In the days leading up to September 17th, a couple of friends in New York City mentioned something vague about a plan for social justice activists taking action in the city. I didn’t think much of it at the time, or even on the 17th and 18th—I just kept working hard on the issues most pressing here in North Carolina. Then, time passed, the action continued, the weekend came, the numbers in New York City’s financial district swelled, and I saw those videos of peaceful protesters being kettled and pepper-sprayed on a sidewalk September 24th.
At that moment, something changed for me.
I had just witnessed first-hand the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s September 6th arrests of undocumented students and their supporters at an “Undocumented and Unafraid” Rally. At that point, I realized OccupyWallStreet might be related to my life in North Carolina, and I needed to understand more.
In the days since, I’ve been reading about what is happening in New York, and talking with people in various social justice movements in North Carolina and nationally. I saw people just like my extended family in the photos and stories at We Are the 99 Percent. There was time for me to reflect on my own thoughts and feelings as “experts” in progressive circles debated about OccupyWallStreet. I cheered as people started addressing questions of racism, marginalization, and exclusion in the movement that is unfolding. Along the way, my interest deepened, the possibilities inspired me, and I started meeting new people in North Carolina who felt the same way.
Today, I read the words of Civil Rights Movement veterans who had a history with SNCC -– the Student NonViolent Coordinating Committee — praising Wednesday’s Labor and Community March in NYC for simply being an event where you didn’t know everyone else who showed up. That is what I’ve witnessed in North Carolina, too— when I attended, I met a lot of people for the first time. OccupyTogether events are attracting folks who are “beyond the choir” of the usual progressive activist scene. And that is essential.
Civil Rights leader Ella Baker, who grew up in North Carolina and attended Shaw University, reminded us that “Strong people don’t need strong leaders.” The OccupyWallStreet movement is evolving along those lines. That means it’s happening with all of the difficult, messy, beautiful, and inspiring elements of deep democracy, while people shout, “This is what democracy looks like!” The truth is, in a democracy, people certainly disagree, but if their goals are important enough they figure out a way to work together. Whether you choose to jump in and muddle through to make this movement what you want it to be, or stand on the sidelines and observe– well, that’s up to you.
Join the conversation via facebook or on Twitter with hashtag #OccupyNC