need not be decided today -- we should discuss and think -- but said that we should be working towards putting together a group of goals which everyone agreed with. Perhaps over time, with a continuing presence on the streets, an acceptable plan will emerge. Though this certainly betrays my reason for going.

We continued to hold signs, converse amongst ourselves, and walk down the street chanting. Some people gave us thumbs up, some gave dirty looks. We walked through a restaurant district yelling slogans. Most of the people who came were young. Students, the unemployed, artists, traditionally blue collar employs, and minimum wage slaves were the most common sorts I saw. We agreed to meet at the same location the next day, and the next, and so on at 4:30 pm. This coming Saturday (October 8th) the protests will start at noon. We stand in solidarity with the Wall Street Demonstrators. And even if goals and means don't emerge, what has happened is a possibility for disrupting the symbolic order which characterizes our political dialogue. Certainly, one may only be contributing to the noise that this has become. But it is a noise in opposition to what is currently spewed, and it shows that there are people who are upset with our economic structure. The "How and what to change?" certainly garners a large array of responses. But one must acknowledge that there is a problem before responses can be considered serious. And at the very least, these protests make the claim: There is a problem with our economy, and it is a political problem.

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