Saturday, October 15, 2011

Defining Moments

"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.

After the march, I went to a local beach and worked on my photography some. It was such a beautiful day.

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.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Minor Risks

Lately, I've been doing something very uncharacteristic of me. I've been trying new things!

I've been going to church regularly again, and resumed being more active in the Celtic Spirituality group of which I am a part. I've been recruited to help give a Sunday School lesson on Celtic Spirituality, as well as participate in an upcoming Celtic-themed worship service, both occurring in November. I have a good friend, a fellow seeker, who has been coming with me to church, so I think that has helped my consistency.

Yesterday, I had the first of four digital photography classes that I signed up for via the hospital's Student Wellness Center. It was really interesting and I learned some new tricks for my Nikon that I had never known before. The class is on Wednesdays throughout the month of October.

Today, I attended a general meeting, held at the local Unitarian church, which was held by a local group of young people who are planning an event in solidarity with the Occupy Wall St. movement, one of many "Occupy spin-offs" that have been springing up lately. It actually seems like something I really want to participate in, if my schedule allows. The meeting was attended, in addition to the expected college crowd, by a few lawyers and the local Labor Council representative, acknowledging their approval of the movement and their full support. The local news was also present, so I'm going to watch the news tonight in the hopes that I didn't end up on camera! I want to attend the march/protest/whatever when it actually does happen, but I know I can't afford to skip work for it under any circumstances (I only work 1 or 2 days a week as it is, at my place of employment), so I'm hoping it will be planned for a time in which I can participate. Their next meeting is next Thursday as well, I may go to it. Two things really surprised me about this meeting, though:

1) We actually held a vote that this would be a NONVIOLENT movement. I didn't think that was even up for discussion, much less an item to be voted on.

2) When we obviously voted to be nonviolent, this guy stormed out of the room (slammed doors and all), calling us all "ineffectual liberal jerkoffs".  To say it was a weird and awkward moment is an understatement.

The other, REALLY uncharacteristic thing that I did, was also at the Occupy meeting. I introduced myself to a girl sitting next to me.

Granted, I'm not sure how much it "counts", because she did sort of initiate conversation by asking if she could sit in the seat next to me, but yeah. Anyone who knows me, knows that I almost never make the first start at any conversation with someone I don't know. We ended up having an interesting conversation interspersed throughout the meeting. Probably better than most of the actual dates I've been on, which always seem to end in my never seeing or hearing from the girl again.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Simple Life

 Lately, I've been recognizing the importance of simplifying my life as much as possible. I have a lot of junk. And I overload my schedule (although at the moment, I do have to do so, to an extent). And I recognize that part of my waxing and waning in consistency concerning my not-so-daily spiritual practices stem in part from my lack of living out my beliefs, particularly my Druidry, in my everyday life. So I've begun making some steps to gradually make my spirituality a more conscious part of my daily life.

To start with, I began using more public transportation when I go to my internship. I don't utilize public transit here very often because it is so inadequate compared to bigger cities. But since I am interning at the local major hospital, I have two options for getting to work: I can drive from my house to the student parking lot (about a 45 minute drive with rush hour traffic), and then take a 10 minute hospital shuttle bus from the parking lot to the actual hospital (the campus is very spread out). Or, I eventually discovered, I could take the 5-10 minute drive from my house to the local K-Mart parking lot, which serves as a Park-N-Ride station, and ride the express bus (the only public transportation here that actually seems to be effective, as their regular buses are regularly late to stops, and a 20 minute trip could take at least an hour) for free with my hospital ID badge. This obviously saves on gas. In addition, it takes me right to the hospital, shows up on time (usually), and gives me a chance to read (either for pleasure, or homework) during the trip.

I have switched to a biodegradable bedding brand for my gerbil. With the aspen shavings, if they became too badly soiled they would begin to smell, and I would have to fill up grocery bags with the dirty shavings, and toss them in the trash. This brand is not harmful to the gerbil should he ingest any of it, and when I clean out the tank, my housemate and I have begun actually sprinkling it around the trees in the backyard to use as compost.  The bedding is pellets though, which keeps me awake sometimes if he gets active at night, so I may try out a different type of similarly biodegradable bedding next time, which can still be utilized as fertilizer and won't make any noise.

Upon noticing the sheer amount of books I have - filling up my own bookshelf as well as overflowing into the bookshelf in the guest bedroom (including my textbooks), most of which I haven't even read in the 5ish years I've had them - I bought a Nook Color. Then I took several hours to catalog every book I had. I then went through my Nook, and repurchased the ones that had eBook equivalents, and threw all the books in trash bags, filling up three. I then got a big box, and sorted through the books one final time. In the box, I put the hard copies of the books I had just repurchased through Nook, along with the books I knew I would likely never get around to reading, keeping only the books that I use for my daily practice (when I do them), the books that have sentimental value, and the books that I know that I will read. The box, when completely full, will likely be donated to the local library. My bookshelf is still kind of full, but I plan on donating the rest of the books (aside from the aforementioned exceptions) as I finish them.

My next step is considering resuming recycling. My problem here is that recycling is HORRIBLE in my county. They don't even have curbside pickup, and the only place I've ever seen a recycling bin is for junk mail at the post office. However, I found bags such as these which are about $15, which look similar to the reusable shopping bags I use for groceries, which are made for recycling. I'm considering buying a set, and using those to sort out recyclables, and then just drive them to the recycling center (which, admittedly, is only about 3-5 minutes from my house). 

It feels good to be finally starting to be more proactive in my spiritual life. I'm usually so tired that I don't, or I'm so caught up in day-to-day issues that I forget. I'm realizing, though, that particularly with the demanding field of work I've chosen, it won't get any easier, so I might as well start now.