A Memory or 3 of OWS
I am always skeptical about describing the Occupy movement, particularly because the only narrative I can tell is my own. That being said, I will try to touch on a few moments that stand out to me as I ponder upon my months in the movement. My original reason for joining the movement is because as an AIDS activist, highlighting the social and economic injustices of our society is my job. What the Occupy movement is doing now is nothing new under the sun. ACT UP Occupied Wall St. during their first action – how many ever years ago that was. It just so happens that the rhetoric of the plight of the 99% really resonates with almost everyone. This economic crisis has touched almost everyone one in some way, even if you haven’t lost everything.
The beginning was unorganized, uncertain, and beautiful all in one. I recall being excited to finally drag my sleeping bags out of my closet to join the movement in sleeping outdoors. Mind you, this is way before there were quasi-comfy tents thrown up. I remember thinking to myself that first night that I slept outside, “Thank god I have friends to do this with, and thank god I drank enough to fall asleep right away.” I recall waking up to people walking around my listless body, taking photos of my friends and I sleeping and posing above us. Many of these individuals were dressed in business like garb with nooses around their necks, as if to signify the evils of the corporate world. I decided I would no longer sleep outdoors, because unless I am inebriated, I doubt I would ever be able to close my eyes and sleep with that many people around me. Up till now I truly tip my hat to those who can sleep easily with so many strangers constantly moving about.
The movement to me changed once I realize that many activist groups were slowly feeding themselves into the Occupy movement. A lot of the working groups I saw being formed were transfers of already established social justice groups that realized there was great press coverage in being part of the movement. I decided to join the Queering and People of color (POC) caucuses to become more active. The difference between a working group and a Caucus is that working groups actually actively had tasks to accomplish, such as feeding people or managing the library. Caucuses on the other hand were meant for groups that were historically silenced and needed a space to present and get their voices heard within the movement. The POC caucus was one of the largest groups I have yet to be a part of. I didn’t feel the need to attend meetings because they had everything taken care of. The Queering groups on the other-hand were much more of misfits who reminded me of myself. I’ve stuck with them for most of the movement while pushing my goal forward.
My goal has been to bring attention to the need to implement a financial speculation tax on the financial institutions that gamble away funds in the speculative market. A small tax of 0.01-0.05 could raise billions of dollars for global health. Focusing specifically on this tax’s connection to HIV/AIDS, we are at a moment in time when science clearly dictates that if we treat people with medication and they become undetectable, the chances of spreading the virus are virtually impossible – essentially we can end the AIDS pandemic if we treat everyone.
Even though science has been exciting, our economy has been the bearer of horrible news. Social services have been cut at every level and a lot of them affect people who are HIV positive. The housing budget for people living with AIDS has been cut on a federal level, the ban on federal funding for needle exchange has been reinstated, the President’s Emergency plan for AIDS has been cut, and the current round of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB, and malaria has been paused and so much more. The U.S. made some powerful claims, when Secretary Clinton said it is now U.S. policy to create a generation free of HIV/AIDS back in the end of 2011. Everything our government is doing now is going against this goal, all in the name of limited funding. The Financial Speculation Tax is the way to fund all the social services and funding streams we need to end the AIDS pandemic!
The moment that stands out the most in my mind was the march (whose date I don’t remember) that had several starting points throughout the city. I decided to start with the student group at Union Square. Although I am no longer a student, I like to feel like I’ve still got it going on by hanging out with them. I live for large groups of protesters who are coming together to make a noise. I had no idea what the game plan was for this march, but when I realized we were going to take the streets and march down 5th Avenue I became ecstatic. I remember holding up our group banner and chanting, “Show me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like.” We were cut off on our way southbound by the blockage of police officers on their motorbikes at 14th street. Luckily for me this was right on the corner of the New School, where students were occupying their school in solidarity.
I remember spotting this one anarchist looking kid from the New School, whom I recognized from previous actions – with a pink beanie and a septum piercing throwing paper outside into the streets. Totally my type! The March unfortunately was titrated down a smaller street with the Police being the barrier from us staying together and remaining a large mass. I lost most of my friends during this process. I ended up on Broadway walking side by side with a double row of officers – the first row on foot and the second on motorbikes. I could not believe the city was spending so much money on cops when we are obviously in a time of austerity. The march ended by the Brooklyn Bridge, where apparently an affinity group earlier that day conducted a civil disobedience. Before we could get on to the bridge the cops tried to block the entire march from entering the bridge. By then it was already sunset and the weather was getting a bit nip. I was clearly already upset. Occupy managed to get large projections onto the side of the buildings that read ”99%,” which I thought was an amazing visual when approaching the bridge. The march ended in Dumbo Brooklyn, where I found myself wishing I wore another layer.
The movement is still alive today. It has endured a lot of criticism and pitfalls along the way. There are so many horrible things I have experienced and witnessed during my time as well, but that is totally for another time. When a group represents 99% of the population without a screening process you can get all types of people in there. I have interacted with many people I wish I never did, but isn’t that a part of life. Occupy is not over and this spring will be a true American Spring. I cannot wait to see what the movement has in store.