Friday, January 20, 2012

More like 'Occupying' the park

     I’ve just come back from the Occupy Providence camp next to Kennedy Plaza in Downtown. I have to say that the camp wasn’t as disorganized as some people mentioned in class, because they had an entire schedule of things they had to do, things they were going to say, and had a booth which appeared to be the center of their communication for outsiders to visit. Throughout this blog I want to describe my experience at the Occupy Providence camp, tell you what they are fighting for and what issues currently matter to them according to an activist that I spoke to, and make connections to at least two of the texts from our readings.

    I want to start off by saying that I didn’t know what to expect. I went through the park and saw all the signs that were posted, while clinging to my iPhone as if someone was going to steal it. I did not feel comfortable being there because I felt as though I was too dressed for the occasion, and I was just wearing my regular coat and sweat pants. Just by looking at the people there you could tell they were there for a long time.  Which posed a problem because I was not able to tell who were activists and who were homeless people.

    I was amazed at the spectacle of seeing people living in tents at the burnside park, which is a novelty on its own. As I walked closer to the tents, I noticed that a handful of people were gathering at a booth( picture provided below). I approached the area and I asked if I could speak to a person involved in the organization of rallies, and meetings. I was led to a man by the name of Patrick, an activist who has been there for three months and 7 days.

    When I spoke to Patrick, he didn’t really let me know any of his personal history, except for the fact that his father was a very wealthy, “Partner at one of the largest accounting firms in the world.” I felt silly asking him questions like why they were there, because this movement  has been here since October, they have posters all over the place, and have banners that say, “1% control all of the wealth”. Although I was hesitant at first, I said, “ Hi how are you doing? I am a student at RIC, I was just wondering if I could ask you some questions about this movement, and what your fighting for.”

This is the conversation I had with him.( Not exactly word for word)

Me: What issues matter to you and the organization/movement right now?

Patrick: We all have issues, we face everyday. Is there an issue your referring to?

Me: I mean, if there is something that is a problem today that you are planning to address to the city, today, tomorrow, or this week?

Patrick: We have rallied and gathered at the city council to let them know that we want them to open a ‘Day Center’ for the homeless people. . . did you know there are more than 48,000 Rhode Islanders that are homeless due to things like foreclosures?

    At this point in the conversation, he received a ‘phone call’ on his cell phone from his father. He then told his father, “ Yes I’m still alive. . .No I don’t need any money.” The conversation he was having with his father made me think the worst. In my mind, I was saying to myself, “ Wow, while everyone here is freezing their @$$#$ off, this guy has daddy helping him out, with money. The same money that is not distributed fairly. . .” After he finished speaking to his father. I asked him

Me:  What is this movement fighting for?

Patrick: We are fighting for equal opportunity. The city looks at us like we’re cockroaches and scum. I am a rich man, my father works as a partner at one of the largest firms in Rhode Island, right there across the street. But. . .”

He never finished his sentence, and I didn’t care to ask at that point because someone mentioned the name Catherine and her being arrested. They said she was arrested in the park, and when I asked Patrick about it, someone yelled at him, “We’re not supposed to talk about that.” 

    At that point, I felt even more as an outsider than ever before. It was bad enough that they were looking at me in really funny ways, but then they couldn't talk to me about an incident that happened in relation to the movement, even though I said, “ I am not a reporter.” As I walked a couple of hundred feet away, and thanked Patrick for his time, I asked a man sitting on the bench, if he was an activist and he said, “ NO! I’m just sitting here enjoying the view of the park,” I couldn’t tell, because he was dressed like an activists, but as it turned out he was indeed a homeless man.

    Now that we have discussed my experience at the Occupy Providence movement, and I let you know what they were fighting for, according to an activist, let me tell you how it connects with what we have done in class. For my first connection I want to talk about equality versus equity. In class we said that equality was in fact giving the same treatment to everyone, whereas equity was giving help to those who are in need of it. I don’t  think the activist knew the difference, because he kept talking about equal opportunity, which is something we already have in the United States. Every citizen in the United States is allowed a free education, until college. At which point students are encouraged to apply to college to better their life socially, politically, and economically. This is a luxury that is not available in every country.

    To add to this, people are allowed to pick a major in a field in which they’d like to work for in the future. This means that people who come from very poor backgrounds, can become an engineer and become part of the top 10% of earners in the United States. I got the feeling from the activist that they wanted something to be given to them,  when we have to remember that if you want something in America, you have to fight for it.

     Although we are in a capitalistic, binary society where one persons benefit is some body else's oppression, we have to acknowledge that a medical doctor will not be rewarded the same as a waiter. Even though I’m making Patrick seem like a bad guy I don’t think he thought too deeply about his statement and actually meant to say there are institutions (ex. tax breaks for the wealthy) that are benefitting the rich and making the poor more helpless.

    Looking past my encounter at the park though, I think the occupy movement is similar to the feminist movement. At first women fought for rights, but as feminism progressed they fought for equity. This is evident in the video presented in class on Friday, where the film stated that women are getting 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. In theory women have the same rights as men but this bundled with women’s presentation in the media, misrepresentation in the statistics, and other injustices to women make the situation inequitable.

    According to Anzaldua’s La concienca de la mestiza: towards a new consciousness, she said that to create a new consciousness(way of thinking) we have to mix different races, sexes, gender, and social classes. People are standing together in this effort to create equal opportunities for the less fortunate, but this movements population, at least in Providence, consisted of middle aged, men, who were white, and had low incomes( with the exception of Patrick). This is hardly diverse enough to make a difference in policy.

    Although according to Allen G. Johnson’s Privilege, Power and Difference he would argue these people have taken the right step, by addressing the problem to begin with. Johnson wrote, “The bottom line is that a trouble we can’t talk about is a trouble we con’t do anything about,” on pg. 13. People don’t like to use the words low, middle, or high class because as Johnson stated on pg. 39, “ For every social category that is privileged, one or more other categories are oppressed in relation to it,” which makes people feel uncomfortable because being labeled high class may make you look greedy, and oppressive. Like Anzaldua, I think Johnson would say the only problem with this movement is that is has failed to get the 1% to acknowledge them. Johnson stated that for there to be a difference in the treatment of other races, the people in position of power have to acknowledge that they are privileged because, otherwise the arguments are simply discarded.

    In conclusion, I feel as though if I had more time I would have had a better understanding of the Occupy movement’s goals. Perhaps I would’ve joined them, who knows? Although, what I do know is that the movement will have a hard time moving forward because I don’t think anything will change(at least any time soon). As opposed to women’s first wave of feminism, which had clear identifiable goals, that were realistic, reasonable and just. If you want want to see a real occupy movement check out this link, it shows how people like us (citizens) can make an economic statement.


  1. I love the pictures you took of the park. It was a great post, I had a very similar experience with my time there and I share a similar opinion to yours.

  2. Nice pictures as well Jose I feel as if there was great irony in dealing with an individaul like patrick when one is expecting to meet people that come from less fortunate backgrounds

  3. Nice Jose. Maybe Patrick is in a bit of a weird position. But if he's as wealthy as he claimed to be, he would at least qualify as an ally. Distancing yourself from your own personal wealth to try and aid in protest is honorable....even if unprogressive. I agree that from those visible at the park, there doesn't appear to be great diversity at this point. I would have liked to see the encampment in person during the first weeks. It would have been a much different experience I'm sure.