Sunday, October 16, 2011

Think globally, protest locally

Yesterday began two brand-new legs of the Occupy movement: one in London and one here at home in Pittsburgh. The movement, which began on Wall Street mere weeks ago, has grown exponentially and is finally coming to represent a well-rounded anger that we're feeling, worldwide, at those who make all of the decisions for us, who tell us that we are nothing with their actions though they still pay lip service to our hopes and dreams. Unlike the way Fox News and USA Today have attempted to represent it, the Occupations are not anarchist rally, it's not a hyper-leftist movement--it is by nature a progressive stand, yes, but it has nothing to do with partisan politics. It is about class warfare, and there are plenty of Republicans, Democrats, Greens, Libertarians and Socialists alike down here in the muck to fight.

It took a while for Occupy Pittsburgh to find its legs, but now there are tens of tents set up, housing around a hundred people on the park in front of the BNY Mellon headquarters in downtown Pittsburgh. It also just happens to be located directly behind the hotel where I work. I was concerned about our local chapter of the revolution--that it may be met with apathy or that it would become a long, drawn-out discussion and never physically manifest itself. But the time that it took to get rolling was used brilliantly as an incubation period, and instead of a few more protesters trickling in every day, the march through the city ended with quite a sizable population now respectfully taking up residence on one of the largest American banking institution's front lawn.

The camp is also situated right on the corner of Grant Street and Sixth Avenue, one of the most significant thoroughfares in downtown, so a constant flow of cars is being funneled by the protestors holding signs, banners strung from poles and draped over tents. I was excited to see the Occupiers outside this morning, and I hope to be able to spend some time in the park with them: perhaps around noon or six when the general assemblies are being held. But as thrilled as I was, I worried about the response of the rest of the city. Walking out after work, I passed right by the protest on my way to the bus stop, chatting for a moment with a gentleman on the corner and offering my sincerest support. To my surprise, as I waited for the bus, cars upon cars that were fed from the highway down Grant Street were honking their horns in support. It was an almost-constant blare of horns, issuing from trucks and cars and even a large city maintenance vehicle.

I realized that Pittsburgh is perhaps one of the most interesting cities for this kind of a protest to take place. In New York (and particularly on Wall Street) that richest 1% is really much higher--maybe even 5% or 10%, when you consider the vast amounts of money that move through those particular veins of the Big Apple. Here in Pittsburgh, on the other hand, that 1% is probably more like a .5% or less. This city is built on, and vehemently proud of, its blue-collar ethics and traditions. Here, too, the income gap is much smaller than in New York or in Boston. There just aren't as many multi-millionaires per square acre. So the breeding ground for support is much broader. Provided the media pays fair attention to the protest and what it is about, not spinning it into some kind of anarchist nonsense as has been the case in the past few weeks of OWS, this is exactly the kind of sentiment that can take hold in Pittsburgh. And that warms my heart to an unreal degree.

In a single day of Occupation, before any media has really been by to explore, there is already respect and warmth to this protest. It is honest and it is true. It is simple. It is something we can all understand and something we all can feel. You are, as this revolution will soon show, either for us or against us; not in a pugnacious way, but in the truth of what this whole thing is about. Those people on the lawn, no matter whether you love them, join them, laugh at them or sound off against them, are fighting for your rights. It is selfless and it is true, and we should be so lucky to have people like them sitting in for our rights to be acknowledged.

For more information on the Occupy Movement here and abroad or to find out how you can help in the revolution, please visit occupypittsburgh.org and occupywallst.org, or just go down to Mellon Green, on the corner of Grant and Sixth in the shadow of the BNY Mellon Center and visit with the protesters there.

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