I've never been a joiner. I tend toward the skeptical, and I distrust inflammatory rhetoric. I don't like crowds. I am not an anarchist. Nothing frustrates me like a dearth of rhetorical clarity. I tend -- by both disposition and conviction -- toward reform rather than revolution. And so this past month I watched -- like most people like me -- with skepticism, some trepidation, and a vanishingly small amount of hope as the Occupy movement spread through the country and the media. I supported where I could, but mostly I watched. I read the internet voraciously. I watched as it grew from something easily dismissed into something less easily dismissed. I waited. I'm not sure what for. To see. To wait and see.
Then this past week something changed. Oakland happened. A friend said "revolution" to me, and I found myself really thinking about that seriously. The media tone changed, in both the professional and citizen coverage of the phenomenon. This has been a week of tiny earthquakes; it felt like yet another subtle tectonic shift. I let myself shift too.
I have always been convinced that we have an ethical imperative to act, even and especially in the face of terrible odds. As activists, one of the most important bulwarks we can employ against burnout and apathy is the sense that working hard to make things better carries with it an inherent good, regardless of outcome. It was never the hopeless-case aspect of the Occupy movement that held me back, but rather the potential inefficiency of sinking energy into chaos. Is this the right hole down which to throw my energy and effort? Is this the best way to fight a forever losing battle? This past week, the momentum of this movement has been such that I am finally ready to re-frame that question: Let's win this time. What do we need to do to win?
On Thursday, my partner and I slept out at Occupy SF for the first time. Even for just one night, it felt like saying "OK, I'm in." The night before we'd stayed at Justin Herman (Bradley Manning?) Plaza until after 4:00 AM, expecting a police raid that never came. Clustered in an amorphous group by the plaza's southern end, people began spontaneously calling out with their personal testimonies. One woman spoke about the cruelty and waste of California's prison system, another about standing up for the children being robbed of a decent education. One man talked about being a veteran, another about the imperative of climate change. They used the "people's mic," speaking in short, choppy bursts that were easily repeated and spread from one listener to another.
"I'm here/Because I'm fucking queer."
"I'm here/Because when I went to college/It was free."
"I'm here/Because you all are beautiful."
"Because I believe/That we can decide for ourselves/What kind of world/We all want to live in."
The short format isn't my strength, so I didn't speak up. But I might have said this: I'm here. Because all my life. I have been angry. And hopeless. But it's time now. To be angry and hopeful. It's time now. To be angry and win.