Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Why I Occupy

I marched in the Occupy Philly protest last Saturday, and I've been trying to find the words to describe it all week. People who know me look puzzled when I tell them, and I've been trying to explain why this movement has taken root in my heart.

Last Saturday, for a few brief hours, I stood up to the anxiety, anger, frustration, and fear that has gripped me for the last few years. For a few brief hours, I marched with people who want better for me and you and this entire country, people who may be ideologically different but stand together because they believe there’s still hope for this democracy, that there’s still a chance that our government will take action for the people and not for the corporations that fund their campaigns.

There’s a perception that the Occupy Wall Street movement is simply a mob of young, disenfranchised 20-somethings who have nothing better to do than sleep on city sidewalks to disrupt the lives of those of us with jobs. Revolutions are often sparked by the young because they have the highest ideals and the least to lose. They hold us all to a higher standard because they haven’t had the life experience to make them jaded or cranky or pessimistic.

I wish more 30-something middle-class moms and dads would dig deep into our bellies to find our younger, idealistic selves and stand up and shout a little louder. That’s how change will come: On the backs of those of us who are working every day and paying our bills and putting our kids on the school bus each morning – earning and spending our wages to keep this economy moving.

Everyone has their own reasons for shouting and marching, their own signs to wave above their heads. But I wasn't at Occupy Philly to overturn our capitalist economic system, nor to turn our country into a socialist state, nor to legalize marijuana, nor to ask the government to pay off my credit card debt. I wasn't there for many of the countless other reasons people gave for this protest.

I marched with Occupy Philly on Saturday for the simple fact that I am a middle-class working mom who lives a comfortable life. I have everything I need. And I want to keep it that way. But We the People are hurting, some much more than others. We are fighting endless wars in the dessert that cost trillions of dollars, while right here at home there is an epic struggle mounting all over suburbia.

I marched Saturday because not long ago, I held my husband's head on my lap while he mourned his job; I have watched him struggle with the pain of being out of work, the feelings of betrayal and anger and sadness that go along with being forced out of a career he really enjoyed.

I marched Saturday because in the past two years, I helplessley hugged a friend when her home was foreclosed on; I said goodbye to friends who had to move far away to keep a job; I cried as my colleagues packed their office belongings in a box; and I have clung to my own job with ragged fingernails, wondering every day as I pull into the parking lot if today is the day they tell us the place is shutting down.

This week, my husband celebrates his one-year anniversary in his new job, and I realize I have said hundreds of thank-you prayers over this past year; we are blessed and so damn fortunate to both have full-time jobs. But I clench my teeth every time I think that he, like countless others, had to take a job 10 years and $10,000 behind his experience level. I marched Saturday because after putting himself through college to be the first in his family to earn a degree, then working long hours for 12 years and sacrificing countless hours with his young family, my husband had to start over.
I marched on Saturday because I am a middle-class working mom, and I am one of the 99% of Americans for whom the American dream is slipping away. We earn 25% less than we did 3 years ago, yet our expenses have increased by 30%. There are no salary raises in sight, yet our utility bills, taxes, commuting costs, and grocery expenses seem to rise in leaps and bounds. I shouted Saturday because while I clip coupons and scrape every penny together to pay the electric bills, our bank rewards us for over 10 years of patronage by slipping in a $20 monthly service fee on our checking account.

I marched Saturday because I live in a modest suburban split-level house that was purchased minutes before the real estate bubble burst. Our home is worth tens of thousands of dollars less than we owe on it, yet there's not an iota of support from our mortgage company, despite repeated phone calls during the time my husband was unemployed. In fact, in the five years since we purchased it, our mortgage has changed hands three times; it's hard to keep up with who we're even supposed to mail the check to each month.

I marched Saturday because some of the major employers in my community are getting ready to lay off more workers, despite receiving bailout funding and tax cuts to steady jobs over the last three years. Another big bank is moving into town, but instead of offering mid-level jobs, they will be cutting those jobs to make room for six-figure-salaried executives to move in from out of state. My friends, my neighborhood, my children's schools, and my community will be affected by these cuts yet again.

I marched Saturday -- and I will continue to support this movement -- because I am angry. I am sad. I am frightened. And I am aware. I am paying attention. I am standing up for the middle class because the middle class is too big to fail.

This Occupy movement, to me, is not about politics or hand-outs. I'm not asking anyone to pay my mortgage or forgive my credit card debt. I don't really even care about my tax rate or what Warren Buffet's tax rate is. What I am asking for is accountability and decency. I am asking for decisions to be made for this country based on the needs of the people who make it great, not based on corporate interests. I am asking for leadership and a return to sanity.

You can read more about the Occupy movement here and see some good images of who is involved here. You can follow it on Twitter and Facebook just so you know what's really going on, instead of seeing the regurgitated chunks and sound bites put forth by mainstream media.

Not many of us can camp out for days on end, but we can give voice to this movement to support the ones who do. Because they are standing up for us -- the small business owners and teachers and customer service reps and marketing managers and hospital workers and custodians and lab scientists and construction workers -- Occupy is working for change for all of us who work hard and want stability for our children. Even if protest marching is not your style, I hope you will do something to Occupy, too. We live in a nation worth shouting for.