Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What does democracy look like?

From the #occupyboston student march, 10.10.11, photo taken by P. Halin

I rarely talk about politics on this blog.  For one thing, if you have a strongly held belief of any stripe, there is little anyone can say that will change that view.  It's difficult enough to have a discourse amongst people of differing opinions in real life; on the anonymous medium of the internet it's nigh on impossible.  For another, this blog is primarily an extension of my creative and writing life.  And I'm no political pundit or journalist. 

However, I am a writer, a poet, and an observer of people and the life that unfolds around me.  I also live in the Boston area.

So Sunday evening, I went with my 2 teen sons to Dewey Square to see what the #occupyboston protests were about without the filtering of the news media.  I also wanted to see my sons' reactions to a kind of public conversation that was very familiar to my growing up, but has been mostly absent from theirs.

I wrote about some of my reactions on my G+ page:

Tonight I spent some time at #OccupyBoston with my teenage boys. Sitting on the ground at the general assembly and watching this tenuous process unfold around me was both terrifying and incredibly heartening.

Terrifying because history tells us that the originators of great social movements rarely see the fruits of their labor; look to the civil rights movement. People, many people, died for what they believed in. And yet, I sat there feeling this great upwelling of emotion, of elation, seeing people of diverse ages, ethnicities, and social backgrounds caring enough to work on a process to build something they don't yet even know the shape of.

I want this to continue. I want this to become a wider conversation about what we value as a society. About what we want our society to become for our children and our grandchildren.

I think our founding fathers would have recognized something of themselves in the general assembly tonight. Maybe not the specifics, but certainly the process, even as messy as it can get. And to the cynics who dismiss the #occupy movement as chaotic and disorganized, spend some time with the protesters in your city. Listen. Listen with an open heart. Leave your cynicism behind. Perhaps you will hear something that you resonate with.

I certainly did.

Last night, after the protest spread and the tent city expanded to another part of the Rose Kennedy greenway,  police were called in and arrested more than 100 protesters.  I have incredibly mixed feelings about the arrests.  On the one hand, I can sympathize with the greenway folks who have just finished a huge renovation and planting of this new open space in Boston and they pleaded with the #occupyboston folks to stay out of the garden and return to the original encampment.

On the other hand, these were peaceful protesters, gathering publicly in a time-honored (especially here in Boston--historic, even) tradition of dissent.  This is what democracy is--the ability to have an opinion that can be unpopular without fear of reprisal. 

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