Today is going to be busy at work so I decide to stop by early to see how goes the occupation.
This is peak riding time and the #42 is late. When the bus pulls up to the curb it is jammed. The driver says they are one bus down. She’s a veteran and she is using her best drill-sergeant voice to urge riders to ‘move to the back, I don’t want to leave anyone waiting’. She’s so good-humored about it that the riders thank her. As we exit the tunnel I see a sign at First Baptist– ‘Y’all are welcome to occupy our church’.
It looks like there are more tents in Burnside Park than last night. Occupy is taking donations and some of the homeless people who hang out in the park are finding solidarity there. The apparent lack of an agenda, absence of visible leaders and leveling effect of days outdoors– class cues obscured for the moment– make it hard to sum up what this is about.
Last night when I got home, I read a New Yorker article about Occupy Wall Street. The author, Hendrik Hertzberg, noted the process of the General Assembly that is replicated here in Providence. No amplification for speakers, hand signals to keep things on track, messages passed from the front of the crowd to the back like a game of telegraph. Somehow this is working without a brand, a slogan, a charismatic leader. But where is it leading? Into new territory it seems.
I see someone I know, Cathy from Beneficent Church. I knew her from about 6 years ago when Beneficent was running an overflow shelter for people homeless in the winter. Beneficent put its social and financial capital on the line to carry out that Christian mission and Kathy was tireless, tough and dedicated. She’s unable to keep up that pace now, she says she’s on disability. Others in the church are facing health problems, she tells me. It’s an older congregation, on the brink of a revival. I tell her about First Baptist, and First Unitarian. Cathy says the occupation just might take the churches up on their offer.
Some of the signs–
Tax the 1% just 1% to make a difference
99% is too big to fail
Where did the Native American dream go?
This scene reminds me of Seabrook, NH in 1977 when the Clamshell Alliance occupied the Seabrook Nuclear Plant, then under construction. The non-hierarchical, decentralized and gender-equal organization prefigured this present movement. The Clamshell Alliance failed to stop the Seabrook plant, but events overcame the nuclear industry when Three Mile Island suffered a near-catastrophic meltdown.
Occupy is a wild card, and what events will follow remain to be seen.
The #42 from Kennedy Plaza is again standing room only. Transportation is a universal need, and public transportation a common good, but RIPTA has to beg every year like some poor relation for a fraction of the money we spend on highways. As service gets cut and the bus becomes less convenient, revenue drops and the hole gets deeper. Sitting in a traffic jam on Rt.95 starts to seem like the only option.
Death by a thousand cuts and privatization are not just problems for the poor, but are threatening the middle class. This is one reason that the Occupation has supporters across the board.
For more on RIPTA, link here.