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Op-ed: Occupy Wall Street Willing to Acknowledge Inequality

Op-ed: Occupy Wall Street Willing to Acknowledge Inequality


For a movement with no distinct starting point, Occupy Wall Street is remarkably organized. The group, casual as it may be, sprouted from a shared sense of injustice imposed by our country's political-commercial complex. The result is a league of thousands from all walks, backgrounds and ages who converged on Wall Street on September 17 for an indefinite stay -- literally setting up a kitchen, library, media hub, kid's zone, tents, and beds.

Of course, they weren't a welcome site on Wall Street and were quickly shooed away by police, who threw up barricades to keep the protesters (and everyone else) from the front stoop of the New York Stock Exchange. And so they gathered a few blocks away, kitty-corner from the World Trade Center site, at Zuccotti Park, which stands at the idyllic intersection of Liberty and Broadway. Despite it being officially named after a real estate magnate, the Occupy Wall Street gang has christened the park "Liberty Square."

Because I pass the area regularly, I've found myself increasingly intrigued by how the protest grew from a few dozen highly vocal (and young) marchers, to today's kinetic beehive of impassioned dreamers-cum-realists, many of them new to the Financial District's woefully square demeanor.

One week into the event a New York police commander pepper-sprayed a group of young women for allegedly blocking traffic -- an ugly act that was caught on video and inspired thousands more to get involved.

Visits from seasoned thought leaders like Princeton's Dr. Cornel West, former New York governor David Paterson, Susan Sarandon, Michael Moore, and Russell Simmons, encourage the all-ages crowd. They are supported by international donors, who give money and order them food. New members travel from around the country. And related Occupy groups around the world -- from Toronto and Austin, to Athens and Madrid -- are there in spirit

I found several sub-groups within the movement. The "Speakeasy Caucus" meets twice daily to discuss matters of inequality among the protesters. And last week, the first of daily gatherings of the "Anti-Oppression Circle" reviewed how queer people's voices are being heard and concerns addressed. That means including explicit acknowledgement of how white, straight men -- many of whom freely admit to their default privileges in our society --may be causing imbalances even within this open-minded, deeply democratic, consensus-obsessed clan. It is an earnest response among people who strive for parity.

The lesbians and gays within the group, as a result, feel safer and more supported, and therefore more involved. It is a thing of beauty, and one that I cannot help but admire. Because in my experience, calling attention to unspoken and inherent privileges is like shining a spotlight on the white elephant in the room, except it's more like the giant red elephants in the middle of our capitol buildings, so heavy they're cracking the marble.

At Liberty Square, as the group expands and becomes more efficient, attention by media and authority types is mounting.

This week the Occupy Wall Street story made the cover of daily newspapers around the country, the New York Times, Miami Herald and USA Today among them, with headlines like "Anti-Wall Street Protests Spread Nationwide." It's starting to feel like a slow burn is turning into a bonfire.

It's also becoming obvious that this is not a movement of young idealists with grand ideas. It is all of us finally at our threshold, unable to accept just how overcome our world has become by the unchecked greed of the already wealthy --not to mention their wealth's stranglehold on our elected officials.

"We want to end corporate personhood," said Albert Brown, 20. "All it does is allow endless spending on our government from private interests."

Occupy Wall Street shows true devotion to democracy, along with deep opposition to monopolistic empires (corporate or otherwise). You could even call it the original Tea Party.

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