OCCUPATIONAL HAZARDS – Occupy Astoria Treads On

OCCUPY ASTORIA is, as of this writing, only a little over two months old, and again, I’m a tiny bit disappointed: we have yet to see the kind of mayhem that makes for good copy. Seriously, folks, what’s it going to take? Are we gonna have to import cases of pepper spray (American pepper spray, of course; must keep those domestic debilitant manufacturers solvent) and pay local law enforcement to spray it in our faces at carefully-staged photo ops? Goad them into engaging us in an unfriendly game of taser tag? What will it take to get your attention?

Ah, but maybe I’m preaching to the choir here – chances are, if you’re reading Hipfish in the first place, you’re plugged in to the local sociopolitical current and don’t need to be reminded of our small but stalwart subset of the greater movement to redress social injustice and establish economic parity in this little civics project we call the USA. But then again, there’s a chance you only picked this up to check the date of the forthcoming Bluegrass Tribute to Prime Numbers, so allow me to get you up to speed.

In the month since we set up camp for our first, 24-hour public gathering, OA has kept on keeping on, via weekly Tuesday-night meetings and regularly scheduled rallies in various locations about town. December promises more of the same: there will be a SUPPORT OUR LOCAL MERCHANTS MARCH on December 3, plans are afoot to involve ourselves in the West Coast Port Shutdown scheduled for December 12th, and further gatherings and events are sure to follow thereafter. Updates and information are available at the official website, Speaking as a supporter and member of Occupy Astoria, I’d like to use this space, first to shout out a word of praise to the facilitators and organizers behind the movement for their tireless efforts to hold it together and push it forward, and then, perhaps, to prod those both within and without OA (including myself) to strengthen our collective resolve. (Warning: subjective opinionating ahead. Keep your hands inside the vehicle at all times.)

This is a critical moment for the Occupy movement as a whole – certain conservative commentators have been smugly sneering that the uprising has failed, the latest round of evictions has succeeded in damaging the center of gravity that even a self-described “horizontal” movement like this one needs to survive, and the actions of an unfortunate few have resulted in damage to property matched only by the resulting damage to our credibility. The major problem, as I see it, is clear – the forces pushing against the Occupy movement are aligned, allied, and on point; one thing the far-right has always been adept at is coming up with a narrative and hammering it repeatedly home until it resembles a persistent commercial jingle or an insidious pop hook. Irritating, annoying, insistent, but you can’t get the damn thing out of your head. It takes a mighty effort not to sing along. Occupy has managed to get into the national consciousness by appropriating that technique to its own ends – “We Are the 99%” is a flat-out brilliant slogan, as clear, succinct and memorable as anything cooked up in the gray-flannel meth-labs of Madison Avenue – but our major strength as individuals, the awareness of and willingness to grapple with the complexities underlying that brilliant hook, threatens now to undermine and, if we’re not careful, capsize our efforts.

We need look no further than a hundred miles down the road to see where this has gotten us. Three weeks after the eviction from the former site of Occupy Portland, reports are coming back of a general splintering, of unification drifting apart into factions, a deconsolidation of energies that allows the standard devisers of the media narrative to re-assume command of the storyline. As of this writing, a Google News search for “Occupy Portland” reveals little about the marches and demonstrations that continue there on a daily basis, and much more on the tab for the cleanup of the now-fenced-off parks. The surface-level implications are obvious; these folks are nothing more than irresponsible troublemakers bent on destroying more than they’ve built up. Which is a narrative that may sound somewhat familiar to those with memories stretching back four decades or so; hey, it may be an old tune, but it’s a good beatdown and you can dance on their shallow, preemptively dug graves to it.

In saying all that, I am neither looking to absolve the larger movement’s members of their ultimate responsibilities, nor am I leveling a finger at our smaller, homegrown grassroots subset. Occupy Astoria has, in its short lifespan to date, distinguished itself by its unfailingly respectful relations with local authorities and the care with which it has used (and not abused) the public spaces where our gatherings have been held. But there are hazards afoot. Some have already parted from the movement or rescinded their support due to internecine squabbles over relatively minor concerns regarding procedure. Too much energy has already been expended in the simple act of holding Occupy Astoria together. Let us not lose sight of the greater picture; that way lies disillusionment, dissolution, and ultimately, apathy. We are not finished, not by a long shot, but we have a long way to go and it will take much strength and cooperation to get there, lest we fall into the trap that’s been set for us – just a small group of crackpots barely worth slowing down to read their handwritten signs as you drive past them. The motivations behind this movement affect all of us, and it will take all of us to effect real and lasting change. As the saying goes, “the people united will never be defeated.” (I always thought it should be “divided” instead of “defeated,” seeing as it rhymes and all, but nobody consulted me.)

OCCUPY ASTORIA meets on Tuesdays, 5:30pm at the First United Methodist Church, 1076 Franklin Ave, Astoria – in the downstairs social hall – enter through the door on 11th st.  FMI:

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