November 8, 2011

Occupy San Francisco: More Queer Misadventures And A-HA Moments


My Travels With Occupy San Francisco - Part 2 of 2 [Part 1 of 2 here]
San Francisco, California: When I think of protest movements, my mind immediately settles in the 1960’s. Historically, I know that during the middle of the 1950’s and early 1960’s, Dr. Martin Luther King led the Montgomery Alabama Bus Boycott, and founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, that gave rise to the non-violent civil rights protest marches that culminated in the historic March on Washington, and the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. I know there were massive protests in the late 1960’s against the Vietnam War.

My very little experience with protest movements started when I went with a bunch of good friends, to Washington in the 1990’s, to march for LGBT civil rights. While there were hundreds of thousands of people participating, it was a largely somber weekend. The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, that was spread across the national mall, had panels that celebrated the very short life, of many of our friends. We cried about the friends we loved and lost, and shed more tears for lots of people we didn’t even know. The Quilt reminded us of the insidious virus that still haunted every corner of our community, and it reflected the unspoken fear that every gay man with a pulse, harbored deep within his soul.

I wanted to join the few protests against the Iraq War, but would often find out about them too late, when I’d see the protest on the evening news. 

When the Occupy Wall Street movement started in New York, I cheered, though I couldn’t really figure out what their goals or demands were. As time went on, their message wasn’t any more clear. Every time a reporter interviewed someone and asked why they were there - I would hear a different answer. People talked about corruption on Wall Street and the sub-prime mortgage crisis, and the lack of jobs resulting in long-term unemployment, and the extreme dissatisfaction with Republicans in Congress and the gridlock that our political system created in Washington, D.C. I’d think to myself - I agree with all of them, and I’d still ask myself why are they occupying a park in lower Manhattan?

Hearing the disparate grievances that were cited by the press, and the differing views of the protesters camped out in Zucotti Park, was confusing to me. As a result, my initial thought, was that these people don’t stand a chance, with so many different interests and points of view.

About two weeks ago, while I was watching television, I saw the horror taking place just a few miles away, on that Tuesday night, when the Oakland Police Department unleashed a torrent of violence, against unarmed members of the occupy Oakland movement.

Seeing the young Iraq War veteran attacked and seriously injured, and watching his friends go back to rescue him, to take him out of harms way, as the Oakland police continued their aggression, was sickening. That unnecessary act of police violence motivated me to add my voice, and do whatever I could, to support and join my local occupy movement.

The OccupySF march to Union Square on October 29th was eye opening for me. I like to think that I’m reasonably smart, though I didn’t have my a-ha moment until I nearly reached Union Square that day. While participating in the march, I realized that the Occupy movement was completely organic, representing each and every view of the gathered participants, where every individual’s voice was acknowledged and heard. That was brilliant on every level, and created a true sense of community. That’s why the burrito lady offered people a bite, and I was happy to say no thank you, while others happily took her up on her offer. That’s why most eye contact was met with a great big smile, because you were sharing an experience as well as a connection.



When that strange lady came up to me, and she spoke loudly in my ear, and said that I looked happy wearing a smile in Union Square that Autumn day, my first impulse was to recoil and be horrified, that an uninvited strange lady came up and whispered in my ear, but I didn’t do that.

I smiled back and said, “I know --- It’s fucking ridiculous bro.”

I felt a little stupid and silly, that I called her bro. So I reached out and gave the strange lady a hug, and she hugged me back, before saying goodbye.

I was getting pushed toward the center of the crowd, and turned around to walk toward the back, to be able to leave with little effort, as I was getting tired of the pushing and the crowds.

Then I felt a tap on my shoulder, that completely caught me by surprise. There stood Dick Cheney, with bottles of water, that cheap plastic mask, and a “where’ve you been?”

“I was marching with my compadres,” I said loudly above the din. He handed me a bottle of water, mentioned he thought I’d wait when he ran for a bathroom, and left me in his wake. That’s  when I realized that Dick meant nothing by his earlier comments or, quick exit, and that made my day complete. So I reminded him to believe in himself, and that others will follow suit, whether he’s chilling with his fiancée, pursuing a job, or selling fruit.

I was tired, and said goodbye, to the man in the Cheney mask. I headed home still part of a movement, and I’ll certainly march with them again. A plea for social justice, a more equitable distribution of wealth, and eliminating poverty, is on my list of demands - if you’re curious to know.

I hoped you liked my true story, that I told in my own silly way. My point is that the movement’s still around us, it’s gathering steam, with plenty of room to grow. The people are warm and welcoming, where you’ll find other people just like you if you just look around.

Our country and the ideals we hold dear - are in peril - if we keep the status quo. We need to have an open dialogue with our friends, family, and neighbors - because regardless of your political stripe, we all want the same thing. A prosperous future, with equal opportunity for you and for me. That’s what the occupy movement is about - so go check it out.

I’m really glad that I did.

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