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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Foundation Maybe Kinda Funky

We had every intention of going to the San Francisco version of the Occupy Wall Street rally Saturday afternoon before going to dinner in the city. But we were waylaid by an extended weekend nap. Not wanting to miss the start of the revolution, I took BART downtown on Sunday to check out Occupy San Francisco. (This was before the police cleared away the tarps Sunday evening.) The protest continues in front of the Federal Reserve Bank. There were perhaps two dozen protestors and only three policemen. Over at the camp itself in the south end of Justin Herman Plaza, there were several more people mostly hanging out. The north end of the park is being turned into the holiday ice rink. Dividing these two sides is an avenue of craft merchants. Overhead a zip line whines and patrons fly like Tinkerbell.

At first sight, the encampment is not exactly welcoming. There are piles of clothes and sleeping bags. One man rakes the sand like a monk while another woman uses a large broom to brush away garbage. The site didn’t smell bad, but it wasn’t a Boy Scout camp either. A woman in rainbow tie-dyed pants was making peanut butter sandwiches for the hungry. A man pedaled a stationary bicycle to power a laptop. In many ways, it looked like the homeless camp that used to be at UN Plaza, but without the orderly rows of tents.

The question is, can this ragtag band of homeless folk form a movement? So far, it does not look like this will be the epicenter of the revolution that will overturn the banking industry. The heart of the movement is in New York in the belly of the beast, Wall Street. Equally important are the live lines of resistance that are not emanating from the left coast. No, they are in surprising places like Buffalo, Atlanta, San Diego, and Austin, as well as international cities like Rome, Toronto, and London.

I would have felt more comfortable yesterday surrounded by other middle-class professionals in button-down shirts, jeans, and sensible shoes. But when we return to our homes, the fort is being held down by a lot of folks who don’t have anywhere else to go. I might not relate to them, but maybe they are the authentic foundation of this movement.

At the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington, President Obama said that King would have approved of the Occupy Wall Street movement: “Dr. King understood that peace without justice was no peace at all.” I have been concerned that this memorial and the corporatization of King’s memory have reduced his fundamental radicalism. Obama returned him to the fiery pulpit of social justice. Of course, King drew great inspiration from another radical preacher. It is helpful to be reminded that the bearded, long-haired guy in sandals would recognize those funky folks at Occupy SF as His people.

President Obama’s remarks on Occupy Wall Street begin at 15:45.

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