'We joined the movement because the movement joined us'

Oct 20, 2011

By Katie Haswell

"We should all be together in this fight .... I feel complete and in harmony with this movement based on these two ideals: That there is a sense of injustice in America and that we need to fix this injustice by cooperation. "

These are the words of a bearded 38-year-old man who identifies himself only as Noah. He is one of the many Occupy D.C. protestors camping out in McPherson Square, a public park just two blocks from the White House and bordered by K Street, the proverbial domain of high-powered lobbyists.

I've read and watched overwhelming coverage of Occupy Wall Street and am curious about the types of people drawn to this amorphous movement that is clearly discontent with the status quo but has yet to determine a unified mission. What I find when I spend a couple hours in the makeshift city of about 50 tents is a mini-melting pot of individuals and ideas, but a core theme: government isn't working for most of us.

There isn't just one type of person in this tent city, and there isn't just one type of story. They are young, they are old, they are black, brown, and white, and they clearly span the socioeconomic spectrum. In only an hour and half, I speak to a range of people including a young man who recently graduated from high school and is sporting a Phillips Exeter sweatshirt, to a homeless man, who identifies himself as ‘Believe,' and his fiancée.

"We were occupying this park before they came," says 46-year-old Believe, who added he is passionate about Occupy D.C. because the 99 percent movement is in line with the issue of homelessness.  "We joined the movement, because the movement joined us.  Big government is getting away with nothing. They are putting all this money into things overseas, but not putting it in to things here."

I also speak with a 19-year-old woman named Ash Ketchum separated from the rest by a fountain, and by thought.  She is painting a picture of a purple woman on canvas and when I sit down to talk to her, she continues painting.

Never making eye contact, Ash says she had been studying art and communications at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, but felt compelled to drop out and join the original protests on Wall Street.  Later, she left Wall Street and came to D.C.

 "I decided to move cities because Occupy Wall Street was getting too punk village," she says. "D.C. doesn't seem as corrupt."

I ask why she is part of the movement in general, and she says, "Nobody really cares that people have ambition, families. There is this repressed feeling in America...."

Occupy Wall Street hasn't identified as a "repressed" movement, but the ongoing series of demonstrations protest everything from Wall Street largess to record corporate profits, government bailouts, and growing economic inequality or wealth being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. The movement has captured the minds of many and expanded to other U.S. cities and places across the globe.  While pundits try to understand it and parse it, individuals who are participating are doing the larger community a great service. They may not be bound by core principles, but they have helped bring the issue of economic inequality to the front of the nation's news pages as well as talk radio, cable, local and national news.

The people taking to the streets and the parks, like so many others, believe the nation is on the wrong track and the economy is getting worse. They are right that something is terribly amiss. Nearly 14 million of us are officially unemployed, and that number balloons when you consider those who are underemployed or simply have given up looking for work. More than 46 million have household income below the federal poverty threshold, and nearly one in three live in low-income households, according to Census figures. Further, one in seven, a record number, relies on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps) to put food on the table. This is a testament to how well the SNAP program is responding to increased need, but also an indictment of the economy just how poorly many families are fairing. 

Yet for all these fundamental issues affecting families' livelihoods, policymakers can't seem to agree on anything and have failed to move legislation, such as the American Jobs Act, that many economists widely believe would help create jobs.

I chat with Dewey, the 18-year-old recent high school graduate wearing a sweatshirt from an elite boarding school. He works part-time and says he is "sort of," part of the movement.

"We want action, we want it now. It's not going to happen if we keep bickering," he says.

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