Monday, October 24, 2011

Occupy Everything: This is What Democracy Looks Like in a Post-Therapy Era

I spent Saturday evening joining Occupy Chicago in a march to Grant Park where the stated intent was to occupy a space under the iconic sculpture of a Native American warrior astride a muscled horse.  This same location was the site of the clash between police and protesters  during the 1968 Democratic Convention. I was accompanied by my husband John who had also been present in 1968. There were drums, chanting and police on horseback at both demonstrations but this one was calm and diverse and while arrests were made, they were done with agreed upon protocol almost as ritual performance. A tent nearby was staffed with volunteers from the registered nurses labor union participating in the protest and prepared to provide first aid if needed.
There is an emphasis on solidarity among the protesters, middle aged men wearing jackets from the carpenters union, disabled adults in electric wheelchairs, rainbow flag hoisting representatives of the LGTBQ communities, students, pensioners and young parents carrying babies. I marched next to three young women in headscarves each wrapped in the flag of a different Middle East country. We gazed at cops on the curb, many likely the children of immigrants, judging from the shades of color in the faces represented.  One mounted cop took video of us on his iPhone while many in the crowd returned the gesture. We've come a long way since Abbie Hoffman's protest.
 I asked John what was the major difference between the gathering in Grant Park 2011 vs. 1968. The obvious difference is that 1968 had an easily stated galvanizing issue: stop the war in Vietnam. John's generation was at imminent risk of being killed in a far away war that many felt was patently unjust. We still have wars and generations of young men and women serving, dying and being maimed in them. The biggest change there is that far fewer of them are the college educated middle and upper middle class children of white mainstream Americans. While perhaps not entirely it's intention, ending the draft at the conclusion of the Vietnam War was the single biggest act that served to derail a robust protest movement in America. Words like solidarity have been used before to designate shared circumstances but this may be the first moment in history when the divisions between segments of society along class, income, race, gender and education are genuinely blurred.  Students who were able to attend elite colleges find themselves unable to find jobs while saddled with enormous school debt. Union workers who have always participated in collective bargaining and won a living wage, safe conditions and pensions find those gains being rolled back to where they feel having a job, however diminished, is all they can hope for. Teachers, firefighters, even the symbolic cops on horseback, none are immune from loss of pensions and health care.
One of the speakers at the rally was an Hispanic woman from Unite Here, the group representing workers in the labor dispute with the Hyatt Hotels, which are owned by the prominent Pritzker family here in Chicago. Apparently the Pritzkers are continuing to cut wages and jobs of housekeeping personnel while acquiring new hotels and posting record profits for their shareholders. This is the same labor dispute that was occurring at the Hyatt Hotel in Sacramento in 2009 where art therapists stayed while the AATA conference was taking place in the nearby Convention Center. The discovery of AATA's unknowing complicity in this labor dispute led to the formation of the Social Justice Caucus of AATA which this blog represents. Here's how the dots connect for me: the bonuses being granted on Wall Street, in mega banks and in businesses and industries across our nation are a form of faked productivity by the folks in charge. Like the Hyatt Hotel, what passes for gains on paper are simply the stolen wages of the housekeeping and maintenance staff who are laid off while those left do double or triple the work under threat of being fired. David Carr in the Business Day section of today's NY Times tipped the dominoes for me: he describes the identical strategy happening in the news organizations around the country. Staff are cut, coverage is curtailed, entertainment is substituted for news and CEO's reap bonuses made of the money stolen from workers while negotiating the terms of bankruptcy restructuring of the organization. Carr's column is entitled Why Not Occupy Newsrooms? Why not occupy mental health clinics and psychiatric hospitals, schools and farms, anywhere there is a vacancy of morals, justice and ethics? As the neighborhoods with foreclosed houses quickly learn, a structure that isn't occupied sends out a siren call to vandals who are happy to occupy as well as gut the copper pipes and leave the raped structures to die. The Occupy movement is making a space for the growing ranks of the disenfranchised to gather and recognize one another. It is time to occupy every space we are in with awareness and a voice for what is fair and just, without that, isn't therapy a little bit beside the point?

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