As a hard-ass (as opposed to bleeding heart) liberal, a single-payer advocate, an ally of the HIV community, and just an “average” American, I am SO JAZZED by the over-1,600 “Occupy” protests going on all over the country, including our feisty group here in Chicago, 120 of whom got arrested again this week for not leaving Grant Park when it closed. I so admire their determination and courage.
There are indeed many things to be awed by here. The dedication to fighting on, despite the snarky, ill-informed, mean-spirited, name-calling response by Republicans and their cronies. The widely diverse quality of the crowds—as in Madison and other cities where protests persisted against the fascist governors and legislatures, the major city crowds are microcosms of America. The absolute refusal of our so-called free press to even begin to cover the complexity and depth of this movement with anywhere near the validation and respect it deserves—the fact is that they don’t WANT the American public to know too much about it because they’re afraid even more would join in. I have no doubt that sooner or later, the Occupy movement will be “too big to fail.”
Contrary to the dismissive comments by “pundits,” the message is, to me anyway, clear and distinct—stop taking everything from us and start taking some from those who have more than enough to give. Stop trying to take away our rights. Stop breaking the law. Stop slathering every surface of our lives with bullshit. After decades of watching their paychecks, the value of their homes, and their health decline while profits, prices, and premiums soar, there has finally been a tipping point. The other side makes the mistake, however, of assuming it’s all about money. Wrong. That’s what it’s all about for them, but not for us.
Even though the majority of the protesters may be under the age of 35, there are plenty who remember, or who were told about, a time when possibility and potential were motivating forces in American life. Your value as a human being was based, as Martin Luther King described it, on the “content of your character,” not on the numbers of your credit rating or how many homes you owned. Children learned, as I did, that manufacturers made a profit by selling their products for twice what it cost to make them, not 100 times what it cost. There was no need for such a thing as ethics legislation, as if any legislation in the world could make people behave ethically. There was no such thing as HIV, teenage pregnancy was almost unheard of and frowned upon when it happened, being gay meant you were happy or wearing Christmas-themed clothing, and a friend was someone you had lunch with, who hugged you when you were sad, and who showed up at your wedding.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m not advocating going back to the days before computers, cell phones, GPS, or when the Big Ten was actually comprised of 10 teams instead of the current 12. I am not an opponent of human ingenuity, progress, or change. I just wish that in the process of all that growth and advancement, we had managed to retain a sense of right and wrong, some good, old common sense, and a striving for justice.
I believe it is that justice that the 99% seek—an acknowledgement that no health insurance company should make billions in profit when their policy holders are dying due to lack of access to the care they need; that no government small enough to allow almost 7,000 people to languish on AIDS drug waiting lists while taxes remain unfairly assessed, and not paid even when they are assessed, should be allowed to continue; frustration that the profits of an oil company would be considered more important than the damage of their offshore drilling to the environment and people’s lives. I could go on and on and perhaps that is the foundation of the protests—that there is so much wrong, so much injustice, that those of us who bear the brunt of it are overwhelmed by the variety of evil we have to choose from. Where do we start?
I am truly blessed to have the job I have, to work for and with people who remind me daily of how good my life is compared to others who face the challenges—physical, mental, emotional, financial—of living with HIV. But if I didn’t work at TPAN, I would be down there on LaSalle Street talking about single-payer health care and the repeal of DOMA and the need to preserve the EPA. I am mad as hell and I understand completely the anger that fuels this activism. The only thing I can’t understand is how the news commentators and opposing forces could possibly NOT understand it. Is it just that they think if they ignore it, it will go away? Seriously?
So 99%-ers, keep fighting. Keep unifying— HIV-positive and not, all races, genders, political parties, religions, ages, regions, economic situations—keep feeling the strength of numbers and adding to the fierceness of our collective voice. Push back against the wrong until you uncover a corner of right and then pull it out into the daylight where it can grow to overcome the greed, the selfishness, the fear, the immorality that infects our society so widely now. And those of you in the HIV community, see this as an opportunity to break out of our insular little “neighborhood,” to continue the war on stigma by letting these people who don’t live in the world of HIV get to know you as you get to know them (and perhaps see that living with HIV is not all that different from living with cancer or MS or COPD); see that you all have much of the same anger, the same frustration; that we really ARE all of one tribe now. This truly is a time of awakening. May it also be a time of unity, repair, and healing.
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