Skip to content

Occupy Reality – expectation, disappointment and redemption

After much anticipation, Friday was my first day at Occupy Boston. First impression – disappointment.

Yes, I expected it to be a bit messy but the clash between reality and dream can be harsh. Despite the impressive number of tents, perhaps a couple hundred, only a few dozen people showed up for the morning General Assembly. Meeting within any organization dedicated to consensus is always difficult but the presence of several persons consumed by their own psychotic demons is a challenge that I had not imagined. Much time was spent allowing individuals, both sane and less so, to vent their frustrations. I had hoped to hear of dreams and aspirations.

Yet as time passed, my attitude slowly changed. I began to notice the efforts of individuals quietly and discreetly working to focus the group. Whenever a particularly disturbed individual began to disrupt, one or two young people would move over to him and quietly talk him down and draw his attention away from the larger group then listen to him. It takes real bravery and dedication to stand toe to toe with a large, angry, spitting psychotic and calmly talk.

I began to see some of the informal understandings and structures that had developed to facilitate cohesion within the group. And as time passed more people showed up and group coherence improved as the proportion of disturbed individuals was diminished. The assembly eventually became large enough that the human microphone became necessary. If someone could not hear, they would shout, “MIC CHECK” and the crowd would respond in unison, “MIC CHECK”, and after that every phrase uttered by the speaker would be repeated by the front of the assembly so those in back could hear. This simple solution had a remarkable unifying effect. It reminded me of the “call and response” at the Southern Baptist church of my youth. We shared a communion of thought as we spoke the same words of the speaker. Can there be a better way to truly listen than to repeat the words spoken by another?

In the afternoon, I was delighted to hear Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz speak on the history of social movements. After 50 years of activism, she is still a dynamo. She has seen wave after wave of progressive movements come in and retreat but she believes that the tide is ever rising and she welcomes each wave with enthusiasm. She spoke to the moment when she pointed out that reality is not always what we want or pretty but seeing and speaking truth is such an important step that she has come to believe that “truth and reality are always upbeat.” At that moment I was glad that I had come to Occupy Boston in the early gritty hours. All of Occupy Wherever is not pretty but despite the distractions the truth and reality of Occupy Boston are definitely upbeat.

– Iron Filing



  1. Patricia wrote:

    There has been some discussion here and there that these “difficult” types are being funneled into the OWS meeting areas to disrupt, confuse and distract. Can anyone shed any light on this???

    Saturday, November 5, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink
  2. Falkelord wrote:

    Someone was saying the same thing during the TEA party protests, that the media was selecting the most crazy and there were crazier folk being inserted. I think that it’d be a waste of resources to do that, especially with so many people that are so obviously already “fringe” (as Filing put it) filling the group at Occupy Boston, and it’d be safe to assume that’s the case everywhere.

    I’m sure it’s possible, but not probable 😛

    Saturday, November 5, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Permalink
  3. Iron Knee wrote:

    Nice post IF!

    We visited Occupy Amsterdam today. I was surprised that it is considerably smaller and less active than Occupy Portland.

    Saturday, November 5, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Permalink
  4. vegas710 wrote:

    There are a few documented cases (as in video) of police officers infiltrating Occupations, it seems more likely they were there to keep an ear out than to incite problems. We all saw Oakland get highjacked by a few people this past week. The pictures you see of vandalism are infiltrators, not bent on discrediting the movement but in using it to their advantage as a sort of cover for destructive behavior.
    GA’s can be really difficult to sit through at times since everyone is allowed to speak. We use hand signals and time allotments when needed to move things along. I’m glad that you went and that you shared your experience. It’s funny when people talk about the mic check as some form of cult behavior when it’s really just about everyone being able to hear the speaker.

    Saturday, November 5, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Permalink
  5. GWN wrote:

    Was at Occupy Vancouver (Canada) last night. Been struggling to keep city naysayers at bay. Unfortunately there was an overdose in the tent city. The location is close to a junky area, and since the occupy site is the safest in town, they come to be safe.

    But now with this incident the city has an excuse to move in. Ironically overdoses happen frequently on the streets but often the person dies alone and is found the next day. They can’t shut down what happens all over but they are indeed trying to shut down the occupation. Most people don’t understand because it is scary to them. They want to be safely ignorant, they don’t even understand they are part of the 99% and the occupation will help them.

    Saturday, November 5, 2011 at 7:20 pm | Permalink
  6. PatriotSgt wrote:

    I agree with Fakelord. I think its the .01% of the 99% that looks for opportunities to advance their agenda, mostly not good. OWS movement has also got to keep the big union types in check as they are also part of the 1% in a way.
    Why isn’t the OWS resonating with more people…here’s what I think:
    I am part of the “99%” and I have to report, I’m doing pretty well. Under the administration of the last 20-30 years I have been afforded ample opportunity to improve my lot in life. From a short period of homelessness in the late 80’s to someone who now lives comfortably in a great neighborhood with everything I need and most of what I want. I am held back from achieving more or gaining more wealth only by myself. I worked double time for many years, educated myself and worked my way out of a situation I didn’t like. I believe anyone can do the same. Now, I evaluate and determine how much effort I want to put out and if I’m satified with what I’ve achieved and I most decidely am. However, if I wanted to put in the effort and all it entails, work, education and determination I could go farther and the opportunity still exists today. No banker can hold me back and Wall St is not holding me back. Only I can “hold me back”. There are many of my friends that feel similarly and agree the only thing keeping them from gaining more wealth or becoming a part of the 1% is themselves. There are too many examples of people with the drive and motivation to become as succesful to suggest otherwise.
    All that being said, I understand the pain of going to college (i did at night while working full time and raising a family)and not being able to find a job in the field I educated myself for. My advice would be to say, oh well, find something different, don’t narrow your choices and broaden your opportunities. I’d offer this philosophy, successful people fail, but they don’t give up, they re-adjust their plan and find a way to become successful. I don’t care what anybody else does or doesn’t do, I will succeed. If I loose my job tomorrow, I will reinvent myself to the opportunities that stand before me. I do not know how to quit, or give up, or give in. I do not blame others for my failures they are my own and I can overcome them.

    This is the message that I feel can best serve those who are down and out. Life is not always fair and misfortune abounds. The kid born who gets diagnosed with cancer by age 2 is not fair, but it is life and you can either curl up in a ball, or you can push through and overcome. It is your choice, you are free.

    Sunday, November 6, 2011 at 8:50 am | Permalink
  7. Patricia wrote:

    Interesting post PS. But – – – your individual good choices won’t solve the problem of systemic problems in who our government represents – – and it isn’t the 99%. An informative link from this morning:

    Sunday, November 6, 2011 at 9:09 am | Permalink
  8. Don wrote:

    PSgt, you are blessed with a strong constitution and a great sense of direction. Your story, as you relate it, is one to be proud of and I salute you. I use the word “blessed” guardedly, though. I don’t mean some higher being shone a light on you and you profited from it. I mean you have been blessed by the situation in which you were raised and the genetics that defined how your brain and body work to be who you are. Unfortunately, lots of folks don’t have your drive and – here I know I’m gonna sound like a lame-brained liberal – the position in which they find themselves isn’t totally of their making and control.

    For instance, I’m thinking of folks with mental health issues which include many of the currently unemployed that have to deal with depression. Unless you’ve really had to deal with clinical depression, it’s hard to understand what it does to a person. I’ve been there. If you wanted to paint my life story, it’s much like yours – go getter, leader, advancing as I moved through life – but when depression hit, I lost it. Depression is a change in the biochemistry of the brain triggered by any number of things. One rarely wills oneself out of it. I was lucky to escape its clutches in 8 months. A couple of those months were truly hellish. There were times when I wanted to curl up in a ball. I developed agoraphobia – it was a huge effort to leave the house. It wasn’t a matter of pushing through. It was a matter of restoring my brain chemistry to allow me to regain the ability to push through. Fortunately, I have a great doctor and friends that guided me to very able therapist who used the same type of therapy to treat PTSD sufferers. Far to many people to do not have access to such treatments or can’t afford them. What do they do?

    I also think about folks who’ve grown up in the projects and never had a chance to learn the lessens you obviously learned about taking control of one’s life, setting goals, planning pathways of development. It’s not wholly their fault that they can’t figure a way out of the situations they find themselves in. I think about kids going through all too many of our schools where there is no attempt to teach critical thinking, only the test.

    Some folks are just plain more resilient that others. Some are leaders, others aren’t. Some are optimists and some are pessimists (as a serious digression: I’ve know lots of very successful pessimists). Some are lazy, some are actively moving ahead, and some are obsessed. Something I learned a long time ago was that these differences among people are very real. It’s not that they wanted to be the way they are, they just are. Out of this is my belief that each and every one of us is in the position in life that we find ourselves not simply because of who we are, but rather we are who we are because of the experiences (and lack of other experiences) that have shaped this genetically created being.

    PSgt, not everyone is like you. Not everyone is like me (thank the forces of nature for that). All that your successes really tell you is that you were that individual that could do what you’ve done. It cannot be assumed that others have the same capabilities. To judge others using your own life as the metric to determine success and failure is fraught with hazards. I believe one has to have a much broader metric.

    Sunday, November 6, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Permalink
  9. PatriotSgt wrote:

    Patricia-I don’t disagree there are systemic issues in government that need fixing. I firmly believe not 1 dime should have been given to Wall St. But they didn’t steal the bailouts, politicians gave it to them. Politicians accept their campaign contributions, politicians change their regulations. Why are we mad at them when we should be mad at the politicians? Wall st. isn’t keeping me from being successful, and for that matter the government either. If I’m not where I want to be, I have only myself to blame. If I lose a job, it’s my responsibility to find another or re-invent myself to take advantage of a different opportunity, it’s not Wall St’s fault. Loans have never been cheaper, but it is harder to get them because of regulation changes, credit is more expensive, because of new regulations, business is more expensive to conduct, because of more costs and regulation, but I can still make money and be successful. I do have to change and adapt, but thats on me. I can’t blame life or evolving times for my failure. If I have misfortune, I can recover, but still be successful.
    I’d love to see changes and will work towards them, but blaming wall st., but blaming the fox because the farmer didn’t lock the gate. I think I should be mad at the farmer.

    Sunday, November 6, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Permalink
  10. Michael wrote:

    Patriotsgt, when I read your post at 6, all I could think of was a line from “The Sunscreen Song” (originally a column): “Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.” You have accomplished a lot and should be commended for it. But you could probably look back and find some key times when good fortune made a big difference. Chances are, someone else was in the same situation and luck went the other way.

    As for your post at 9, I believe you are simply uninformed regarding macroeconomics. Whether you see it or not, the actions of Wall Street DO have significant impact on whether or not you succeed. Individuals in the U.S. have long enjoyed economic stability, which lets you take risks and lets others take risks on your business ventures. Instability in the banking industry greatly threatens that foundation.

    Regarding your comment, “If I lose a job, it’s my responsibility to find another…” do you have any idea what’s going on right now? The average duration of unemployment is at unprecedented levels. If you lose your job, you better find a new one right away. Otherwise, the duration of unemployment becomes a major strike on your resume, which keeps you unemployed for even longer.

    While the can-do spirit is good to have, as John Donne said, “No man is an island entire of itself.” Your success depends greatly on the actions and choices of others.

    Sunday, November 6, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Permalink
  11. PatriotSgt wrote:

    Don – Thanks you for the response. I understand that the good Lord has blessed me many times over with a decent intellect and and the physical capabilities to support that. I also strongly agree that we should offer help to those less fortunate or whom have faced misfortune. A helping hand is what government and a modern society should provide. I also know there are those don’t need help who get it and some who need it that don’t receive it.
    What I see happening is heartbreaking and maddening. People looking outward and pointing fingers and being told that their situation is all someone else’s fault. People should ask what can I do to change my situation, not what can someone else do to change it for me.
    Michael – your correct and slightly misguided simultaneously. I have failed before, several times and so have been on the receiving end of “bad luck”. I don’t beleive in luck, or I’d play the lottery. I do believe in getting back up after being knocked down and getting back in the game. I’ve also been on the receiving end of several misfortunes, the worst being diagnosed with cancer 2 years ago. I’ve made good choices and poor choices and most times my poor choices caused me discomforting consequences. At the same time, all but a few of my good choices had negative consequences and my misfortunes were not the result of choices.
    Does the country’s economy effect me, absolutely. Should I blame it or anyone else, no way. Has it been tougher to earn a living in the last few years, yep. It was also tough on my parents and grand parents during the great depression, but their situation improved. And ask, what can i do for myself not what can someone do for me.

    All I’m saying is we need less blaming. We should be mad at Washington, not Wall St. We should push for reforms that limit contributions and set term limits. Serve your country, then go back and work in your neighborhood. Washington has gotten wealthier in the past 3 years then even wall st as a percentage.

    Sunday, November 6, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Permalink
  12. Iron Filing wrote:

    I agree with Psgt that regardless of one’s circumstances “People should ask what can I do to change my situation”. Even if one is a victim, asking what can I do to help/heal myself is the most effective attitude to take. However, the worst thing society can do is to rely on the less fortunate or victimized to care for themselves. It is society’s responsibility to work for justice, to level the playing field, to assist the helpless and to smooth the uncertainty of bad luck and circumstance. Society is our insurance policy that protects us when misfortune strikes.

    To paraphrase John Kennedy’s speech writer: When misfortune strikes – ask what I can do to help myself, but when fortune smiles ask not what others can do for themselves, ask what you can do for others. It is only as a nation that we can adequately address issues of economic and social injustice.

    Yes, there are great stories of persons born to poverty who have gained great wealth. For every one of those stories there are many more untold stories of persons who could not overcome the disadvantages of their birth. In my opinion the heart and soul of America is our commitment to be a land of opportunity that minimizes the effect of birth. We’ve got a long way to go to implement this commitment, and the greed of Ayn Rand and Wall Street have, in my opinion, significantly moved America in the wrong direction the last 30 years.

    Sunday, November 6, 2011 at 9:32 pm | Permalink
  13. Iron Filing wrote:

    I disagree that, “We should be mad at Washington, not Wall St.”

    I’m mad at Washington – mainly Republicans and blue dog Democrats – but I’m even more mad at Wall Street for distorting our political system with their self-serving lobbying and outsized influence. Corporations benefit from public policies but have no responsibility to behave in a manner which benefits society as a whole. Regulations are the only way to instill something resembling a conscience in corporations. I think the photo at the following link says it quite succinctly:
    “It’s wrong to create a mortgage-backed security filled with loans you know are going to fail so that you can sell it to a client who isn’t aware that you sabotaged it by intentionally picking the misleading rated loans most likely to be defaulted on.” I’m not opposed to Capitalism and profit but I am opposed to fraud and greed. Wall Street is rife with both and it hurts us all.

    Sunday, November 6, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Permalink
  14. PatriotSgt wrote:

    I agree Iron Filing – if there was fraud or breaking the law, then they should be punished. If they were operating within the law, then we should look to the law makers. On a small scale if the IRS says you can take a deduction, should you say no? In that sense we are all a little greedy. On a slightly bigger scale has anyone ever bought or sold a home or car with a problem that they just failed to disclose? While I agree that scale does matter in the application of punishment, defrauding someone out of a dollar is no different then 1 million, except for the scale and rightfully so the punishment. But deciding punishment should be the domain of the justice system and they rely on law makers and they are our elected officials.
    I also agree we should not leave the less fortunate to fend for themselves. We should teach them to improve within their capacity. I’ll never be a rocket scientist, or a hedge fund manager. I don’t possess the skills, talent or education. But, I can do what I do best and be successful. And everybody is good at something and sometimes it just needs to be pointed out, nurtured and encouraged. We as a society should celebrate the toiling of plumbers, electricians, carpenters, painters, sculptors, acountants, waiters, guys who remove the refuse. They all add to the fabric of our society and make our lives better. I’m not god at everything, so I need others who are and they hopefully will need me. 🙂

    Monday, November 7, 2011 at 8:32 am | Permalink
  15. Iron Filing wrote:

    Well said PATRIOTSGT. Although we disagree on the ratio of responsibility between corporations and government, your words about our roles in creating the fabric of society are compassionate and wise. It’s a shame they weren’t spoken by someone well known enough to be quoted for future generations!

    By the way, I’m not God at everything either 🙂

    Monday, November 7, 2011 at 9:57 am | Permalink
  16. PatriotSgt wrote:

    Ooops. gotta learn to spell check more often.

    Monday, November 7, 2011 at 11:10 am | Permalink
  17. Oregonbird wrote:

    How is it that conservatives who note that, despite every effort they’ve put in through a lifetime, they’re still just hanging onto the edge, think that that is what everyone else should aspire to achieve? PSgt, what you have isn’t what we want. We want parity across society for the value of the work we do.

    And when you went to college – at the same time I did – the cost was between $5-10,000; it’s now $24-40,000, and the last time I had a job, I was making the same money I did in 1980. Hell, writers are being offered a penny per word – the same rate they were being paid in 1930.

    Monday, November 7, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. […] friends from across the country have expressed frustration with the chaos of Occupy sites. As I reported from Boston, it was witnessing the empathy of Occupy Boston for the plight of the lost and dysfunctional that […]