The Star-News


A mistake to dismiss them

Sat, Oct 15 2011 12:00 PM Posted By: Carlos R. Davalos

Laughable. Enlightening. Intriguing. Messy. Self-destructive. Rudderless. Dismissed. Comical. Hopeful. Ignored.

Those are the words that come immediately to mind when my thoughts turn to Occupy San Diego.

The ones that don't are inconsequential and unimportant.

The protest against "corporate greed" has its roots in New York's Wall Street financial district and has branched out across the country.

When protesters finally took to the streets in San Diego on Oct. 7, the underlying theme had grown to include "social and economic justice" for everyone.

The only problem is, social and economic justice means different things to different people and trying to understand what the men and women who are camping in the city's civic center want is as difficult as understanding Latin spoken by a drunken mute.

At times, there doesn't seem to be a point to the occupation and the protests. All that's readily apparent is there are hundreds - tens of thousands nationwide - of fed up, hurting, disillusioned, marginalized, disappointed and angry people who are venting.

And maybe that's the purpose of the Occupy movement. To give voice to people in pain.

From the man who lost his house and his business because of a protracted divorce and soaring legal fees, to the woman whose 90-year-old mother has 30 days to find a new place to live because the home she's living in is in foreclosure, there are countless tales of hardship and desperation.

College-age sons and daughters are out of class because tuition is too high, classes aren't available and three part-time jobs make them too busy to carry a full load they can't afford.

Veterans are frustrated because the help they were promised - psychological, emotional, financial - has been secured behind walls of red tape or indifference.

Critics have dismissed protesters as jobless pot-smoking slackers and hippies. It's an easy characterization to make if you don't want to reflect on the why of the matter: Why are people moved enough to protest this way? (To be fair, there is some pot smoking going on, but most of the jobless people I've talked to have been looking for employment for months or years.)

But dismissing and ignoring this moment in time would be a mistake.

If nothing else there are future political and social leaders in the making at the civic center and elsewhere.

Even though it's a leaderless enterprise, there are individuals who are shaping and molding policy, albeit the policies of a protest movement. Persuasive personalities are emerging.

It's comical at times to watch the organization's general assembly meetings, where as a community, protesters voice their concerns and make decisions. Speakers and moderators occasionally get bogged down in the minutiae and detail of policy and assign tasks to sub-committees. If you were to close your eyes it would be almost impossible to tell if you were attending a counter culture protest or a city council meeting.

But I guess that's what democracy looks like in its rawest form. A messy hodgepodge of voices clamoring to be heard and taken seriously.

My only advice to the movement is this: Be prepared for when the city takes back its square.

When you're cleared away will your message have been heard? And if so, what will it have been?


© 2009 The Star-News