Last week makes it 4 years since my best friend Sarah and I went to Occupy Wall Street in New York City. After feeling like the odd ones out in a hoard of angry millennials, we left with the realization that nobody else had read the manual or understood that our “One Demand” was supposed to be an end corporate personhood. We didn’t even get to go camping in the financial district because no one had bothered to pull a permit for the gathering. (I told them that the point of civil disobedience is to break the laws that are unjust, not the ones that keep us safe, like permitting.) But the dialogue that began that weekend was the real take-away from our experience with this grassroots movement.
I returned to finish my last semester at UF, realizing that I was way to small to make any real impact on the state of US or international finance. But I joined the solidarity movement that arose as “Occupy Gainesville” in my college town. Just like in New York, nobody could agree on the intricacies of our manifesto or decide on a cohesive plan of action. However, we coalesced around a park in the middle of downtown Gainesville called “Bo Diddley Community Plaza,” named after the Originator himself. It was our struggle to Occupy this space that confronted us with the real victims of the financial crisis: the homeless. As neither of our groups were allowed in the park after hours, they became our greatest cause.
We protested at the Alachua County Commission meetings, and advocated for the rights of the homeless to have a place to stay. We protested the meal limits imposed on the local churches, preventing them from feeding more homeless. We slept on the sidewalks with the homeless at night, just outside of the plaza, and kept night vigils to protect our group from harm. We had community meals, and ate together at least once a week.
Some of my friends understood, but the majority of them didn’t. Sarah was the most supportive. She even traveled to Gainesville for a Peace Protest, where we stayed in the plaza overnight and demanded the rights of the homeless to sleep there whenever necessary. Sarah and my friend Viv stayed with me for the majority of the night, and left to get coffee just before the police arrived to arrest us all. I was arrested for breaking a law that was unjust: sleeping in the plaza. I still believe that the homeless and I deserved to stay in Bo Diddley Plaza if there was nowhere else available to stay or Occupy.
My experiences at Occupy Gainesville made me realize that the real achievement of the Occupy movement was not revolution in the traditional sense. It was more of a cultural revolution. It was meant to get us out of our houses, to bring us together in the general assemblies, and to discuss the problems that we all faced, together in civic society. I mean, how are you supposed to love your neighbor if you don’t even know them?
Sarah and I continue to discuss the failures of the horizontal movement that was Occupy Wall Street to this day. But mostly we talk about the memories we made, and the time we spent fighting for justice. It made us each into the people that we are today, and we certainly cannot regret that.