9/5/2012 1:30 PM ET|
Occupy Movement older, wiser
One protester in Portland, Ore., who works in the finance industry by day, quietly supports the 99%. Many others are like him -- faceless and anonymous.
As the Occupy Movement approaches its one-year anniversary this month, reporters will again sweep the rallies and the camps in an effort to paint a picture of the protesters.
In doing so, they may miss -- as many did when the nationwide protests emerged last fall -- those activists who worked quietly, and anonymously, behind the scenes. Some may even be your neighbors.
Take, for example, "Adam" of Portland, Ore., who requested that his real name not be used.
Adam, who is in his 50s, has been active in Occupy Portland since its first day, in October 2011, when 10,000 people gathered in downtown's Pioneer Courthouse Square to call out corporate greed and rail against the growing income gap. At the park encampments that followed -- Portland's were among the longest lasting, at more than a month -- Adam continued to engage with fellow protesters, bringing them food and coffee in the evening after work and on weekends.
But each night he returned home to his family, and each day he went to work at his job in the financial industry, working, he said, "for the enemy."
"If I wasn't doing [the job], someone else would be, so I don't feel bad about it -- given that my job is kind of in the area we're protesting," he said.
Adam estimates that of the 500 or so Portlanders who remain active in the movement, 95% are like him: employed in a full-time job, with a home and family to support.
Even those prominent in the early camp represented a wide spectrum of professions: a stock trader, a television producer, a doctor, a teacher, an Army veteran and a restaurant manager.
Like Adam, many have preferred to remain anonymous, either to protect their jobs or to remain loyal to the movement's mission, which shuns individual grandstanding and narrow, singular missions.
To stand out is "not exactly the right thing to do," said Adam.
Individuals who speak out "risk defining the movement as a whole," he said. "No one tries to suggest to have the answers."
When Occupy activist Cameron Whitten garnered heavy media coverage during a 55-day hunger strike outside City Hall this summer, where he was protesting conditions for homeless people, some in the movement were perturbed. One activist leaned in to a reporter taking notes to say: "The story is -- he's not the story."
But just what the story is can seem as elusive as Adam's identity.
When Occupy Wall Street sprang up in New York's financial district on Sept. 17, 2011, the rallying cry was clear: We are the 99%. A year into the lead-by-consensus movement, the aired grievances are as diverse as the movement's members.
In Portland alone, the Occupy movement has 115 subgroups that meet regularly -- many every week -- to brainstorm and take actions on everything from community gardening and climate change to economic sustainability and land reform.
Across the country, active Occupy groups include Occupy Homes, to block evictions; Strike Debt; Foreclose the Banks; Alternative Banking; Occupy Student Debt; and others.
The picture of the Occupy Movement ultimately looks a lot like Adam. Educated and passionate on a range of subjects. Angry. Anonymous.
"One of my favorite sayings is: Leaders get their heads chopped off, and lone rangers die," he said.
Adam plans to vote for President Barack Obama in November, as he did in 2008, although he preferred Hillary Clinton. "If I really went for my true feelings I'd vote for Ron Paul," he said, expressing support for Paul's anti-corporate, anti-war stance but adding, "He's a Neanderthal on social issues."
Adam said he has never been under the illusion that Obama would be able to remake Washington, because of the corporate influence on politics. "It's not his fault that to be elected president that you have to live within the existing paradigm. The existing paradigm is the problem."
"Romney and Obama," he added: "They're two peas in a pod."
As for the movement, he wants to see more of his neighbors get involved and explains that outspoken individuals can threaten its inclusive and community ethos.
"It's hard to get people to move on an issue, and it's hard to get people to listen to you when they've already turned you off," he said.
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