While the big stuff locally has been happening across the Bay in Oakland, these folks have been quietly (well, mostly) camping out here for days. I’ve heard several viewpoints on the worldwide Occupy movement, and I’m still wrestling with how I feel about it.
Because there aren’t just two sides—there are multiple sides.
Just like San Francisco, which I love for its colorful variety. In fact, where I sit now is like a microcosm of a much larger picture.
The artisans in front of me are trying to earn some cash through their crafts, while behind me a homeless man sleeps on the grass, soaking up the free sunshine. The working rich, the working poor and the working in-betweens crisscross the street in front of me in their high heels, sensible working shoes, old jalopies, and fancy cars.
Tourists from everywhere gawk at the Ferry Building and stroll along the Embarcadero while a couple of giggling schoolgirls with oversized backpacks walk by. A city worker rolls past on his cement-sweeper. No clue whether this is his regular shift or if he’s pulling extra duty cleaning up after the Occupiers.
Ethnically, culturally, economically, ideologically—San Francisco is about as diverse as it gets. That’s part of why I love it so much.
And why I’ve been having trouble with the whole “99% vs. 1%” thing.
99% vs. 1% sets up a false dichotomy.
Who decides who is in which group? The extreme ends of the spectrum are clear to all of us, but I bet there are dozens of protestors out here who would consider many of the passers-by to be in the 1%, while those very people think of themselves as part of the 99%.
It’s all relative.
There aren’t two groups—there are billions of unique human beings. Each with his or her own story, each doing the best they can within the circumstances in which they find themselves.
We’re all on this planet at this time together, working things out day by day. And regardless of our circumstances, no one wants to feel taken advantage of. No one wants to be marginalized, alienated, or singled out by accusations.
We are all the 100%.
The homeless man woke up and is now stretching. It looks a lot like yoga—similar to what the woman with the mat strapped to her gym bag might have just been doing on her lunch break.
I’m on my lunch break, too. I work in one of these high-rises, but it would be easy to take me for one of the activists, with my casual-day blue jeans, t-shirt, ethnic handbag and bandana in my hair.
It’s tempting, but usually inaccurate, to judge by appearance—or salary—alone.
Maybe that woman in the expensively tailored suit and leather handbag makes a 6- or 7-figure salary…but spends a third of it on healthcare for her aged and very ill parents. Or donates handsomely to one of the local animal shelters. Or works in a soup kitchen every weekend.
And maybe that guy to whom she just served a bowl of canned spaghetti and meatballs is on the street because he’s mentally ill. Or has been alone since his wife died and comes here as much for the companionship as for the free food. Or maybe he was working in the building right next to hers until the bank foreclosed on his home, his wife divorced him, and he became suicidally depressed for a while.
The point is, we never know.
We never know what someone else is struggling with until we ask them.
This involves deep listening, empathy, and a willingness to give space to viewpoints we might not share for the sake of understanding them better.
The issues here are complex and tangled. I’m not for the Occupy protests, and I’m not against them. I am thinking about the multiplicity of issues they raise.
Most of all, I’m engaged in the social conversation about what’s going on, because I think it’s hugely important. I’d like to think we’re on the cusp of some kind of turning point for the better.
What do you think?
Oh, and if you like the image at the top of this post, I just opened up a brand-new CafePress store so that I could print it on something wearable for myself. If you’d like to join me in displaying this sentiment, please visit my new store on CafePress! 50% of all profits will be donated to Habitat for Humanity International, so you won’t just be wearing the words–you’ll be acting on them, too.