Posted 4/19/2012 by the Salt City Sinner
Let's set the clock back just a bit. The year was 2008, and being the news junky that I am, it was impossible not to notice the fact that the stock market had dumped 777 points in one day. It was the beginning of “the financial crisis.” I had no idea what a credit default swap was, nor did I know what a mortgage-backed security was. If you asked me what Goldman Sachs was, I would have guessed a law firm in Layton, or a jeweler's in Ogden.
In 2008, I had never filed for unemployment. I had half-heartedly attended a few political rallies when I was attending a liberal arts college in Arkansas in the early 2000s, and was (I would boast) more well-informed about politics than most of my peers – being a Political Science major will do that to you.
In fact, I actively supported and campaigned for a young, charismatic Presidential candidate named Barack Obama. Both now-President Obama and then-contender Senator John McCain soberly reflected on the financial crisis, and pledged action. Street theater, guerilla gardening, Peter Gelderloos'Consensus, all were unknown to me.
Indulge me, and let's scoot forward to the sixth of October, 2011. Navigating the unemployment system in Utah was, unfortunately, something that I was learning on the fly. It was a nasty day – spitting snow and sleet, and chilly rain. For the first time in my life, I took to the streets and participated in a mass protest. All of us had heard of #OccupyWallStreet, and all of us were there to #Occupy Salt Lake City.
It was by far the largest mass movement of people I had seen in Salt Lake City in my time here (with the obvious exception of the Days of '47 Parade).
My initial interest in #Occupy was kicked off by some ferocious journalism from heroes like Matt Taibbi, who reported early and often on the nature of our financial predicament and the corruption and nepotism that were the inevitable response of our government. I blog about Salt Lake City, and so #OccupySLC was something that I had to experience first hand and think about.
The passion, creativity, and energy of #OccupySLC were apparent from the start. Like many other Occupations, #OSLC developed a “people's library,” chock full of books of varying political and philosophical bents, that everyone was free to indulge in. The Circle-A Cafe, a free kitchen run on anarcho-collectivist principles, fed the masses. At the time I wrote that it was “...[a] mass protest... one that involves free food, free basic medical attention, and a healthy contingent of anti-Capitalists.”
Pretty quickly, the barrier I tried to establish between “observer” and “participant” disappeared for me. #OccupySLC was among the more unique #Occupations happening in the country at the time (it started with 25 cities including Salt Lake, I believe) in that itinerant people were an early and active part of the Occupation. At General Assemblies and elsewhere, the itinerant population that has lived out in Pioneer Park made their presence known, and participated in the most pure example of Democracy that I have ever seen.
Then came the inevitable. After the death of Mike, an iterant resident of the camp and frequent volunteer at the kitchen, police and city personnel cleared out the encampment at Pioneer Park.
My blog entry from that date is entitled “Now There Is Nothing ButRuins.” I wrote:
I remember when the crazy, idealism-driven scramble of tents and structures first emerged at Pioneer Park. I remember seeing how the kitchen tent became the Circle-A Cafe. I remember watching the flow of bizarre ideas, zines, pamphlets, crankery, and poetry that would circulate around the Free School and the People's Library...Now there is nothing but ruins.
I spoke too soon.
Asatellite camp had been established by a sub-set of #OccupySLC to protest twenty-four hours a day in front of the Salt Lake City office of the Federal Reserve. #OccupyTheFed, as they called themselves, remained intact after Pioneer Park was cleared out. #OTF, now once again sporting the moniker #OccupySLC, struck a deal with the SLCPD to move their camp from its previous location on a vacant lot across the street from the Fed to Gallivan Plaza, a large public square in the middle of Salt Lake's downtown financial district. One more move was in store for #OccupySLC – the camp is now located at the Salt Lake Downtown Library, a beautiful structure with a spacious, lovely commons.
To this date, #OccupySLC has developed many facets. Working groups range from “Occupy Community Gardens” to “the ALEC welcoming committee” (ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, is the most corrupt lobbying operation that most people have never heard of, and plans to hold a conference/auction of legislators in Salt Lake in July).
Far from crushing #OccupySLC, the police raid on Pioneer Park scattered seeds – seeds that germinated all winter long, and now are blossoming. #OccupySLC is alive and well – a recent march in solidarity with slain teen Trayvon Martin was one of the biggest I've ever seen in Salt Lake City. The coming May Day Convergence looks to be even bigger.
What I have taken away from my experience with #Occupy so far is that an awakening is happening, or may have already happened – not just in Salt Lake City, but in New York, Oakland, Portland, Greece, Russia – throughout much of the world. The stranglehold that money has had over politics has gone on too long. Our political life has been dying, our civic life practically nonexistent, our “democracy” a bad joke made by menacing cannibal clowns. That time has past. Our thoughts are now “Occupied” with how we can live differently, embrace actual Democracy, and fix or replace the system as it stands.
Our time is just beginning.