"Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure... life is either a daring adventure or nothing." - Helen Keller
Today was a defining moment in my life. Never did I once think I would have the ambition, willpower, or courage to take part in a highly publicized protest, Occupy Charleston . It is, of course, an offshoot/solidarity movement in response to Occupy Wall St., which, of course, I'm assuming at this point needs little introduction.
For the Charleston, offshoot, at least, the main points of contention are basically the fact that the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. The Average Joe gets screwed, while big corporations get tax cuts, which they then use to line their own pockets while laying off the "lesser people", and throw insane amounts of money to politicians in order to bribe them into looking the other way.
I was actually torn between class, which I have on Saturdays, and attending the March. Then I realized just how important it was for me on a personal level to participate. This movement has gotten huge. For good or ill, it will go down in the history books, just like the Civil Rights movement did in the 60s, and the Vietnam protests did in the 70s. When my future children (or heck, even the kids I may end up seeing as a social worker/therapist), read about this and ask me "Where were you when this happened?" Did I really want to respond "Oh, I wanted to go. I wanted to show my support because I agree with their cause. But I was in class." Or did I want to say that I put my money where my mouth was, that I voiced my beliefs and finally took the opportunity to put some actions behind what I've believed for years? It's almost as if the last few years of personal growth were leading up to this moment.... the moment where I would finally be willing and able to act on my beliefs.
My grandmother is 70 years old and can't afford to retire, even if she wanted to, because they would not be able to make ends meet on her husband's disability alone. This is who I stand for.
My sister is 23 years old, in a wheelchair, and still lives with our parents. She is perfectly mentally capable (in 4th grade she was reading on an 8th grade level), only her physical body does not work like the rest of us. In spite of obtaining her Associate's Degree and over a year of Vocational Rehab and job coaches, the only job she has been able to get is a part-time, VOLUNTEER position at their local Habitat for Humanity. God only knows what will happen to her when our parents pass away. This is who I fight for.
I'm in graduate school and will be in debt for years to come. In spite of five years of undergrad, the only jobs I'm able to get until I finish my master's, are jobs where you don't even have to have an Associates to get, only a high school diploma and "some experience". I'm one of the lucky ones to have the time to go to school to HOPEFULLY get a better job afterwards (vicarious in itself because mental health is always being underfunded, and even with a Masters I'm likely to be overworked and underpaid), but not everyone gets that opportunity. They are who I stand with.
We started off in a local park. There were completed signs lying around. I grabbed a blank posterboard and marker, and made the sign that I felt the most strongly about, which could be shortened to fit on a poster: "Stand 4 the elderly and the disabled. They are the 99%". We marched from the park, to the Visitor's Center/bus terminal, then to the business district. We then traveled past the Open Air Market and to Washington Park. Throughout we got honks and waves, generally in solidarity.
Considering Charleston's history with previous protests, such as the Civil Rights movement, I was surprised at how much cooperation and leeway we were given by the City Council. Unlike the protests going on in places such as NYC, Boston, and even the offshoots which have emerged in Europe (there are over 200 "Occupy" groups worldwide now), there were no confrontations and no arrests. It was the epitome of a polite, peaceful demonstration. There was chanting. Some people brought drums. It was made up of older people, college students, professionals, and some families brought their kids. There were no drugs and no alcohol. The regulations were that we had to remain on the sidewalk. We had to make room for passing pedestrians. We had to follow the traffic signals. Police followed along on their bikes for supervision. We split up into 3 small groups of about 35-40, in order to comply with the law that states that you must have 49 or less participants in order to be able to march without a permit. This would leave room for spectators to join in if they wished, without going over the 49 participants limit. My group almost got into trouble because by the end of the march, we had exceeded the 49 person limit, because we had amassed that many spectators-joining-in, even with the failsafes built into the process. We stopped the chanting whenever carriage tours passed by, so as not to spook the horses. Only in Charleston would you find such an interesting juxtaposition, a 1960s era demonstration, alongside a colonial era horsedrawn carriage.
I will end with a video I made using pictures from the day's activities, namely the march. Whatever happens next, I know I will never regret participating in history, rather than simply watching it. As I type this, I notice that I was even on the 11:00 news, although I was smart about it and covered my face with my sign.
12 hours ago