In the week before Oct. 15, 2011, word spread faster than anyone in Eugene expected. We knew something terribly wrong had been developing in America, but it took a Canadian activist group, Adbusters, to rivet attention on Wall Street — Ground Zero for the economic meltdown. Would our government expose and bring to justice the perpetrators who gambled on thousands of real estate loans going bad? No, even their “official” lip service was feeble. Those conniving speculators were rewarded with seven-figure returns while elderly couples and young families lost everything.
To join the throng and clog the street at the world’s financial nerve center was an exciting prospect, but as protesters settled in Zuccotti Park, Occupy groups sprang up all over the country. When firebrand UO students threw together preparation for an Occupy Eugene, a hundred of us locals showed up in the rain on Oct. 4 to help birth a movement.
We had seen the many thousands of Egyptians filling Tahrir Square and, as in New York, we were ready to take to our streets. A bunch of us had caravanned to Portland a week earlier and taken over downtown with a General Assembly at the waterfront and a massive march through the inner city. Now it was our chance in Eugene to show the world we could make our voices heard decrying America’s horrendous domestic injustices. Fierce anticipation was building.
Gathering downtown on that Saturday and spilling out of the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza, it wasn’t apparent how many we were until crossing the Ferry Street Bridge. There it spread, a seemingly endless stream of humanity ahead and behind.
Were you there? Wasn’t it a thrill? We were chatting like old friends because we all had something in common: We’d been paying attention. We were mad as hell, and we weren’t going to take it any more! Even the children knew something very important was happening. Spontaneous chants grew from one voice to many. We recognized friends and neighbors and, for all those people, could only wave, smile and share thumbs ups.
I struck up a conversation with an interesting older gentleman who resembled a retired professor. “You look like you should be famous! Are you an inventor?”
“Today, we’re all inventing a nation,” he replied. “All over again. I’ve wanted this for a very long time.”
“Me too. I’m sick of feeling like Chicken Little hollering into a vacuum. Maybe now people do realize the sky is falling and we can come together — do something huge!”
“Yes, it will take all of us. High time to turn off our televisions and get together in our living rooms and churches and town squares. Find that common denominator that unites us. It’s there: the vision of the future we want so bad for generations to come!”
“I was there eight days ago at the birth of Occupy Portland,” I had to proudly share. “We completely filled Pioneer Square. Talk about awesome, this was the ultimate epitome of awesome! When people really come together in a common purpose, you can smell and taste it — see it in their eyes. It’s happening again today. This is our chance now in Lane County to put aside our differences and egos — to reclaim democracy for ‘We the People’ once again.”
“It won’t be easy,” he replied. “I was there in Berkeley in the ’60s. It took a long time to stop that war.” He paused to remember. “But we were damned determined!”
Were you there that day at the Big March of 2011? Wouldn’t it be great to all reunite and rekindle that fire? Oct. 15 will be the one-year anniversary of the Big March, and Occupy Eugene is throwing a party to celebrate what we have accomplished, and to chart a course for the coming year. Even if you weren’t part of that march, you’ll be welcome. There will be great food all day and live music in the evening plus videos from the OE crew who have been producing a series of very stimulating “Occupy TV” programs on Community Television, Channel 29. Please come by. The world needs us!