Comment

Point made, the old-fashioned way

jjenkins@newsobserver.comMay 10, 2012 

Whenever I rode by the Occupy Raleigh site, on that little corner of land at Hillsborough, Edenton and North West streets, I always had the urge to go to the nearest Starbucks and buy a couple of those boxes of coffee for those hearty and courageous souls carrying on to raise awareness about the follies of the big banks and the Wall Street greedheads who took the country to the economic brink around 2008.

Fashioned after Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Raleigh is breaking camp after six months in the wind and the rain and the cold and the heat. Protesting isn’t for delicate constitutions, not if it’s to be done right. The group’s members, a lot of them anyway, feel they’ve made their point. They’ll have a meeting once in a while, but the camp will be no more, with its tents and portable toilets and library and a modicum of regular civilization brought in from time to time.

I visited them when they started, at the State Capitol, and among the members of the crowd I saw some veteran protesters, folks who’ve been standing in vigils as long as there have been vigils in downtown Raleigh. Some were anti-Vietnam protesters; others went all the way back to the civil rights movement. I saw my old friend Cy King there once, which lightened my heart. The man has had the courage of his convictions for more than 80 years now, and those convictions have spanned all the liberal and peace causes of the 20th century and this one.

Hawks may restrain themselves and show respect; he fought at the Battle of the Bulge.

This Occupy movement was something different. Yes, the day I went to the Capitol building there were the long-haired, sandal-wearing folks who seem to be the stereotypical demonstrators, but there were others as well, many of them middle-aged and pretty conventional looking and, while not holding signs, certainly in agreement with the Occupy leaders.

A couple of the lunchtime observers were overheard to say, with a little nostalgia, that they, too, had protested some years back, when they were in college. But alas, the “conforming” that came with office jobs and child-rearing had put a dent in their schedules, and resulted in a prolonged interruption to their political activism. The spirit was willing, but bosses often were not and other obligations just gradually came first.

My own excuse, when I talked with some of the Occupy people there and later and in fact whenever I saw them in other communities, didn’t wash with the truly committed, and I understood. Can’t carry signs and all that, I said. Work for a newspaper and we don’t like to become part of the story.

“Aw, c’mon Pops,” one younger fellow said. “You just don’t wanna get cold.” Ah, well.

But here was the interesting thing about Occupy Raleigh and the entire movement, nationwide, for that matter. It took hold in a way the big bankers and financial industry people, the ones who today are still fighting regulation despite a near-miss on a Depression, never anticipated.

People agreed with the occupiers. They wanted some action. Efforts to suppress protests (around here, authorities handled things pretty well) ran into some fierce resistance, and average citizens, fearing the loss of their jobs and their health insurance and angry about being left behind by the “1 percent,” came to think the protesting was fine and what Wall Street deserved.

The young people involved knew exactly what they were protesting about, and this was no lark. Their passion was to be admired by the veterans of other causes who stood and watched. (Some did more than that.)

The cause is not done, they say. But it can be carried now in different ways. They will still have meetings, still be watching, still carrying the message of the cause of the 99 Percent, the average citizens in a substantial majority who believe, with reason, that despite their numbers, they are ignored by the Congress and resented by the financial industry.

But at the least, they seemed to convince listening local politicians all over the country that there were more people in agreement with them than the pols might have imagined, and that was no small feat. Change really does start with one person, or a few. They made a difference. So, the offer stands for the next time out. Anybody need cream and sugar?

Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at jjenkins@newsobserver.com

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