So this weekend past, The Crescat and I visited both the Occupy Charlotte and the Occupy Asheville camps. I knew that if two women, wearing nice clothes and having showered, showed up with a camera and questions, they would view us suspiciously. So I fell back on a personal theory, which is that anyone with a British accent can pull off all kinds of shit. Having watched the former TV series Lie to Me, I channeled by inner Tim Roth and presented myself as a tourist visiting from Manchester.
And by gum, I got away with it.
If I can sum up what I saw and heard at both sites, it would be this word: futility. These people don't know what the hell they are doing, what they actually believe, or where this is all going. All they know - or care to know - is that all politicians are bought by corporations, 1% of someone controls all of the wealth in America, and it's unfair that they do. Lather, rinse, repeat.
When we arrived at Occupy Charlotte on Friday night, they were in the midst of having a General Meeting. At best, there were about a dozen people. There were many more tents spread around the lawn outside the post office, but only these hardy souls were standing in the night's chill. That surprised me - after all, Charlotte is the home to many of the United States' largest banks, so I expected something much larger. In fact, at one point a fellow took me and The Crescat aside and apologized to us for "having come such a long way" to see so few people.
As we listened in, one gal was reporting that she had deposited $26,000 in donations that afternoon. Really? As I later discussed with The Crescat, how easy would it be to join these people in one city, ingratiate yourself to the leadership of that particular encampment, get access to these donations, then clean out the account and move on to the next city and start the scam all over again? I thought it was incredibly naive of her to state that out loud, but there you have it.
What followed next was a spirited meeting about . . . how to have a meeting. Evidently, some people were non-plussed about how they felt there was a general sense of disrespect. So they argued about how to conduct meetings, complete with the "up twinkles" and "down twinkles" hand gestures. I asked one guy to explain them, and he went through every gesture with me, to the point I was so tempted to ask if traveling, holding, and high stick were also part of it. But that would have blown my cover, so I said, "Oh yeah, right, brilliant, innit?"
The Crescat and I, being mothers, also talked to a woman who had a pit bull and her three-year-old son, Elijah, there. She said she was present because her husband was "really into it." She also said she had a degree in Education but didn't want to teach. She really did not explain what it was she wanted to do, and we could not get into that because The Crescat noticed little Elijah was about to run into the street, so we got a little distracted.
Her husband, however, was willing to talk to us about the 1%. He said it was unfair that they had all the wealth and that things needed to be "more fair." I asked him if he wanted to be the 1%. "No, no," he assured me. "It just needs to be more fair." So I asked him whether he wanted to take money from the 1% and give it to him. He first said no, but then said the "system" needed to be changed so that money was distributed "more fairly." Despite questions, he could not articulate what would be "more fair" or how that money would be redistributed, only that it needed to be done. And somehow, standing around arguing about how meetings should be conducted - after being encamped there a couple of months - will bring that about.
One gentleman wanted to make sure we saw the convention center down the block. "You see that? That's where they are going to have the Democratic convention next year. And they're going to move us out, because we would be an embarrassment to the Democrats." As if this over-extended camping trip in public parks isn't embarrassment enough. But how can the anonymous be embarrassed? What these people do not realize is that they decry being unseen by corporations and politicians while they themselves give up a sense of self. "We are the 99%!", they cry, and wear masks and bandanas to hide their features. They purposely choose not to have leaders (although some emerge de facto because that is human nature) and everyhting must be by general consensus. They have made themselves a herd. And are about as dumb as cattle, with no defined goals, just a sense of wanting to sit there until someone does something.
As The Crescat and I were leaving the encampment, we encountered a young lady, bundled up against the cold, sitting at a park bench and reading a book. Katie, as she introduced herself, was purposely distancing herself from the General Meeting because "there was too much drama" and things had gotten "out of control." She mentioned that she was staying in a tent, but every few days went to her sister's house to get warm and shower. She said she was going to leave in a few days and head up to Washington DC to join the Occupy movement there, where she could "make a difference." I asked her what her goal was and she repeated, "to go to Washington." "No, I asked, "where do you see yourself in five years?" She said she wanted to do something with music, and then added, defensively, "I mean, I have a college degree." I asked her what type of degree she had and she answered, "Poetry." She added that she had student loan debt and can only find a job "waiting tables." Really?
But I suspect she is not unique - not in the student loan debt sense, because I have seen plenty of signs whining about that, but in hopping from one Occupy camp to the other. It occurred to me and The Crescat than, who noted, "This really is just one, big Grateful Dead tour, isn't it?" Just as groupies for the Dead and bands like Phish make it their life to follow the band around on tour, so too has this Occupy movement become that - no sense of direction, just join up, twinkle hands, become disillusioned, and jump to the next city with the expectation that its camp will be better organized and making a difference. Until what? You cannot do it anymore because of an STD picked up along the way or cold weather or an arrest, and all you can do is sing what a long, strange trip it's been?
Next up: Occupy Asheville.