by: Greg M. Schumaker
Occupy Chicago caught me on a bad day last week.
See, I tend to hate my day job. I work at a bank (fitting, right?) in the South Loop. I’m neither too fond of the job nor the South Loop. And when we close down just after six, I want nothing but to get the hell out of there and get on my express bus home.
Except I couldn’t, because Occupy Chicago had shut down State Street. Busses were being rerouted, police had taken over intersections and, in the distance, I could see the march of protestors as they headed towards Wabash.
I did what any sane man in 2011 would do: I vented my frustration on Facebook, disavowing my love for the Occupy movement because my commute home was being held up, I had to get home to let my dog out, and I had to pee. After a couple friends from my hometown in Michigan talked me down—reminding me of the goals behind the cause—I walked my disavowal back a bit. Still, one friend criticized me for working at a bank; another told me to quit my job and become a mouthpiece for the movement.
First of all, my bank job merely covers my rent and a few groceries. I have another job, an editorial assistantship, to pay a few other bills and to buy booze to ease the pain of grunt work/poverty. In its defense, the bank I work for isn’t evil, still offering free accounts (which might explain my barely-living wage) and community outreach programs (in collaboration with Sesame Street).
So no, I can’t quit my terrible day job and go live in a park, shouting at Mayor Emanuel if he happens to drive by. Nor do I want to: I hate camping, I love hygiene.
I’m also opposed to holding up the public’s commute. It’s not a way to win supporters, trapping them in traffic when they’re worn out and craving their couch.
While I sympathize with the movement, with its overall goal of restoring some sanity and fairness to our financial system, I have little patience for its lack of concise messaging and its quirky elements (such as its “spirit finger” method of voting). Then, when I watched two members of the movement in New York turn down Stephen Colbert’s super PAC funding, I couldn’t help but lose a little hope.
Because if there’s anything we can learn from Barack Obama’s victory in 2008, these days you have to fight big money with big money—you have to fight fire with fire, or at least one hefty fire extinguisher. You can’t go up against an ignorant, corporate-funded, neocon-gasm movement like the Tea Party without it. To get your message out and momentum in your favor, you’re going to have to pay for some sort of campaign if you ever want to get out of the tents and Starbucks bathrooms.
And get out of the streets and parks the movement must. It’s becoming a nuisance, a joke, and will quickly become a stereotype — no different than the image of fat rednecks with bags of Lipton hanging from the brim of their Uncle Sam hats. (When the government that has brazenly committed so many recent missteps, from invading Iraq under false pretenses to throwing the Geneva Conventions out the window, kicks you out of a park and pepper sprays you, please stop acting so shocked and surprised. It’s bad, but we’ve seen this movie before.)
Since the movement’s inception, I’ve thought “Why now?” Where were you when this all started, when the economy collapsed and we suddenly had to bail out the big banks? Where were you when the Tea Party was taking over cable news and scaring the suburbs with tales of death panels? Where the hell were you before Dodd-Frank passed or when Elizabeth Warren was fighting for the Consumer Protection Agency? Where were you when the briefly-empowered Republicans held unemployment insurance hostage in order to extend George W. Bush’s precious tax cuts for the rich? Where the hell have you been, what’s taken you so long? The middle class has been disappearing for a long time now.
Regardless, now that the movement’s here I don’t see it occupying the right places. Parks and streets, huh? In downtown Chicago, New York, Seattle, and so on? Oh, college campuses? Breeding grounds for liberal crazies like myself? Genius.
Go occupy someplace worthwhile. Occupy places where you can get shit done. Get out of Chicago and go occupy Springfield, take your message to the suburbs where the people who (foolishly) disagree with you most so desperately need to hear you. Go occupy Sarah Palin’s front yard and Rush Limbaugh’s studio. While you’re at it go occupy Marcus Bachmann’s favorite gay bar and bathhouse. Occupy Mitt Romney’s—oh hell, he’s so boring you shouldn’t bother. Occupy the mega-churches and creationist theme parks. Occupy the hallways and offices of our elected bigots, not the parks and streets of major cities full of people who already support your ideas.
Moreso, go occupy the National Mall, bathe in the waters of the Washington monument, set up your tents in the shadow of Abe Lincoln, next to the statues of FDR and MLK. Occupy the lobbying firms that avoid the blame for our political discord as expertly as roaches avoid light.
I say this all as a sane American, one of the many who doesn’t take kindly to crazy, be it an unemployed hippy socialist waving around Marx in a public park or a Tea Party patriot waving around Glenn Beck’s latest tome on Fox News. And I’m not alone — most Americans, despite our sick obsession with it at first, quickly grow tired of lunacy (see: Jersey Shore). And working under the assumption that your mere occupation of parks and streets is going to stir someone to honor your list of demands is sheer lunacy.
We’ve got revolution in our blood. Last Friday was Evacuation Day, after all. Before it was a national holiday to celebrate shopping, we used to celebrate the anniversary of the day when the final British troops were chased out of Manhattan in 1783. From the Civil War to Women’s Liberation, from the everlasting Civil Rights Movement to the ongoing fight for LGBT Rights, no one has gotten anything done by sitting in place. (Even Dr. King’s sit-ins ended at some point.)
This is all coming from a guy who believes in democratic capitalism, who is continuing his search for the perfect vintage FDR portrait to hang in his kitchen. I’ve had a blood pressure-spiking hatred of Republicans since 2004, when George W. Bush spent most of his campaign making my awkward gay teenage self feel like I had sided with the terrorists. (Our mission? Destroy traditional marriage and kill elderly peoples’ hopes and dreams!)
I once fell asleep while reading Joe Maguire’s Brainless: The Lies and Lunacy of Ann Coulter and had a vivid dream where I got into a heated argument with Ms. Coulter and she dared me to punch her. So I did. I woke up and had cut my thumb from punching the edge of my bedframe. I still have the scar — a scar physically embodying my ongoing distaste of our devolved right wing. (Where else can you be vehemently “pro-life” but not care about the livelihoods of vast swathes of Americans?)
“Get up, stand up,” Bob Marley — that reliable hippie idol — sang. So what are you all doing sitting down?
Greg M. Schumaker lives, reads, writes, and drinks in Chicago. He received his M.A. in Writing and Publishing from DePaul last June.