Saturday I attended the monthly Philadelphia Writers Group meetup, which is always a terrific experience. If you’re a writer and you aren’t finding some opportunity to discuss your craft and your work with peers, you simply must remedy that – meetup.com is a good place to start looking.
A few of us went for drinks after the meeting, and the conversation turned to Occupy Philly. At the time of our November meeting the encampment on Dilworth Plaza outside City Hall was thousands strong. On Saturday it was gone, cleared away by police so construction crews can start tearing up Dilworth for a major renovation project. In that same month, everyone at the table agreed, Occupy managed to squander considerable popular support and goodwill and alienate most of Philadelphia.
In October I wrote a post about my participation in the Occupy movement. Others at our table had taken to the streets, and voiced their prior support. Yet by December we were all fed up, and everyone agreed on the reasons: Occupy Philly stopped being about a message we supported [my attempt at summary: to counter the Corporate power-grab in America and fix the system that privatizes profit and socializes loss] and became a petty squabble over Dilworth Plaza.
The consensus among our group is that protest is supposed to be uncomfortable. The whole point is that the protester cares enough about a cause to put up with that discomfort, to stand out on a street with a sign in the cold and the wind and the rain. A tent city is supposed to be about poverty and desperation. When the Occupy protesters started setting up heated three-room tents from REI, solar chargers for their iPads, and bike-pedal cappuccino machines, the message we call cared about was lost. More importantly, when they insisted free speech means they get to keep those things, and refused to give them up and move across the street, that original message was obliterated. If we seven felt that way, it seems safe to assume the majority of Philadelphians agree.
Do note that this is a criticism of the specific Occupy protest here in Philly, and while it may be applicable to groups in other cities it is not intended as a criticism of the nationwide movement, which I very much support.
There was some discussion that this might be the opportune time for people like us – who are not radicals, who mostly have day jobs, who are interested in significant reform to the existing system, not burning the mother fucker down completely – to start our own protests. No tents, no drum circles, no cappuccino – just everyday Americans who want to say that while we may be getting by okay, we still care about the 33% of our country who are being exploited or ignored, and the 1% who are benefiting. The trouble is, it’s hard for folks with day jobs to find time to put a movement together – which I suspect is how Occupy lost its way in the first place. What was interesting was that there was another consensus, that if the Occupy movement can get back to its original message, we are all ready to go back to the street.
As for the writers group itself, we had a lot more attendees than usual, likely because we were a “featured meetup” in November. Normally we have about 20-25 people in attendance, and this was twice that. Our usual organizer canceled at the last minute due to a family emergency and I was drafted into leading the discussion, which was fun but very tiring. I can enjoy being in a leadership role, particularly in the cause of creativity, but with so many new attendees asking questions and trying to introduce themselves, it’s a bit like being a politician. None of this is meant to complain, however – it’s energizing to see such a diverse group of individuals committed to their art. Which is why I go back each month.