Saturday, October 15, 2011

Where To Be Or Not To Be?

Tuesday as I descended the front steps of JMU’s Keezell Hall, I decided for the first time not to hurry down the Quad.

Today I will stroll. Then I notice the students. Some walk alone deep in thought or looking around at the scene and scenery. And the scenery is something to behold on this cool October day. The huge old oaks around the Quad are starting to turn color. The muted yellow and orange hues seem almost to hallow the space.

Some students walk in pairs chatting. Two young men in front of me, as we approach the tunnel, become fascinated with the antics of a grey squirrel. You know how erratic squirrels’ movements can be, as if they can’t make up their minds which way to go. The one boy was imitating the squirrel’s undecidedness, jerking his head and body this way and that; they both laughed aloud.

What was so unusual about this scene? It was like I’d walked into opposite world. On a Tuesday several weeks ago, it was this: Each of the hundreds of students on the Quad was either texting, talking on their phone or listening to music with headphones. Two students stood together around their bicycles, gazing down at their phones, texting. A couple laid on the grass, each of them texting someone else in another place.

Usually, most students walk with their phones in their hands, as if it were an appendage. Sometimes I wonder if evolution will cause this to happen: for humans to be born clutching a tiny cell phone. Or perhaps undergo some surgery that will attach their cell phones to their bodies so as not to lose them. This could become important when cell phones contain all of our vital information: our ID cards, passports, credit cards, driver’s license.

But this Tuesday, nobody is carrying their cell. Did I miss something? Was Tuesday declared a non-handheld day?

The husband comments at dinner that I am a later than usual arriving home. Just five or ten minutes. I tell him about the scene on the Quad. I tell him about deciding to stroll and how I am usually not where I am but already mentally in the place I am headed.

Actually, it started a few minutes before that, when I stayed after class to talk with my professor rather than rushing out the door. Such is my usual rate of propulsion, as if I’m training for the Women’s 4-Miler. Often, I wish to be where I am going: “I wish I was in my car” or “I wish I was home already” or, on some days, “I wish I was in bed, reading.”


This week, I began reading my Bible again in the mornings. I use a devotional guide, which goes by themes in the church year. There’s a Psalm for the week, a prayer, then a list of Bible readings, one for each day, and then about a dozen quotes from various writers and spiritual people through the ages.

The theme for this week’s readings is “Eating the Bread of Anxious Toil.” Ha! How did I happen to pick up this small leather volume after neglecting it for months?

It has not been easy, becoming the “breadwinner” in the family. In this recession, I fret (yes, fret!) about how long we will survive. My mind—usually at 1:34 a.m.—sometimes takes me away from the present, when all really is well, on a downward spiral of job loss, foreclosure, homelessness.

It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
—Psalm 127:2

And then: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread … .”


As I write this, it is raining, raining on my tin roof, each drop a moment, raining moments, moments of thirst and satisfaction, both. My job allows me to work at home one or two days a week, depending on what’s going on, what needs to be done.

The desk in my home office faces two windows. Outside one window is a thick lilac bush and outside the other are two maple trees; beyond all is the woods, the wet woods, yellow leaves sotted to the ground.

Inside, my Tuscan yellow walls are golden, warm, hallowed. This moment is as perfect as it can be.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

'Occupy Wall Street' A Lightening Rod for Populist Discontent

Have you been following the Occupy Wall Street movement? No?

Since Sept. 17, hundreds and sometimes thousands of people have “occupied” Wall Street in New York (and other locations across the U.S.) to protest socioeconomic inequality and the influence of corporate lobbying on Washington politics, as well as a number of other social injustices. Mostly coordinated via social networking services like Twitter and Facebook without a central organizer, the flash-mob participants have since set up base in Zuccotti Park (Liberty Square) near Wall Street.

They call themselves the 99 percent. It is a peaceful protest.

“I can’t afford a lobbyist. I am the 99 percent.”

“People not profits.”

“How much do you owe?”

“We are not leaving, not while the richest 1% own 75% of USA’s wealth. Tax the rich.”

We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we’re working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything. We are the 99 percent.

It’s no surprise or secret that Wall Street’s influence over Washington led to the financial collapse of 2008. The real shock came after the collapse: Nothing was done. Nothing changed. Nothing.

“A president elected with the spirit of Louis Brandeis (“[We have to stop] Wall Street from taking enormous risks with ‘other people's money’”), who promised to “take up that fight” “to change the way Washington works,” (“for far too long, through both Democratic and Republican administrations, Washington has allowed Wall Street to use lobbyists and campaign contributions to rig the system and get its way, no matter what it costs ordinary Americans”), and who was handed a crisis (read: opportunity) and a supermajority in Congress to make real change, did nothing about this root to our financial collapse,” writes Lawrence Lessig, Roy L. Furman Professor of Law, Harvard Law School.

Lessig calls this “terrifying, given what it says about this democracy.”

Thoreau said “there are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil, to one who is striking at the root.”

These protesters are the one striking at the root, says Lessig. Corporatism is at the root of America’s financial woes. Corporatism is why so many are unemployed and underemployed. Corporatism is why so many have lost their homes. Corporatism is based on Wall Street.

On the website, people heading to Occupy Wall Street post photos and short statements about themselves. Here’s one young woman’s:

“I am lucky to have a steady job doing what I love. I live frugally and without debt. All of my friends are jobless or homeless or swimming in debt or all of the above… I wonder how long it will be before I join their ranks… and the government doesn’t care. We are the 99%. I want a government that puts people before corporate bottom lines.”

Here’s another: “I was laid off to be hired back as a contractor so the company wouldn’t have to pay health care insurance or payroll taxes. ‘It’s only temporary,’ they said … two years ago.”

Occupy Wall Street has no leaders. It is not partisan politics movement. It can’t be or it will alienate citizens who are in one accord. The Republicans and Democrats’ obsession with remaining in power, with campaigns funded by corporations, has caused this mess. Political groups, labor unions and celebrities are welcome to join their voices, but they must not co-opt the movement. In order to succeed, it must remain a populist movement.

Last week, participants of Occupy Wall Street wrote and voted to agree on a statement. Space prohibits me from quoting it all. Here’s a highlight:

“…a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and … no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power.”

And thus it concludes:

“We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.

“Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.

“To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.

“Join us and make your voices heard!”

We really are the 99 percent.