Posts Tagged ‘demonstrations’

Why I Went to Occupy Wall Street and What I Saw


2012
01.04

The beginning for me was back in the late 60s when I was a student at UC Berkeley.  The array of opportunities before me was staggering, all of them out of the classroom.  I could become an activist, a protester, an anti-war demonstrator; I could become proactive in the political system and work towards change in society.  I could support the Black Panthers.  My husband and I lived a block from People’s Park. So what did I do with this panoply of possibility?  Not a thing.

I was young, naive and I didn’t understand what was happening.  I missed the civil rights movement because I was in high school in California and we couldn’t imagine what it was like in the south.  I hadn’t followed the Vietnam War, so I sat that out. By the time I realized it was something to pay attention to, I was too far behind.  I was newly married and all I really wanted to do was have a baby.

As the years progressed I understood, so when protesters took a stand at  Zuccotti Park in New York and became known as Occupy Wall Street, I paid attention.  I wanted to see for myself.  I knew I couldn’t spend more than a couple of days, but they were important days for a couple of reasons.  One, I felt history was unfolding that could turn into one of the seminal moments of our century, like Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964, or all the events of 1968 were in the last century. I was not going to miss this one.

Second, I wanted to see for myself so when I read the press accounts, listened to the commentators and reporters, and read what citizens had to say, I would know how to judge it for myself.  Recently TIME Magazine named the protester as their Person of the Year, and I feel better for having caught on to this movement early.

I made a sign that I rolled up in a tube and took with me.  It said “Remember the Constitution? We the People, in order to form a more perfect union…promote the general welfare…”  And then, “WE are the people, not Wall Street and not corporations.”  And I got flak.

People stopped.  Why do you hate us? They asked.  Why do you hate everyone who works on Wall Street? Why do you hate corporations? I tried to explain that Wall Street, the 99%, the 1%, the word “corporations” are symbols because my sign could not say “We are the people, not Wall Street except of course for people who are employees or middle managers and not robbing us all by creating things like hedge funds that produce nothing of value, just money for the already wealthy and I don’t hate corporations but am bothered by the Supreme Court ruling that says corporations in essence are people too, and have rights under the first amendment and can spend as much money as they want on campaigns, so now corporations will be able to buy power and elections more than ever as if they haven’t already held power through their lobbyists,” and so on.

I can’t say all that on a sign.  So the words are symbolic.

Then people would dismissively say, well, what are the demands?  What do you want?  And I would answer that I didn’t think it was important in the beginning to have well articulated goals because what was happening was a groundswell of discontent with the status quo.  THAT was the message.  There was massive discontent throughout society all over the world.  Here, we were upset that corporations were raking in record profits while the rest of us were hurting; executives were making billions of dollars while their companies paid well less than the 35% corporate tax rate; big banks got bailouts and quickly recouped their losses, paid the government back, and made more money than ever.  But people were still losing homes. People were losing homes while big banks subverted plans to help stave off foreclosure.

The concept of general welfare was lost. Lobbyists were buying Congress and Congress was selling, operating on some fuzzy principle that made self-preservation and enrichment more important than governing.  Our elected representatives were not for The People, they were for themselves.

For years, while teaching a leadership class in eighth grade, I told my students that the gap was widening between the poor and the upper class, and the middle class was in danger of disappearing.  I told them that that was a factor in fomenting revolution.   Revolution doesn’t mean guns and fighting all the time; some of the most successful revolutions are non-violent. Revolution means taking a stand and sticking to your ground until real change occurs.  I was told I was exaggerating and nothing like that would happen.  But here we are all around the world – revolting.

So the groundswell of discontent was enough for now.  Let the people regain some power.  It doesn’t matter that occupiers have different interests – political, financial, environmental, and so on – it’s the sense of fairness in all endeavors that is paramount, having a voice that is listened to and acted upon.

Then people referenced Democrats and anarchists and the homeless and the kitchen sink.  No, I said, this isn’t about Democrats and Republicans.  The Tea Party movement arose from a groundswell of discontent also.  Take the most extreme Democrats and Republicans and they will intersect on the other side of the circle.  We are not all that different.  Maybe Republicans gravitate to the Tea Party and Democrats to Occupy Wall Street, but it’s all a reaction to discontent with the status quo.  The Republican primary is also indicative of a groundswell of discontent.  It’s, as my friend Pat Johnson said, like the game Whack a Mole – one candidate is smacked down while another bounces up.  People can’t decide who they want because no one is measuring up.  Discontent.

So, I went to New York and spent some days at Zuccotti Park and this is what I saw.

I saw people waking up in the morning.

I saw people at the encampment being fed.  No one was turned away.

Although organization was loose, I saw that everyone agreed on the need to adhere to some basic rules and standards.

Lots had been said about how dirty everything was, but it didn’t look that way to me.  There was a concerted effort to keep litter at bay and keep the park cleaned up.

People were prepared for basic first-aid needs.

A big library sprung up and I must admit I wasn’t sure why; but at least reading and learning was felt to be important and that is something in short supply in today’s society, where ignorance is often celebrated.

There was inclusion, not exclusion.

There were workshops and meetings and assemblies so people could understand and discuss what was happening.  Much fun has been made of the general assemblies and how impossible it is to get consensus, on why a leader is needed, but our country wasn’t founded with the snap of a finger.  It took a long time to sort out leadership and issues and words.  It’s not easy work.  It will take time and hard work and courage on the part of whichever members of Congress can summon some to get this worked out too.

AND there were the people.

There were Asians and blacks and Hispanics and whites.

There were students.

There were veterans.

Sirius radio was broadcasting.

There were drummers and I confess to not quite understanding why drumming was necessary and it did become annoying – but it also added to the urgency and the atmosphere.

There were LOTS of people – full-time occupiers and working folk who came on the weekends to lend support.

There were retired people too – because I was one of them.

There were tourists going by in buses.  Zuccotti Park, previously unknown by everyone including most New Yorkers, was now a destination.

There were people giving haircuts and giving out clothing for those who needed a change.  Other people helped with laundry.  It was an instant community.

There was a makeshift altar for those of all faiths to have a moment of peace.

There were families.  Young and old.

Pretty much normal people.  Not a bunch of weirdos.  Of course there was the occasional weirdo or extremist, but that happens anywhere you go.  That was the exception.

There were also passers-by who were not just gawkers, but talked to people to understand and learn.

There were supplies and places to make posters.

There were union members.

There were incongruities, like this fellow whose guitar case and songs spoke of old-fashioned protest while the person he was with filmed with an iPad.

There was organized entertainment.

And there was humor.

And of course, there was law enforcement.  From what I observed, much of the cost incurred by law enforcement agencies was self-inflicted.  This was clearly a peaceful, non-violent occupation by intent and self-policing.  Law enforcement was way out of proportion to what was happening.

 

I was there three days in late October.  I was lucky I was able to go and could afford it.  I didn’t make a big difference; me being there was just one more body in the crowd those three days, one more protester holding a sign.  But I did something at least.  I tried to understand if nothing else.  I took a stand.  I’m proud of being there and holding a sign, which is way out of my comfort zone.

I wish everyone would take notice and think about it, not jump to conclusions and be judgmental.  We have a rare opportunity right now to take back the country.  And I think that’s exactly what this is about – taking back the country from the lobbyists, the big corporations whose tax breaks never gave anyone a job (in my opinion), and our own congress who for the most part are not working for the interests of the people.  They’re working for the interests of the rich, and they get rich while doing it.

Heading to Oujda: You CAN go home again


2011
05.10

Our journey through Morocco continues, proving that Thomas Wolfe was wrong – you CAN go home again.  We were finally heading to our home of two years – forty years ago!  It’s quite amazing how much it felt like going home. We left Merzouga and passed by another demonstration – the same place as the day before.  My photo is blurry – no apologies: it just didn’t seem wise to stop, get out, and take photographs, so I snapped one as the car went by.

Merzouga demonstration

The road to Guercif

There was much discussion before we left Merzouga; everyone had an opinion which route we should take.  Many suggested the southern route, which I kind of wanted to do, and in retrospect I wish we had.  The problem was where to stop for the night as there were no  hotels in the little towns.  So we settled on the road that went to Guercif, which at least had a hotel. And thus we blithely headed off, not realizing we’d be driving through the Middle Atlas Range!  We went through many of the small towns we passed through on the way down.  In one, we encountered another load of hay that seemed  precariously balanced – but as far as I know, it stayed upright.  I’d always been under the impression that if the base were larger than the top, it would be more stable.

Load of Hay

We always seemed to be passing through a town when kids got out of school for lunch break, and today was no exception.

We hit the mountains.  Oh no, not really.  More mountains?  it was cold and rainy, and this is when we found out the car’s heater did not work.  These mountains weren’t as beautiful as the High Atlas, but I was shivering and freezing so maybe I failed to appreciate the beauty.  I was not interested in getting out to take pictures.

The Middle Atlas Range

When we came down – which took far too long – we found the turnoff to Guercif, thinking we really had it made and we’d get there before dark.  We turned and  said, “Uh oh” because it was a one-lane road.  Seriously, a narrow one-lane road with bumpy rocky shoulders.  But it was a good road, so we took heart.

Good road

This was the only road we encountered like this on the whole trip and we have to assume they’re going to widen it someday because there was plenty of traffic considering.  It was scenic; plus, we drove by more old ruins.

And then things took a turn for the worse.  The good road was a trick and only went a short way.  THIS is the road we traveled on.

Not-so-good road

Did I mention there was quite a bit of traffic? We went through some more security checkpoints on this leg, and finally we saw Guercif.  It was dark, but trusting to luck, we drove down the main street and saw the Hotel Atlas.  I took a photo of a checkpoint – from a distance as you might imagine.  (If you click on a photo, it enlarges on another screen; then arrow back to return to the blog.)

Checkpoint in the distance

The Hotel Atlas was trying very hard but not quite cutting it.  The lobby was smoky.  Bad sign.  The desk clerk was trying to take my payment but didn’t quite know how to work the credit card machine so we decided we’d pay in the morning.  I asked where we should park and he said just right there in front of the hotel and told someone to move his car so we could have the space.  He was very kind and trying very hard to give five-star service. We were taken to our room, and I didn’t know whether to laugh or how to react, really.  Were we in a brothel?  There were little pink and red petals of incense scattered all over the beds and the nightstands and around the bathroom sink.  The effect was rather shocking, really.  There was a red lamp – with a red bulb – and candles all over.  Plus, on a shelf there were four decorative pitchers that looked like upright Aladdin’s lamps in graduated sizes.  It was so overwhelming, I forgot to take a picture. We tried to get comfortable and sleep because the sooner we fell asleep the sooner we’d wake up in the morning and the sooner we’d be out of there.  As I said, they were trying very hard.

To Oujda!

We were finally on our way to Oujda.  As a city it’s isolated, way in the eastern part of the country on the Algerian border, and since there are no tourist attractions, no one really goes there.  When we told Moroccans where we were going, the standard reaction was a blank face, then, “Ah. Oujda.”  I’m not so sure everyone knew where it was.  We did, or we thought we did, but on our way, a message came into my cell phone saying “Welcome to Algeria.”  Had we crossed the border? Were we in Algerian air space?

Welcome to Algeria

The drive was uneventful and when we reached town, we drove down a long boulevard with elegant street lights.  Oujda grew up in the 40 years we were away.

We encountered a large – really large – round point and saw a brand new McDonalds.  We stopped for lunch.   We like to eat at McDonalds in each country we visit to check out the different menu items and the ambiance.  The drive-through is something completely unknown to Oujda.  Looks pretty standard.  For us.

This McDonalds was brand spanking new, very modern, with a picture of Mohammed VI and his young son on the wall.  That’s one thing – pictures of Hassan II were everywhere when we used to live there, and now it’s Mohammed VI.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the case in most monarchies – remind people constantly who’s King.

The most fun part of this McDonalds was watching the employees – they were so proud, intent on doing everything right.  It’s not cheap, and going to McDonalds is a step up for most people, so the employees were bright and shiny and smiling.   We ate.  We left.

Again, counting on blind luck we drove to the Hotel Altas Terminus at the train station where we thought we were staying.

We did this all throughout the trip: just set out without preparation, trusting we’d find the way.  Since there aren’t that many roads in the country, it worked.  We reached the Atlas Terminus, which looked fantastic.  It was not our hotel.  We were going to the Atlas Orient so the manager had someone get in the car with us to show us there.  I’d reserved a suite, thinking that at this stage of the trip, we’d be tired and want to relax.  It was nice but not as nice as the Altas Terminus would have been.   We checked in, we unpacked, and we walked straight to 38 bis Hassan L’Oukili – our old house.  It looked exactly the same except the gates were gray when we lived there.

Our house

Let me explain the next picture.

We’re looking back at what looks like three rows of buildings.  Our house is a couple of houses in on the road on the right.  Then there’s a curve, another street, and a multi-story white building that used to be the Hotel Ibis and an epicerie on the ground floor.  When Jennifer was three, we’d send her to the store alone if we needed something.  Some flour, maybe.  It was completely safe.  No cars to speak of back then. The store proprietor knew Jenny and where we lived.  And Jenny conducted the transaction in either French or Arabic.

While we’re looking at this corner, I must tell you one more thing.  I’m taking the photograph just outside of the train station, so you can see how close it is to our house.  One day Jennifer, being quite independent, packed a little purse, put a knit cap on her head and told us she was going to take the train somewhere.  That’s fine, we said.  Have a good time.

Jenny going to the train station

How cute, we thought.  Actually, it was cute, but when she was halfway down the block we realized she indeed was going to the train station for real, so we zipped after her.

Oujda may have grown but the core of the city was the same.  It felt like home.  How could that be? You live somewhere two years, forty years ago, and it feels just like home?  I think the Peace Corps is like that.  The experience is so intense that everything is etched into your mind.

We wanted to find Café Colombo where we had café au lait many mornings a week.  We remembered it as being extraordinarily good.   We somehow blindly got to Ave. Mohammed V and walked right to Café Colombo which was still in business, and where, indeed, the café au lait and pain au chocolat were just as good as we had remembered.

It’s nice to have the old memories validated.  Another thing that hadn’t changed was that I was the only woman sitting outside at the café.  I didn’t feel self-conscious forty years ago and I didn’t now.

The pictures.  We had the old pictures.  We showed them to everyone – the waiter, the person sitting next to us, the security guard.  “See?  That is us, forty years ago.  We lived here for two years.”  We showed them pictures of Jennifer and Karen in Morocco and then Jennifer and Karen today.

Picture of friend Safia holding Karen, and Mme. Krim with Jenny

We showed pictures of Jennifer and Karen’s husbands and kids and tied it all together.  And to be fair, we showed them photos of Kim and her family also, although she wasn’t born until after Morocco.  People looked closely at them all.

Now the office.  Where was Mark’s old office?  I actually remembered how to get there better than he did!  We found Place Mohammed V, then the Palais de Justice and the post office, and then where the French Marche used to be.  Sadly, it was no longer the open-air fruit and vegetable market surrounded by charcuteries and epiceries and boulangeries.

Old French Market - the square filled with trees

And we walked to the office.  How did I know?  When we lived there I shopped mostly at the French Marche because it was a lot closer to our house than the souks in the medina.  We used baskets – now they are using plastic bags – which is not a change for the better – and I could get three days worth of food in the baskets and still be able to carry them.  Jennifer and I would walk to Mark’s office, which was right near the market, and leave the heaviest baskets for him to carry home.

Mark's office now

But you know what?  I have no recollection whatsoever of going inside the office.  I must have sent Jennifer in to find Mark while I stood on the sidewalk with the groceries instead of leaving Jen on the sidewalk.  It must have been too difficult to carry them up the stairs. Or did I go in? I think I would remember that.  Today, I would just text! But we had no phones and cell phones weren’t even an idea yet.  To call Mark, I would have had to go to the post office.   At any rate, we had a photo of the office and I said this has to be it, here.  But no, Mark said.  Yet after walking around a while, locating the mosque it was close to (and let’s face it, it’s not too hard to find a mosque) we ended up back in the same place.

Mark's office 40 years ago

And indeed, it was his office but an additional floor had been added to the building and the front had been changed..  Now, it is an attorney’s office.   Of course, since we were standing around looking at pictures and buildings, it attracted interest.  We fell into a conversation with a French man and a Moroccan and explained the whole thing, bringing out the photos.  The French guy said he moved to Oujda 50 years ago and he was a tennis coach.  Later on, as this information had been ruminating, I realized that we had actually met that guy and had dinner with him and some other people!

That concluded a very satisfying day.  Tomorrow we were going to tackle the medina and looking for our old friends, the Krims.

Goodbye Marrakech; Hello Infrastucture, Politics, and the Road South.


2011
04.22

Goodbye Marrakech

Last morning in Marrakech. We had our breakfasts on the roof of the riad, which is quite charming.

Mini tagine dishes

All over the country these little tagine dishes are used for jams, butters, olives, and like foods.  They are quite charming.

Rooftop of Maison Do in Marrakech

This is how it goes in most medina residences – all spaces are used, and terraces on the rooftops are common.  We enjoyed the open air (of course, it wasn’t the hot summer) and little birds enjoyed it also.

I couldn’t resist a photo of the oranges.  Fruits are served for every meal.

Looking out over the rooftops of the medina we saw a sea of satellite dishes. That’s something new for sure in the last 40 years.  Morocco is a wonderful mixture of the old and new.  We may say, “oh, too bad, the satellite dishes are ugly” or some such thing, but I’m sure people are happy to have them.

Satellite dishes in Marrakech medina

Morocco has done a terrific job on infrastructure.

After breakfast Ali took us to the airport so we could rent our car, which is a tiny yellow-ish KIA something or other (without heat as it turns out. And without oil also – we had to put two liters in after the first day, but that’s getting ahead of the story.). The airport is new, or at least renovated, and gorgeous, as was the train station. Ali had us follow him until we were out of town heading the right direction, and we were off to the Southern Oases.

Interjecting a note about infrastructure

This might be a good time to insert a more extensive note about infrastructure. Since Mohammed VI took the throne 10 years ago, he’s been busy. The transportation systems are outstanding from roads to buses to trains. People were waiting for buses everywhere in the most remote rural areas – nowhere is there no public transportation. The airports and train stations are all redone and lovely.

Train station in Oujda, Morocco

We lived half a block from this train station 40 years ago, and it looked nothing like this.

The highways were in good condition and signage was easy to follow.

Road in the High Atlas Mountains

Even the roads crossing the highest mountain ranges were in fantastic condition.

The cell phone network is extensive – we had reception everywhere we were, even in all the mountain ranges. Landlines are no longer being maintained – all is cell. Internet is everywhere. Satellite dishes are everywhere, even out in the middle of nowhere.

Satellite dish can be spotted in this remote residence

The entire country is electrified, and in the rare instance electricity is not available, dwellings have solar panels.

 

Solar panel on desert dwelling next to nomad tent

In Boumalne Dades, we saw a solar water heater on a rooftop.

Solar water heater

Even on the Road of 1,000 Kasbahs, there are satellite dishes next to the abandoned kasbahs.

Find the satellite dish - Road of 1000 Kasbahs

All the kids go to school -we saw kids with backpacks waiting for school busses on remote, rural roads – and Morocco is full of remote, rural roads.  At lunch times the streets of the towns were thick with bicycles and kids going home for the afternoon recess.

Mid-day break for school kids

The main roads into cities all have street lights, which is something we didn’t see 40 years ago, and if what people are telling us is true, there probably weren’t very many even 10 years ago. Apparently Mohammed VI has been a very busy king.

Road into Ouarzazate

Round points have been constructed everywhere and my husband says the quality of work is good.

New round point under construction in Oujda

The old and the new

One of the examples I like the best of how the old and new are mixing, is shown in this photo.  We’re in a Berber tent in the Erg Chebbi dunes in Merzouga, really in the middle of nowhere.  While we were drinking tea, the husband drove up on his motorbike in his traditional clothing, pulled out his binoculars and stared into the desert.  What was he doing?  Keeping an eye on his camel herd.

Some commentary on politics

This too is getting a little ahead of the story, and there will be some duplication later, but I’m including it anyway.  So many people were worried about us going to Morocco in the midst of the unrest in the Middle East and North Africa.  We were certain we would be fine, and also that Morocco would be fine.

The last few days have been exciting and interesting, giving us some new insights into Morocco today. We’ve been from Casablanca to Marrakech, from Boumalne Dades to Merzouga, from Guercif to our old home, Oujda. On the way we’ve had a number of conversations, and every time we’ve asked about demonstrations and unrest, we’ve been told that everything is fine (which basically it is) and everyone loves the King but people want jobs. Although people are working hard everywhere and there are massive infrastructure projects, there are also a huge number of university-educated young people who want work.

As we left Boumalne Dades for Merzouga, we stopped in Goulmima to see the Ksar – an ancient fortified village that is still inhabited by 300 people. Two towers mark the entrance to the Ksar, and the earthen passageways inside are dark. Each “home” has three or four floors, the bottom being a corral for the family goats, sheep, and cows, and worn stairs then lead from floor to floor, ending on the roof where at last there is open air and sunlight. There are holes in the floors to let light down to the corrals at the bottom. In what seemed like primitive conditions we found many satellite dishes, plus the Ksar has been electrified since 1984. Overall, the Ksar was a mystery, however, and we could never have found our way around without Brahim, who offered to guide us. In fact, he insisted on guiding us.

Satellite dishes visible from the rooftops of the Ksar

Passageway in the Ksar in Goulmima

But - the Ksar is electrified

Brahim asked us to lunch at his nearby home, and as we walked he asked about Obama, saying he was “first in the world,” meaning he was the best leader in the world today. It seems everyone we encounter knows who Obama is and admires him. Forty years ago, everyone from our Moroccan friends to our housekeeper to the Berbers in the mountains knew who the Kennedys were and mourned their deaths.

Brahim is 30 years old with a degree in Arabic studies, but he’d like to get IT training. He told us that to get a job you have to know someone or grease palms. However, he loves King Mohammed VI and blames the employment situation and corruption on the ministers. Meanwhile, he does what he can to help his family survive, living in the family home with his parents, siblings and 101-year-old grandmother. She lies on a mattress on the floor and gets up only to use the bathroom.

We pushed on to Merzouga where we had a “quatre quatre,” or 4×4, tour of the desert with Mohammed (called Ahmed) (there are many Mohammeds in Morocco, at least half the male population). As we left our riad we passed a government building and there were demonstrators out front waving flags and chanting while the police looked on unconcernedly.

Demonstration in Merzouga

The problem again is jobs – people want jobs. The country is full of university graduates with nothing to do. For example, in our riad Mohammed – yes, another Mohammed – is a graduate in English literature but he’s working in a riad. Probably not a very practical major for someone in a tiny desert town, but it’s what he liked.

During the 4×4, Mohammed started to comment on George Bush, calling him a crazy man, and was complimentary toward Obama. About his own leadership, he said that Moroccans have no problem with Mohammed VI and respect and like him, but they need jobs. Always jobs. It’s a worldwide problem.

Demonstration in Oujda

Mohammed VI is listening to what the protesters are saying. He’s a smart man – paying attention to what people are peacefully protesting and not letting a situation take hold as in the rest of North Africa. Just that afternoon, when we returned from the tour, we heard that Mohammed VI had made a rare public speech in which he announced reforms and acceded to demands, including that Berber be made an official language. More to the point, he said the Prime Minister will be selected by the majority political party in Parliament instead of by him. He is establishing a committee to recommend constitutional reforms that will be voted on by the population in June, as well as further strengthening the role of women in government and women’s freedoms. He aims to give more power to the individual regions and the courts. It’s a fitting trajectory for the first country to officially recognize the independence of the United States.

Of course, while acceding to “demands” for more political freedom, the King is keeping a firm hand on security. We have passed through many security checkpoints on the roads, and I don’t know if it’s our innocent and charming appearance or the ridiculous little yellow-ish rental car we have, but we are always waved through. We notice that trucks are stopped, sometimes busses, and the police are checking documents. Yesterday, we even saw someone being frisked.

Security checkpoint

I didn’t want to photograph this too closely and be suspected of anything, but you can see the circular sign on the right warning motorists to stop for a checkpoint.  In the distance, you can see stopped vehicles.  We were always waved through, sometimes just saying hello, oftentimes not even stopping, although we always erred on the side of caution.

Next post I’ll write about the road south to Boumalne Dades and the Dades Gorges.  Meanwhile, it seemed like a good idea to address the country as a whole and it’s stability.  Good economic conditions and good infrastructure go a long way in ensuring political stability, and we never felt unsafe for a moment.  There was no reason to postpone our trip so I’m glad we didn’t!