November 22, 1963, is for those of us old enough to remember a dividing line– the day our country was robbed by the bullet of a leader we had won by the ballot. Ask, ‘where were you?’ and you’ll hear a story. I was in third grade the day President Kennedy was shot, and my teen years were marked by the terrible series of political assassinations that followed. The attempted murder of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the murder of six citizens who came to hear her speak is only the most recent undoing of democracy.
Reverend Martin Luther King, also taken away from us by assassination, was such a powerful nonviolent leader that his image today is shorthand for the peaceful exercise of free speech. The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Justice was an Occupation not universally popular, or uncontroversial in its time, no matter how we love to quote, ‘I have a dream.’ The general support of the Occupy movement today exceeds the support in the 1960’s for Civil Rights, though today most like to believe they would have been on the right side of history.
If you say that ‘Jobs and Justice’ are at the core of the Occupation, you will not be wrong. Fifty years on we are still striving for a more just and equal society.
I got out of work and walked downtown to Burnside Park, where a plywood Info Booth has sprung up. The tents are moved together into rows. General Assembly was in progress– about 15 people were meeting at the statue of General Burnside. The topic was planning actions to draw attention to the issues of homelessness and foreclosures, and collaboration with other community groups. I stood on the fringe and listened, and thought about all the people I’ve talked to who support the Occupation.
There’s many ways to support the cause of greater economic justice, and the recent action by the Mayor, I believe, was expedited by the political energy of the people committed enough to stay in tents to maintain a center of organization.
From the park to Kennedy Plaza I waited a long time for the #42, and when the bus pulled up it was #1– the driver was having a meltdown and the sign was stuck. Just then explosions vibrated off the buildings and fireworks lit up the sky.
“Crowds, creatures dancing around, the dancing cop, fireworks–it’s the 375th Anniversary! Happy Birthday, Providence!”
She steered around the congestion and slowly we got on our way.
That night I dreamed that I was on a train to New York City, surrounded by people in distress. I felt the spirit of 9/11, in the first days, when we all felt an urgency to come to the aid of our country. That spirit of common humanity has burned low since the days of Roger Williams, through American centuries, following the arc of history, which bends toward justice because it must. People will always strive for what is right. That spirit illuminates the Occupation today.