by Donna Schoenkopf
I said I’d be there at 4:30 that afternoon. Jo said that she thought we wouldn’t have but a couple of people show up. “Well, I’ll be there,” I said, so now I am on my way to Shawnee, a 20-minute drive from my house to Woodland Park.
(Actually, it’s not Woodland Park anymore. It’s Woodland Veterans Park now. It has a large circular area of imprinted bricks on the ground with donors’ names on them and a beautiful arch and a huge, honest-to-God army helicopter mounted on a pillar, donated by Bob Ford. He was my neighbor back in the day. He became a medic helicopter pilot during the Viet Nam war. He had that helicopter—his helicopter, the actual one he flew—restored, transported hundreds of miles, and mounted in the park. It is huge.)
I am on my way to Woodland Veterans Park to participate in “Occupy Shawnee.” I am thinking about how I had never gotten up to Oklahoma City to participate in “Occupy Oklahoma City” and how things kept coming up all week, keeping me from getting there. I am also thinking about how grateful I am that Shawnee is having its own “Occupy ...” and I wouldn’t have to drive all the way (a 100-mile round trip) to Oklahoma City to participate in democracy. I take my citizen’s duty seriously. Those of us who don’t keep up on things, who don’t speak out, who are silent and uninformed, are neglecting their duties as citizens of a democratic country, in my not so humble opinion.
I am happy as I drive. I love demonstrating for a good cause. I love being outside. I love the interaction between us folks on the sidewalk and the folks who drive by. I love the camaraderie of the group. I love the sense of accomplishment and the feeling of being a good citizen when I peel myself off of my couch, put on a pair of jeans and a clean shirt, and stand in the public square to witness for justice. Or peace. Or the environment. Or some such.
I think about how I have been doing this for a long time. I smile to myself. All my children have been on corners with me, including toddler son John in his stroller. It made them conscious of the world. It made them feel that they could effect change. It taught them that it is important that they pay attention and do something about things that are wrong.
As I drive I think about Egg City and marching with Cesar Chavez and the United Farmworkers in the middle of nowhere outside of Moorpark, California. I had talked Judy and Carole and Marlene (and I forget who else) into going with me to stand for justice for the men and women who worked there. A worker the week before had fallen into the feed grinder and had been ground into nothingness at that place of horror. I spoke one-on-one to Cesar Chavez that day as we stood on the lonely road outside of Egg City. He was kind and friendly. He was glad to see us.
I remember Marlene saying that the chickens themselves were being tortured. The tops of their beaks were cut off so they wouldn’t peck each other to death because each chicken had no more room allotted than the size of a piece of typing paper.
As I drive I remember the time it was my birthday and I asked all my friends to join me on a peace march down Pacific Coast Highway as their birthday present to me. Some of them marched. Others ... well, it just wasn’t their cup of tea. But they brought us snacks! And that counts, too. Truly.
I go through one experience after another and then ... I’m at the park.
The park looks empty. I don’t see any cars. But when I get out with my fluorescent pink poster board and black marker I see a group of people far off under the pavilion. I walk over, thinking they are part of our group but see that none of them know me nor I them. One of them, a guy in his 60s probably, approaches me before I actually get to the group. He asks me who I’m looking for. The rest of the group is silent and wary. I realize they don’t want me there and imagine all kinds of reasons for this. Are they part of the homeless people who hang out at the library? The library’s a few blocks away. Are they doing drug deals? Don’t they like the cut of my jib?
Of course this bothers me not a whit. I walk right up and lay my poster board on the sitting wall and, still talking to them about what I was doing there, start making my “I Am The 99%” sign.
A conversation begins. We talk about how 99% means everybody who’s not a millionaire; about how it’s the top 1% taking most of the goodies while the rest of us struggle to get by.
That gets some interest from the group. The talk gets lively and fun. But when I offer them signs and invite them over to join us, I see that there is no chance in hell they will. Finally, one guy says that he’d like to be the Native American representative for us. I am happy when he says that and tell him we’ll get him sign-making stuff.
No, no, that’s not what he meant, he says. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science and he would be happy to be our spokesperson and speak to people about the subject. Another time. Another place. I take down his name and write it on the back of my poster board. He doesn’t have a phone and asks the woman next to him for “the phone number.” I write that down, too.
Sigh. That group needs to join us, I think as I walk away. But I smile and wave goodbye and get on with my business.
By the time I get up to the sidewalk Ed Cole, who has organized this event, and Jo and a few others have started to arrive. We start setting things up. Jo, who had not expected much of a turnout, is happy to see people. We laugh and joke and have brief conversations with each other. And then we walk out to the street with our signs.
The dance begins. We hold up our signs and wave to drivers passing by. Some of them look curiously at us, not knowing what 99% means. When they are stopped because of the traffic light we yell out something like, “We are the 99%! We are below the 1% of the richest people in America and we want them to pay their fair share!” Then those folks smile or give us the peace sign or honk. Sometimes they honk until they’re out of sight. We always cheer mightily when this happens.
I keep a mental list of the kinds of people who approve of us. They are mostly in older cars or young or African American or seem to be down on their luck. Of course, they are with us! One guy yells as he passes on his motorcycle, “Kill the 1%!!”
Some folks instinctively don’t approve of people on sidewalks with signs. They consider it very bad manners. To them it means hippie, peacenik, lefty, all of whom are bad people, in their opinion. They are stiff in their cars, never even glancing at us, pretending we don’t exist.
Two fire engines and a police car pass us. Were they sounding their sirens for us? Probably not.
I realize I haven’t taken any pictures or any video of our people so I put down my sign and visit each person and ask their name and why they are here today. Every answer is intelligent and cogent and filled with feeling. This is personal to us all.
Cecil, who is an older veteran in a wheelchair, tells me how it is a shame that men and women in the military who have sacrificed so much, are being let down by our country.
Mary Ellen says it really bothers her that corporations are now counted as people. She is really angry with the Supreme Court about that. Vicki hates the greed of the corporations. An older woman, probably in her 80s, whose name I’ve forgotten, talks about the Dylan Ratigan show working on keeping money out of politics. She is bright and snappy and hip.
These voices and more are recorded on my new video camera, which I tuck into my jeans pocket.
I go back to my shenanigans on the sidewalk and after a while I pull out the video camera to record some folks in their cars waving to us and the camera has erased everything I’ve taken!
I am filled with frustration and almost cry, but I start re-recording and get some people back on camera.
After an hour and a half we wind things up. We are all exhilarated and happy. And tired. We pack up our stuff, hug each other goodbye, and trudge back to our cars.
On the drive home I think about how I’m going to incorporate these great videos.
I pull into the driveway with the dancing dogs greeting me. I go right to my computer and plug the camera in. I load the videos and press play. They are all garbled.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll do better.
That’s right. We’ll be back.